Replacing Fluorescent Tubes With LEDs

It’s well known that LED lights are much more efficient than incandescent or fluorescent lights.  They use less electricity and last much longer, making them well worth the initial cost.  For me, the long life is the real advantage because it means I’ll spend far less time buying and changing bulbs.  Swapping screw-in incandescents led_tubefor screw-in LEDs couldn’t be easier and everyone should do it.  I did that years ago.

Recently, the fluorescent tubes in my basement laundry area (which date from the time before household LED lights became available) stopped working.  Because they both stopped at the same time, I suspected the ballast might need to be replaced.  While researching ballast replacements, I became aware that LED tubes for replacing fluorescent tubes are now available.  The advantages of LEDs make swapping them for fluorescents the obvious thing to do — but doing it isn’t as easy as unscrewing one bulb and screwing in another.

It’s the ballast (which is “used in fluorescent lamps to limit the current through the tube, which would otherwise rise to a destructive level due to the negative differential resistance artifact in the tube’s voltage-current characteristic” according to Wikipedia) that’s the issue.  “What to do with the ballast?” is the question

Keeping the Ballast.  The easiest way to convert fluorescent fixtures to LED is to replace the old fluorescent tubes with LED tubes that are specially made to work in fixtures with ballast.  Just take out the fluorescent tubes and put in the new LED tubes.  However, that’s probably not the best way.  In general, LED lights don’t require ballast, so you’re buying an LED light that is made to work with ballast.  In fact, because it’s made to work with ballast, you shouldn’t use it in a fixture that doesn’t have ballast.  There are two problems with keeping the ballast: (1) it will eventually fail (which will leave you in the dark) and need to be replaced, (2) it uses electricity, so keeping the ballast partially offsets the savings you get from using LED lights.  To avoid spending money for ballast replacements in the future (the life of the LED might be 4 or 5 times the life of the ballast), and to avoid spending money for electricity consumed by a ballast that isn’t even necessary, I decided to remove the ballast from my basement fixture.

Removing the Ballast.  It’s fairly easy to remove or at least bypass the electrical ballast in a fluorescent fixture, thus converting it to use LED.  You just need to open the light fixture, cut a few wires, and make a few connections with wire nuts.  There are lots of directions online.  However, there are two ways of doing the re-wiring.  (See, I told you this wasn’t as easy as replacing screw-in incandescents …).  You have the choice of either (1) running the live wire to one end of the fixture and the neutral wire to the other end, which is the standard way fluorescent fixtures are wired, … or … (2) running both the live and neutral wires to the same end of the fixture.  Method (1) requires LED tubes that are called “double ended” or “dual end powered”  Method (2) requires LED tubes that are “single end powered”.  It’s probably best to buy the LED tubes and do the re-wiring accordingly, because “single end” tubes require a different kind of lamp holder (a.k.a. “tombstone”).  However, note well: The wiring job has to match the tube type or your light won’t work.

To review, the choices are:

  1. Use an LED tube designed to work with a ballast (easy, but you have the cost of ballast replacement and electricity consumption).
  2.  Use an LED tube designed for use without a ballast (requires re-wiring the fixture, but eliminates cost of ballast), either
    • doubled-end LED tube, or
    • single-end LED tube

Also, LED tubes are available with either clear or frosted plastic covers.  The clear tubes are a bit brighter, but are harsh if you happen to look directly at them because you can see the actual LEDs.  I wouldn’t use them in any location where the tube itself is visible.  They might be good for recessed lighting or maybe in a fixture that has its own light diffuser.  The frosted tubes are more like traditional fluorescent tubes, bright but not harsh on the eyes.

Self-Fusing Silicone Tape Fixes Leaking Washer

One more reason that fairly-new-and-in-good-condition washing machine was on the curb slowly revealed itself as we used it.  It evidently had a slow leak.  After several uses, the floor around the washer would be slightly damp, as if it were leaking just a few spoonfuls of water with each load.  Water where it shouldn’t be is all kinds of trouble for machinery.  It can cause corrosion, electrical shorts, who knows what else.  It also provides a water source for roaches and other vermin.

