Royal (water heater) flush

SkillLevel1The hot water in the shower seemed to be kind of wimpy, which is to say that it wasn’t very hot. The temperature ranged all the way from lukewarm on the one extreme to tepid on the other. My ever-loving wife, “Paris” (not her real name), is not one to complain but she made it clear that it was not up to “Hilton” standards. I turned up the temperature dial on both water heaters from the “A” position to the “B” position and then  to the “C” position but it didn’t make much difference. Every once in awhile, the shower would put out a brief burst of water that was actually hot. This made me think there must be a blockage somewhere in the hot water pipes or the water heaters.

I did a little reading on the subject and apparently you are supposed to drain hot water heaters once a year to flush out the sediment and corrosion in the bottom of the tank. I calculated my water heater flush rate: number of years in house: 5; number of times flushed: 0.

I was a bit behind schedule. Continue reading Royal (water heater) flush

Drop Down Desk Drawer Delight


With my ever-loving wife, “Anne” (not her real name), on sabbatical, I get to see her working on her laptop at home. Not many people actually put their laptop on their lap and Anne is no exception. She had been complaining about royal pains in her back and neck and arm. One look at her sitting at the desk explained everything.

Her laptop was resting on top of her Queen Anne (no relation) cherry desk, which meant that her arms were angled upward against the edge of the desk so her hands could reach the keyboard. That’s a fine recipe for pain in all sorts of places right there. I tell you what.

Center drawer of Queen Anne desk
Center drawer of Queen Anne desk

The large center drawer was at just the right height for the laptop so I set about figuring out how to cut off the drawer front so the laptop could sit in the drawer.

We had built that desk from a kit that we bought in a (literal) fire sale many years ago. The insurance company was selling everything from a warehouse that had caught on fire and the prices were pretty good. Putting the desk together ages ago somehow gave me the impression it was OK for me to take a saw to it now.

Drawer front cut off
Drawer front cut off

I used the table saw and the miter saw to cut off the drawer front. I pulled out the little cutoff piece of the bottom from the slot in the drawer front and glued in a new piece of hardwood to fill the slot.

My plan was to use a brass piano hinge to join the front to the bottom so that you could tip the front down and back up. The bottom of the drawer, however, was a thin piece of plywood so I glued Continue reading Drop Down Desk Drawer Delight

Overzealous kitchen faucet sprayer

SkillLevel2So I was down in the carport, which is under the house, minding my own business when I noticed water dripping on the sheets of MDF for my new workshop. I ran up stairs to the kitchen where my ever-loving wife, “Hazel” (not her real name), was cleaning up the dishes. “Something’s leaking!” I announced in my this-is-serious-but-do-not-be-excessively-alarmed voice. Hazel had been unaware of the problem because the sink and faucet looked fine but when I opened the door under the sink we were looking at the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

Old faucet
The old faucet doesn’t look so bad but …

After taking out the soggy contents of the sink cabinet and sopping up the water we figured out that the faucet leaked only when it was turned on and only under the sink. I pulled out the sprayer, which is on a flexible stainless steel hose, and made sure the hose was screwed on tightly to the sprayer because recently the faucet was leaking a little and that was the reason. When I turned on the faucet, it looked like the water was spraying out of the middle of the hose, which I have to admit I’ve never seen before.

I shut off the water supply, disconnected both ends of the hose, and then sawed off the connector on one end so I could pull out the rubber tubing inside.

Old leaky pullout hose with one connector cut off
Old leaky pull-out hose with one connector cut off

As you can see in the next photo, it had a good-sized hole in it. This faucet was about 9 years old and the hose saw relatively little use. (I am in no way saying Hazel doesn’t use the kitchen sink very often. She does the dishes and cleans up just as often as any other American housewife. She just doesn’t pull out the sprayer excessively when she uses the faucet. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.)

