19 December, 2015

Residential Charging Stations for Electric Vehicles

Residential Charging Stations for Electric Vehicles

You may be considering buying an electric vehicle (EV), or plug-in hybrid vehicle. These vehicles will help lessen our reliance on imported fuels but will require yet another power source – electricity.  The EVs are powered by a large battery pack that will need a home-based charging system in order to “re-fuel”.  In the Chevrolet Volt for example, the charger is installed in the vehicle, but other brands may have the chargers in garages or a weatherproof unit will stand outdoors along the driveway.  Regardless the placement, most garages and some older houses will need to be rewired to accommodate the charging equipment.
The EV charger should be on a ‘dedicated’ circuit, meaning no other fixture or appliance is on that circuit.  You wouldn’t want the circuit breaker to trip because someone used the garage door opener or turned on the lights.  The National Electric Code® (NEC), states a number of safety requirements including over-current trip, leakage current to ground protection (GFCI), and an automatic shut-off feature for when, not if someone drives off with the cable still plugged in to the car.  
Because the charger is operating for hours at a time, the following rule is in Section 625.14 of the 2011 NEC®: “Electric vehicle supply equipment shall have sufficient rating to supply the load served. For the purposes of this article, electric vehicle charging loads shall be considered to be continuous loads.”  You should consult a licensed electrician to evaluate the capacity of your electric system to ensure that you are ready to install an EV charger.  Heavier wiring to the garage and possibly to the house may be required. Many electricians suggest that a 50 ampere (amps) - 240 volt service run to the garage for a Level 2 charger (see below).

 photo copyright: the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE.org)
The charging methods have been standardized by the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE).  Approved in 1996; SAE Standard J1772, specifies three levels of chargers: 1, 2, and 3. Recent updates describe the design of a standard connector (plug) for attaching power to the EV at Levels 1 and 2.
    Level 1—The Level 1 charger is rated at 120 VAC and 20 amperes (amps) and will plug in to grounded electrical receptacle outlets. Charging at this level could take 8 to 24 hours to fully charge an EV, depending upon the battery size and its discharge level. This is not meant as the primary charging technique.  SAE suggests that EVs carry a portable Level 1 unit so that they can plug into any available 120 VAC grounded receptacle for emergency or ‘top-off’ charging. 
    Level 2—The Level 2 charger is to be used for everyday EV charging and is rated to run from a single-phase branch circuit, similar to an electric dryer circuit, operating at 240 VAC, at 30amps. Charging time at this rate will be from about 4 to 10 hours to fully charge the EV depending on its battery size and discharge level.
    Level 3— Level 3 standard is for “Fast Charging” similar to refueling at a service station. The charger is supplied by 480-VAC, three-phase equipment, and would reach a 50% charge in 10 to 15 minutes. A separate connector would supply DC from the off-board charger directly to the battery.
After many fits and false starts, it appears the EV era is now with us. The Tesla, Chevrolet Volt, and Nissan Leaf are now being sold in the U.S., and other manufacturers have products that will soon come to market.  Also, as in the early days of gas engine vehicles, people are constructing homebuilt EVs from existing cars, motorcycles, and trucks. So for drivers, it’s electrifying times ahead (pun intended).

31 May, 2015

So why aren't you buying LED bulbs right now?

Hey, they're getting cheaper to buy and they're cheaper to use.  I mean, what's the rub, Bub? With lifespan ratings of approximately 25,000–50,000 hours, an LED bulb lasts 2 to 4 times longer than a compact fluorescent (CFL) bulb, and 20 to 40 times longer than a common incandescent bulb.

Let's look at the place where I work, the historic Old Stone Church (Presbyterian) on Cleveland's Public Square (see picture below). The small chandeliers under the balcony each used four 100 watt incandescent bulbs which were replaced with 10 watt LED bulbs rated at 800 lumens -- 2700 Kelvin.

The Kelvin number used here is the color of white light produced, 2700K is a warm white or yellowish. Higher numbers start become "cooler" or more blue-ish. We removed 360 watts from each of the ten small chandeliers (3600 watts). Despite having a lower lumen rating than the incandescent bulbs, the LEDs are noticeably brighter in the fixtures and generate much less heat.