I carefully looked at the supply line intake hoses, where they attached to the back of the machine, but I never saw even a drop of water on the rear of the washer.  However, I realized that I had re-used the old hoses from the previous machine, which meant I had old hoses.  I couldn’t figure out just how old, so just for safety’s sake, I got new ones.  They also didn’t leak.

The floor under the washer, a concrete basement floor, still got damp each time we did a load of laundry.  If the inlet hoses weren’t leaking, then the leak must be somewhere inside the machine.  Attempting a repair to some interior part seemed daunting, but I liked the thought of calling a repairman even less.

I unplugged the machine  and moved it away from the wall, removed the back, and took a look.  Yikes!  There was a pool of water in the bottom of the machine.  Evidently, it was deep enough (maybe a quarter inch) to overflow onto the floor each time the machine was used.  More troubling, the water wasn’t too far from various electrical connections, thought, intelligently, none of the electrical connections were at the bottom of the machine. I felt around inside, hoping to find some dampness.  Nothing.

Having come this far, it seemed that the only thing I could do next was plug the machine back in and do a load of laundry.  I did this and sat back and watched, being sure not to touch anything.  With a flashlight I scanned the interior of the machine.  Only after several minutes of patiently watching, when the machine drained at the end of the wash cycle, did I notice the slightest drip.  Just one drip.  Aha!  The discharge hose!  I marked the location and waited for the machine to finish.

After the machine was done, I removed the hose and inspected it carefully.  Sure enough, there was a small hole near my mark.  Hardly more than a pinprick.  The hose wasn’t routed near anything that might damage it.  Perhaps it was a manufacturing defect.  I checked on the prices of replacement hoses from the manufacturer — of course, they were outrageous.  An internet search found some generic one-size-fits-all hoses, but they  weren’t quite as long and were a slightly different shape.  Such a small hole being the problem, it seemed repairing it with some kind of patch would be the best solution to the leaking washing machine problem.

silicone_tapeSomewhere I’d heard of self-fusing silicone tape, so I thought I’d give that a try.  Interesting stuff.  It’s tape, but it doesn’t stick to anything — except itself.  It’s especially useful for repairing cords, hoses, pipes, tubes or anything that can be wrapped with tape.  The basic idea is to wrap the leaky hose with the tape, making sure to stretch the tape as it overlaps.  The stretching causes the tape to adhere to itself under tension, which holds it tight.  When the tape comes into contact with itself, what was multiple layers start fusing into one solid layer.  Once that happens, it can’t be separated and it’s not coming off (unless it is cut off with blade).

After a good wrapping with the silicone tape, I put the discharge hose back into place and did a few loads.  No evidence of any leaks.  Several days and several loads later, the concrete floor under the washer was completely dry.  The silicone tape did the job.

Self-fusing silicone tape isn’t cheap.  The roll I bought cost about $10 and I used about 1/3 of it to repair the washing machine hose.  But the job has held.  Months later, the floor remains dry.



New Thermocouple for Water Heater

Before the morning of December 31, 2016, I don’t think I’d ever heard the word “thermocouple” and I certainly didn’t know what one was.  By noon, I’d replaced the thermocouple in my house’s water heater and in doing so repaired it and put it back into service.

The previous evening, I noticed there wasn’t much hot water coming out of the faucet.  I went downstairs and took a look at the water heater and noticed that the pilot light was out.  That was unusual.  (The pilot light, btw, is a small flame that burns 24/7 that serves to ignite the thermostatically-controlled main burner when it comes on, as necessary, to heat the water in the tank.)  Before that day, the only time the pilot light ever went out was when someone used a fan to dry a wet spot on the floor (caused by a leaking washing machine) and positioned it so that it blew toward the water heater.  The fan, I think, blew out the pilot light.  When I re-lit the water heater pilot that time, it stayed lit.  On December 30, I re-lit it the pilot light, saw the main burner come on, but the next morning … no hot water.  I tried lighting it again, but it wouldn’t stay lit.  For some  reason, it was repeatedly going out.  Some internet investigation made me suspect that the problem was the thermocouple.

