Attacking the root of the problem.

About a month ago, there was a clog in the bathroom drains (not the toilet, but everything else: tub, sink, and the sink in my bedroom which is on the same drain line). It took some effort to get it cleared. But that’s not what this is about.

While I was mucking about with that problem, I noticed that the basement washtub was filling with water and then very…slowly…draining; both when the washing machine was running and also when the dishwasher ran. And when someone flushed the toilet. And after the clog was cleared, when anyone showered.

That’s not good.

That means the man line is clogged up. This has happened before. It was not fun.

But I was just getting over an illness. And I also didn’t have time to go rent the big snake, drag it into the basement, snake out the drain from both cleanout spots, etc, etc. And it was still draining a little.

So I poured a healthy glug of bleach into the washtub (so it stopped smelling like sewage) and bought some chemistry.

I bought Roebic FRK Foaming Root Killer.

Following the directions, I waited until I was pretty sure the drains would not be used for many hours (last thing before I went to sleep), and poured it down the toilet and flushed.

It produces copious amounts of sickly grey foam.

It expects a lot more water-per-flush than modern toilets provide. I was a little panicky as I waited for the tank to fill so I could flush a second, a third time to get it all down the drain, as it continued to swell and foam. But eventually it was all down into the drain.

Then, I waited.


The package and website are very cagey about how long it will take. And in small print at the end it says that for severe cases you may have to remove the roots mechanically, then use their product to keep the drain clear.


Just about when I’d given up on this stuff, I noticed that I was no longer having to sanitize the washtub every few days. No more water was backflowing into it.

It worked!

It took about 18 days, but it worked!

I expect I’ll be buying and using this stuff regularly. Because $20 and 10 minutes every 6 months is better than $70 and a few hours of hard smelly work every two years, even though it costs more money in the long run.

Science Marches On!

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Posted in Plumbing

Sounds good!

As I said, There are speakers built into the walls of my bedroom, office, and bathroom. I’ve been contemplating what to do about them for quite a while.

My first plan was to install these in each room. They’re very impressive: three line in inputs plus a jack in the front, line out, all touch panel… I figured I could wire each one up as inputs on the other two and have my music follow me around the house no matter where the source was. Nifty.

Two things convinced me that was a less-than-ideal plan: The first is that while they seem to still be available from retailers, the manufacturer’s web page is defunct and their facebook page is derelict. So support might be a little spotty. The other is that they’re $300 each and I’d need 3 of them. And since they seem to be vanishing I’d sort of need to buy three of them all right now. Nine hundred dollars. Ouch.

Instead I found this. $60 instead of $300. It has one physical input on the back and the same input as a jack on the front. Volume control is an actual analog knob instead of touch controls. And it has a Bluetooth receiver as a second input. So my phone or laptop will play audio to it without having to be plugged into that jack. No line out.

I’ve installed one in the bedroom. There are a couple of annoyances: The LEDs are glaringly bright and the Bluetooth one flashes. Not so good in the room I’m trying to sleep in. I put little squares of foil tape over them; eventually I may hack into the thing and install less bright LEDs or hide them behind some semi-opaque stuff or something. For now I can still see the glowing and flashing faintly through the plastic of the faceplate when the lights are out. And the power is supplied via a short pigtail with a barrel plug socket on the end. Which is fine. But the wall-wart power supply they sent with it has a cord that a: is just barely long enough to reach the basement, and b: has a right-angle plug on the end that is too wide to fit down a conduit. Doh! I bought an extension cable with a straight barrel plug on the end, fed that down the pipe, cut the right-angle plug off the wall-wart and spliced them together. Which also gave me enough length to get to an actual outlet in the basement.

Next will be the bathroom: I think I see where to hack into the one in the bedroom to get audio out from the input of the amplifier section (which would let me send the audio from the Bluetooth out to another one rather than pairing my phone with a huge pile of these things), so I can chain them together easily. Or I may tap into the outputs and use the old volume control from years ago that’s already in the bathroom.

It’s nice to have music in my room again.

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Posted in Wires

Long time. No see.

What happened?

Well…It’s like this:

When I started this blog, I was in a period of somewhat better-than-usual financial security and looked to remain in that state for a while. So I was making plans to get caught up with some home maintenance, do some upgrades, etc. So I started the projects, and I started writing about them.

