Radiator air valve

There are a lot of bad jokes about fixing things with duct tape. None of them are funny because–let’s be honest–duct tape sucks. There are lot of fine tape products out there, and 3M makes most of them (disclosure: I’m a huge fan of pretty much every 3M product), but there is one standout that nobody has heard of and every homeowner should own. That would be Scotch 2228, an EPR-based self-fusing mastic rubber tape intended for the electrical industry. It is thick, a little bit sticky, and stretches like taffy. It has the incredible property of fusing with itself to form a solid rubber blob. It is meant to be wrapped around outdoor electrical splices to protect them from moisture, but I have discovered a much more awesome off-label use.

Scotch 2228That would be for the temporary repair of plumbing leaks. Like all good New Englanders, we heat our house with cast-iron hot water radiators, which are generally awesome. But they have an Achilles heel, the lowly air bleed valve, which has one job in life: to let trapped air out and keep the water in. Until one day, when it just can’t take it anymore. Once the air valve starts dripping stinky radiator water on the floor, it’s hopeless. You can try to tighten it way harder than it’s designed for and hope that helps (that’s what plumbers like to do, judging by the wrench marks). Or you can replace them. But what do you do in the meantime?

Enter Scotch 2228. Wrap a piece of this stuff very tightly around the leaking valve. Cinch down on it with a couple of zip ties. Blammo! The leak is stopped within minutes. When you come back to replace the valve for real, you can’t peel the tape off because it has fused into a solid object. You have to saw it off with a knife. That’s how great this product is.

October 3, 2015 October 3, 2015 home by Scott 1 Comment

I’ve been clearing out our basement on and off throughout the year. And by “clearing,” I mean that I have demolished pretty much everything that wasn’t holding up the house. Some findings:

2014-11-08 18.11.35 Jars of fasteners, mostly attached to the ceiling. Already proving useful. Given the number of jars, I can safely conclude that a previous owner had a serious weakness for herring!

2014-11-08 18.13.22 Hazardous chemicals and outdated electrical paraphernalia. Inevitable.

2014-11-08 18.28.12 A giant bundle of colorful cloth-braided telephone interconnect wire. I can’t bring myself to throw it out. They don’t make wire this visually interesting anymore. Back in the heyday of copper phone service, Ma Bell had a complicated color coding system to help differentiate the hundreds or thousands of pairs found in cables and wiring plants. I’m more familiar with the major/minor 2-color scheme used today, but some of these wires have 3 colors. Good luck sorting that out!

2014-11-08 18.23.22 A lump of coal. Saving it for Christmas.

2014-11-08 18.15.19 A wooden box for a Davidson Patent Fountain Syringe, No. 16. Suitable for use as “irrigator, vaginal, anal, childs, sprinkler, and nasal.” I’d prefer not to think about it. The box is full of mismatched iron hinges.

2014-11-08 18.22.45 From above the ceiling and behind the walls, a cornucopia of tools. Everything from a tiny oiler to an arborist’s pole saw to a hefty axe marked “property of City of Boston, Sewer Division.” And a rusty cleaver (Halloween?).

2014-11-08 18.17.29 Ancient and modern sandpaper from Minnesota’s favorite Mining and Manufacturing company.

2014-11-08 18.26.34 2014-11-08 18.26.53 The “Winter Vacation Section” from the December 4, 1949 Boston Globe. I wish we could still travel to Florida on the only railroad “streamlined for streamliners.” Or get travel planning help from Miss Hospitality.

2014-11-08 18.27.23 It was rolled into a tube bound with wire and used as pipe “insulation.”

2014-11-08 18.29.01 A bottle of booze hidden in a secret crevice behind the workbench. Because life was harder back in the day.

November 8, 2014 November 8, 2014 home by Scott 2 Comments

One of the GFCI outlets in our house started intermittently making a loud 60 Hz buzzing sound. I don’t think it was arcing, but it was certainly getting quite warm. That’s all I need to plan for an immediate replacement! (In case you were wondering, I turned off the circuit breaker.)