thermocoupleA thermocouple is a very clever device.  Gas water heaters have a useful safety feature: the gas turns off if the pilot light isn’t lit.  In other words, if the water in the tank gets cold enough to trigger the main burner, but there’s no pilot light, the gas won’t come on.  The gas to the pilot light itself turns off when it’s not burning.  Thus, if it’s not going to be properly burned immediately in water heater, the gas will not flow.  This prevents gas from accumulating and possibly causing an explosion or fire.  That’s pretty useful, preventing your house from catching on fire or blowing up.  If you wonder how this can be made to work in a machine that is not connected to household electricity, the answer is the thermocouple.  A thermocouple is a device made from two metals which, when heated, produce a small electric current.  This small current can be made to keep open an electrically-controlled valve such that when the current stops, the valve closes.  (So, in this way a gas water heater with a pilot light does make use of electricity, even though it’s not connected to household electrical system.)

Like every other useful device, thermocouples eventually (like maybe after 10 years of continuous use) stop working for various reasons.  And so it happened that on the last day of 2016, I had no hot water for my morning  ablutions.  The internet told me that spending $12 for a new thermocouple, available from the nearby big-box home improvement supplies store, and installing it myself was a good bet.  Youtube showed me how to do it.  The DIY fix is working just fine and (a penny saved being a penny earned) probably earned me a couple hundred dollars for an hour’s work.

Note: If you do this yourself, you must be comfortable with your ability to disconnect and reconnect the gas lines that go from the water heater’s thermostat to the main burner and pilot light.  Research and learn how to do this before you start.  Be sure to follow all safety precautions such as turning off the gas to the water heater, etc.

Power Strip With USB Charging Port Solves Problem of Missing Phone Charger

power_stripIf your household is like mine, you’ve got cellphones and other devices that need charging, and chargers that seem to “go missing” all by themselves.  I solved the missing-charger problem by getting a power strip extension cord that has a couple of USB charging ports.  I connected USB cables to the charging ports and attached them to the power strip with a cable tie that holds them firmly in place.  The TV and related devices plug into the power strip and the USB cable stands by, always ready to charge a tired cellphone.  It’s been a couple months and the power strip and USB cables are still in place.

Bathroom Fan

“Bathroom fan” usually means a fan that takes air from the bathroom and moves it outside, i.e., it’s an exhaust fan.  A bathroom fan performs two functions: (1) removing unpleasant bathroom odors, and (2) removing humid air from the bathroom.  If it’s the first function you want, the typical bathroom fan connected to a duct that leads outside is what you need.  But if you want to reduce the humidity in the bathroom, there’s an alternative you might want to consider, especially in the wintertime or in the cooler months when you’re neither air-conditioning nor heating.

First: It’s a good idea to reduce moisture and humidity levels in the bathroom and running a fan to move air out of the bathroom is a good way to do that.  If you take a shower or bath and then do nothing to dry out the bathroom, you’ll eventually have all kinds of problems with mold and mildew, peeling paint, rusting metal, rotting wood, decaying drywall, … and your towels won’t dry between uses.  You might also get nasty stuff growing on your shower curtain, but you can wash your shower curtain instead of throwing it away and getting a new one.

In the summertime, it makes good sense to use the bathroom exhaust fan to remove the post-shower warm, humid air from your bathroom and replace it with cool dry air that comes from the rest of your house.

But in the wintertime, your house actually could use that warm humid air.  If you move it outside with a bathroom fan, you’re not only getting rid of something useful, but you’re also getting rid of air that you paid to heat with your home’s heating system.

desk_fanDuring cold weather, I’ve had good results dehumidifying the bathroom with a desk fan placed on a bathroom shelf with the airflow directed to the open door.  This moves the warm humid bathroom air into the hallway, and from there it circulates throughout the rest of the house.  As air moves out of the bathroom it is replaced by drier air from outside the bathroom.  Some of it comes in from the hallway, as the fan is mixing the bathroom air with the hallway air.  But there is also some air movement from the bathroom heating duct of the forced-air system.    Houses generally need some additional humidity in the wintertime, and this practice helps out in that regard.  It also helps warm the air inside the house by capturing the heat from the hot water.  All in all, it seems to work.  The bathroom, and everything in it, gets dry.  The rest of the house gets a little heat and humidity that it needs.

