New Lights and Learning

A recent past weekend, I took on a project that scared me. I ran electric wire to one side of our garage and installed two lights, two switches, and an outlet.

I learned more through this little project than I thought I would. That is funny to me because it means that I was ignorant about how much I was ignorant.

I learned to appreciate the wonderful role of a fuse. At first it was frustrating when it blew and everything went dark, then I realized that I had wired a simple switch incorrectly. I put the positive on one terminal and negative on the other. A quick Google image search showed me my error immediately. I created an uninterrupted loop, that would have resulted in overheated wire. The fuse stopped that dangerous progress.

I also learned more about drilling through concrete. I learned why outlet boxes come in so many depths. A small project, just to add light to the front yard, taught me so much.

When I Needed Nails

I had a certain amount of free time at my Alma Mater, when I was nestled in that beautiful northern land of Moscow, Idaho.

The amount of time waxed and waned with the cycles of the semester. In the most crowded of seasons, I was with Chi Alpha, studies, Resident Assistant duties, College of Natural Resources Ambassador events, and volunteering with the capital Dr. Finch – that I planned out my entire day in 15 minute blocks – including the shower.

When the pendulum swung the other way, specifically late finals week, or during some of the holidays, I had an over-abundance of free time. One Thanksgiving break, I spent a couple 14 hours days in the computer lab going through Excel modules and teaching myself ANOVA, and on another occasion I watched all 4 Shrek movies in a single day.

Well one of these free days, I believe it was during a class cancellation due to a snow day (which in Idaho meant we got something like 40 inches of snow in a couple hours), I decided to practice my art of picking locks. I purchased a padlock or two and went about to make a set of rudimentery picks.

Snow day University Of Idaho 2011

I already had an anvil, and a forging hammer, so all I needed was some small pieces of decently strong steel. Tool steel, like that found in a screwdriver or a blade, would be too brittle to fashion into a pick on a cold anvil. The blends used in coated paper clips aren’t stiff enough at their size, so I settled on the desire to find some old non-galvanized nails, and if I worked them around on the anvil for a bit I could harden them up enough to make a functional pick.

It would have been easy to aquire those nails if I had been back at the farm, for dad kept a broad variety of styles and sizes in a coffee can in the garage. I didn’t know anyone nearby Moscow with a woodshop or an old nails box. So I went walking the streets, leatherman in my pocket, looking for a pile of deserted pallets, or scraps of wood. These piles proved elusive, and then the thought came to check the old telephone and electric poles.

Jackpot.

Within a couple blocks of 6th street, and a few minutes of pulling and prying with my trusty Leatherman, I had a range of old nails and more than enough for my project. Staples, useless to my purposes, outnumbered the nails a thousand to one, but there were still ample nails for me. As I removed them, I wondered what flyer, or missing pet poster, those nails must have originally held, and how many years before had someone, standing at that very spot, placed it – only to be forgotten shortly after?

When I needed nails, someone from the past, their reasoning now long forgotten, had placed them into an utility pole for me. Long after their original purpose of holding a flyer had ended, tens of thousands, if not millions, of people had passed them by, and yet none of them took the nails for their own.

When I needed nails, I found them right out in front of us all, available to everyone, yet left for me.

Washing machine woes

The laundry didn’t get washed last night, and I still don’t know the root cause. We loaded the machine as normal, set the cycle like we have hundreds of times before, and then nothing exciting happened.

The drum began to spin gently, the lid locked tight, the pump tried to push out any residual water, but the new never filled the basin. It was such a lackluster breakdown. A quiet spin that went nowhere, a couple sad beeps, and a soft reset.

I checked the water pressure – good. I checked the water filters – looked good but I didn’t get them out of the line yet.

I went to handy Google, and found quite the plethora of similar complaints. The one that is most exciting is right here. It’s an in-depth technical walkthrough of troubleshooting. Yes there is a warning about needing the necessary expertise to go through it…but I have a voltmeter (which up until writing this post I thought was spoken as vol-timm-iter) and I have a basic understanding of electricity.

With time and patience, I think this could turn out to be like the auto-mechanical projects I’ve taken on, very rewarding at the end!

When the brakes needed changed

I spent a good portion of one long Ohio summer at my best friends house. I was 18 going on 19 that year. Josiah and I spent countless hours playing ping pong, hunting, and riding four wheelers that year. One evening some of his parents friends were over, and one of the ladies brought two new brake pads for her oldsmobile and she asked if Josiah’s dad, Chris, would change them out for her.

Chris said “sure, we will change them for you” and looking at Josiah and me, he said “why don’t you two go ahead and do that”.

I had never changed the brakes on a car before. He knew it wouldn’t be very difficult for us, since they were just disk brakes. Plus Chris had all the tools we needed; a nice floor jack, a compressor, and an impact wrench with all the bits we could want. It seemed scary at the start, because the brakes going out from a mistake we made would be devastating, but we got right at it anyway. We soon saw that it was just a series of little steps, and we had the capability to do it. So we went right to town, jacked up the car, took the old disks off and replaced them with the new ones. We made sure the calipers were freely movable, we bled the lines to ensure there wasn’t any air left in them and we checked the brake fluid up top.

It really didn’t take us too long, and then we asked Chris if we did it right. He said that sounded about right, so we took it for a test drive. I drove real slow at first. Pushed the brakes hard. Pushed them soft. Felt them bite and release. It was a fantastic experience. No one actually showed us how to change the brake pads.

We only used our previous experience from changing tires, and the stories we had heard about replacing pads (always bleed the lines), and figured it out. That experience encouraged me to take on more challenges.

Bathroom Tap Pt. 4

Final leg of Saturday’s plumbing work (see Bathroom Tap Pt. 3 for the events leading up to this).

