How not to replace a vent
For the past six months or so, the vent in my utility closet for the washer/dryer had been making this really irritating squeaky noise. Prior to this past weekend, fixing the vent was not really an option for me because ever since i replaced the piece of shit GE Spacemaker – i called it the Shitmaker – washer/dryer with the stackable LG washer and dryer, the deeper LG appliances made reaching the vent impossible. The only way to get to the vent was to unstack dryer and i was too lazy to go through this just to fix a noisy vent. Originally, i had programmed the vent to run twice a day for one hour each. When the noise became too unbearable, i disabled the vent from operating.
Since i will be renting my townhouse out very quickly, fixing the vent became a high priority for me. Not knowing how the vent was installed, i initially thought the only way to fix it was to access it from the attic. For that reason alone, i bought a $200 Little Giant ladder from Costco. Earlier in the week, i located where the vent was situated after poking my head through the attic. From the manuals left behind by the builder, i was able to narrow down the vent model to three discontinued NuTone models LS50SE/LS80SE/LS100SE.
With Smelly’s help and after several attempts, we were able to unstack the 126-pound dryer and placed it on the rug. In order to determine the actual vent model, i removed the plastic grille. Unfortunately, whoever did the paint job for my townhouse painted over the inside of the vent! Replacing the motor in the vent was probably the easiest route – i made the painful recognition later – but the impatient moron in me wanted to replace the entire vent, including the housing, which could only be removed by going up the attic. That was the biggest mistake. After examining several bath vents on NuTone’s website, i settled on one was that available on Home Depot’s website. Remember, at this point, i had absolutely no clue how the existing vent was installed. I could have selected one of the QTREN vents or the QTXEN vents, and either one would have made my life a lot easier. Both series of vents come with the hangar bars installation system, which was exactly how the existing vent was installed, as i found out later. But no, i selected a QTRN vent which added about two additional hours of back-breaking work for me.
On Saturday afternoon right after lunch, i bought a NuTone Ultra Silent Series fan model QTRN080 from the Home Depot on 1st Ave. After turning off the power outlet on the main circuit breaker for the utility closet, i went up to the attic armed with nothing but a flashlight and a mask. The attic was filled with fiberglass insulation. The painfully acquired lesson breathing in fiberglass insulation back in college while making minimum wage on an on campus summer job meant i was taking no chances in breathing in that nasty shit again. But apparently, that summer lesson on proper handling of fiberglass insulation did not prevent me from working in the attic wearing a short-sleeve T-shirt, resulting in me having itchy arms the rest of the evening.
I did not know where i could or could not step on in the attic so i played it safe and only planted my feet on beams and trusses. It was quite difficult navigating the attic to get to the vent. I had to peel away fiberglass insulation to reveal what i thought was the safest path to the vent. I literally grunted on every move i made while i was in the attic. If you think the grunt Maria Sharapova makes when she is returning a serve is irritating, wait till you hear the grunting sounds i made throughout that Saturday afternoon. Amazingly, i did not suffer from any puncture wound on my head or my back from the hundreds of nails poking though the roof. At one point, i was wondering what was hooking onto the back of my T-shirt when i discovered to my horror that i was mere millimeters away from being punctured by one of the nails!
After making several trips up and down the attic, i finally gathered enough tools to remove the vent housing. Since my powertool is not battery-operated, i had to drag up an extension cord for the powertool. The vent housing was held by two hangar bars connected via four flathead screws on trusses on both sides. There was very little room in the attic for me to position the powertool. I had to avoid putting any weight on dry wall, plastic pipes carrying cables and many ducts. In the dimly-illuminated attic, it was impossible to tell if the flathead bit was actually making solid contact with the screws. I don’t believe i have ever swore so much in the 30 minutes that it took me to remove the four screws. One of the four screws refused to budge and i had to give it the hammer treatment – i pounded the hell out of it. After removing the duct, which was screwed and taped to the vent by some metallic tape, i managed to dislodge the vent.
