Basement Watchdog Big Dog transformer failure

We got home from Heartland 10/15/17 to BWD beeping.  When I went down to look at it, I saw the red LED for Power Failure on, but my first goal was to stop the damn beeping.  Unfortunately, the alarm wouldn’t reset with either button.  Rats.  Having gone thru a couple of other backup systems, I figured by buying the biggest, baddest $500 system, I was safe for a while.  Wrong.

There had been a BIG rain the day before (6″ in 24 hours).  The HA system reported the sump ran a max rate of ~55 cycles/hr, and thankfully there was no water on the floor when we got home.  Very unfortunately, motivated by wanted the beeping to stop, I noticed the “power failure” LED, but was too distracted to check for others, so I don’t know whether the “pump was activated” LED was on.  So it is possible the main 1/2 HP Zoller couldn’t keep up and the BWD float activated and ran the DC pump and kept us dry (until it failed).  I really wish I knew whether that had happened.

AC was good at the prongs of the plug in the socket.  AC fuse was OK.  Opened unit up.  Got 124VAC at transformer primary, zero at secondary.  Secondary showed < 1 ohm all connections (apparently center-tapped).  Primary was open.  Front panel showed battery at 100%.

There’s some brownish, very slightly sticky residue on the tops of horizontal plastic plates in the transformer, consistent with stuff melting out, though I don’t know whether that’s what it is.  I suppose if the pump were cycling and heavily running on AC that the transformer could have gotten hot, although that’s supposed to be OK and within normal operation.  Nothing was hot when I got there, and it didn’t smell “hot”.

Nominal warranty is 2 years from purchase.  Pics of the installation were EXIF dated 1/23/16, and show the open box.  I can’t imagine I had it around for very long before installing it, but I can’t find ANY evidence of how it was purchased.  I couldn’t find any $500+ purchase from HD (where I suspect I got it) on the Chase bills, and no check in the checkbook (though I have no idea why I wouldn’t have used the credit card).  I found the original manual, with no date or price, and with the warranty card still blank.

What to do next?

With no proof of purchase, even though it should be under warranty, I’m out of luck.  I’ll call Glentronics and hope I can buy a transformer.

There are multiple versions – gray front panel, black panel, 12-120C.  Somebody has a used black panel one they claim is in excellent working order (no pump) for sale on Ebay for $150 free shipping.  There’s also one in the same neighborhood for $150 on Craigslist – probably the same one.

Next step analysis

I called Glentronics to see if I could buy a replacement transformer, and got past the person who answered the phone and said the Big Dog didn’t have a transformer (!?).  Someone in the support department said they couldn’t sell the transformer, but I could bring it in for repair for probably ~$100.

So my choices are:
a) Drive 45 min each way (twice!) to bring unit in and fetch it back, pay ~$100 and be back where I started.
b) Buy the $150 used one.
c) Just buy another whole new frigging system for $500.
d) Just buy another whole new frigging system, (send in the registration!), and if the transformer is the same, swap it, return it after a year or something, and get a new replacement.  Sort of cheating, but only because I failed to send in registration the first time.

Thoughts and considerations:
– The possibility exists that the transformer is not the only problem with the existing unit.  Possibly that problem is what caused the transformer to fail, and a new transformer would be a waste of money.
– Reviews are generally favorable.  Some have complained about the battery water level sensor not working.  The rod in the 12-120 was too long, and I took corrective action, so those might not be relevant if the rod problem is addressed.
– Looks like a nice build when taken apart.  From cost and weight and fact that this is top of the line, I would expect it just work for a long time.  (Which is presumably why I didn’t bother to register it.)  That is an argument in favor of the $150 used option.
– It’s possible it failed doing exactly its job of helping the main pump when it couldn’t keep up, but there’s no way to know. 🙁  Arguing against that is that the controller shows the battery at 100%.  If the backup pump did in fact kick in to help the main pump, the timing would have to have been exquisite to burn out the transformer helping, but not burn at least some of the battery continuing to help after the transformer failed.  After the failure, there was obviously no topping off the battery.
– In the past, the pumps of battery backup units have failed, presumably largely due to salt water in the sump.  If I buy a whole new unit, I get a known new working control head plus a spare pump.  I’ve had trouble sourcing replacement pumps, so that’s an interesting option.  But since the water softener now discharges to the sink and not the sump, pumps may not corrode and fail that way any more.
– If I take either b) or c), I can measure the output voltage of the transformer, and presumably get a replacement from another source.
–  The additional hassle of driving it up there and back was an interestingly strong argument against having them fix the original unit, tho that’s the cheapest way back up.