The eight large chandeliers in the sanctuary each held a number of incandescent bulbs for a grand total of 38,600 watts. After the LED replacements were installed, a total 3800 watts are used for the eight chandeliers. So now we are using about one-tenth of the power requirement of the previous light bulbs to light the main area. And again, much less heat output and noticeably brighter.

What the property management of the church looks for in this changeover is less labor costs as well as lower power usage. The more time between bulb replacements the better.

The process of changing bulbs in the large chandeliers requires someone to climb up five stories into the bell tower and crawl hands and knees through the ceiling on a narrow plywood ramp to each fixture.  A cable is unplugged and a hand-crank hoist lowers the chandelier so that the bulbs can changed while standing on the floor.  Then reverse the process to take the chandeliers back up. There are other fixtures in the parish building that require a scaffold to be assembled to reach the bulbs. So if you're not very fond of climbing, LED bulbs are the way to go.

26 May, 2015


Giving regular attention to tools with gasoline engines (snowblowers, weed trimmers, edgers, and lawn mowers) will prolong their lives and simplify yours – with lower repair and replacement costs. It’s especially important to prepare these tools properly before using them each season, and to store them properly when the season for their use comes to a close.

Make sure the tool is clean. For mowers, sharpen or replace any blade that is worn, bent or damaged, so the grass will be cut cleanly, not torn. Clean any old grass from under the mower deck, and coat the area with a rust-inhibiting spray lube (WD-40™, Teflon, or silicone spray), so you can easily clean the deck between cuttings to prevent rusting or pitting. Be sure to lubricate any moving parts (wheels, throttle control and cable, etc.)

If you didn’t clean or replace the air filter before storing it at the end of last season, do so now. If it’s a sponge-type filter, wash it with some liquid dish soap, then squeeze about a teaspoon of motor oil into it so it will collect dust effectively. Install a new spark plug (take the old one with you to the store, so you can buy the proper replacement) and, on four-stroke engines, change the oil – even if you changed it at the end of last season – to clean from the crankcase the acids and impurities caused by combustion, and moisture from condensation. Do not overfill the oil.

If the motor will not start, despite the above maintenance, here are a couple of things to check. First, ensure that there is “spark” (the voltage that arcs across the spark plug gap). One way to test is to remove the wire from the spark plug, remove the plug from the motor, and then replace the wire onto the end of the freed plug. With insulated pliers, hold the plug against the motor fins, and pull the starter cord several times. If there is no spark, ignition parts will need to be replaced (this will probably be a repair shop job). If there is a spark, then it’s likely that the problem is in the fuel delivery. If you didn’t drain the gas tank before last winter’s storage, or didn’t use a fuel stabilizer (like Stabil™), the gas may have evaporated into a varnish-like coating – and clogged the carburetor. Before taking the mower to a repair shop, try the following routine:

Start by ensuring that the work area is well ventilated, with no flames or smoking items nearby. Gasoline and fuel additives are extremely flammable. Put down some cardboard and paper to absorb any gas and/or oil that gets slopped. Remove the air filter and the spark plug. Drain the old fuel, and pour a little fresh gas into the tank. Pour an ounce of carburetor cleaner additive (like GumOut™) into the tank and mix it with the gasoline. Also, pour some of the cleaner directly into the carburetor and brush it around. (An old toothbrush will do, so long as it is clean.) Pull the starter cord repeatedly, so that the fuel/cleaner mixture gets pulled through the carburetor. Drain the mixture from the tank, and then fill it with fresh fuel. Replace the spark plug and air filter, and start the mower.

Inspect the air filter frequently, and clean or replace it when necessary. Check the oil level before each use, and change the oil when it becomes dirty. Before refueling the mower or any other tools, let the engine cool down to prevent an explosion or fire. Wipe off any fuel spillage and move the gas can well away from the motor before attempting to start the engine. Clean the tool before putting it away after each job, paying special attention to removing all grass from the area beneath the mower deck.