Hole in faucet hose
Hole in faucet hose

Apparently these hoses fail pretty often because the Big Box stores carry replacement hoses that you can put in fairly easily. It wasn’t too hard to imagine some other part failing on that aging faucet in the near future so I bought a new faucet instead. Besides, I’ve never gotten in trouble for buying something new for my ever-loving wife’s kitchen.

Tools for installing a faucet. The faucet wrench is on the right with the red handle.
Tools for installing a faucet. The faucet wrench is on the right with the red handle.

Getting out the old faucet is not rocket surgery but it can be tricky because there is no room to work. To get the nut off that holds the faucet in place you really need a special faucet wrench, which is shown in the photo. You put the jaws around the nut and then twist the handle to unscrew it.

New faucet with top ring slid up over the tubes
New faucet with top ring slid up over the tubes. The plastic and metal washers and the big nut on the counter will be slid up from below after the faucet is inserted.

I gently pressed the tubes of the new faucet together so I could slide on the top ring and feed the tubes through the hole in the counter top. Then underneath the sink I slid the big washers and nut over the faucet tubes and tightened the nut to hold the faucet in place. This is where it would have been helpful to have an assistant to hold the faucet from above to keep it from turning as I tightened the big nut with the faucet wrench. Unfortunately, my ever-loving wife was unavailable at the time and I had to prairie dog it: go under the sink, tighten a little, come back out and turn the faucet straight, back down under the sink, tighten, …

Faucet connections. It's a bit crowded under there.
Faucet connections. It’s a bit crowded under there.

Hooking up the water supply tubes to the faucet tubes is not difficult–if the tubes are long enough. The tubes on the new faucet were shorter than the old faucet, which meant that the supply tubes didn’t reach. The tubes on the faucet are different lengths so that their connectors don’t hit when you feed them down the hole in the counter top. I took the longer supply tube and connected it to the longer faucet tube. Since I didn’t want to make another trip to Lowe’s right away, I “appropriated” a longer supply tube from another sink that we don’t use very often.

I have since read that it is a good idea to replace the supply tubes when you replace the faucet because they do wear out and leak. Get a handful of sizes of the braided tubes when you buy the faucet and then return the ones you don’t need. Saves trips to the store.

New faucet with soap dispenser
New faucet with soap dispenser

The old faucet used two holes in the counter top (one for the handle and one for the spout) but the new faucet uses only one. So instead of replacing the old soap dispenser with the new, I decided to install the new soap dispenser in the hole next to the faucet and leave the old one in the outside corner of the sink: one for dish soap and the other for hand soap.

Hazel is happy with the new faucet because it is stylish and easy to use. (Did I mention that she frequently washes dishes? Multiple times a week, I’d say.) I’m happy because my lumber isn’t sitting under Niagara Falls.


Whence come the roaches?

SkillLevel1Whenever we returned to the beach house after being gone for several days we would find a handful of mostly dead (in “The Princess Bride” sense) roaches scattered about. Where were they coming from? I caulked or foamed every crack I could find. Fortunately, my ever-loving wife, “Rochelle” (not her real name) was patient and cut me some slack because she knew I was really trying. (Not to be confused with the phrase, “He can be really trying,” which means something else entirely. I’m pretty sure I heard Rochie correctly but now I’m starting wonder if I was listening carefully.)

Plumbers and electricians like to drill holes. Lots of holes. The licensing test for plumbers has two questions:

  1. Can you glue PVC pipe?
  2. Can you drill a hole?

If yes, here is your license.

For electricians the questions are different:

  1. Can you strip Romex cable?
  2. Can you drill a hole?

Here’s your license.

Notice there isn’t a third question: Can you seal the hole? So although they are both good at drilling holes, the answer to that one is typically, “Not so much.”

Dryer vent in wall and floor needs to be sealed
Dryer vent in wall and floor needs to be sealed

In the pantry I found a dryer duct going into the floor that had enough space around it for a squirrel to get through along with a year’s supply of nuts so I foamed around that baby to slow down the varmint traffic. But still the roaches came.