This is a Coffee Maker

Years ago (I mean, in the 1970s), Father Guido Sarducci was selling “Mr Tea” — a “tea maker” that was little more than a funnel under which you would place a cup with a teabag in it.  Sarducci said something to the effect of, “Just add boiling water, and Mr Tea does the rest!”

But think about it: your electric “coffee maker” doesn’t do anything more than bring water to a boil and let it drip over some ground coffee in a coffee filter.

ceramic_coffee_filter_holderDo you really need a machine to do that?

I assume you already have a machine that can bring water to a boil.  It’s your stove.  And you have hands and arms and a brain.  So use you brain and ask yourself:  Why should I spend money for a machine that does something that I can do with things I already own?

It’s called “pour-over coffee” and you make it with a coffee-filter holder that fits over a cup or carafe.

A “pour-over coffee maker” costs a fraction of what an electric coffee maker costs.  And it is easier to maintain.  And it takes up less space.  And it doesn’t use any electricity.  And it will probably last longer — like, it might last for the rest of your life — while you will probably need to buy a new electric coffee maker at least once every 10 years, maybe more often.

Okay, so the pour-over coffee maker doesn’t have a clock and a timer.  You’ll live.

Use your stove.  Use your hands, your arms, and your brain.  Don’t buy something you already have.

How I Fixed the Fridge

It was a warm summer day.  I was at work.  My phone rang.  It was my wife.  She told me that she had noticed that the temperature display in the refrigerator was showing unusually high temperatures.  Normally it would show something in the upper 30°s in the refrigerator and a little above 10° in the freezer.  But that day the readings were more than 10 degrees higher.  Yikes!  But, she told me, she had looked for some advice from the internet.  She found that many websites recommend putting a fan of some sort (a box fan or a desk fan) on the floor at the back of the fridge and getting as much airflow as possible around the refrigerator’s warm parts.  She had done this and was monitoring the fridge temperature, which seemed to have started going down.

refrigeratorThe fan-on-the-floor advice works well — if what’s causing the problem is a failure of the refrigerator’s condenser fan.  In our case, that is what had happened.  I’m no expert, but basically a refrigerator works like this: the motor runs, the inside of the fridge gets cold, which makes the outside of the fridge get hot (in the motor area), and the fan blows that heat away so more cold (and more heat) can be made.  (Btw, there’s another fan inside the fridge that spreads the cold around, but that’s not the one that stopped working.)  Once the fan had stopped, there was too much heat accumulating in the motor area and it was preventing the fridge from making more cold.

After a few hours of running a box fan next to the fridge, the fridge was working as well as it always had.  But we didn’t want to keep a fan on the floor forever, so a more permanent solution was needed.  I looked for more internet advice about our fridge, a GE Profile.  I found a consensus that the fan itself could be bad.  Or it could be the computer motherboard gone bad.  Or it could be both.  And, putting in a new fan without changing the motherboard might cause the ruin of a new fan.  But, it could be that a bad fan had somehow damaged the motherboard.  In that case, replacing the motherboard without changing the fan could cause the new motherboard to be ruined.  I can’t vouch for the truth in all that, I’m just passing along what I read on the internet.  Apparently, if one doesn’t have the ability to test both the fan and the motherboard, the best approach is to replace them both.  Naturally, they were unbelievably expensive.  The two of them, just the parts alone, was a considerable fraction of the cost of a new refrigerator.

It seemed to me that moving air from one place to another should be a fairly simple thing to accomplish in our modern age.  And the equipment required to move this air shouldn’t cost more than $100.  After some web searching, it seemed that the answer to my problem was a rack fan.  Rack fans circulate air around racks of high-tech equipment like computers, servers, and similar things that don’t respond well to excessive heat.  Best of all: unlike parts from a refrigerator manufacturer, there is a competitive market in rack fans.

I found one that not only moves air, but also has a built in thermostat, so it turns itself on when it’s hot and off when it’s not.  It cost less than $25.

