More kitchen drain trouble.

A little while ago, the laundry room light blew up. With a shower of sparks and blown breaker.

It did that because of water. The dishwasher had wet itself, the water had dripped through the floor of the kitchen, which is the ceiling of the laundry room. The ceiling where the light is. So it all got wet, and kazappp! I’ll tell you about repairing the light in a later post. This is about the “dishwasher wet itself” situation.

The dishwasher wet itself because the kitchen sink backed up.

The kitchen sink backed up because there was a clog in the stack. Again.

I tried the same trick I did last time the kitchen drain clogged.

It didn’t work. The water jet hit the bottom of the clog and just stopped. It did not break on through to the other side.

Eventually, I was out of ideas. I went to second-hand stores and found a serious drain auger. But it had no auger heads. So before buying it, I looked around to see if any local stores could sell me new heads. Harbor Freight has a set that includes a new cable and heads for their heavy-duty auger. I didn’t need the new cable, just the heads, but I went to Harbor Freight to look at it. I wasn’t impressed. But next to it on the shelf was their hand-held power auger. It looked like it had a good chance of getting my clog cleared up. So I bought that.

Don’t buy that. It’s crap.

First problem is, augers don’t like to go up. They like to go down. Getting it up the pipe from the basement cleanout plug was…arduous. And then it wouldn’t push up. It kept falling down. (This is not the reason I don’t recommend this tool. Any auger would have the same problem.)

So I went up to the kitchen and pushed from the top. After a few tries, I got it to go down. It went all the way to the basement, then I started trying to pull it back.

It has a front grip. Theoretically, you push the handle forward and it feeds the auger out. You hold the handle in neutral and no feeding happens, only spinning. You pull the handle back and it reels the auger back in. Theoretically. The one I got, you push the handle forward and it feeds the auger out. You pull the handle back and…it feeds the auger out more.

So I had to unlock the chuck and pull the auger back by hand. Eventually I got it all reeled back in, put the drain back together, and ran water in the sink.

It backed up again.

Apparently the auger had bored its way through the clog and that’s all. It had done nothing in the way of actually breaking it up. So now I had a clog with a 5/16″ hole through it. Which is not enough.

I took the tool back to Harbor Freight.

They wouldn’t take it back, because it was covered with sewage. Because duh. But there’s a number you can call. 20 minutes later the person on the phone verified my purchase and sent out a refund check. They won’t take the thing back. They will replace or refund it, but they don’t want the filthy thing back. I tossed it back in the car and came home.

I sat and thought about the problem for a while.

I sent the auger back down. Once it was at the bottom, where I could grab it through the basement cleanout, I strung a bunch of zip-ties to the end of it. Radially, like the branches of a tree. Then I went back to the kitchen and started spinning the auger while slowly pulling it back. (No choice but to pull it back slowly; the power retract doesn’t work…) When it got to the top, the zip-ties were a: bent into a spiral pattern, and b: covered in black muck.

I put the drain back together and ran water in the sink. It drained. My problems were solved!

Posted in Plumbing

The way it’s supposed to go.

Last year, there was some strife getting the heat started.

The weather here has turned cool. So it’s time for me to start the heat and make sure it will keep me warm when it’s actually cold. So Sunday I bought the oil, oiled the pump, and started it up.

It worked just fine. The temperature in my house was 69°F before I started. I set the thermostats to 70°F, the valves cranked over, the pump started up, and the radiators got warm…then hot…and the house warmed up. When it was 71°F in the main zone, the valve for that zone cranked over again. When it was 71°F in the bedroom zone that valve cranked over again, they were both satisfied, and the pump stopped.

I do have a few minor upgrades I’d like to make before it’s actually heating season. The drain valve for one of the zones is a: directly over something I’d like not to be dripped on (the pressure relief valve; that’s why it was Quite Rusted last year), and b: dripping. Right now there’s a hose attached to it to direct the drips harmlessly away. But I’d like to replace the valve and add some pipes to make it not drip and be nicer in general. But if that doesn’t happen at all it’ll still be fine.