I foamed the holes around the water pipes in the sink cabinets in the kitchen and all of the bathrooms. Still they came.

In the attic, I foamed the wiring holes that go into the tops of the walls. I caulked around the outside doors. It didn’t slow them down.

I pulled out the kitchen stove and foamed the openings in the floor underneath the stove. Same for the refrigerator. I squirted little puddles of roach bait poison in corners and by the doors. They are supposed to take the poison back to the nest so that the whole colony is wiped out. Maybe the roaches can’t read the instructions or they purposely flaunt them but that didn’t work either.

Major roach portal in cabinet floor
Major roach portal in cabinet floor

Then one day my ever-loving wife said she saw a roach on the countertop that scooted off and disappeared under the edge of the countertop. I looked up under there but couldn’t see where it had gone so I took out the top drawer to get a better look. (The drawer slides on each side have a little plastic lever that releases the drawer.) Nothing obvious so I figured it must have gone down behind the other drawers so I took them out too. Eureka! The answer was blindingly obvious.

The electrician had drilled a hole in the base of the cabinet to run a wire for the outlets. Oh, and I’m sure he sealed the hole. NOT! I was staring at a roach superhighway. The whole roach contingent could have crawled out of there side by side in parade formation. It was now clear that the little black dots in the drawers were roach rest areas when they needed to take a break from the highway.

Roach superhighway in cabinet bottom and through subfloor
Roach superhighway in cabinet bottom and through subfloor

Not only was there a hole in the bottom of the cabinet but there was another hole in the subfloor below it. Taking advantage of a more-or-less direct line to the roach hoard, I shot some poison down both holes.

Superhighway is now closed
Superhighway is now closed

Then I foamed the subfloor hole by sticking the Great Stuff gun down the cabinet hole. Did I mention it was a large hole? Then I foamed the hole in the cabinet bottom and replaced the drawers.

Result? No more roaches.

Sometimes I like to imagine the puzzled look on their stupid little faces when the survivors, if any, bump into all of that foam. What the …? It warms the cockles of my heart, if I have any, which I doubt because I tried to pay attention in school and I have no recollection of any mention of “cockles” when we were learning about hearts.


Couch de-sag-ification

SkillLevel3Our new green couch was much more comfortable in the showroom than in our TV room. Of course they delivered one from the warehouse–not the one we sat on in the store–and quality, shall we say, can vary.

When my ever-loving wife, “Spud” (not her real name), and I sat on the couch the middle would sink like the Titanic and tilt us nearly head-to-head, which is all very romantic and everything but hard on the old spinal column. It looked like we were the Stephen Hawking twins slouching in our wheelchairs.

Clearly the springs were shot in this couch, which speaks to the poor quality of furniture construction these days. Continue reading Couch de-sag-ification

Park bench resurrection


The painted wood in the park benches was deteriorating
The painted wood in the park benches was deteriorating

The park benches in our church courtyard were in sad shape. Sad probably isn’t the best word. More like sobbing-your-eyes-out shape. The wood slats were crumbling or missing entirely and only the rusted bolts and layers of black paint were holding them together.

When my ever-loving wife, “Queenie” (not her real name), saw the benches she tipped her head back ever so slightly and pronounced, “We are not amused.” She let it be known that they should be tossed in the rubbish heap, which for park benches is the equivalent of “Off with their heads!”

But one of them had a nameplate reading, “In Memory of Elizabeth” and the deteriorating benches were threatening to take that memory with them.

Since the benches were sitting on an ipe (pronounced “ee-pay“) deck, I decided to rebuild them using ipe slats so they would look like they belonged there. Ipe is a Brazilian walnut hardwood. Very hard. Very dense. Very heavy. This makes it an excellent wood for outdoor furniture and it requires very little maintenance. It is so dense it doesn’t absorb much moisture and most sealers just sit on the surface because they can’t penetrate into the wood grain. A very, very thin layer of hardwood oil is the only thing they will take.

