Posts Tagged ‘Tinkerer’

Electrical Optimization

September 1, 2010 3 comments

Our house is tall.  Most of our day is spent on the main floor, the bedrooms are on floor 2 and the attic houses a playroom for the kids.  Sadly, while there used to be a radiator at the bottom of the attic stairs and one in the attic they had been removed a long time ago.  Possibly when the steam boiler got swapped 30 years ago the one they put in didn’t do a good job for all the floors so they took them out.  What is left up in the attic is a set of 3 baseboard heaters that I’m not really happy with.  They get a bit too hot, and last winter Petra’s Cinderalla Barbie suffered some hair meltage because she was placed up against one of them.


I’ve been thinking of ways to try and reduce the electricity usage needed for the playroom and I’ve been batting around a few ideas.  One is that I need to get a programmable thermostat for the attic.  There aren’t any kids up there between 8PM and 8AM so having the heat off/very low would do a good job to cut usage by up to 1/2.  The other thing I’d like to put in is a ceiling fan which would pull up the cold air and force the warm ceiling-level air to circulate down.  As our house has no forced air heating it can get pretty stagnant and it should help to make the room more comfortable when set a bit cooler and make the heat created more usable.  The third thing I have in mind is I would like to have an on-demand heater that senses when the room is in use and heats it up.  I know that infrared heaters create heat immediately, so I would like to go to the store and give some a try.  If I could have the baseboards hold the temp at cool but manageable during the day the infrared could quickly make it comfortable.


I don’t know if I will have the time/money to do the infrared thing this year.  Heck, I think it would be efficient to put in-floor heating under the carpet but the cost is just waaaay to high for that.  Even without the infrared I think I can save half the heat costs which at 10c per kwh x 3 1000w heaters x 16 hours heating per day x 30 days x 5 months would mean saving half of $720.  Hmm…  looking at it that way it might be a good idea just to shut down the playroom for Jan-Feb… 


Well, that’s the plan, I’ll have to let you know how it works out.

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Wet Pigs

August 17, 2010 2 comments

Pigs, like most animals, drink water.  If you’re going to raise a pig you need to give it water.  Also, you don’t want to spend the whole day filling up glasses of water for your pig and putting tiny umbrellas on the side, firstly the pigs will try to eat the umbrella, secondly, you’d look like an idiot.

Seriously though, when it came time to get the pigs in the middle of summer we needed to have some sort of watering plan.  A pig will drink 2-6 L a day, so 3 or 4 pigs can drink 20 L easily.  This is way too much to haul out every day, unlike with our chickens where we fill their waters as needed.  When we picked the location of the pig pen it was mostly about having an area that was already fenced off, it was fortuitous that it was also located between two electrified buildings and a source of water.  The pumphouse is right beside the pen, and DSC_0318initially the pigs were watered using a simple method of a garden hose running out of the building, connected to a watering wand mounted on the fence and it would pour into a bucket on the ground.  Now, this sounds good except a pig will play with a bucket of water and flip it over or pull it around where it wouldn’t get filled anymore.  Also, you don’t want the water running all day long.  I had installed a timer switch on the well pump which would let the garden get 3 hours of soaking a night, and the timer was good enough I could program in 7 events.  DSC_0313Initially I had it go an hour in the morning, an hour in the early afternoon, an hour in the later afternoon and an hour in the evening.  Seriously, they didn’t need the shower on that often.  My next task was to figure out where the water was mostly going from the shower and dig a little pool for the pigs so the water would hold for a while instead of just running into the ground, this has worked well and while our pigs don’t appear to be big wallowers I have caught them in the pool from time to time.

With this sub-optimal solution to buy me some time I tried to figure out a way to get an on-demand system for the pigs.  Erron had done some reading about nipple waterers where the pigs could drink from a tap they turned on themselves.  DSC_0328This sounded great if we could get something set up.  I couldn’t have the well pump running 24/7 so I had to come up with a reservoir for the water.  At first I considered using the 300 gallon plastic tank we had hiding behind the garage as this could get filled once a month maybe and hold enough water.  I then calculated the pressure that the water would exert from the 1 m height and figured it would be too low to get good flow for the pigs, plus the tank might get overgrown with algae and that was another possible headache.