Then the bottom sort of fell out of my financial situation. I did my best to continue the blog, stretching things out with historic and research posts, and so on. Then even those ran out, coincidentally the same time I ran out of ideas for tools to write about for Toolsday, and the blog just sort of…stopped.

Things are still pretty dire for me financially. But here’s a thing about owning a house: Even if you have no money for big projects, small repairs and stuff keep needing done.

So here I am a year later with a few things done that I’d said I was going to do, and a couple of other things I had to do whether I wanted to or not, and a couple of stories to tell…

There will certainly not be two posts a week. Probably not even one post a week. But there will be occasional posts. The house doesn’t stop falling apart just because I stop writing about it. So I might as well write about it.

Posted in History

Toolsday: Tape 2

Duct Tape.

I hate duct tape. I think that means I have to turn in my geek card or something, but there it is.

There are very very few tasks for which it is the right job. Certainly not for taping ducts; it goes strange after just a year or two on a hot duct. The plastic facing peels off, the adhesive turns to tufnel…it’s terrible. And when it’s new and sticky, if you get it hot the adhesive smears off onto everything and its impossible to wash off.

Most places where you think you want duct tape, you really want gaffer tape. Or aluminum foil tape.

Gaffer tape is what duct tape wants to be when it grows up. It’s sticky, but not too sticky. It tears easily, lays flat, has great shear strength (the amount of force needed to pull the tape sideways along a surface to which it is stuck) fairly good lift strength (the amount of force needed to peel it back up), leaves no goo behind…

The downside is that it’s about 10 times as expensive as duct tape. But it’s worth it.

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Posted in Tools

Toolsday: On Tape

There are many different kinds of tape. Because people use tape for many many different things.

Knowing what you want to do with tape is the key to using the right tape. Are you trying to hold something together? Or mask something off? Hang something up? Or stick something down? All different kinds of tape. So here’s a post about one kind of tape, and there will be more posts about other kinds of tape.

Electrical tape.

You need this if you are doing any sort of electrical work. It’s vinyl, usually 3/4″ wide, and usually black. You use it to cover any sort of electrical joint to keep it insulated. Many electricians will wrap a layer of tape around the outlet or switch after the wires are connected to keep the screws from shorting to anything else in the box. And usually around the base of all the wire nuts to keep them twisted on and extra safe.

When you go to the Big Box Home Center, you will find that there are a few different brands of cheap black electrical tape, including 3m’s budget line.

I hate them all.

The adhesive on black electrical tape is black. And it doesn’t stay on the tape. So if you have to go back in for anything there’s black goo everywhere, even after just a few days.

The adhesive on 3m’s more expensive colored electrical tape is not black. And it stays on the tape mostly. This is the stuff I generally buy. It comes in 9 colors. If you buy more than one color you can also use it to help remember which wire is which.

(There are historical reason why it comes in 10 colors (including black), having to do with the history of telephones:

Every phone line needs a pair of wires. And a phone cable might have many many pairs of wires inside. So how do you tell them apart? Color coding! Ma Bell came up with a system of color coding in the 40s that lets 10 colors sort out a virtually infinite number of wires. The ten colors are divided into 5 “tip” colors (White, Red, Black, Yellow, and Violet), and 5 “ring” colors (Blue, Orange, Green, Brown, and Gray (Called “Slate” so that each color in the group of 5 has a unique one-or-two-letter abbreviation: W,R,BK,Y,V, BL,O,G,BR,S). So a pair of wires will consist of a wire that is mostly a tip color, with stripes of a ring color, and its other half which is mostly the ring color with a stripe of the tip color. For instance Yellow with Slate and Slate with Yellow. And the pairs are thus in numerical order from White/Blue all the way to Violet/Slate. And once you know the code, you can figure out that the Yellow/Slate pair is pair number 20.