Since you can’t just walk in to your local Lowe’s or Home Depot to buy a few feet of ipe, I found an excellent source for it online at They manufacture “sustainably harvested” exotic hardwood, which is important when using wood from Brazil (or anywhere). The salesman was helpful and knowledgeable. Highly recommended.

Most of the bench slats were 2″ wide with another three that were 1″ wide at the top and bottom. AdvantageLumber had 1 x 6 ipe deck boards on sale in 4′ lengths so I ripped them into a pair of 2″ slats and a single 1″ slat. The math worked out pretty well for the number I needed of each size. Ipe sawdust is a very fine yellow powder that looks like pine pollen and gets everywhere. I should have hooked up the Shop Vac for dust collection while I was using the table saw. I also should have worn gloves because unfinished ipe makes for hard, sharp slivers. Don’t ask me how I know.

Routing off the corners of the ipe slats
Routing off the corners of the ipe slats

Then I ran the new slats through the router to round over the sharp corners. (This time I remembered to hook up the vac and wear gloves.)

Three guide pieces screwed to a piece of plywood form a jig for drilling
Three guide pieces screwed to a piece of plywood form a jig for drilling
Drilling holes for carriage bolts
Drilling holes for carriage bolts

I chose type 316 stainless steel carriage bolts to attach the slats to the wrought iron bench sides because I like the look of the round caps and they will last forever. Every slat needed two holes drilled for the bolts so I set up a jig on the drill press to position each slat at the right distance from the end and centered width-wise.

I bought a new cobalt drill bit for this project because the web said ipe can dull ordinary bits.

There is some debate as to whether you should sand ipe because sanding will make the surface even harder and less able to absorb the protective oil finish. Since people were going to be sitting on these benches I decided it would be more important to sand them so as not to snag Grandma’s bloomers. Continue reading Park bench resurrection

Ceiling fans and smartphones

(Featured photo by Fannie Mae.)SkillLevel3

When the air is too warm there is nothing like a breeze to make it cooler. But if there is no wind sometimes you have to make your own. My ever-loving wife, “Fannie Mae” (not her real name), is a ceiling fan fan, so it goes without saying I’ve had to install a number of them in our various homes. Since you can replace a ceiling light with a ceiling fan-light combo without running new wiring she thinks the more the merrier.

In the space of two months, I’ve repaired four ceiling fans at three different houses and none of them were ours. This last one was a bit of mystery. The fan worked but the light didn’t. After running through the easy tests (Is the wall switch on? Is the chain switch on? Are the bulbs burned out?), it was time to open up the housing and have a look at the wiring. Fortunately, most of the wiring for the light is in the shallow metal bowl hanging from the bottom of the fan and I didn’t need to take the whole fan down–just the glass globe, which is held on by a fancy nut at the bottom.

ceiling fan "bowl" cover
Ceiling fan “bowl” cover

Three screws hold the metal bowl. Two of them have open slots so that you can loosen the screws a little and turn the bowl a notch to take it off. The third screw has to be taken all the way out and placed in a secure (disclosed) location so that you can screw it back in when the time comes.

I am always shocked, shocked I say, how many wires are hidden in that bowl. (Speaking of being shocked, I made sure the wall switch was turned off before I started poking around. My momma didn’t raise no fool.) One pair of wires was for the fan direction switch (up for winter, down for summer). Continue reading Ceiling fans and smartphones

Central vac plan of attack


First let me say that my ever-loving wife, “Dusty” (not her real name), has many fine attributes and it would take quite some time to list them all. Vacuuming, however, might not appear on that list. On the friendship scale, Dusty and a vacuum cleaner would be labelled “acquaintances,” which is to say they’ve met but they don’t spend a lot of time together. When the twins were six months old, Dusty turned on the vacuum cleaner and the kids looked at her in utter shock and horror. “You’ve never heard that sound before, have you?” she said. Did I mention they were six months old?