Installing it took some, shall we say, customization.  I didn’t want to actually replace the original fan that came with the fridge, nor use its power source.  The new fan would have its own plug going into the wall outlet separate from the refrigerator’s. The old fan would stay in place, not doing anything, forever.  After I took off the motor compartment’s cover (which was after I unplugged the fridge, of course), I noticed what seemed to me an odd arrangement.  The original fan was in one corner of the refrigerator’s motor compartment, positioned to blow air across the condenser coils, basically moving air from the right side of the compartment to the left side.  It clearly wasn’t positioned to either take air from inside the motor compartment and move it outside or take air from outside the compartment and move it inside, though there were several vents that did allow heat from inside the compartment to escape.

It seemed to me that it would be better if the fan were installed in such a way as to move air from outside the fridge into the motor area.  Maybe put the fan into the motor compartment cover itself, so that it would blow air from outside the fridge directly over the condenser coils.  The cover had several vents.  I enlarged one of the vents to allow the rack fan to be mounted in it.  To reduce vibration, I wrapped the new fan hole with duct tape.  A few screws that came with the fan held it in place.  I replaced the cover, plugged in the new fan, and awaited the judgment of the fridge’s temperature display.

The results were impressive.  The next morning the fridge was not only operating normally, it was colder than it had ever been.  The refrigerator compartment was down to the low 3o°s, just above freezing, and the freezer was all the way down to a couple degrees below 0°.

Since then, the new fan has operated perfectly.  I notice it comes on more often in the summer (when we have the air conditioning a bit above 70°), but will often stay off for days at a time during the winter (when we heat the house only enough to get barely above 60°).  The only downside is that the new fan makes a bit more noise that the refrigerator’s original built-in fan.  But overall I am pleased with the rack-fan repair.  It cost only about $25 and a few hours of my time instead of buying parts from the manufacturer and paying a repair technician to install them.  Hundreds of $$$ saved.

A few more words about this GE Profile refrigerator.  Of all my household appliances, this is the one I am least happy with.  My reasons:

  1. As detailed above, the fan needed to be replaced.
  2. Having the original fan move air around inside the motor compartment (instead of circulating air between the compartment and the area outside the fridge) is a bad design, the proof being that my hack installation of a new fan resulted in the refrigerator cooling to temperatures lower than before I added the new fan.
  3. The ice maker and the area around it have some sort of design oddity that allows ice cubes, as they are ejected from the ice maker into the tray, to miss the tray and fall to the bottom of the freezer, where they collect in large quantities such that the freezer door (which is attached to a basket) collides with the ice and won’t stay shut.  This ice has to be regularly removed from bottom of the freezer and thrown away.
  4. I have replaced the original ice maker, which never made enough ice consistently.  It would give us plenty of ice for a couple days, then go off and do nothing for a day or two or three.  Nothing helped.  The new ice maker seems to do better than the original.
    (Confound it!  We’re well into the 21st century and we can’t design an ice maker that can consistently make ice?  My family had the use of a friend’s vacation home a few years ago.  The home had belonged to our friend’s parents and most everything in it was 1970s vintage or earlier.  In the kitchen was a stand-alone ice maker, which we were instructed to turn on when we arrived (as the owner didn’t want it running when no one was in the house).  We turned it on, heard it start up, and … wouldn’t you know it: the thing was continuously full of ice the entire week we were there.  This machine was well over 40 years old.  My friend’s parents lived in this house after they retired, so I assume it was used often.  And there it was,  cranking out more ice than we could use, as reliably as the sun coming up in the morning.  How is it that we were able to make a machine like that 4 decades ago, but today’s ice makers crap out after less than 10 years of service?)

Why That Front-Loading Washing Machine Was on the Curb

At first, when we got that washer and dryer off the curb, we wondered: why would someone throw out such a nice washer and dryer?  They were only a few years old, very clean (well, mostly, as we later discovered), and in good working order.  We initially thought that whoever got rid of them must be such fancy-pants people that they couldn’t stand having a three-year old washer and dryer and had to get rid of them so they could get the latest models.  Keeping up with the Joneses!

washing_machine_moldAfter I looked more closely at the washer, I soon developed another hypotheses.  There was a bad case of mold and mildew* on the rubber gasket that seals the washer door.  This is a known problem with front-loading washers. The problem:  Dirt, detergent, fabric softener, lint, socks, water and who-knows-what-else gets into the various folds and tight-spots in the gasket, and stays there, creating the perfect environment for mold and mildew and other nasty stuff odor-causing bacteria.  Clothes come out of the machine, freshly washed — but smelling worse than when they went in.  Mold and mildew in front-loading washers is so common, it’s called the “stinky washer” or “smelly washer” problem.

