Olive the Truth About Saving Money

Avoid convenience.  Save a lot of money.  That’s all of the truth about saving money.  Here’s an example.

olivesLast week I opened the refrigerator to find olives … in single-serving packs.  I don’t know why anyone would buy such a thing, let alone my own wife.  Maybe, (I hope) they were on sale.

Even on sale, it’s a very dumb purchase.  $2.99 for 4.8 ounces of olives is about 62¢ per ounce.  At the normal price of $3.69, it’s over 76¢ per ounce.

Compare that to a can of olives.  $1.87 for 6.0 ounces = 31¢ per ounce.  (The can contains liquid, but the 6.0 ounces is the weight of the olives.)

You want the convenience of having a little pack of olives every day?

Get some food storage containers.  Purchased in quantity, they’re about $1 each.

Open the can of olives, distribute its 6.0 ounces of olives into 5 food storage containers so that each container holds 1.2 ounces of olives.   You’ve now got 5 DIY packs of olives-to-go at a cost of about 39¢ each (including 1¢ for the cost of the food storage container, assuming you can re-use it about 100 times).

Compare that to the pre-packaged olives which cost or 92¢ per serving.  (Regular price.)

DIY and save yourself $1.82.

Remember, $1.82 saved is $1.82 earned.  Considering how much time it takes to open a can and parcel out the contents, this is a DIY job that pays over $50 per hour.

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DIY Washing Machine Lint Trap

It’s a good idea to prevent lint from going down the laundry-sink drain.  At the local big-box home improvement store, you can find lint traps that attach to the end of your washing machine’s discharge hose.  They cost around a dollar each, if you buy them at your local grocery store or hardware store.

However, you can get them a lot cheaper (per unit) if you buy them in bulk numbers (e.g., dozens) from a big online retailer.  That’s by far the best way to do it.  They’re a good value and worth using, considering that you’re likely to have a clogged drain if you don’t use them.

mesh_bags

I’ve used the ready-to-use lint traps for many years and been pretty happy with them.  Recently I had one that was completely filled with lint, ready for the garbage, but I didn’t have any new ones in the house.  I wondered if I could create a DIY substitute out of something I had on hand and I though of the mesh produce bags that onions and oranges, etc., are packaged in.

I soon noticed that the mesh pattern of the produce bags is more widely spaced than that of the typical lint trap, so I doubled up by putting one mesh bag inside another.  Instead of using a cable tie to attach my improvised lint trap to the discharge hose, I cut a strip off the top of the mesh bag itself and twisted it into a cord, then used that to tie the bag to the hose.  You could also use a screw-type hose clamp and keep re-using it indefinitely.

The results:  The DIY produce-bag lint probably doesn’t catch as much lint as a purpose-made lint trap.  It might work better if it were tripled or quadrupled with three or even four bags.  On the other hand, it’s free.  Overall, I think it’s probably best to buy lint traps in quantity and get them for a good price.  In a pinch, though, the DIY version is definitely better than nothing.

Btw, check the internet: there are lots of DIY projects that use mesh produce bags.  I am certainly not the first person who has looked for re-uses for them.

Replacing Saddle Valve With Compression Tee

saddle_valveIf you’ve connected your refrigerator’s ice maker to one of your house’s water pipes, you probably know what a saddle valve is.  A valve that pierces a pipe with a needle held in place with a clamp bolted onto the pipe.  Saddle valves are cheap and easy, but they are not reliable.  They are prone to fail, either due to leaking or getting clogged with sediment.

I had one in my house, which I installed years ago when I was young and foolish.  It worked for several years, but eventually the refrigerator stopped making ice and dispensing water.  Evidently, the saddle valve was partially blocked and the refrigerator’s valves, which open electrically to fill the ice maker and dispense cold water, couldn’t function with the lower pressure.

It was tempting to just replace the old saddle valve with a new one, but I wanted something better.  A copper tee soldered in place is the best way to hook up an ice maker to a water line.  But … I’ve never soldered anything and I felt that the needed equipment would be too expensive for one job.

sioux_chief_add_a_line

Researching the problem led me to learn about compression connections.  Compression connections have a threaded ends with nuts that compress ferrules (wide copper rings) as the nuts are screwed tight.  They may not be as good as soldered connections, but they are far better than saddle valves.

Compression fittings aren’t easy to find.  The big box home improvement stores stock a lot of push-to-connect fittings (e.g., Sharkbite), which I was about to use, until I read the fine print on the label: “WARNING: This product contains a chemical known to the State of California to cause cancer, birth defects or other reproductive harm.”  Given that this line is for water that’s going to my ice maker, and then into me, I figured that I didn’t want to take the risk.  Internet research showed me that what I needed was a compression tee made by Sioux Chief.  As the big box stores didn’t have them, I ordered one from a big website retailer.

Installing the tee was fairly easy, just a bit awkward due to the location up in the basement’s ceiling joists.  (Which is another reason I didn’t want to solder; the pipe is just inches away from wood beams and electrical wiring.)  After turning off the water, opening the faucet in the basement sink to drain the pipes, removing the old saddle valve, and cleaning the pipe with some steel wool, … I cut out a properly-sized section of pipe right where the saddle value used to be.  Because the saddle valve left a hole in the pipe, there wasn’t much of a choice as to the location of the new tee: either put the tee where the saddle valve had been or if I wanted to put the tee somewhere else, I would have to repair the hole.  Using a plumber’s tube cutter would have made the job easier and would have yielded a straighter cut, but I couldn’t find the tube cutter that I think I have.  I’ve never used it before.  (I got it along with a lot of tools I bought at the Goodwill.)  So I used a hacksaw, being especially careful to make a nice straight cut, i.e., a straight cup perpendicular to the pipe.  The first cut was easiest.  The second cut was a bit more difficult because the remaining pipe was apt to wiggle after it had been cut free.  I wanted to have both my hands on the hacksaw, so I used the old saddle valve clamp (after removing the valve and needle parts) to help hold the pipe steady and guide the saw.  I added the clamp, bolts, and nuts to my ever-growing store of parts.