All things being considered, I thought it best if I took over the vacuuming responsibilities, although “took over” implies that someone else had them previously and that might be tough to prove in a court of law. And now that I was the vacuumer-in-chief I could choose the vacuum.

I like a central vacuum for a lot of reasons. It is quieter than an upright or drag around because the motor noise is in the basement or garage. It is cleaner because the dirty air that gets through the filter goes outside the house rather than back into the room. A standard lug-along vacuum cleaner is really a dust re-circulator because anything the filter misses goes right back into the air so that it can settle on the floors and furniture. And the long hose of a central vacuum makes it much easier to clean the stairs because you don’t have to haul a heavy machine up and down the steps, which is why so many of us are forced, forced I say, to have dirty stairs. Can I get an amen?

We’ve had a central vac in three homes, each installed a different way. The first home was still under construction when we asked if they could install a central vac and that made it easy for the builder because the sheet rock hadn’t been put on the walls yet.
Our second home was built in 1923 and central vacuums weren’t very common in 1923. A little research convinced me that you can install one in almost any home so I hired the local vacuum cleaner dealer to install a central vacuum in our old brick two-story house.
The key to the whole thing is planning. The basic idea is you have the vacuum motor and filter in the basement or garage connected to PVC tubing that run through the house to inlets where you plug in the vacuum hose. They are called inlets because the air is sucked in as opposed to an outlet where the electricity comes out.

Inlet for central vacuum
Inlet for central vacuum

The vacuum hose is about 30′ long so you need to figure out where Continue reading Central vac plan of attack

Workshop Catch-22


Where did all of the home workshops go? It used to be that every home had a little woodworking shop for fixing a broken chair or building a cradle. Not anymore. I assumed the reason was modern technology and Walmart made them obsolete. After trying to set up a workshop myself, I now know the real reason: It is impossible!

It isn’t easy finding space for a workshop. The garage and the basement are the usual candidates but I don’t have either one. My ever-loving wife, “Woody” (not her real name), didn’t seem to catch the vision when I proposed using the guest room for my woodworking even though I assured her I would close the door to keep the dust out of the rest of the house. It’s not like we use that room on a daily basis but the idea went over like a lead balloon. She proposed using the storage room. So we compromised and I’m using the storage room. Continue reading Workshop Catch-22

Thermostat in the cloud


With my ever-loving wife, “Charlotte” (not her real name), on sabbatical, it has become an increasing challenge to maintain a comfortable, yet energy efficient temperature in the house amid her comings and goings and various sabbatications.

BAYweb has a convenient and powerful way to control the temperature using a web browser from anywhere in the world. You log on to their website ( to see the current temperature in the house and adjust it as needed. The service is free but you have to buy and install their control module and thermostat. In our case, the cost of the hardware was offset in less than a year with reduced energy costs by adjusting the temp when we weren’t home.

Of course you can manually set back your old-fashioned thermostat before you leave on vacation and reset it when you return but the BAYweb system has these advantages:

  1. If you forgot to set back the thermostat before you ran out the door for your vacation you can do it from your motel or even your smartphone at the rest area.
  2. A few hours before you return from vacation you can turn the temp back to normal and the house will be comfortable when you walk in the door.
  3. You can monitor the temperature while you are away. One guy was away during the winter and noticed that his house was getting too cold and got the heating repair company to fix his furnace before the pipes froze.
  4. You can view charts and reports of energy usage and temperatures.

Our house has separate systems for upstairs and downstairs so I bought two pairs of thermostats and control modules. The basic idea is to replace your current wall thermostat with the new one and splice the control module into the wire that runs between the thermostat and the air handler. (The air handler is the unit in your attic or basement that blows the heated or cooled air. See “The return should suck more.” The heat pump or air conditioner compressor is the noisy unit outside.)

A few years ago I had installed this system at another house and put the control modules in the attic next to the air handlers. Continue reading Thermostat in the cloud

Upgrade Your House and Have Fun Doing It