So that gets us up to 25 pairs (5×5). After that, you wrap that 25 pairs in…a White and Blue string! The next 25 pairs are wrapped in a White and Orange string. Etc. So that gets us up to 25×25, which is 625 pairs, or 1250 individual wires. But to make the math easier, they stop at 25×24: 600 pairs. You can go on from there, wrapping that whole bundle in a white and blue string. And so on. But it’s already ridiculous…In any case, that’s why the electrical tape comes in those particular 10 colors: so that phone people can use it to mark things in a standardized way.)  (incidentally, that’s also why phone company boxes and stuff are that special greenish gray: that color is not Slate. So things like zip ties and the like that are that color are not mistaken for color-coding markers…)

Electricians use a different color coding scheme; theirs is all about what’s on the wire rather than which particular wire it is. But that’s not relevant; electricians mostly don’t pay attention to the color of the tape. They mostly use black. But as I said I don’t like the black because it tends to leave its goo everywhere. I buy a different color roll every time I buy some.

Electrical tape tends to get stiff after a few years (especially the cheap stuff), and it doesn’t stick very well to things that are not metal or plastic. So it’s not good for doing things like taping up packages. But you need some around if you are ever going to do electrical work.

When taping over a splice, use enough. You should start a little ways back from the joint, and wrap it around and around, layering about half the width of the tape each time so at every spot on the repair there is at least two layers of tape. On the other hand, it’s certainly possible to use a stupid amount of tape and make a repair that is no safer than the right amount of tape, and may be less safe just by being a bigger lump to snag on things. Use prudence.

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Posted in History, Tools, Wires

Toolsday: My Mechanical Screwdriver

It’s not what you would call a basic tool, but I have a mechanical screwdriver. It’s more or less my favorite tool.

The Spec Tools Overdriver is like a ratchet screwdriver’s smarter sister. It will work like a regular ratchet screwdriver, But it has this knob on the shaft: if you hold that knob and twist the handle, the bit turns 4 times as fast. Which makes inserting and removing fasteners go very quickly, and is just the thing for starting screws in wood: The point of the screw spins fast enough to start drilling its own pilot hole until the screw starts to actually bite, then you let go of the knob and drive the screw in. (If you twist the knob and the handle in opposite directions it spins even faster.) Its ratchet mechanism is very smooth and has no steps that I can feel; if you can turn your hand a tiny fraction of a degree back and forth, you will (eventually) be able to get the job done.

I love this tool.

The one I linked to up there seems to be on the way out. It’s on sale, and not shown on the main shopping page. The one that is shown on the main page has a new handle design that looks to be even more comfortable (the cap on the bit storage compartment at the butt of mine makes leaning on it for more leverage a little uncomfortable: the new one seems to have a rotating butt cap to make it more comfortable than a standard screwdriver, rather than less. And the shape of the handle is more ergonomic.)

Nothing is perfect: I have often wished for a “no spin” setting (you can set it to ratchet clockwise or counter-clockwise, but you can’t set it not to ratchet at all), and the ratchet direction setting ring is easy to switch on the fly (which is good); so easy that sometimes I slip it while working the screwdriver, especially when holding the overdrive knob (which is not good). But all in all, I would be a very sad panda if I didn’t have my Overdriver.

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Posted in Tools

The Cellar Door

I have a redwood deck.

By which I mean I have a deck, made of wood, that someone painted red.

It’s not large. Or very useful. It’s most distinguishing feature is that is makes access to the outside door to the basement a pain.

The basement outside door is just to the east of the back door in the kitchen (and 10 feet down). The stairs run thence east and up to ground level. The deck wraps around the stairwell from the back door east to parallel with the end of the stairwell. Which makes a tight little corner getting anything down those stairs.

The stairwell was covered, when we moved in, with a sloping sheet of plywood. Which was rotting. And was so heavy and at such an awkward angle that it was damn near impossible to swing open, and a hazard when open that it would fall closed again. I removed it.

The next time it rained heavily I saw by the puddle coming in under the basement door that I needed to replace it with something to keep most of the rain out of that stairwell.

So I put a new sheet of plywood over the hole, intending to paint/seal it, and put hinges on, and a pull-rope to get the damn thing open. That was maybe 10 years ago. It’s rotting now and impossible to open.

My new plan is to take a blue plastic tarp and affix a series of slats to it, and run a rope down both edges. To open it I can pull the ropes from standing on the deck at the top end, which will gather the slats up toward me. To close it I can pull the ropes back down to the low end, laying the slats and the tarp back down over the hole.

I’ll let you know how well it works out in real life.

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Posted in History