Sunday, November 1, 2009

Smoke Detector Replacement

The smoke detectors in my home started randomly going off after 14 years of being installed -- they had never been replaced. This sent me researching all the different kinds of smoke detectors and educating myself on what to look for, which model to purchase. This post is to share that information with you.

Coincidentally during the time I was working on this project, there was a story on the local news regarding false alarms. Here in Phoenix we had a chilly fall day and evidently a lot of people turned on their furnaces, which kicked some dust around. The firefighter spokesperson said that the smoke detectors cannot decipher smoke from dust -- they only sense particulates.

TIP: This firefighter reminded viewers to dust your smoke regularly with canned air.

Here are the original smoke detectors that I had in my house -- there were two in a 1265 sq ft single-story home. They are not battery-powered but instead wired -- although not wired into an alarm system. This is a Firex Model G-6 120 V AC Direct Wire Ionization Smoke Alarm. (Maple Chase Company). Firex and Kidde are apparently the same company.

Once I uninstalled this smoke detector, and removed the plastic mounting bracket, here is what it looked like. Notice how the special plastic 3-prong plug is designed to fit into the back of the smoke detector.

One of the most helpful resources I found online was for Citizens There they offer the following guide to selecting the smoke alarms to protect you and your family:

Because both ionization and photoelectric smoke alarms are better at detecting distinctly different yet potentially fatal fires, and because homeowners cannot predict what type of fire might start in a home, use these guidelines to help best protect your family:

  • Install a working smoke alarm on every level of the home, outside sleeping areas, and inside bedrooms.
  • Install both ionization and photoelectric type smoke alarms.
  • Install interconnected smoke alarms.
  • Install smoke alarms using house wiring with battery back-up.

  • Install more than one smoke alarm.
  • Install interconnected smoke alarms.
  • Install smoke alarms with sealed 10 year batteries.


After shopping both Lowe's and Home Depot and studying their smoke detectors, I selected this Firex/Kidde Model PE120 - 120V AC Photoelectric Smoke Alarm. Part# 21006371:



Installation was fairly easy. As always when working with electricity, turn off the breaker box at the circuit breaker before you begin.

Once the mounting brace was removed, this was the wiring I was working with:

In this picture you can see that I have detatched the old wiring and attached the new wiring, making sure wire nuts are tightened so wires don't come loose. Then I gently packed the wires into the metal box so the mounting bracket could be attached.

Here was the new mounting bracket that came with the new Kidde model PE120:

Here the wires have been threaded through the mounting bracket. Then the mounting bracket was fastened tight with screws:

Here you can see the wires are connected and the plug is snapped into place. Just needs to be twisted into the grooves on the mounting bracket to be completely installed:

And here is the final product installed. This model is an improvement from the original model because it also has a 9-volt battery back-up in the event of a power outage. This way I am protected in either scenario.

A green light should illuminate on this model. After removing the protective battery tab, installation is complete. Lastly test the installation by pressing the test button.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Headphones for Skype on your ProMac (OSX)

If I had a dollar for every time someone said to me "Oh we could have a Skype meeting!" or "Do you have Skype?" I would be sipping mai tais on a beach in Bora Bora right now. Skype? What's all the stink about Skype? Well, I guess it was meant to be, because I have discovered it truly is a cool convenience for bridging distance and saving time not having to physically meet. And if that were not enough Oprah uses it all the time, and I just saw it on "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" too! So there must be something to this!

So this is a review of headphones, rather than of Skype itself. I do not have a webcam so to use Skype I need a headset with microphone. I have now purchased my THIRD headset in search of the right pair. Here in Phoenix, Arizona I've shopped at BestBuy, Target and Fry's Electronics.

Fry's had a mind-blowing selection -- everything from sound-canceling headphones to simple earbuds. My first trip in there I was completely overwhelmed and left the store having not bought a thing. Its not that there were not salespeople available, I just had a hard time deciding. They have price ranges from oh, like $10 to over $50.

I initially bought the iHome LifeTalks Basic Headset, model IH-H400AB, which had an analog (not USB) connection. I paid $19.99 at Fry's Electronics for this headset.

According to the iHome website...