Bringing the old vent down from the attic, i compared it with the replacement vent. I realized there was another big problem. The housing for the old vent was held in place by the hangar bars. There was no hangar bar in the vent that i purchased. In fact, there was no place to insert any hangar bars on the vent. In any case, even if there were slots on the vent where i could insert hangar bars from the old vent, i would not be able to do so as earlier i had hammered one of the bars completely out of shape while i was angrily removing that one particular tough screw. This was probably the second biggest mistake that i made: attempting to replace a vent with something that was not designed to fit. I also realized that the new vent was about 2 inches wider than the one i was replacing. Which meant i had to cut up about 2 inches of dry wall on the ceiling in order to fit the new vent. But the core problem remained on how i was going to fasten the vent housing onto the truss. I measured that the vent housing was about 6 inches away from the truss on the right so i needed something that would extend the truss by 6 inches. To make sure the new vent was actually working, i dragged it up to the attic and connected power to it. I was probably making mistakes left and right but not making sure that the vent was fully functional was one blunder i refused to make.
I knew i would need some kind of saw to cut through the dry wall, some special tape to seal the duct to the vent and some caulking material to properly seal the vent against the drywall. I drove to the nearby hardware store, hoping that someone in the store would give me some suggestion on a 6-inch spacer that i needed to extend the truss. One of the guys at the store suggested building a box out of two by fours. The last time i built a wooden box was in the mid 80s. I had neither the tool nor the time to build a box. So i asked if he could cut a two by four into pieces so that i could stack them up and screw them together to create my spacer. And that was how i created the 6-inch deep spacer.
It probably took me another hour to attach the home-made spacer to the truss, to cut an additional inch or two of dry wall and to fasten the vent housing onto the spacer. Naturally, after all these work and after what had gone wrong the whole afternoon, the duct did not exactly fit the damper/duct connector on the vent. It took quite a bit of effort to reposition the duct to connect it to the housing. After sealing the vent housing with some caulking material and a metallic tape, i went back down to install the new plastic grilled that came with the vent.
The quiet sound that the new vent made when everything was completed sounded like music to my ears. By the time i was done, it was close to 2100 on Saturday night, which meant i had spent no less than 6 hours in replacing the noisy vent. A major portion of the 6 hours was spent in stressful positions in the attic. My back felt like i had just completed a full day of snowboarding on the first trip of the season. I spent most of Sunday sleeping and resting my sore back.
On Sunday night as i was getting rid of the old vent, i realized way too late that the motor could be removed from the housing in minutes. I could have fixed the noisy vent by simply replacing the motor!!! That five-minute job probably would have cost no more than $50, instead of the more than $360 that i had spent. Putting the dryer back also presented some additional challenges. Unstacking the dryer was not easy but stacking it back up on the washer was probably ten times as hard. Since Smelly did not have the height to raise the dryer, she had to step on the removed utility closet door to gain about two inches. The duct that was connected to the dryer came loose when we were unstacking the dryer. I made sure that it was securely reattached prior to stacking the dryer back up.
After using a lot of effort in putting the dryer back to where it used to be, i realized there was no easy way for me to figure out if the duct was still attached to the dryer. I dreaded the thought of pulling both the washer and dryer out of the closet at the same time with both weighing probably close to three times the weight of the dryer alone, just to check if the duct was still fastened to the dryer. I then thought of an idea. I taped one of Smelly’s make-up mirror to the extensible wand from my Dyson DC24 vacuum cleaner. I shoved the wand into the narrow space between the wall and the dryer hoping that i could see duct in the reflection on the mirror. But the tiny angles that the narrow space allowed made it impossible to see the reflection. I then thought of another idea. I taped my iPhone to the same wand and ran Cycorder, a free video recording app that is only available on jailbroken iPhones. The recorded image revealed that the duct was still attached to the dryer! After all the work that i had put in the previous day and the effort that Smelly and i exerted in stacking the dryer back on the washer, you would not believe what a relief that was.