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Who made it…really?

Appliances are made by the thousands and millions. In factories in the US and elsewhere.

But mostly, they’re all made in the same factories regardless of what name is on the front.

When I replaced my ice maker, I bought the part I needed. I installed that part in my Maytag refrigerator. But it’s the same part you will need for your similar Kenmore refrigerator. Whirlpool? Yup. GE? Same. Pretty much every major US name (That is, maybe not Samsung, or Bosch, etc) fridge is made with the same parts, probably in the same one or two factories.

Same goes for laundry machines. And stoves. And so on. They have a different name on the front, and a slightly different look, slightly different features are included…but they’re all made in the same place from the same basic parts. And it’s been that way since at least the 70s.

On the other side of the coin, often a Big Name company will license that name to another company to use on their products, if the Big Name doesn’t want to make those things themselves. My GE Z-Wave switches are actually made by a company named Jasco, who pays GE to let them be called GE switches. My water heater was made by the American Water Heater Company. But it says Whirlpool on the front. There are even some Big Names that really don’t make anything anymore. They just collect fees from licensees who make things with their name on them.

Why does this matter? Well… in the first case, where they’re really all the same parts, it means the parts are going to be more readily available because the parts guy doesn’t have to stock a Whirlpool ice maker, and a Kenmore ice maker, and so on. They just stock the three or four ice makers that are in 90% of all fridges.

In the second case, it’s not as nice. Because you may buy an appliance from a name you trust, only to discover you’re not getting what you thought you were paying for. And even though the company whose name is on the outside may still be around, the licensee who actually made the thing could be gone and then you may be stuck.

So it pays to figure out if what you’re buying is really made by the folks whose name is on the front. It may not matter (These Jasco/GE switches are pretty great, actually, and anyway no one is going to help me repair them if they break. Once they’re installed, no more support is really possible if they stop working), but then again it may (as I discovered when I tried to fix my water heater…)

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Posted in Appliances, Uncategorized

I Also Want A Hot Shower.

Friday morning I got up as usual, made coffee as usual, got into the shower as usual…and didn’t really realize until my shower was nearly done that the water was…quite warm, certainly, but not actually hot.

That’s not cool.

I ran the hot water in the sink. It was…warmish.


About 15 years ago, my water heater sprang a leak and I replaced it. In a hurry. With what Lowes had on hand. I almost installed a tankless model at that time, but the idea of rerouting all the plumbing, and figuring out how to attach it to the brick wall, and all that, stopped me. So I got a 40 gallon water heater to fit in pretty much exactly the same spot as the leaking one.

Two years later it stopped making hot water. I figured it was the thermocouple and replaced that…no dice. (It’s almost always the thermocouple. They’re usually cheap. Buy a spare to have on hand.) Turns out there was a recall on the gas valve assembly. So the manufacturer sent me a new gas valve assembly and I installed it along with the new thermocouple I’d bought (because why not).

A couple of years after that (unbeknownst to me) there was a big lawsuit. The manufacturer had had a good idea and implemented it in a dumb way and people were mad! They’d built some safety features into this water heater to keep gas explosions from happening (good), and one of those safety features, they decided to build into the thermocouple (not good) which made the thermocouple expensive and hard to find (bad) and they put weird reverse threads on it to make sure you only used the right (expensive, hard to find) one.

I didn’t hear anything about that. My water heater just kept making hot water.

Until last Friday.

The result of the lawsuit was that for the cost of one of the expensive hard to find thermocouples, you could instead buy a kit to convert your water heater to use a regular thermocouple. The kit included a new manifold, fire door, pilot assembly, and a normal thermocouple.

And they stopped making this model of water heater. They’d gotten into too much hot water over it and they’d taken a bath on the repairs.