- high quality audio
- adjustable noise canceling microphone
- cushioned ear cups

Technical Specs:
- frequency response: 100 - 20000 Hz
- sensitivity: 99db +/- 3db
- cord length: 6.6 ft. (2m)
The problem with these was that there was only an analog connection and nowhere in their instructions did they explain that you have to adjust your Mac system preferences, so I was confused as to how to get the sound to work. I called the iHome customer support line and got a lovely, polite woman in India, who explained to me that iHome does not support the Mac! Oh sure, they only profit from the hip name modeled after the Mac (i.e. iPod, iMac, iHome). How do you say in Indian "Sheesh!"?

BTW, the only place there is an Analog Audio Line-in Port and an Analog Audio Line-out Port on my MacPro are on the back of the computer, which is not the most convenient for plugging in headphones. It shortens one's "leash." And besides a USB connection promises a better quality sound. So these were promptly returned to Fry's Electronics and I decided I must need to shell out double the money to get what I really needed.

HEADSET #2: I traded in that headset for the upgraded iHome LifeTalks Foldable USB Headset, model IH-H413UN, which had a USB adapter. I paid $39.99 at Fry's Electronics for this headset.

According to the iHome website...

- USB digital & analog audio
- adjustable noise canceling microphone
- padded ear cups & headband
- foldable Technical Specs: frequency response: 20 - 20000 Hz sensitivity: 99db +/- 5db cord length: 6.6 ft. (2m)The LifeWorks website for this model states: "The included adapter gives you an option for connecting the headset through you computer's USB port or 3.5mm headphone or microphone jacks."

The way this product is designed is, in theory, to be able to use both analog connection and USB connection. Should be versatile, right? The problem: The analog jacks fit into a chubby USB adapter, which does not fit snugly into the USB port on the front of my MacPro tower and wiggles as I move. So when I am on a Skype conference call someone says "Do we know who is causing the interference?" Yup, that would be my computer and my brand new $40 iHome (a.k.a. Does-Not-Support-The-Mac") headset. Back to Fry's Electronics it goes!

This product is nothing but poor design, and no surprise, made in China. No thinking about an actual Mac computer or how they are designed. No thought on functionality. Here is a picture the unnecessarily chubby USB port. Because of its fat design there is not room to slide the USB into the keyboard port, thus eliminating one possible option for connection. Just plain DUMB.

Logitech USB Headset Casque USB H330. I paid $29.99 at Target for this headset. It is also available at BestBuy and I believe Fry's Electronics as well.According to the Logitech website...

- USB connectivity for Mac® or PC
- Noise-canceling microphone
- Adjustable, lightweight headband
- Stereo sound
- Rotating, adjustable boom
- Ideal for Internet calls

Their site says "Stereo sound in seconds -- a plug-and-play USB headset with a noise-canceling mic for your internet calls, music and movies." What more could a DIY gal ask for?

BTW, here is what your Mac OSX settings should be for this product. Just go to System Preferences > Sound > Output and System Preferences > Sound > Input. Then test the sound on Skype to be sure your settings are correct and you are good to go! Happy Skyping!

And be sure to set your Skype preferences too:

Saturday, September 12, 2009

How To: Drain a Water Heater (electric)

Want to have your water heater last longer? Regular preventative maintenance will help ensure this. I recommend draining it two times per year.

Put a maintenance reminder in your electronic calendar.

Before you drain your water heater, its a good idea to turn off the electricity to it at the breaker box.

The example shown here is a Whirlpool 50-gallon electric water heater purchased in 2003. I have set up a regular schedule of draining it two times per year. It is located in my garage so I am able to drain it with the hose directly to the street by extending the hose through the garage and down the driveway.
Next you will need a hose to drain the tank. I simply detach my garden hose and use that temporarily for this task. You will be connecting the hose at the bottom of the tank as shown here. I would recommend having some old towels or rags available to slip under this area. Once you have a secure connection, take a screwdriver and insert it in the valve area (not sure of the name here) slowly open it up. You will discover quickly if your connection with the hose is tight enough. If there are no significant leaks, just let the water run.

