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.]


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.

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.



Sunlight Brings TI Solar Calculator to Life

ti_15_calculatorWhile cleaning the basement a couple weeks ago I found an old TI-15 calculator.  It’s so old, I can’t even remember when we got it.  It was covered with dust.  I cleaned it with a paper towel that was slightly dampened with a spray of Windex.  Being solar powered (at least partially), I held it up close to the light for a minute and tried to turn it on.  Nothing.  I tried again, giving it more light, still nothing.  I was about to throw it away, but decided to give it one more chance.  The next day I put it on the front porch rail, propping it up in the bright light of the morning sun.  A couple of canvassers came by to talk to me about their party’s candidate.  I noticed they looked curiously at the calculator, but they didn’t say anything about it.  After 20 or 30 minutes in the sun, I picked it up and gave it a try.  It worked perfectly.  It’s been working fine for over a week now.  Makes me happy to have a quality product that has gone above and beyond the call of duty.  I’m glad I gave it another chance.  Instead of being thrown away, I can now use it or give it to someone.

Saving Money With a Bow Saw

Over the past weekend I avoided the convenience of paying someone to cut some low-bow_sawhanging branches on the trees in my yard.  I avoided the convenience of cutting them down with a noise- and pollution-making chainsaw.  Instead, I cut them down myself, and then cut them into sections so the county trash collectors would take them away, all with a bow saw that cost less than $20.  I also avoided needing to pay to go to a gym.  And I got lots of fresh air, sunshine, and a good upper-body workout.

$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?