Some people never have any mold or mildew problem with their front-loading washers.  Other people’s machines quickly develop mold and mildew.  And once it starts, it only gets worse.  I wonder if the washers that never develop a mold problem are used only a few times a week (maybe in a one- or two-person household), thus giving the machines time to dry out between uses.  And maybe washers that get moldy get that way because they’re used more often (like in a household with lots of kids) and they never get a chance to dry out.

There are many things you can do to kill the mold and prevent it from coming back.  Which of these methods you need to use and the extent to which it is needed depends on the severity of your stinky washer problem.  The basic idea is to keep the machine as clean and dry as possible.  Mold lives and thrives in high humidity.  I’ve listed them in order or ease of implementation.

  • Ventilate.  Keep the washer door and the detergent dispenser drawer open when the machine is not in use.  You might want to completely remove the dispenser drawer and set it aside to dry.  When I remove mine and place it standing vertically in the laundry sink, and when I do that there are always some water that drips out, which would otherwise be in the machine keeping it humid.  If you can’t leave the door open between uses (because you’re afraid a child or pet might climb into the machine, for example), then maybe a front-loader isn’t right for you.  Getting completely dry between uses is the easiest and most effective way to prevent mold.
  • Remove clean laundry from the machine as soon as it’s done.  Don’t leave damp clothes in the machine overnight — or even for an hour.  Always strive to allow the machine time to dry completely between uses.  Check the drum and gasket area for small items (e.g., socks).
  • Use less detergent.  If your clothes aren’t really dirty, you can probably get good results using only a fraction of the amount of detergent people typically use.  Experiment to determine the smallest amount of detergent needed.  You might be surprised how little detergent is required to get your clothes clean — especially if they aren’t terribly stained or covered in dirt.  It might be as little as 1/10 of the amount you’re used to using, or even less.  Various blogs report good results using just water, plain water, and no detergent at all.  (However, chances are good that the first time you don’t add any detergent to a load of laundry, you will still see lots of suds and there will be plenty of detergent in the water.  This is detergent in your machine and in your clothes from all the previous washings. You may have to do many loads of laundry to get all of the old detergent out of your clothes and your machine.)  A good rule of thumb is that if you see suds, you’re using too much detergent.  The more suds you see, the more detergent you’re wasting.  Especially if you see suds in your final rinse water.  When you use too much detergent, it doesn’t all get rinsed away and the innards of your machine and your clothes are coated with detergent.  Pay attention to what you’re doing:  Don’t just pour and pour and pour the detergent into the dispenser drawer.  Use a plastic measuring cup and carefully measure how much detergent you use.  Reduce the amount to the minimum needed.  Detergent is biodegradable, which means that it’s actually good for mold.  If you don’t want to grow mold, use less detergent.
  • Use hot water, at least for some loads.  Washing in cold or lukewarm water saves money and is good for your clothes, but hot water kills mold.  If you never use hot water, you’re not using one of your best defenses against mold.  So wash your bring colors in cold water, but use use hot water for your whites.
  • Use bleach.  Like hot water, bleach kills mold.  So make that, “use hot water and bleach for your whites”.  You whites should be the last load of the day so your machine will be less hospitable to mold as it awaits its next use.
  • Don’t put detergent in the dispenser drawer.  Yes, I know that’s what it’s for, but … Whenever there is detergent in the drawer some of it will get splashed out of the drawer and onto the slot that the drawer slides into.  And you know what means: a good environment for mold.  Instead, once you’ve used your plastic cup to measure the minimum amount of detergent you need (see above), place the cup in the drum along with the clothes.  If you’re worried about straight detergent coming into direct contact with your fancy duds, then add some water to the cup before you put it into the machine.  With some experience you can position the cup so that it fills with water as your machine starts.
  • Use the dispenser drawer for bleach, vinegar, or ammonia.  (Use them one at a time; combining bleach or ammonia with each other or with other cleaning products can be dangerous!)  Bleach, vinegar, and ammonia are mold killers, so a bit of splashing in the drawer slot is okay.  Bleach and detergent should not be used at the same time.  Clothes get cleaner if washed first with detergent and water and then bleach and water.  The dispenser drawer will add the bleach at the proper time in the cycle.  I often use vinegar in the final rinse, instead of fabric softener (place it in the dispenser drawer’s fabric softener compartment).
  • Don’t use fabric softener in your washer.  Like detergent, fabric softener residue in the washer helps create a good environment for mold.
  • Clean the machine.  Use a clean paper towel to wipe the folds and creases of the rubber door-gasket to remove the dirt and lint that accumulates there.  You may have to do this weekly, depending how many loads of laundry you do.
  • Clean the machine.  An occasional (say, monthly) empty cycle with bleach or ammonia (not together!), or vinegar and baking soda, or borax will help kill mold and remove the built-up detergent residue and other gunk that creates a good environment for mold.  Check your manual for instructions.  There are also packaged machine cleaners that may be of use.
  • Dehumidify your laundry room.  Get a dehumidifier.  The best way to install it is to place it over a drain and run a hose from the dehumidifier to the drain.  That way, you don’t have to constantly remember to empty the bucket (and when the bucket is full, the machine automatically turns off and isn’t dehumidifying).  If you leave your washer door and drawer open and it still doesn’t get dry, then your laundry room is too humid.  This is especially likely in a basement laundry area.  A dehumidifier will not only help dry your washer, it will be good for your dryer (the machine has to work harder to dry your clothes when it’s pulling in humid air), in fact, it will also be beneficial to your entire basement.
  • Circulate air with a fan.  With the washer door and drawer open, any kind of fan — a table fan or box fan — aimed at the washer and running on low will help dry the washer’s interior much more quickly than just leaving the door and drawer open.  A small rack fan that attaches to the vent at the back of the washer is also an option, but it’s much more expensive.
  • Clean the pump filter (check you manual or search the internet).  A clogged filter prevent the pump from removing the maximum amount of water from the machine.  This needs to be done periodically, perhaps every couple years or so, depending on use.