Check the other end of the hose to see if water is coming out. On this particular maintenance I had rusty colored water coming out and then clear water. Sometimes I can actually see hard water deposits spitting out of the hose at the end. I let the water run until its clear for a while. When you feel satisfied that all sediment has been removed, go back to the water tank and tighten up that screw again. Now its safe to detach the hose.

Note: I did not touch the on-off valve at the top of the water heater. Here is a photo of what the top of this water heater looks like. The narrow gray tube is connected to a timer which is cropped out of this photo. The copper pipes to the water in and water out, have insulation foam around them.

That's it! Remember to turn the breaker back on for the water heater when the job is done. Good luck and may have you have many worry-free years from your water heater!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

How to: Replace Bathroom Valves and Hoses

Here are a few "before" picture of the hoses and valves I had under my bathroom sink. I discovered a leak under one of the two sinks in my master bathroom, so obviously maintenance was needed. In addition, I inspected the other sink and cabinet area, I realized the valves on this sink are just a flood waiting to happen. Time to replace!

Look at this bad boy! Dang! Definitely time to replace!

PREPARATION: Turn off main water source before working. Remove all items under the sink area so you have room to work. Grab some old towels, rags, etc. It is easiest to remove the old valve and install the new one with TWO wrenches or clamping pliers. Here are the two I used. You may find that the valve that needs replacing is challenging to remove especially if it has hard water deposits, rust, etc. If so, you may need WD-40 or some similar spray to loosen the connection.

On the left is the old valve that had started dripping recently. On the right is the new replacement valve to be installed.

Here is a close-up view of one of the valves that I purchased from Lowe's to replace the leaky valves. Its a 5/8" Inlet O.D. and 3/8" Outlet O.D. ($5.58 each):

Here is a view of the old hose that came with the faucet (gray plastic) and the 12" replacement braided hose, which will last much longer and prevent future leaks. This new braided hose was purchased at Lowe's also. ($3.78 each).

TIP: Be sure and install this braided hose to your valve before you have to go under the sink. You will have greater freedom to tighten it when not restricted to the tight quarters under the sink. Be sure to wrap some white plumbing tape around the connection grooves on the valve.

On the left is the new valve connected to the 12" braided hose. On the right is the old valve and gray plastic tubing that came with the faucet that was installed a few years ago.

Next step -- as shown below -- is to fasten the valves (with braided hoses already attached) to the copper pipes from the wall with the fittings.

Here is where the two locking wrenches may come in handy. You will want to fasten one to the brand new valve and one to the connector probably already on your copper pipe from the wall. You will want to keep the braided hose pointing down and just tighten up that connection by fastening the connector nut on the copper pipe.

Next connect the 5/8" end of the braided hose to the copper pipe that connects to the faucet.

And the final test... turn the main water back on and check for dry or wet connections. Adjust as needed. I let it sit overnight and check again the next day just to be sure there is no minor leak.

Finally, here is a tip for a record of your home maintenance.

Find a piece of plastic and trim it out to about 2-3" square. I used a scrap from a bag of Morton's salt for my water softener. Write on it with a Sharpie marker and note what has been replaced and when. Loosely fasten it with a plastic zip-tie. It'll be waterproof and help jog your memory as to when this repair was last done.

Total cost of repair per sink, for valves and hoses: approximately $20.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Ceiling Fan Installation 101

Being the DIY gal that I am, when a friend offered a barely-used ceiling fan, how could I resist attempting to install it myself? This has turned out to be a bigger challenge than I had anticipated.

The Existing Light Fixture
For starters, here is the basic light fixture I had before removing it for this new install. It came with the house and is in a spare bedroom I use for a home-office.

The Existing Brace
This is what the existing "brace" looked like in my attic above this ceiling. It did not look sturdy enough to bear the weight of an approximately 25-30 lb. fan and light fixture. Notice this hole cut out for the fixture is not centered between the joists, rather it is centered in the room.

