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Recent Entries

Recently in Homeownership Category

Dishwasher Installation

A month or so back, the Dishwasher in our place (a Whirlpool SHU5000-0) died suddenly. That particular model, it seems was originally manufactured in 1989, and parts for it are basically impossible to locate. So, after messing around trying to locate parts, I finally came to the decision that I had no choice but to buy a new one. So, Catherine and I drove up to Spokane to look at the Fred’s Appliance ding-and-dent center to see if we could get a good deal on a unit. For around $300 (with $100 in rebates for it being Energy Star), we walked away with a unit that is larger, worlds quieter, and generally better than the unit that we replaced. It’s an Estate unit, which was nearly identical to a Whirlpool (Estate is a Whirlpool brand) that cost about $200 more, so I think we did well. In fact, with a few simple hacks, I think I could make it identical, but I’ve been informed that dishwasher hacking is not in my future.

There are a few things that the otherwise very helpful sales guy at Fred’s didn’t talk to us about, and that was that we didn’t get a blanket for the dishwasher, which can help with sound and which we’ll probably need to buy later, and Dishwashers do not typically come with electrical cords, since some are hardwired into the house electrical evidently. We installed without the blanket, which may be okay since this unit is already so much quieter than our old one, and for the electrical cable, I built one with extension cord parts bought at the local hardware store, and it works fine.

Installing the unit was fairly straight forward. Holes had already been drilled in the cabinet, though I had to drill an extra one for the water line since the plug on my custom cable was dramatically larger than on the old cable. The original water line was bent copper, which I thought was probably only done twenty years ago, but according to the installation instructions for my new unit apparently isn’t that unusual anymore, still I had to replace the line since the interface wasn’t compatible, and went with a braided steel cable, which wasn’t a problem because the size of dishwasher supply lines apparently hasn’t changed over the last few decades.

We followed the instructions in the book pretty closely. Ran the water and drain lines, taping them to the ground and pushing the dishwasher over them, the water line having a 90° adapter. The electrical line was a bit short, so I tied twine it to it, and Catherine fed it through the cabinet hole while I pushed the dishwasher in. In retrospect, I wish we’d done the same with the water line, but more on that in a minute.

Hooking up the drain line to the waste disposal (or drain tee), and to the dishwasher simply involved a pair of compression clips included with the dishwasher. A good pair of pliers, and a bit of hand strength, is all that’s needed to install those. What was the biggest challenge after the unit was standing up, was installing the water supply line. This was partially because the 90° adapter was brass, with a large rubber grommet that would slip loose, while the connection on the dishwasher was plastic. Installing that under very tight quarters was quite difficult. Next time, I’m going to attach the line to the washer, and pull it through the cabinet using twine. It will be easier and cause me less heartache, I’m sure.

There were two things I learned from this experience that are very important. If you have an opportunity to get the install guide easily, take it. They unboxed my unit at the store, and while I had the opportunity to pull out the instructions before it was wrapped in plastic to go in my truck, I didn’t take it and they were sealed inside the washer, meaning my first trip to the hardware store for parts did not get me everything. Second, make sure you understand what you need. To properly install the electrical cable, I needed a strain relief that was not included on the parts list, because apparently I was expected to buy a $20 electrical cord kit from Whirlpool. Building my own cable was ~$5, including the strain relief. Also, if the hole your strain relief needs to fill is 7/8”, a 3/8” strain relief is actually large enough, because they measure the size differently, luckily the guy at the hardware store was really helpful, but I still bought a few extra, with the intent to return them if they didn’t fit.

In the end, this process ended up being significantly harder than I thought it would be. There are a few tricks I learned that will make future installations (if I have any) significantly easier. It may have taken a lot longer than it would have if we paid someone, but I figure we’d have had to pay a plumber enough that it was worth it, even if the kitchen being torn up did stress the cats out pretty bad.

Oh, one last note, the shutoff valves under our sink were rusted shut really badly. You should close them at least yearly, preferably every six months, to make sure that in an emergency you can shut them off easily. To get ours unstuck, I used PB Blaster, which smells bad and kind of goes against our tendency to try not using heavy solvents, but it works, and it works quickly, and frankly, I’m not sure any natural products would have solved my problem. I’m definitely planning to keep the shutoff valves turning more freely in the future.