A little paranoia–and a sense of irony–is healthy. At our last place, a faulty smoke detector started a small electrical fire that melted much of the wire in the junction box. I wonder how many people are killed each year by mandatory safety equipment.

May 12, 2014 May 12, 2014 home by Scott No Comments

The walls in our house are made of horsehair plaster. It makes an amazing wall, without question, but it’s also the most annoying material to cut holes in because the lath tends to catch the sawblade and break away from the back of the plaster, weakening the whole area.

When installing the speaker jacks in my previous post, I tried a tip from a friend which worked great.

2014-04-19 14.33.46

Simply screw some pieces of scrap wood to the wall on either side of the hole before you cut. The lath stays in place. Filling screw holes is a lot easier than patching cracked plaster!

May 4, 2014 May 4, 2014 home by Scott No Comments

As I mentioned before, cables don’t belong on the side of the house. But it’s hard to get rid of everything when you have overhead utility service. Step 1 is to rip everything off the house and discard all parts that aren’t being used. Then I decided to route the telephone (yep, we have a landline) and cable directly into the exterior wall of the house. That is very easy to do when your house has no exterior wall insulation. Score one for 1890s construction.


Those remaining wires are the grounds that tie the CATV shield and telephone lightning arrestors to the intersystem bonding termination below the electric meter. I will eventually find a neater way to run them.

Down in the basement, I installed a Leviton structured media panel. It serves as a central termination point for cable, telephone, and network wiring.



So far I have installed the cable modem and a telephone distribution panel. Yes, I’m wiring my home for the future with exciting landline technology! There is a Cat6 punchdown block for network wiring and eventually there will be a switch, but I haven’t started installing network jacks yet. The next big project is to permanently relocate the wireless access point centrally in the house.

In the spirit of getting equipment out of the living space, I moved the Sonos ZonePlayer that powers the living room speakers to a shelf below the basement enclosure. It was easy to run some speaker wire (and cable and Cat6) up to a new wall box in the living room. No more blinky lights upstairs!


May 4, 2014 May 4, 2014 home by Scott 1 Comment

So this is not actually my house. It’s my worst nightmare:

Cable guy decorations

But that’s what happens when you stop pruning. Coaxial cable is an invasive species in North America. It grows on nearby objects by means of climbing, twisting, and changing cable TV providers.

This is my house, 3 weeks ago:

2014-04-05 16.14.28

Not quite as far along, I know, but still annoying for a couple of reasons. First, the presence of cables on the outside of the building. Due to overhead utility service, we have to live with some of these, but certainly not all. Second, the cable TV outlet is located in the living room by means of a hole drilled straight through the exterior wall. Not only is this hole unsealed, leading to huge heat losses, but it forces us to locate annoying infrastructure (cable modem, router) in the middle of the living room:

2014-04-05 10.26.47

There is a better way.

April 27, 2014 April 27, 2014 home by Scott 2 Comments

Transformer It has always bothered me that my house’s doorbell transformer draws (according to my calibrated power electronics finger) about 2 watts of standby (no-load) power. It is always warm to the touch. Doorbell transformers are deliberately designed to be inefficient to meet the UL requirements for “inherently limited” power sources. It’s 2014 and there’s just no reason for that.

It’s not that I like to waste my time putting life’s little problems ahead of the big ones, but when I installed a second doorbell chime upstairs a few months ago, I discovered that a standard 10 VA doorbell transformer does not have enough juice to ring two doorbells at once.1 A perfect excuse for a Digi-Key order.

A modern Level V wall wart is perfectly safe, draws less than 0.3 W of standby power, and costs about the same as an iron transformer. Why are these not standard equipment for doorbells today?

  1. I also tore out two generations of unreliable wireless stick-on doorbell systems. It appears that they were installed when the hard-wired doorbell stopped working due to corroded switch contacts. More than a century of research into making reliable switch contacts has also been ignored by the doorbell industry. 

April 27, 2014 April 27, 2014 home by Scott No Comments

Inside the basement wall

Behind the old basement wall. If there were a construction analog to the old sailing adage, “If you can’t tie knots, tie lots,” this must be it.

February 24, 2014 February 24, 2014 home by Scott No Comments