So I had to find a pig waterer and come up with a way to hold a reserve of water.  I thought about the city water hookup I had just finished and how I had 2 pressure tanks that were pretty much useless since the pump I installed didn’t need them, one could be a good reservoir if I could keep it filled.  If you don’t know how a pressure tank works, here is a simple description.  Imagine a steel tank, and in that tank is a balloon.  If you have an opening at the bottom of the tank and put pressurized water into it the pressure of the water will compress the balloon until the balloon air pressure matches the water pressure.  So a pump that operates at 50 psi will be able to crush the balloon down until the air inside is at 50 psi. 9772 If you turn off the pump the water doesn’t lose pressure because the balloon is still doing some pushing.  As you draw some water out the pressure will drop, but a hell of a lot more slowly than if there was no balloon pushing it out.  This would be great, except when I turn off the well pump the water gets sucked back down the well so the pressure tank would just empty out the wrong way.  I had to get a valve that would allow only a one-way flow of water, a check valve!  So I had an idea for a tank, and a valve, but what about the actual watering attachment?  I checked Co-Op and Peavey Mart, the 2 bigger farm stores in the city and they had nothing.  I then thought to check a pet store as they might have something useable.  Sure enough I found the lixit at petsmart, pretty much exactly what I needed but marked for getting fresh water for your dog in the summer.  Add in a run of hose I already had on hand from the city water project, a bunch of connectors and hose clamps, and we had a plan!


Here is the main parts of the water system in the pumphouse, you can’t see the 3 taps behind me that control where the water goes when the pump is turned on.


And here we have little pink pig demonstrating the proper “Push with your nose and drink” technique.  Within a day all the pigs had it figured out, they’re just that smart.


And… just for fun, here is the little pink pig demonstrating the puddle wallow.  Nobody would go in while I was taking pictures so he might have been picked to demonstrate because he was the easiest to toss in.

The Sound Of One Car Dying

August 13, 2010 3 comments

We live 7 km down a gravel road and then maybe 25 km to Saskatoon.  The highway is usually quite clear, even on snowy days as it is the main thoroughfare in the province, the road connecting Saskatoon and Regina.  330ish days  a year the gravel road is in good shape, they grade it regularly as it is used to haul gravel from a pit beside the lake, and because of this the road is also double the width of some minor gravel roads.  But, on das when we have had a decent amount of rain for 2 or more days the road becomes saturated and the slick, muddy mess becomes something of an adventure to drive on.  This is the way it was the weekend we moved in, and this is how the road was today.  I was heading home, doing a somewhat cautious 30-40 km/h (on really bad days I’ve slowed to 10-15) and going in and out of puddles, the road is rough, but not too bad.  I’m just getting in sight of home when I feel the car start to slow down, a bit confused I step harder on the gas and… nothing?  I look at the tachometer and sure enough it is flat at 0, the car has stalled.  I coast over to the side of the road and figure, whatever, it will be an easy restart.  I put it into park, turn the key and get greeted with a chunka chunka chunka chunka – nothing.  For some reason it won’t start, maybe I splashed water in somewhere it shouldn’t be?  I pop the hood and open up the air filter, looks dry, even though I am now getting poured on.  I close the hood, give it a few minutes and try again.  Still nothing…  time to call Erron.  I give her a call and tell her I am really close, could she come get me?  While she gets the kids in their boots and coats and strapped in I give it a few more tries but it is really doing nothing at all.  Erron shows up and I tell her we should tow the car home since I don’t want someone to slip in the mud and slam into the car.  We head home and pick up a couple tie-straps (maybe not rated for a car pull, but we’ll be going very slow).  We come back and I hook up the car to the van.  Erron drives while I coast the car in neutral back home.  The drive went slow but well and we drop the car in front of the garage.  After supper, while putting Micah to sleep I look up the likely candidate of a hydrolocked car and get this sickly feeling that my car has essentially “dry drowned” I don’t quite give up and decide to go outside and check it out again.  While trying to start the car I notice that while it is trying to turn over, it sounds like there is no ignition at all, also, I listen very carefully while I put the key in and notice that there is no sound of the fuel getting pressurised.  These together have me pull out the manual to figure out which fuse is the fuel injector and I track it down in the engine compartment.   I pull the fuse and sure enough, it is burnt out, nicely there is a spare held in the same bank and I put it in, get in the car and she starts with no troubles.  Red car, you gave me quite a scare.

