This has been a seriously expensive week. I came down to California to perform house maintenance. At first I thought one of the battery banks was in its death throes, as the generator was running three times a night. I was prepared to spend $1600 in batteries to replace the oldest bank.
The replacement batteries were not available, a good thing because it turned out to be a very different problem; the fire system water pump was running almost continuously drawing 26 amps (that’s 3000 watts!) This is a 3 horsepower Mercedes 50 gallon per minute monster, and it was acting up. The pressure gauge was reading oddly; the pump would run for a score of seconds raising the water pressure to 80 PSI, and then it would shut down. Instead of holding, the pressure dropped down to 60 PSI in a matter of seconds at which point the pump turned on again. I closed off the fire sprinkler manifold valve and the garden and grounds water system feeds yet the problem remained. That left only a few possibilities, the worst which could be an underground leak in the 250 feet of 2" pipe that runs from the pump station to the house - wonderful. Something about the way the pressure dropped seemed fishy, so I opened the test waste gate valve. I was surprised to hear air hissing angrily for several seconds before water burst forth. At that point the pressure dropped again and the pump started up. This time the pressure climbed to 80 PSI and held. The only way a massive air bubble could have worked its way into the pump was if the 1200 gallon buffer tank had emptied. I looked down the inspection hatch and It was full. This meant the 80,000 gallon community tank had to have emptied completely. Talking to the neighbors, it looked like there was a massive power outage during the last rain storm, and it lasted long enough to have drained sending air throughout the system. Thankful I didn't have to replace an $800 pump, I went off to my next chore.
Several weeks earlier, we were treated to a car problem when the van failed to start. Our housemate discovered this five minutes before she was to pick us up at the airport, so we ended up having to rent a car. We instructed AAA to tow the van to the auto shop and Dick worked on it for a few days before deciding he couldn't fix it. Apparently the undercarriage and motor wiring was nibbled to death by wood rats. Now Dick is really good with engines but he is admittedly weak on electrical problems, and so he recommended we take the van to an auto-electric specialist. Dick has serviced this van for 20 years, and having been stumped he graciously chose to not charge us. The auto-electric guy was great. He cleaned up the mess and pieced together the wiring harness to avoid extra charges. As it turned out there were only a few breaks. He also found a fuel leak in the fuel pressure regulator that was spraying gasoline onto the exhaust manifold - we had noticed a gas smell earlier, so this was good fortune for us. Alas, we forked out almost $900 to get the van going. And that wasn't all. The rats had worked their way into the van cabin and it reeked of rat piss and worse. Since we had to return the rental car to the airport ($200 for the week), we also headed to the Classic car wash, one of those gigantic cleaning machine washing and detailing places. We chose The Works plus the Detail Express package which included an underside power wash, complete interior vacuuming, carpet steam cleaning, interior wash, and complete wax job. It was a beautiful job. The rat odor was eliminated, the droppings gone, and my wallet was $150 lighter. It was necessary. The van purred up highway 17 to our house, its exterior and interior shining with the light of new hope.
I rested at home having dinner when the lights flickered strongly. The inverters must have turned on the generator to charge the batteries when the generator suddenly stopped. The inverters managed to transfer the load back to the batteries, but something was seriously wrong to have caused a visible flicker. I leaped and ran to the mechanicals room to be greeted by all manner of red blinking lights and a very unhappy inverter trying desperately to restart the generator while managing to maintain power from nearly depleted batteries. I ran out to the generator shed and smelled the odor of hot paint and heard the sound of the generator's radiator boiling furiously. Damn! I just bought the damn thing a few months ago and it broke down. I feared the engine may have been damaged. As I inspected the radiator, I noticed the fan belt was missing, so I began to remove the protective screening to get to the belt and pulley array. There I found what appeared to be a frayed belt, hairs everywhere. Hairs? These were actual hairs, not strips of rubber. I disassembled the entire fan belt cowling and finally could reach the pulleys. Sure enough the belt had popped off. It looked in OK shape, and I couldn’t understand what made it pop since everything looked properly aligned and locked down. As I looked down I saw a creature, a dead large creature, a mutilated and lobotomized wood rat. Oh gross! The thing must have crawled into the fan area and when the generator turned on, it got sucked into the belt and pulleys; its body must have popped the belt off. It took the better part of an hour to get all that cleaned up, the belt reinstalled and tensioned. I feared this rat might have destroyed a $10,000 generator. How could I explain this to a warranty claims person? Would a rat induced destruction be covered? I topped off the radiator, checked the belt one more time, and then started up the Onan. It ran fine! Thankfully, the safeties protected it when the water pump failed. All was OK, well, except for the rat.
Photos are at http://pics.livejournal.com/elimloth/gallery/00008rx6