I now had the PEX through the floor and attached to the supply. I went back up to the bathroom to install the new PEX to pipe thread straight quarter-turn valves, and the new extension lines. When I removed the old 90° quarter-turn valves and extension lines, I found a major source of the low water pressure.

The old valves and lines were severly plugged. I tried blowing air through the lines, and there was strong resistance to even that.

Where did all of that detritus come from? I suppose many years of buildup in the old galvanized lines. If this is any indication of the future, I expect to have the chance to replace more line over the next couple years.

Now that the new valves were in place, I opened the main valve on the whole-house water supply. This way Tiffany could have water in the kitchen and garage as she needed. I headed back into the house to make sure my new pipes weren’t leaking and at the front door I heard a roaring of a water jet.

Uh-oh! I sprinted back to the meter and shut the water off as fast as I could. Then Tiffany asked me “should the tub be running full blast?”. Well that was a relief. I had only forgotten to close the tub tap from when I had drained the pressure earlier. So I shut the tub off and turned the main water back on.

At this point, I thought I was only a few minutes away from the end of it all, when I realized the extension line felt funny as it connected to the old faucet…

Uh oh.

The hot water supply within the faucet itself (a 1/8 inch copper line) was corkscrewed and wouldn’t be letting much water through anyway. There’s a good chance it was already this way, because I found evidence of a previous leak and someone had wrapped one of the joints apparently to try and stop it, so maybe they overtightened the hot supply at that time…There’s an even better chance that I did this to the supply when I attached the extensions.

It was then clear that we needed yet one more trip to Home Depot. Tiffany quickly got Katarina ready, and we all three went to pick out a new faucet.

While in Home Depot, my dad video-called us and I couldn’t hear him very well, so I told him I would call back. When we got back home, I was tired and wanted to finish the job rather than talk on the phone. I called him back anyway.

As I installed the new faucet and drain, and took the chance to clean years worth of sludge out of the trap, he talked with me and told me some of his stories of fixing these kinds of things.

It was a beautiful moment.

Bathroom Tap Pt. 3

I had finished all the prep work, and I was prepared to install the new water lines to my bathroom faucet (check out Pt. 2 if you missed it).

Throughout this project, I had many more trips in and out of the crawlspace than I am expressing. Also I took more trips to Home Depot than are written. I was so new to all of this, that I was taking one single step at a time (e.g. crawl down and take a measurement, come back up and check it, crawl back down and drill…) rather than compiling my steps into efficient groups.

Anyway, for my first time cutting the PEX, I used a utility knife with a new blade, and rolled the pipe as I made the cut. It worked decently well, but I did freshen the edges to get a nice smooth line sans burs.

Crimping was more challenging than cutting. Mainly because the crimping tool was bulky and the copper rings, that fit the half inch pipe, are quite small. However, in only a couple minutes, I had a proper length of PEX with an appropriately affixed brass adapter to connect to the water supply.

It wasn’t too long till I had both lines connected and up through the floor.

I thought I was home free at this point. I had all the hardware I needed to plug into the old faucet; two straight pipe to PEX valves, two new extension lines, even flanges to spruce up the holes for the PEX entering the bottom of the vanity. Just a few more minutes and I would be finished….

I’ll write the last bit of the story tomorrow.

Bathroom Tap Pt. 2

I started by drilling a pilot hole, through the bottom of the vanity (just off center under the wash basin) and continuing right through the floor. I fed some wire through the hole so I could find it easier from the crawlspace under the house. I wanted to make sure I was knew, when I was below the house, which pipes supplied the faucet (since there is a shower, bath, and commode all within a few feet of each other).

Next I went crawling into this hole from our backyard, which got me under the house. This gave me a look at the plumbing leading to the bathroom, and thanks the wire it didn’t take long to figure out what was what from underneath.

Once under the house, it was quite dark down there, so I took my Solar LED Lantern that my dad had bought me for my birthday. It was so light, ad bright enough, that it worked very well for me getting into position, then I dragged a corded work light in, because I was going to be in and out all day long.

I only had 18 – 24″ of total vertical space, from the terribly dusty old dry dirt underneath me, to the bottom of the floor joists above me. So much of my crawling was with my chest flat to the ground. I wore an N95 mask and full coveralls, but still got filthy and I coughed up dust later.

I made some determinations about which galvanized pipes I needed to cut. I was going to replace just the last couple feet of both the hot, and the cold, supply lines with PEX.

I headed to Home Depot with a plan to get the PEX and necessary adapters.

The gentleman who assisted me steered me away from any kind of compression fitting, or other work-around fitting, into the galvanized. He said even if I had to replace 30 feet of the galvanized, I’d be much better off by finding the closest threaded end and attaching the PEX there. He also told me to try PB Blaster on the old fittings, since I had seen they were pretty rusty. I grabbed two 14-inch pipe wrenches (one aluminum and one steel) and went back home.

I filled a bucket with water, in case we would need the toilet twice before I had the water back on, and then I shut off water to the house and opened the taps on the tub to bleed the lines.

Back under the house, I used a cutting blade on my angle grinder to sever the sections of galvanized line I was removing. There was still a decent amount of water in the lines, and some ran down on my grinder, which I didn’t like mixing electric and water. Maybe I should have found a way to bleed the lines better than just opening the tub faucet? But hey, silver lining was that the pipe didn’t get hot (hate to have any kind of fire risk under an old wood floor) while I made the cut because it was water-cooled.

With the PB blaster in place on the fittings, it was quick work to remove the pieces of galvanized. This was a great moment, because I knew I was now past the blockage that caused me to do all this in the first place. These lines were connected to taps that had good pressure, which meant I could run new lines to my bathroom sink and have good pressure there as well!

More to come.