Stealth Toilets

Saturday, June 14th, 2008

Pretty much the first thing you learn as a homeowner is toilet debugging and repair. After 7 years, I’ve now moved onto advanced stealth toilet engineering.

My toilets flushed and filled loudly - to the tune of 70 dB on a sound-level meter sitting a few feet away on the sink. Tweaking the fill hose and float didn’t do much, so I purchased new “whisper-quiet” fill stacks. I was a bit skeptical since there was nothing to say how or why they earned that designation, but it actually proved to be true advertising. They loudest part of the flush is now 6 dB lower, and the fill is a pleasant gurgle 12 dB less than the old one. Not bad for $10 a piece!

Home Depot Does It Old School

Sunday, April 20th, 2008

Finished tileI went into Home Depot to order new countertops this week, and was impressed to see they have nice widescreen LCD monitors for their kitchen designers. I was less impressed to see them running a massively oversized terminal window into some archaic back-end ordering system.

Still, I figured they must be nice for sketching out layouts and calculating all the costs. Not quite; it’s all still done with worksheets, graph paper, and a hand calculator. And sometimes it’s done twice since different materials are priced by the linear or square foot.

I wonder if Home Depot has an opening in their CIO office; I’d be happy to take a set of granite countertops as a signing bonus ;)

Dishwasher

Sunday, July 8th, 2007

Dishwasher In the quest for clean glasses, I finally gave in and bought a new dishwasher. Home Depot s cheap installation proved to be too good to be true; they quickly decided there wasn’t enough clearance with my ceramic tiles, and recommended I chisel them out before inviting them back. My own measurements confirmed it would fit, so I tackled the installation myself. Getting it into place and hooked up was more of a chore (and a workout!) than I bargained for, but the dishes are nice and clean now. It also runs much quieter. I recycled the old one by stripping off all the interesting parts for my brother’s various projects.

View the Dishwasher photos

Dishwasher Decibels

Sunday, July 1st, 2007

I recently got a new dishwasher, and in addition to actually getting the dishes clean, a key factor was doing so quietly. This is a big selling point of many models, though manufacturers lover to talk in marketing terms like “QuietSeries 300″ instead of giving you a decibel (dB). Number you could make an useful comparison with.

One notable exception was GE, who is apparently letting engineers write their e-commerce site. Not only do they spec a dB number for noise, you can download a full, exploded parts diagram in the standard CAD DWG format! I ended up buying a Maytag that was a slightly better value on clearance, but we’ll assume they get about the same level being in the same price range: a claimed 57 dB. According to the Wikipedia link above, that’s quieter than normal conversation.

Being an audio geek, I naturally have a sound pressure meter for setting up speakers, and decided to compare the old and new dishwashers. My old one hit about 70 dB, equivalent to loud traffic and certainly enough to keep you from watching TV or talking on the phone while nearby. The new one measures about 58 dB, less than one-tenth the noise on the logarithmic dB scale! It’s quiet enough to be unobtrusive, and goes unnoticed once you leave the room.

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Garbage Disposal

Saturday, June 9th, 2007

Garbage Disposal While I was cleaning up my kitchen Monday night, the disposal started making nasty sounds. There was noting jammed in it, but one of the cutters was loose. I soon found that it wasn’t serviceable, at least not without taking the whole thing apart and releasing 15 years of accumulated funk.

At Home Depot, I found replacements ranging from basic to totally pimped, and settled on a slight upgrade in the basic line. Installing the new one was simple enough once I found the right circuit to turn off; disposal mounts are thankfully standard. Even though the new one isn’t fancy, it seems to run a bit quieter and smoother than the old one, and it certainly smells better!

View the Garbage Disposal photos

Digging for FIOS

Friday, May 4th, 2007

Verizon’s been digging around the neighborhood installing their new fiber optic service the last couple of weeks. They call it FIOS, which actually isn’t an acronym for anything, but an Irish word for “knowledge”, according to Wikipedia. The process is a mix of the mechanical and manual. They’ve pulled most of the conduit using a Ditch Witch JT921 Directional Drill (Yes, I had to over and checked it out over the weekend while it was in the parking lot.), but have spent just as much time hand-digging the connection boxes and tying it all together.

The conduit some tough stuff; it’s hard plastic about a quarter-inch thick. There’s no way you’re going to “accidentially” cut through it with anything less than a backhoe or jackhammer. The inside is very slick for pulling the actual fiber, which it looks like they’re just starting. Instead of pickup trucks with big orange spools, we now have truck with big black spools. The real question, of course, is whether Verizon will actually offer a better deal than Comcast on TV, Internet, and phone service.

Water Heater Followup

Friday, December 15th, 2006

After my previous post on Water Heater Hijinx, my friend Jerry told me his neighbor is a plumber. Running my situation by him, I found out the water company has been increasing the street pressure and a reducer might solve the problem. First, though, he suggested the more common culprit of the pressure relief valve. Though I replaced it a few years ago, a $6 part and a bit of effort was still a great alternative to $600 for a new water heater.

The biggest hassle was shutting down and partially draining it, but I did get an excuse to buy a new pipe wrench. (They make them with lighter aluminum handles now, too.) Examining the old one, I could see the potential problem- lots of mineral deposits lining the sides, perhaps enough to interfere with the mechanism. According to another plumber, the water hardness here is about 10 out of 20, which shows itself every time water evaporates to leave a trail of dissolved solids.

It’s been almost a week since the fix, and the floor is still dry! So it looks like I found my answer, and another regular maintenance task to add to the list.

Water Heater Hijinx

Tuesday, December 5th, 2006

Owning a home is a constant learning experience. When I replaced my furnace, I learned to always get multiple quotes. Now that I’m dealing with the water heater, I’m amazed at the range of quotes, from $600 to $2000! A better value has been the free opinions, including the suggestion that the water heater is fine and the expansion tank is broken.

This small tank on the cold water side has air on one side of a rubber diaphragm to absorb water pressure and keep the blow-off valve from opening and dumping water on the floor. A replacement tank was just $30, and installation took only half an hour and included the usual small shower that accompanies any amateur plumbing project. It’s reduced the amount of water released by the blow-off valve, but I’ve still got to dial in the tank’s air pressure, which is supposed to be equal to that of the incoming water.