Clean the tool thoroughly before putting it away at the end of the season. On mowers, be sure to clean out all the old grass from under the deck, and coat the area with a rust-inhibiting lubricant (WD-40™, Teflon, or silicone spray).  A lot of people suggest running the engine out of gas before storing at the end of the season, but residual gasoline can turn into a varnish-like coating that can plug up the fuel system when you try to start it next season. Instead, you can add a fuel stabilization product (like Stabil™) to a full gas tank and run the motor for a few minutes to ensure that the mixture has made it into the carburetor. (The additive will prevent the varnish build-up during storage.) Then, clean or replace the air filter.

If you have a four-stroke engine, change the oil to clean out the acids and combustion by-products from the crankcase and prevent rusting and pitting of the engine internals. On both two-stroke and four-stroke engines, remove the spark plug and pour a small amount of oil into the cylinder. Leave the ignition off, pull the rope several times to circulate the oil, and replace the spark plug. The oil will keep the piston and cylinder from rusting together.

Several minutes of maintenance labor at the beginning and end of the season will help keep your gas engine tools running well for years to come – and save you from repair shop bills.

16 May, 2015


A few hours before I wrote this post, I checked my spam folder before emptying it and found this missive from Janis in Butler PA:

I had the pleasure of speaking with Becky today after stumbling onto the Home Repair Resource Center website. My daughter just bought her first home in Bay Village, Ohio and we have been having a very difficult time finding an electrician to help with knob & tube removal. Therefore, I have been investigating all over the internet what options we have for DYI … long story and not relevant to this email. Anyway, Becky was delightful. After speaking with her I found a video interview (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZQu1FMPIAbk) on YouTube from a Cleveland News show that showcased you and some of the women who have participated in the “home how to” events. It was very cool and I just wanted to send you this email to say how much I enjoyed watching. It was wonderful to see how empowered the woman felt … thanks to you and Becky!!! 
I wish all neighborhoods offered that type of resource.

I absolutely love the Kunselman’s laws of home repair!!! Especially Kunselman’s Fourth Law. Proof that it is a danger … some crazy lady from Pennsylvania just googled you and sent you an email ;-)

Dear Janis,
Thank you for your compliments. I wish that all cities had an HRRC, too. I often tell people that HRRC is a rare bird. There are a few nonprofits across the US that do some of the things that HRRC does, but unfortunately there's none that does all the things this organization does. Financial counseling, home repair loans and grants, low cost tool rentals and home repair counseling and education.
I have come to believe that local governments cannot "will" such an organization to exist, that the folks from the neighborhoods themselves have to pull together to bring them about. In Cleveland Heights OH, it was a group from within Forest Hills Presbyterian Church that began the organization in 1971. (See http://www.hrrc-ch.org/about-us/history/)  The founding Executive Director, Diana Woodbridge was (and still is) a tempest unbound, her drive had kept the nonprofit going when many others would fail. She pulled the city into many of the HRRC projects that it benefited both City Hall and HRRC.

So Janis, I hope that you and a group of your friends in Butler will consider starting such an organization. There's a lot of geezers like me out there; almost retired, a headfull of construction secrets, slow moving, but quick with a corny joke, willing to teach folks how to do just about any basic repair in their homes.

A few years ago, the organization lost some of its funding and I was laid off.  During my time there, I was lucky enough to teach literally thousands of folks to do basic home repairs.  As much as I enjoy working in the Old Stone Church, I still miss the fun of watching the people becoming empowered and taking off on their own projects.

19 March, 2015

Be Prepared

Remember when people were so obsessed with Y2K and the “Millennium bug?” The fear that all computer-controlled systems would shut down at the beginning of 2000. Although that event never materialized, the northeast regional blackout in August 2003 taught us that multiple systems can be affected when the electricity goes out for any reason. It’s a good idea to have certain emergency preparations in place at all times, to stave off hunger and cold in case our power, water, or other support systems are interrupted for an extended period. The first step is to consider alternatives to our usual ways of doing things.

Many of us have gone without power (and natural gas, for that matter,) for several days after a winter storm. Most boilers and furnaces will not function without electricity. An alternative power source, such as a portable 5000-to-8000 watt generator, can keep the heat going (so long as you have fuel for the generator,) plus power the refrigerator and some lights. There are switching panels that can be installed in the main service box by a licensed electrician, which will allow the house wiring to distribute output from the generator. For many people, however, the cost of this system will be prohibitive; a small generator and panel will run well over $2000.