Once the cut was made, I sanded the pipe ends with some extra-fine sandpaper to get everything clean and smooth, then I cleaned everything with a paper towel.  I slid the nuts and ferrules over the pipe ends and then slipped the tee in place.  Many sources warn against over-tightening compression fittings.  But none of them say exactly what that means.  I got the nuts on the compression tee good and tight and attached the line to the ice maker.  Then I turned on the water.  Everything worked fine, but over the next hour a small droplet of water appeared on the bottom of the pipe.  It was never enough to actually drop to the floor.  I tightened the nuts a bit more and after that the pipes stayed completely dry.

The best thing is that the refrigerator’s ice maker and water dispenser started working again.  In fact, they work better than before.  There’s more water pressure, so the dispenser fills a glass more quickly than it ever did before.

I’m quite glad to have a better connection for the refrigerator line, with a real valve that will actually turn the water off if need be.  (Like, for example, hooking up a new refrigerator.)

Naturally, the money spent for the compression tee was a fraction of what a plumber would have charged.  It’s true that a compression tee isn’t as good as a soldered tee, but time will tell if it’s a good value.  [Update: 60 days later: still working fine, no sign of any leak.]

Fixing Flapper Valve in Toilet

If you notice the water coming on by itself to fill the tank of your toilet, the problem could be your toilet’s flapper valve.  You can easily renew it or replace it yourself and save plenty of money.

flapper

Flapper valve?  Most toilets have a flapper valve.  The flapper valve holds the water in the tank until you press the handle to flush the toilet; doing so raises the valve and allows the water to flow from the tank into the bowl.  (There are some other methods of getting the water from the tank to the bowl.  There are other methods of getting water from the tank to the bowl, but the flapper-valve method has been around a long time and is probably the most common.)

Over time, the flapper valve and the seat on which it sits can be fouled with hard water sediment, rust, lime, or other dirt and grime. (Amazing how much dirt and grime is in “clean” water.)  The valves can also lose their flexibility, which keeps them from sealing properly.  Thus, water slowly and continuously seeps from the tank into the bowl.  If you watch closely, you might see it form little ripples in the bowl.  When the water level gets low enough, the toilet mechanism turns the water on to re-fill the tank, and you hear it, which lets you know it’s time to work on the flapper valve.  You can verify that the flapper valve is leaking by putting a few drops of food coloring in the toilet tank and looking to see if any of it ends up in the bowl after an hour or two.

You might try cleaning the valve and valve seat.  Remove the valve and clean it with a scrub brush, scouring pad, or steel wool.  A bit of dishwashing detergent might help. Do the same with the valve seat.  Once it’s all clean, re-assemble it and check to make sure it no longer leaks.

In my experience, once a flapper valve is leaking, it needs to be replaced.  Obtain a new one from your local hardware store.  Remove the old one and install the new.  There are plenty of youtube videos that will show you how.  You might want to save the chain and the metal clip in your hardware jar; they might come in handy for some other job.  I used such a clip once to replace a lost cotter pin.

One final note:  the various toilet cleaners that “clean the bowl every time you flush” are bad for the toilet mechanism in the tank.  Avoid toilet cleaning products that go into the water while it is in the tank.

As usual: Do it yourself and save $$$.

Which reminds me of a story:  I had a friend, a little old lady, who called a plumber when the water in her toilet kept coming on.  The visit from the plumber cost her something around $100.  That seems like a lot to charge for the few minutes of labor needed to replace a part that costs about $6 (retail)  — but I can understand that the plumber had to take the time to go to her home and he could have been working on another job (maybe something that would better justify a plumber’s time) instead of replacing a flapper valve.  Still, I wish she had told me about the problem before she called the plumber.  I would have been happy to do it for free.

Tightening the Newel Post

The newel post (the large vertical post at the bottom of the handrail on the stairs) at my house had gotten loose in recent years  Tightening a newel post is certainly an easy do-it-yourself job for anyone who has an electric drill and knows their way around a hardware store.  What I did was basically the same as what Tom Silva does in this video — except I used two screws, one in a tread and one in a riser.  Good tip, using a carpenter’s square to make sure the drill stays level.

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 their 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 incandescent bulbs led_tubefor screw-in LED bulbs 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. Because the life of the LED tube might be 4 or 5 times the life of the ballast, the ballast will eventually fail (leaving you in the dark) and need to be replaced, which means that if you want to continue to use the LED lights you’ve purchased you will need to buy a new ballast, take the fixture apart, remove the old ballast and throw it away and install the new ballast.  Then you wait to do all of this again and again.
  2. The ballast itself 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 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 tubes.  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, which requires LED tubes that are called “double ended” or “dual-end powered”.
    or
  2. Running both the live and neutral wires to the same end of the fixture, which 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).
    or
  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 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, the thought of calling a repairman was even moreso.

I unplugged the machine (you must always unplug anything electrical before starting any work on it) 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 on the inside parts , 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.

A washing-machine modification …