I’ve done all of these things and am happy to say there’s no more mold in my machine.

* I am not expert enough to know if it was actually mold or mildew.  I’ve used the terms interchangeably and eventually settled on “mold” to avoid having to repeatedly type “or mildew” throughout.

Free Washer and Dryer (and How to Disassemble a Front-Loading Washer and Dryer)

washer_dryerSome months ago our washer and dryer both stopped working.  The washer, a front-loading model, had a catastrophic break-down — the drum came loose and rubbed against some interior part, making lots of noise.  Then it just stopped.  The dryer, which was stacked on top of the washer, stopped producing heat.  It would turn and blow lots of air out the vent, but no heat.  That was probably a minor repair, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to buy the same brand of washer (Kenmore) in order to be able to keep using its matching dryer.  So we’d been going to the laundromat, marveling at people who need to use a laundromat but able to afford expensive cellphones, and getting sick of going to the laundromat while we considered buying a new washer and dryer.

Given the problems we’d had with the old washer and dryer (there had been other repairs, and there’s the mold and mildew issue that’s associated with front-loading washers), I was thinking of going back to the old kind of top-loading machines that I my parents had when I was a child.  But, in a small house, a stacking washer-dryer is an efficient use of space.  Also, I had made a new hole through the wall for the stacked dryer’s vent (and I had plugged up the older hole that was for a top-load dryer that was in the house many years ago.)

Luckily we have a friend who watches and other things-free-for-the-taking websites.  She knew of our washer-dryer woes and took pity on us.  Even more lucky: her husband has a pickup truck!  One evening she called us and said there was a stacking washer-dryer available and she and her husband would get them for us.  The next evening, he delivered them.  Fantastic!  This keeps at least $1000 in my bank account.  We placed our “new” washer and dryer on the back patio while I tackled the next problem: how to get the old washer and dryer out of the basement.