That was all several years ago. The kits were available only at Lowes or from the manufacturer. These days most people with this water heater have replaced it entirely or gotten their kit and moved on with their lives, and those kits are…scarce.

The Lowes web site said the store near me had two. I went there. They had one. And it had been opened. I was hesitant to buy it because I didn’t know for sure what all was supposed to be in it so I had no way to be absolutely certain everything was there. The appliance guy at Lowes called around to nearby stores. One store showed they had 11 of them. He called. All the ones they had had also been opened. More calls. All the ones in the whole region had been opened and looked through.

I looked at the one in front of me. I carefully looked over the parts list, and the parts in the box… I bought it and took it home.

I pulled out the old door/burner assembly:


I moved the burner to the new door assembly and installed that:

I installed the adapter to make the gas valve take a normal thermocouple:

(The wiring terminals on the side of the adapter go to the now completely separate safety feature, which is now elsewhere on the door assembly. It’s designed to shut off the gas if the temperature near but not in where the flames should be gets to be flaming hot. Which is a nifty feature, really)

And then I turned on the gas, checked for leaks, and fired it up:


And now I can take a hot shower again.

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You Want A Hot Shower.

Hot and cold running water. Almost every house has it. But how?

Basically every house has a water heater. A big (35, 40, 50, 60 gallons. Mostly 40 gallons for a single family home) tank of water  with a gas burner under it or electric heating elements in it and a thermostat to start and stop the heater to keep that bathtub’s worth or water hot. All the time.

It’s not very efficient.

It also rusts away to dust over time and starts leaking. Nothing lasts forever. Your water heater is statistically almost certain to have been made in this century.

There are alternatives. In Europe, many homes have point-of-use instant heaters. Kind of like my boiling water spigot, but for general hot water, and one in the kitchen, one in the shower…

And some homes in North America have tankless water heaters that start heating when you turn on the tap, and heat the water as it flows through. Turn off the tap, the flow stops, the heater stops. Theoretically limitless hot water. They’re rated to be able to heat so many gallons per minute (usually 2-5 GPM) and raise the temperature of that water by so many degrees. So if your cold water is 50°F (which is typical for most parts of the US in the summer months) and you want your hot water to be 120°F, you need a tankless water heater that’s rated at 70°F rise at the flow rate you need. The problem of course is that in the winter in the cold parts of the US the cold water can be closer to 35°F So that same 70°F rise is now only bringing you to 105°F, which may not be what you consider a nice hot shower. So you’d need one that can do a higher temperature rise, which can be a lot more expensive or just plain not possible. And some houses need so much hot water at once that they install more than one, ether in parallel in a central location, or one for the bathroom, one for the kitchen, etc.

Then there are the more esoteric ones. Like a heat pump, that extracts heat from the air like an air conditioner and puts it into a tank of water prior to using electric heating elements to get it the rest of the way. These are apparently very very efficient, but still more expensive to operate than a gas water heater because gas is so much cheaper to buy. Or systems that combine your HVAC plant and your water heater into what is basically a total heat management system to wring every erg of use out of the energy used to move the heat around. Or solar, which uses the sun to heat the water at least part of the way to hot shower temperature.

But for most people, what you basically have is a bathtub full of water with a fire under it. All the time. As I said, not very efficient. But that’s still the most cost-effective thing for most people in most situations at this time.

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Buckets Of Fun! And Flour. And Sugar.

If it doesn’t belong in the fridge or freezer, it belongs sealed away.

That’s the lesson I learned when I was a kid. Watching mom throw out grain that had got moths in, or ants in the sugar, etc… had an impact on me. When I set out on my own I had developed a strong tendency to keep anything edible in something airtight and preferably nibble-proof. Because it’ll stay fresher that way, and if no air can get in or out, nothing else can either.