City Water

August 6, 2010 Leave a comment

When we had the acreage inspected once of the things the previous owners were up front about was the well.  They had managed to run it out at one time and had partially gotten the hookup for city water done, but over time the well regenerated itself and they went back to well water instead of getting the hookup completed.  They let us know that it would be something like $2000 to get it all hooked up if we wanted to do it at a later date.  After the well inspection came back that our 30-foot deep well in the basement had only a depth of 2 feet of water (and the guy said this wasn’t good) we tried to get the previous owners to get it hooked up before we moved in but they said no.  Well, we thought… we can give the well water a try and if it seems to not work out we can get the city water hooked up ourselves.  As it was, the previous owners had also purchased a reverse osmosis whole-house system which softened and then filtered the well water and put it into a (approximately) 200 gallon tank to feed into the house lines, so there was no problems with water quality, just possibly a problem with quantity.

Over the next 11 months we did pretty good for water usage.  We bottomed out the well several times, but with the holding tank of filtered water once we noticed the tank was empty the well had recovered.  When we had guests we were more likely to run out, when we got a new high efficiency clothes washer we were less likely to run out, and so it went.  I also realized I could drop the rate at which the reverse osmosis system consumed water to give the well more time to feed into the filter which seemed to make a good difference.

About a month ago, actually the evening before we were supposed to drive out to Canmore for a vacation and wedding I noticed that we were out of water, and when I went to re-initiate the well pump it didn’t do a thing.  I hauled it up out of the well and gave it the once-over, making sure that when it was powered it was really dead and went to tell Erron the bad news.  She was a bit worried that this would mean putting off our trip another day as she thought it was the septic tank pump that had died (heck, I’ve replaced the thing 3 times since February).  But I assured her we could go without any delays.  The water piping had a drain port to attach a garden hose and I went out to the yard and ran a hose from the outside tap into the house, down the basement and to the drainage port.  This wouldn’t work except for the fact that we have 2 wells, a 2 well pumps.  The outside taps are all fed off a well that is deeper and housed in the aptly-named pumphouse located right beside the pig sty.  With this well and pump feeding water into the house system we could buy ourselves some time before fixing this pesky house well pump problem.

Coming back from Canmore I had planned on getting a new pump from Home Depot in Calgary (just to save the provincial sales tax) but a delay made me skip it.  We also thought about stopping the next weekend when we were visiting friends in Edmonton, but when I stopped in Lloydminster the Home Depot was already closed.  So, it was to be a well pump purchased in Saskatoon, so be it.  I looked at getting a convertible jet pump as a shallow well jet pump can only pump water up 25 feet before it runs out of oomph.  A jet pump can go about 100 feet with the proper piping installed, as it does some kind of fancy loop-de-loop with the water to help push it up instead of just using suction.  This was supposed to price at below $300, but then I began to worry that the pump we had currently, the dead one, was actually a submersible pump, instead of the pump being in the basement on the floor and sucking the water out it actually dropped into the well and pushed the water up.  This made sure the pump couldn’t lose it’s priming (which would surely happen if the well bottomed out again with a jet pump), plus we didn’t have the right piping in place for the jet pump so I revised my search and looked into submersible pumps.  I was in for quite a surprise as the prices suddenly jumped to about $700 for a pump.  ACK!!!  This made me reconsider the whole thing.

the octagon is the cap for the well, the tanks are the water softening gizmos

One the pro side, paying for the new pump would continue our “free” water supply (not counting power usage).  On the con side, did I want to sink that kind of cash into a new pump for a well that might very well be slowly running dry and in all likelihood not keep up once the kids were having more than one shared bath every couple of days?  It seemed like it might be a good idea to revisit the city water hookup.

I went into the deepest depths of the basement and found this:


There is a hole jackhammered into the cement floor with the black water pipe coming up, it goes to what looks like a valve, a pressure gauge, a pressure regulator, the water meter, some weird triple outlet doohickey and then some electrical thingamabob.

Great…  if I wanted to hookup the water I had to figure out how the damn thing worked.  I remembered the inspector telling me this would be a trickle system.  So it would have lower pressure than the city, and the low flow rate would be buffered by a huge holding tank also in the basement (about 500 gallons).  So I formulated this plan:

1: figure out what the electrical thingamabob was (I figured it was an electrically triggered valve, but how?)