When you buy a new washer and dryer from a store, a couple guys in a truck deliver them to your house.  They remove the old washer and dryer — no problem; they know what they’re doing and they’ve got the muscles to do it.  I had a good hand-truck and wasn’t worried about getting our “new” washer and dryer into the basement, because I would have gravity on my side.  But getting the old ones up out of the basement was a different proposition.  Here’s what I’ve learned (remember, in this case, I was disassembling front-loading machines):

The best way, probably the only way, to singlehandedly get a washer and dryer out of a basement is to disassemble them.  All you need is some screwdrivers and a socket set.  Before you do anything: make sure everything is unplugged and water is turned off and disconnected.

The dryer is the easier one to disassemble: you can remove the door, the back panel, the top panel, the motor, and the power cord and these can be taken away piece by piece.  At this point, what remained was light enough for me to take up the stairs and out the door with the hand-truck.  If I had continued, I could have taken the drum out of the frame.

The washer is much heavier and takes more work.  I removed the door, the back panel, the top panel, the power cord, and the hoses.  Then I took out the motor or at least part of it.  It was still too heavy.  Guess what?  Front-loading washers have concrete weights attached to the drum to prevent it from vibrating too much.  Who knew?  I was surprised to find them and soon had them unbolted and outside.  Even with the weights removed, I could see that the drum and the interior frame was still too heavy for me to get up the stairs.

The drum was suspended from the top by two large springs and attached to the bottom by four shock-absorbers.  The shocks were easy to twist and pull off.  The springs … not easy.  The drum was too heavy to lift and thus allow me to unhook the springs.  Cutting through them with a hacksaw seemed a possibility, but there were lots of things in the way, making it awkward.  I decided to turn the whole thing upside down to take the weigh off the springs.  That worked, they were easy to unhook, but turning the washer upside-down created a new problem.  As soon as it was upside-down, a thick red fluid oozed out of the machine and pooled on the floor.  For a second I thought it was blood!  Had I hurt myself?  No.  Transmission fluid?  It sure looked like it.  I guess a washing machine has a transmission, so it has transmission fluid.  Is it supposed come out if the machine is turned upside-down (or did I crack something as I disassembled the machine)?  Beats me.  Luckily, my basement floor is part ugly broken tile and part ugly exposed concrete, so nothing was ruined and clean-up was easy.  If your machine is on carpet, I recommend caution.

Disassembled, everything was relatively easy to get out of the basement.  It sat on the curb for a couple of days before someone took it away for scrap, before the garbage truck could get it.  Looking at Youtube, I discovered that out-of-service front-loading washing machines can be converted to electrical generators, which might be good to have if there’s something handy to turn the drum (like a stream of water flowing down a steep hill on your property).

Getting our “new from craigslist” washer and dryer into the basement wasn’t hard.  Set-up was as easy as connecting the hoses and plugging them in.  Manuals are online at the manufacturer’s website, if needed.

Bottom line: lots of money saved, well worth the few hours of work.

$10 For An Electric Mulching Lawnmower

Over the last couple years I’ve rolled home 2 or 3 lawnmowers whose owners placed them on the curb on trash-day eve.  Upon finding no obvious way to repair them, back to the curb they went.  Recently a neighbor offered me a mulching mower for free.  It looked to be in very good condition. He said something was broken and preventing it from coming on, but he thought I could fix it.  I had no idea that my skills were so widely known.

mower_lever_schematicIt was easy to see that the problem was the switch lever, which is a safety switch that has to be held in the “on” position for the mower to operate.  It was broken.  The actual “on” button pressed by the lever worked fine, and the mower came on when I pushed it with the end of a wooden spoon.  I ordered a replacement from a parts dealer for about $10 (including postage).  On closer inspection, I saw that it needed some sort of plastic pin, like the pin of a hinge, that holds the lever in place and allows it to pivot.  I improvised with a bolt and lock-nut.  The repair took about an hour, including the time I needed to get the bolt and lock-nut.  A new mower like this one would cost over $300 and I think this used one is worth around half that.  This is a job that paid well over $100/hour.  Pretty good work.

The moral of the story: A basic familiarity with spare parts, tools, and basic mechanics can save you lots of money.

I need to remember to thank my neighbor and tell him how glad I am to have the mower.  Who knows what else he might need to find a home for?