Most things like powdered sugar, brown sugar, dry beans, specialty flours, and so on are stored in various sizes of glass snap-lock jars. Like this:


I get them mostly from thrift stores for a dollar or two each. There are a couple of shelves in the basement pantry area full of these jars, each with a label-printed label telling what is in it. Recently I discovered my grits were full of weevils. They must have gotten into the grits before they came into my house, because careful examination of everything nearby showed that they were only in that one jar. I threw out the grits and sterilized the jar; except for the rubber gasket they’re all glass and steel, so they’re easy to sterilize.

But some commodities I keep on hand in much greater quantities. White sugar, All Purpose flour, white rice…These I tend to buy when they’re on sale in tens of pounds at a time. A glass jar isn’t going to do. For these I go to buckets. With Gamma Seal lids.

I mentioned Gamma Seals in the post about The Cat Door. They are a fantastic invention.   What it is, is a plastic rim with a lid that screws into the rim, with a gasket. You permanently snap the rim onto your bucket, and from then on your bucket is an airtight, resealable container.

I have several buckets in the kitchen under a worktable—some 5 gallon, some 3.5 gallon—with Gamma Seal lids, filled with various commodities. Sugar. Flour. Cat Food. Rice. Instant Potatoes….

I wish I could easily get Gamma Seals in colors, like the link I provided. But if I want to walk into a store and buy a single one it’s white or black, and not a choice: Today we have black ones. And I never need more than one on any given day; I’ve decided I need to keep this stuff in large quantity so I need one more bucket-and-lid. If I was setting everything up at once it’d be a different story. Anyway instead of multi color lids I try to buy buckets in different colors: The sugar is in the blue bucket with the white lid. The flour is in the white bucket with the black lid. The rice is in the white bucket with the white lid. The cat food is in the red bucket with the black lid. Etc.

And label everything, of course. I have a label printer and it is my constant companion. I may need to make a whole post just about labeling things.

So that’s the story: Keep everything sealed up tight to keep it safe from spoilage and critters.

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Cast Iron

I prefer to cook in cast iron these days. It heats evenly, holds heat well, and works on the induction hob I have. It’s what I grew up with.

But keeping cast iron around means knowing how to care for it, because it’s not like other things. You can’t soak it overnight. You can’t run it through the dishwasher. It’s easy to care for, but different. You just need to basically rinse it out and give it some minimal scrubbing if required, and dry it promptly. Maybe wipe some fresh oil around inside it after cleaning. If you treat it like your other pots and pans, you’ll ruin its season. Then you have to strip it down and re-season it.

When I need to re-season a pan, I refer to this wonderful post by Sheryl Canter: Chemistry of Cast Iron Seasoning: A Science-Based How-To. She goes over the science of the process in detail.

0 - Start

I picked this pan up at a garage sale for a few dollars. It had been treated badly. I took it to my workshop and sandblasted it clean.

1 - Sandblasted clean

Then I started following Ms. Canter’s directions. I gave it a coat of flax oil.

2 - First coat of oil applied

I cured it in the oven.

3 - First coat of oil cured


6 - Third coat of oil cured

By the fourth coat it was getting pretty smooth and nice inside.

8 - Fourth coat of oil showing nice interior finish

And after 5 coats I decided it was done.

9 - Fifth coat of oil cured

So for a few hours of work I turned this piece of junk into what is now my favorite pan.

I’m trying something a little new.

Notwithstanding I have very little money for home repairs and upgrades at the moment, I still do a lot of things to keep my house and household running. Some things that seem obvious and intuitive to me, and some that are clearly specialized skills. Like stripping and seasoning a cast iron pan.

So I’m thinking of slightly broadening the scope of this blog from “home handyman projects and skills” to “householder projects and skills.”

I’ll still be doing/reporting the handyman projects as they happen, but also things more like this pan thing, or cleaning product reviews, etc.

What do you readers think of that? Bad idea? Good idea? Couldn’t care less idea? Let me know.

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