2: figure out how to hook this into the holding tank

3: hook up a pump from the tank to the house system

4: get the water turned on at the outside curb-stop (you may have noticed these things on your own yard, a pipe coming up with a pentagonal cap that runs down about 6-10 feet to drop below the frost line where the actual valve to turn on your house water is found)

For part 1 I closely inspected the gadget and checked the website of the manufacturer.  It was an ASCO RedHat II, part of a series of valves that can be powered to open, or powered to close, and powered off of AC current, or powered off of DC current.  After close inspection, and shoddy test-wiring the thing, I found out that applying 120V would open the valve.  So we had the first part of our design.  I had to find a float switch that would go into the tank.  When it wasn’t floating (because the tank was low) it would supply power to the valve, open it up, and more water would flow in.  When the switch started to float it would kill the power, close the valve, and the tank (and the basement) wouldn’t fill with water.

Next this valve would be piped to run into the tank (sounded simple enough) and I would have to also run pipes out of the tank into a new pump.

I took Elijah with me on a shopping trip one morning, and after not finding the pump I wanted at Home Depot I checked the Canadian Tire online flyer to see what they had.  Holy Score!  They were having a 40% off sale on their pumps!  We went over and I got this pretty little devil.pump At 40% off this more powerful/better regulated pump was cheaper than the entry model one I was going to get at Home Depot, so I was definitely in luck.  We looked around for the float switch, but it was not something they carried, we then went to Rona, but once again this was a specialty part.  We went to a well water, farm water store and they had the switch we needed, so we were ready to go for the expensive pieces, now we just needed all the hoses, clamps, T’s and elbows to hook it all up.

I went to the north-side Home Depot which was 1 block away from the water store, they had plenty of connectors, but no good pipes.  We then went to the south-side Home Depot and they had the black pipe I needed (no stripe = 50 PSI and no for potable water, red stripe = 75 PSI and drinkable water, green stripe = 100 PSI and even more potable water) and we got a 100 foot roll of the green stripe to be on the safe side.  Bad news, they had a horrible selection of connectors, half the bins were empty, and most of the empty ones were for the 3/4” pipe we were using.  I contemplated taking Elijah to an 8th… 9th… hardware store, but decided against it and got some T- adapters and caps instead of the 90 degree elbows I actually wanted.  One the way home I called the Dundurn Rural Water Authority to arrange for someone to come and turn our water on, we were going to be getting this done very soon.

That night I hooked up the switch, drilled some holes in the tank and ran the hose from the powered valve into the tank.  I stopped there as I figured at the very least when the guy turned the water on it could accumulate in the tank while I did the rest.  Sure enough, he showed up the next morning and turned it on, took a look at my handiwork and made a few suggestions (I drilled a hole in the hose that was in the tank near the top to prevent it from siphoning the water out if the pressure from the system went down, and lowered the switch as he said most people only keep a 2-day supply in the tank).  We went outside and I showed him where the curbstop was, he brought out the special tools and turned the water on, we went back into the basement and sure enough we had water pressure, and plugging in the float switch caused the valve to open and slowly start to fill the tank.

That evening I started by rewiring the plug in that would feed the new pump as when I traced it back the thing was hooked into the same breaker as the R. O. system.  This breaker would trip occasionally if the well had run dry, so I was sure it couldn’t handle running both systems at once.  The shitty thing was it was piggybacked into the R.O. outlet 2 feet from the main panel of the house, I can never say this enough: CONTRACTORS ARE LAZY!!!  I couldn’t get the wires to reach a new breaker in the main panel, but a sub-panel on the other side of the room could be reached and I put in a new breaker in that panel just for the switched valve and pump. I then spent another 6ish hours drilling holes for the pump piping into the tank, hooking up the pump, hooking up the pipes from the pump into the hole in the wall of that cement room and around some corners, under some stairs and finally to where the existing hoses were for for filtration system.  Uncurl pipe… measure length… cut pipe… attach connectors… tighten hose clamps… over and over again.  Finally I got it all hooked up and I got the tank filling.  There was a leak at the pump that was remedied by simple tightening (this was a threaded connection, unlike the majority of clamped connections).  And when the tank had filled enough I tried to get the pump to prime so it would suck the water out of the holding tank and pump it into the reverse osmosis sytem (and onwards to the house).  It took me several attempts to prime the pump, as it had to have the whole suction line filled with water before it could work properly, but once I had it the pump ran like a charm.  I had a pressure gauge over by the R.O. system and I could see it climbing while the pump ran while anxiously looking and listening for leaks as the pressure built up to about 55 PSI.  Wouldn’t you know it, there were no more leaks, not even little ones, how’s that for a job well done?  I went to bed, waiting for the tank to fill (it probably took about 12 hours to get to 300-400 gallons).