One low-tech and fairly low-cost method for heating is the living room fireplace. (Not to mention those lucky folks who have a fireplace in the bedroom, too). The heat will be localized, but you’ll have at least one warm room. If you’ll be using this source of heat, have the chimney checked and cleaned, if necessary, before winter. Make sure the damper is in good condition, too. Stock up on firewood early enough to allow it to season properly.

If you do not have a fireplace, in an emergency you will probably be looking for other ways to keep warm. One common misconception is that you can use a gas range oven as a source of heat. That’s not a good idea – the stove can add a lot of carbon monoxide to the air, and the heat can melt the control handles of the appliance. Similarly, kerosene heaters and ventless (natural gas or propane) space heaters can pose dangers. My hometown city fire and building departments prefer to see vented units that minimize the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning, and units that are fastened to the wall or floor and can’t be knocked over. If you are forced to use a portable unit in an emergency situation, be sure to keep all combustibles well away from the heater, provide ventilation (such as a slightly-opened window), secure the heater to the floor (with nails or screws, for example), and follow all instructions from the manufacturer for its use.

Emergency lighting is important, but it’s a good idea to avoid items that burn to provide light, such as candles, hurricane oil lamps, or propane lanterns. Consider battery-powered lanterns and flashlights to prevent accidental fires. There are LED flashlights use less power to make light, running for a longer period of time on that set of batteries.

Provisions need to be purchased in advance, and stored. Choose alkaline over the regular or “heavy-duty” batteries, as the alkaline models can be stored for a longer period of time – check the expiration date on the package when you purchase them – or buy alkaline batteries that can be recharged. Another battery-powered item to have on hand is a portable radio. Besides some entertaining diversion, it can warn you of emergencies (like school closings) and incoming weather.

Jugs of distilled drinking water can be purchased and stored for long periods of time. We’re normally urged to drink 8 glasses of water daily (in addition to all those cups of coffee!) Plan for the amount your entire household will need for one or two weeks – pets, too. Another source of drinking water you might consider is a small water purification unit, carried by camping supply and some sporting goods stores. Melted snow (make sure it’s not “yellow”) or collected rainwater can be made “potable” for cooking, washing, and drinking with a purification unit.

As for eating, that propane grill stored all winter out in the garage can roast, grill, or even boil foods for you. A small portable propane camp stove can be useful, as well. Both must be used outdoors to prevent problems, but either one can heat water for washing, as well as for cooking. Keep your pantry stocked with pre-cooked canned goods (i.e., vegetables, meats, soups, ravioli, and spaghetti,) to eliminate the need to keep a lot of food refrigerated during a prolonged power outage. (Don’t forget that you’ll need a hand-powered can opener!) A 48- or 60-quart picnic cooler can keep milk and fresh produce chilled, so long as you have ice.

Another thing to keep on hand is a supply of essential medications. If you must take prescription drugs, talk to your doctor or pharmacist about how long they can be stored, and under what conditions.

If the heat is off for an extended period of time in winter and you will have to go elsewhere to be warm, it will be important to prevent frozen pipes and damaged fixtures. Shut off the water at the meter, and then open all the faucets to drain out as much water as possible. Use nontoxic RV antifreeze to put in all sink and tub traps (2 cups per trap).  Toilets will need the tank emptied, sop out any remaining water with an old towel. Pour about a half gallon of nontoxic RV antifreeze into the bowl.

The last item of concern – and the one some people may consider the most important – is the toilet. Even if there is no water service, there will still be a need to eliminate body wastes. Short of digging a primitive latrine in your back yard (you’ll find directions for that in an old scouting manual), water already used for washing or cooking (called “gray water”) can be stored for re-use to flush a toilet. 1-1/2 gallons will flush through solid wastes when poured quickly into the bowl; keep a bucket on hand to hold the water.

Even though the millennium came without complicating our lives, sooner or later we’ll almost certainly have to deal with a winter power outage of some sort. Preparations like these can make our lives easier during such times, but the most important thing is to PLAN AHEAD.

11 March, 2015

Can't you hear me knocking?