Compact Fluorescent Lights and the Environment

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I’m highly interested in the ‘Green’ movement and the things that we are supposed to be doing that will help mitigate humanities continued impact on the ecosystem. However, I question a lot of the things that the green movement pushes, which sometimes seem like they might cause more damage over the long term than less. For instance ‘compostable’ plastics, which tend to be made from soy. I suspect these plastics require a lot of water in the processing, which very likely negates any benefit to them being able to avoid the landfill (though most almost certainly end up in landfills).

I’ve felt similarly about Compact Fluorescent (CFL) Light Bulbs for a while, knowing that the cost of production was going to be dramatically higher than for traditional incandescents, but being unsure that the energy savings in use would be enough to make up for it. Then, I saw one of the best written contributory articles to our local co-op newsletter, which for those who download the newsletter at the previous link, can find on page 36 of the PDF.

The article in question looks at this issue in a pretty complete way, presenting several interesting statistics:

  1. Making a CFL takes 5 times the energy of an incandescent, but you’ll need 6-10 incandescents for each CFL.
  2. The energy output of incandescents over a single CFL would require generating 200 pounds of carbon over the life of the CFL.
  3. A CFL contains ~5mg of mercury, and powering that bulb with coal (over it’s life) generates another 2.4mg of mercury into the environment, however, Incandescents would require 10mg of mercury output from a coal-fired plant. This is further mitigated by the relative ease of recycling CFLs.

Now, here in the Pacific Northwest, mots of our energy needs are met by hydroelectric, not coal, but still the proven energy savings of the bulbs have kept them an attractive option, but it’s nice that the statistics show that this is actually a real improvement we can make, that’s not only ‘green’, but saves money as well.

In many ways, I’m more interested in LED lighting, though it’s hard to find in the stores. LED bulbs have the potential to be even better over the long term than CFLs, Currently, LED bulbs last 5 times longer than CFLs, use less than half the energy, but cost about 10 times more. However, what I don’t know is how that translates into their production impact. Still, it’s an interesting technology I plan to watch.

Fixing a Leaky Toilet Flapper

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Just before we started moving into our new condo, I noticed that our toilet was continually running, and that unfortunately, it was a fairly fast leak. Step one, was to determine the source of the leak. Our toilet has a standard flapper-flush-valve, so the leak was almost certainly with the flapper.


Incidentally, we have really hard water in our area, which is why the toilet tank looks so filthy. It’s vaguely metallic smelling, and it’d be a bitch to clean, but the inside of the tank isn’t such a concern for me.

After turning off the water and draining the tank, the leak stopped immediately, ensuring that, sure enough, the flapper wasn’t sealing properly anymore. Excellent, because the alternative was that the tail piece was leaking, and that would be a lot more of a pain in the ass to fix. Plus, the flapper is a sub-$5 part, depending on which one you buy. I opted for one from a brand named ‘Corky’ which was about $4, but they’re all pretty much the same.

Actually, the only difference between assemblies is whether the flapper needs a ring to slip all the way down the overflow pipe, or if it attaches via some small clips on a plastic ring already built on to the flapper. Most flappers on the market today, are designed to be used in either system, plus, they tend to be bigger than the one that was on our toilet.

Flapper Comparison

Our toilet had the clips on the side, so the ring has to go, but luckily, a utility knife is enough to remove the ring and the back piece and install the new flapper, which will just hook directly on the same attach points as the old flapper. Turn the water back on, you might need to flush once to ensure a good seal between the flapper, but it’s a pretty simple, painless fix, something that doing yourself will cost $5 and fifteen minutes, but would cost probably $60 for a plumber to come out and fix (based on estimates of plumber time).

Home Ownership The DIY-Way

My wife, Catherine, and I have finally had a chance to move into the Condo we bought two months ago. Needless to say, I’m exhausted today, but the reason it’s taken so long for us to get our stuff into this place is simply the sheer amount of work we needed to do.

We had to replace the carpet, with a beautiful hardwood floor, including new trim. We had to repaint the walls (which has been painted with a really lousy paint). I had to fix the toilet which started leaking last week after the place had been empty for eighteen months. We had to replace the curtains, which smelled as bad as the ugly carpet, as the previous owner had apparently smoked cigars regularly in the space. This list seems short, but there are many smaller projects that I can’t really name at the moment. Worse, it pales in comparison to all the other projects that we want to do.

Black and Decker Photo Guide to Home RepairMonday has generally been my ‘sustainability’ posts, which I hope to be able to talk more about in the future as we settle into the new place, but I’m going to be working in posts about the repairs and additions that we make into our new condo. My parents had given me the Black and Decker Complete Photo Guide to Home Repair which has helped be a guide to many of the projects that we’ve taken on, and certainly many more we will be. It’s a good guide, and I’d recommend it based on my experience with it.