So there you have it, we are now hooked up to city water.  The final cost was under $350 total for all parts and connectors and maybe a total of 15 hours for the acquisition and hookup of all the parts.  I no longer need to worry about a well that might not have lasted another year, I saved at least a thousand dollars by doing it myself, and the thing worked just exactly as I planned.

Here is the tank, the water level is at about eye level for me, I needed a 3-foot high step stool just to get high enough to haul myself up to work on top of it
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Goodbye, Blog

August 4, 2010 1 comment

When I started this blog it was a place to vent a bit about work and give some updates to friends.  This humble blog had a humble name, it was simply “blog” because I didn’t really have any audience or purpose in mind other than updates to a small handful of people.  Over the last couple weeks, as I was thinking about the summer blog challenge it came to me that I might actually have something to say, I have opinions, I do interesting things, and if some random person was to ever read this blog it should at least have a name.  The other realization that came a few weeks earlier, that lead to the one we have just discussed, is that I now have a hobby, something I enjoy doing in my time not working or just being a Dad.  A decade and a half ago I was an avid reader, but I don’t have the time or drive to sit and read much anymore (I blame grad school for that).  For a long time I didn’t really have any hobbies to speak of, I didn’t play video games, I wasn’t a huge fan of some TV show, I didn’t play sports, I wasn’t a member of some club…  between work and family that was most of my day.  When we moved to the acreage we had some plans to make more of it than just a big empty space; well, at least Erron had plans to make it more than just a big empty space.  All my life I have been a tinkerer, I used to take apart toys, I would rip apart anything broken and more often than not troubleshoot it back to life.  Most of my lab equipment in grad school was stuff I fixed and the combination of a tight wallet and common sense taught me about the basics of woodwork, electrical and plumbing.  As we have started to make this acreage a farm I have found many opportunities to challenge myself in coming up with ways to use what past generations have left for us lying around to return to a useful state.

So, if I’ve got something to say it will probably be something that can be put into one, or several of the categories that have been made into the name of this blog.  I am a teacher, I am a tinkerer, I am a farmer and I am a geek.  These skills have gotten me this far, and I probably have a few stories to tell, so welcome to the repurposing of my blog.


July 23, 2009 1 comment

Erron has had a lot to say about our temporary house, and it’s all true.  The place did stink to high heaven like wet smoky dog when we moved in, and when you’re down on the carpte playing with the kids it still does somewhat.  The third bedroom that is full of boxes still reeks of smoke when you open the door despite having a fan in the window going for days and weeks on end.  But…  there was one surprise found in the basement…


A bike… of some sort…

Elijah has enjoyed pushing it around the basement, I know this because it moves from place to place occasionally.  At first we thought the old renters would come and get it, but a little poking around by me showed it was broken and maybe they just left it by accident since it was in the basement and then if they realised it was left behind didn’t care to come and get it.

I managed to find the charger in the basement, the prongs have become broken away from the case so they have collapsed inside.  Taking off the seat also revealed several broken/snapped wires.  Today Elijah and I went to the hardware store to get a soldering iron so I could try and fix the thing while everyone was asleep.  The charger is now fixed and 3 wires have been reattached, the brake cable has also been tightened so it will work properly.  I have no idea how long it needs to charge, I have no idea how fast it can go, I have no idea if it is safe for children or if it is supposed to be for older kids/adults.  There is not a single identifiable marking on the thing, only a safety sticker on the seat that says (in brief) obey local laws, kids have adult supervision, don’t drive drunk, don’t drive on wet roads or hills.

Tomorrow maybe we’ll see what this thing is capable of.

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