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