A DAY LATER:  I decided to get the $150 used one from eBay.  It’s on its way.  (And I replenished Paypal.)

10/20/17:  New used Big Dog arrived, very nicely packed.  (Where did they get that industrial strength bubble wrap?)  It has a black front panel and quite different insides.  Several heat sinks, and I think fewer relays.

Measured transformer output voltage:  Open: 31.5VAC;  with 7.7 ohm load (4.0A): 30.8V .  Don’t know yet if it’s interchangeable with mine, but it looks the same.

Pump connector is the same, and battery lugs have large enough holes for the battery terminals (unlike the last one).  The water level sensor rod (red) is different length than the old one (yellow), both with and without the sleeve I added to put the tip of the old rod where I thought it should be.  Made new sleeve for the new sensor, so it should be same as before, for better or worse.  The protective plastic? tube around the float switches is broken exposing the PCB with reed switches, but that’s not a big deal, as I’m using my old one.  Spliced that in with wire nuts.

Unfortunately, it didn’t seem to work.  Got ready for polite discussions with seller.  Alarms wouldn’t clear; said battery problem with 14.2V on battery.  Tried several orders of connecting power, pump, battery, but no joy.  Left it for a while, but same.  Finally saw a line at the bottom of the front panel about holding test/reset button ’til 3 beeps (~20 sec) after changing battery.  (Not present/needed on gray panel!)  I did that and the alarms stopped.  It went into some test mode for maybe hours (battery discharge/charge cycle??), but eventually settled down and is giving normal looking indications.  It says battery is only good for 6 (of 7 max) hours continuous pumping, but maybe that’s so.  But I have a working, stable system.

I called Glentronics a second time and spoke with a helpful knowledgeable guy.  He said the gray panel units were newer and better, and they didn’t really repair the old black panel units any more.  He also said the transformers were the same, and offered that they were rated at 20A.  I guess I think Glentronics is OK.

The Glentronics call helped me decide what to do next.  I’ll pull the transformer out of the black panel and put it in my gray panel.  Of course the first question is whether anything besides the transformer has failed.  I made up 3 male-female 1/4″ spade lug jumpers and patched the working transformer to the gray panel unit.  It came up and everything seemed to work.  Hooked it to a small 12V battery and it appropriately indicated battery problem.  Pump failure and water level fail LEDs came on appropriately.  Shorting the float wires kicked off a pump cycle.  When I connected it to the real battery it settled down and showed no alarms.  (I did discover that if the “pump activated” LED is on, switching Pump Activated Alarm mode  Off and and back On clears it without invoking a dumb pump cycle.)

All went smoothly until the last connection for the transformer primary.  The old (gray) transformer had one male and one female spade, but the “new” one had 2 females.  WTH?  I cut the male off the old transformer and spliced it onto the new one.  Spliced the float back in and tested it – OK.  The wire nuts I had were a little too big, so I twisted in (and clipped off) an extra piece of stranded wire for a more solid connection.  Seemed to help.

So $150 later, I have a presumably fully working system (with the newer gray panel and guts), plus a carcass that could be pressed into service if I had a 28v? center tapped 20A transformer.  And I didn’t have to drive to Linconshire twice. 🙂

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