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.


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 any risk.  As the big box stores didn’t have what I needed, a compression tee made by Sioux Chief, 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 once was cut free from part of its support.  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 course of an hour a small droplet of water appeared on the bottom of the pipe.  I don’t think it was ever 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: 20 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 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.)

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 cleaning products that come in contact with the water that is stored 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,
  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,
    • 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.



Missed My Chance For a Free Mirror

door_mirrorFor quite a while I’ve wanted a mirror for the bathroom door.  I want a real mirror, one made of glass.  Not one of the cheap glassless mirrors that are sold at discount stores.  But real glass mirrors are expensive, so I’ve had my eyes open.  One afternoon, as I was driving through a residential neighborhood, I saw a pile of things on the curb that looked like they were garbage from a bathroom remodeling job.  And there was a large glass mirror!  It looked like just what I was wanting — and the price was right: free!  It was a beveled mirror without any frame that could have been easily mounted on a door.  I got out of the car to look at it and soon saw that one edge had a small chip missing, which created some sharp edges.  So, it was no good.  (Or so I thought.)  I left it on the trash pile.

Later, as I got to thinking about it, I realized that the mirror would have been usable if it were possible to cut an inch or so off the edge with the chip.  That would result in a mirror with 3 beveled edges and one flat edge.  That would be okay, though.  I could mount the mirror with the nice beveled edges on the top and sides and the flat edge on the bottom where it would be less noticeable.  Question was: would I have to take the mirror to a professional glass cutter? or could I do it myself?

A few minutes on youtube and I had the answer.  Several videos showed that DIY glass cutting jobs are easy with a few simple and inexpensive tools.  For the cost of a gass cutting tool (which is far less than the cost of a mirror), I could have a nice mirror for my bathroom door — and I’d have a new tool that I might be able to use sometime in future.

Live and learn.

I’m still looking for a mirror.

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, and it had 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?)