Once the previous light fixture and the metal box for electrical connection was removed -- NOTE: BE SURE TO TURN OFF ELECTRICITY AT BREAKER BOX BEFORE WORKING ON THIS -- I was left with a cut-out hole in my ceiling. Next step was to remove the existing brace and replace it with this much sturdier brace I purchased from Home Depot: Model #01525 Saf-T-Bar from Westinghouse

Oops! Removing the old brace can be hazardous to your ceiling!
That proved to be a bit more challenging. I had not realized giant staple-like pieces of hardware were hammered into the joists. I used a screwdriver as a chisel and a hammer to pry the old brace from the joists. The first one came out nicely. When I attempted the second one, I still did not realize there were those giant staples because the lighting was not good up in the attic. I accidentally chiseled a bit too far and punctured the ceiling. This is what it looked like.

I was able to repair the puncture hole by applying joint compound (or spackle) from the ceiling side, due to the nature of this puncture. Then I returned to the room and dabbed additional on the ceiling side of the hole. I was able to burnish up the drywall so it was virtually invisible. I think it turned out pretty good! A little touch-up paint and I doubt anyone would notice.

The New Brace: Saf-T-Bar
Next I positioned the new Westinghouse Saf-T-Bar brace in place up in the attic and trimmed a small bit of drywall from the ceiling to allow this metal octagon electrical box to peek through the existing round hole.

I ended up using a simple screwdriver to attach the brace plates to the joists. I found the screwdriver gave me better control. I tried using a cordless drill, which I had borrowed from a friend, but found it to be too clunky to maneuver under the stapled wiring that criss-crossed through the attic. I was only able to get four screws in the plates... would have preferred four per plate for a total of eight screws. I ran into knots in the wood and just awkward positioning of the electrical box to the joist.

Attaching this brace was the worst part of the entire job because it was very hot in the attic and there was no lighting since I had turned the power off. I had placed a large board over the joists so I had a place to kneel while working there. Obviously you have to be very careful where you are standing, etc. so as not to fall through the ceiling. There was lots of insulation which is not good for inhaling or for the skin. I wore a mask some of the time, but got very hot with that on so at times did not wear it.

Notice below the red circled areas are the nuts that need to be tightened to firmly attach the electrical box to the brace up in the attic. The green circled areas indicate the "10-24 Threads for Ceiling Fans and Chandeliers." If I was hanging just a simple light fixture like what I removed, I would use the tabs on the opposite corners of this box (not circled here).

NOTE: BE SURE TO TURN OFF ELECTRICITY AT BREAKER BOX BEFORE THIS TASK: I punched the tabbed nickel-shaped disc from the metal outlet box so the wires could be threaded through to the room via the top of the box. I found using a screwdriver as a chisel and a hammer to pop that tab out worked best.

The Mounting Bracket
Here is the Mounting Bracket that came with the fan to support the weight of the fan when installing. It gets attached to the ceiling outlet box, which should be 4" x 2-1/4" deep metal octagon box (required per the fan instructions). Do not use plastic electrical boxes, per instructions. According to the Westinghouse Saf-T-Bar, use the "10-24 Threads for Ceiling Fans and Chandeliers." Those are found on the opposite corners of the "8-32 Threads for Cover Plates and Lightweight Lighting Fixtures."

Shown below is the mounting bracket attached to the metal electrical box on the ceiling. There is a ground wire on the mounting bracket. There is a ground (copper) wire that comes from the attic and a third ground wire that comes from the fan. I have grouped these three together and fastened with a wire nut. Then white wire attaches to white wire. Black wire attaches to black wire and fastened with a wire nut.

The Ceiling Fan
Here is the ceiling fan, with fan blades removed, that I am installing. It was made for JCPenney and offered through their catalog (No. 852-0231) as per the manufacturer instructions packed with it.

The Wiring and The Remote Receiver

Update 11/29/09: I moved this fan to another room and had to rewire. I am noting the connections that I made here:
From junction box:
white to white
black to black
red also to black
copper grounding wire to green grounding attached to mounting bracket

Then from the remote to the wiring also from the fan:
blue to blue
white to white
black to black
Secure all tightly with wire nuts and test by tugging firmly to ensure they won't come loose.

* Note if you have any concerns, its best to consult a professional electrician.
I am definitely not an electrician!

Once the remote was attached, there were quite a few wires and it proved challenging to slide the remote up into the mounting bracket. There was a lot of trial and error a) getting it all to fit behind the cosmetic canopy piece and b) getting it to work with the remote.

The Finished Product
And here it is! Looking forward to enjoying it for years to come!