Some coming posts I have regard said broken toilet, freeing heavily rusted pipe fittings, replacing a bathroom ceiling fan, some wiring stuff. Really, I’ve got an insane amount of work I want to do, and no doubt, each new project will result in a new post here. This is still, and will remain, a primarily technology blog. But this content has a place as well, and I certainly hope it will help someone else.

Do-It-Yourself Flooring

Catherine and I bought a Condo not long ago (a large part of the reason I’ve been so sparse about updating this lately), and we bought it knowing we’d have some work to do. The place had been previously occupied by smokers, so we had to tear out all the carpet, draperies, and repaint. We knew that going in, and bought a flooring product, a floating engineered hardwood floor, that we’d be able to install. However, we ran into some issues.

First, we had a frost heave in the slab (we’re a ground-floor unit), a heave which is several decades old, given that there was vinyl glue in the crack in the kitchen. Wasn’t a problem with carpet, but would have really messed up our floor. Plus, it turns out we had a 1/2” to 3/4” inch slope in the floor on one of our walls we share with a neighbor. While I had planned on installing the floor, I had not planned on concrete work to prepare the sub-floor. And it was something that I was willing to pay to have done.

Unfortunately, every contractor in the Pullman area was booked out 6+ weeks, which was simply untenable for us at this time. So, we resolved to grind down the heave and fix it ourselves. We rented a concrete grinder from a local hardware store, which was a large motor with these teeth at the bottom that were wedged in with wooden shims. Unfortunately, this device had a tendency to loosen the teeth and hurl the three pound chunks of steel at high speed across the room. Eventually, I had to give up, and return the tool (at no charge to me, thank you, Moscow Building Supply). After calling around, we ended up renting an angle-grinder from a Home Depot nearly a hundred miles away, and using that. It was rough, but it was a hell of a lot safer, and we got the job done.

Then, we had to pour the floor patcher. Now, I described the problem I had to the people at the hardware store, and they sold me on a self-leveling floor underlayment product…that turned out to be meant for pouring over the entire floor (damn you, Moscow Building Supply!). The product was 100% concrete, while what I really wanted would have probably been mostly epoxy. With this product, I needed to do a lot of spreading and trowel work, though that might have also been problems in getting the right consistency of the mix. Oh, about that, if you need to mix concrete, use a corded drill. My DeWalt cordless is a great little drill, but it’s not up to mixing concrete, the batteries just can’t quite hold out. It’s fine for one 50 Lb. bag of cement, but when you have three…. You’re kind of fucked.

Once we got the floor poured, and gave it a few days to dry, we got the underlayment down, we used one with a vapor barrier since we’re ground floor, and begun putting down the floor. The learning curve on the floor is deceptively high. For one thing, until you get the third row in, the floor lacks most of it’s structural rigidity. However, once you get those first few rows, it does tend to go in pretty fast. We were able to do the majority of the three rooms we were working (some 700+ square feet) in a few days of work (most of those were week days too). There were only two really difficult parts. First, we had to cut strips using a table saw for certain portions of the floor, because the rooms just weren’t quite narrow enough (or wide enough, I suppose) to do full boards. And around the closet frames in the bed rooms, where we had to cut notches in the boards in both sides. If we’d had a jigsaw, it probably wouldn’t have been too bad. But using the Dremel saw attachment just required cutting from both sides (not ideal). However, the floor is in, and it really does look great.

Now, we’re on to trim, and cutting trim is an interesting experience because it comes in 12 foot lengths (and you want the long lengths), so it’s tricky to work with, and when you cut it, it’s generally at a 45 degree angle. Now, this is a tricky problem, because you need to make sure you cut the right 45 degree angle, so that boards match up correctly on the wall, or at corners. There were some miscuts, and a lot of my wife and I standing around waving our hands trying to make sure we were about to make the correct cut. But we got most of the big pieces in, and now I’ve just got some work to do in the closets and the entryway.

Am I glad we did this? Absolutely. The floors are beautiful. My concern is that it might not have saved us any money, between the hours we’ve spent on it, and the two house payments since we won’t start moving until this weekend at the earliest. I do know that we’ve had to spend several hundred dollars more on this project than I’d originally thought, though to be fair, quite a bit of that was me being naive about the problems. Renovation is hard, and while I don’t think I’ve been really foolish about it, the fact that we’re coming up on two months of being home owners and still haven’t started moving is amazingly depressing. Sure, the end is in sight, but both Catherine and I want nothing more than to be moved.