When the doorbell doesn't work, I usually can't hear folks knocking at my front door unless I'm on the first floor of the house. Rather than hang up a “Doorbell out of order, wake the dog” sign, most bell problems are pretty easy to diagnose and fix.

The first place I like to check is the transformer to see if there is power to the system. The transformer reduces the 120-volt house current to the 10 or 16 volts AC needed to run the doorbell system. In some old houses it may be a small black box attached to a beam or to a junction box in the basement. It may be attached directly to the electric service panel. I use a multimeter to check for power, if don't you have one, you can use a low-volt circuit tester. If you don't get an indication of power, it's time to replace the transformer.

The most common problem is in the doorbell button or switch. It's exposed to the weather even under a porch roof and the contact points in it will eventually become corroded. A simple enough test, you just unscrew the doorbell button to get to the two wires that are fastened to the back. Touch those two wires together and the bell rings, you'll know the button is bad. If you just get a faint spark without a ring when touching the wires together, it's time to look at the bell.

While the bell unit isn't the cause of most doorbell problems, it can fail on occasion – especially if it is mounted in the kitchen.  Dust, tobacco smoke, spider webs and grease can collect in the electromagnetic striker mechanism and gum it up.       
Take the cover off the chime unit and have someone try the door button.  If the striker moves but doesn't hit the chime, you will have to clean the striker(s).

The chime bar rests on rubber grommets mounted on plastic posts. Gently pull up the bar and pull out the hammer. Spray a light lubrication oil (like WD-40) on a soft cloth and clean the striker. Use a cotton swab to clean out any crud from the electromagnet coil tube. Then wipe off any excess oil which may collect dust. 

Put the striker back its place, press it down all the way to its stop, then slip your finger off the top to see if it pops up freely. Replace the chime bar onto the grommets and try the button outside.

If the striker hits the first chime, but the not second chime, pull the striker out again and stretch the spring to give it more tension and replace the striker in the mechanism. Try the button to see if you get a "ding-dong."
Sometimes there's just no fixing the chime unit and you'll have to replace it.  Before you disassemble the unit, mark the wires so that you know which one goes to the front door, backdoor and common terminals. Especially important if they are all the same color.
My buddy Russ always reminds me that anything man-made is doomed to failure. Wiring can go bad too, but if this is indeed the problem, it will take some tracking to find where the wire is broken. The wires are a little larger than thick fishing line, and you should be able to see them in your basement ceiling. However, breaks are usually found behind one of the door trim pieces. Locksmiths and door installers can cut the wires with screws or nails when they do their work because the wires are hidden from view.

Once you've found the location of the break, you don't have to replace the whole length of wire – just the part that is broken. Twist the new portion together with the unbroken length and tape with electrical tape.

Plywood vs. Oriented Strand Board

Several years ago, Sid and I were stripping the roofing material from a leaking flat porch roof when he launched into his ritual diatribe about how little I was paying him (he was being paid as much as I was). I was just about to reply in my customary string of profanities that he should get busy with the job, when I disappeared through the roof. All that Sid had seen was the column of dust rising where I had been just a moment before. I had landed unhurt but angry on the porch floor below. When I got back on the roof, I found that a previous contractor had used Oriented Strand Board (OSB) for a section of the roof deck. It had swollen and disintegrated due to the water damage. Thus began my hatred of the use of OSB for roofs.

On most old flat porch roofs you would find what is called “one-by” pine planking (1”X 8”, 1”X 10”, etc.) used for the decking. Planking is the costlier choice for a roof deck nowadays. Plywood first appeared around the turn of the 20th. century, but did not become a common decking material until the late 1940’s. Plywood is constructed of thick layers of veneer oriented at right angles to one another for strength and stiffness. OSB came onto the market in the late 1970’s and is made from 3- to 4-inch wood strands that are applied in layers and pressed together with adhesive. Like plywood the layers are oriented at right angles and weighs 10 percent to 15 percent more.

OSB costs about $5-6 less per panel than plywood, which is a significant savings when 16 or more panels may be used for a two-car garage roof, for example. Georgia-Pacific (a major producer of OSB) states in a 2003 research paper that CDX plywood holds up better under excessive wettings, has an all-wood surface that results in better glue adhesion. The ‘C’ and ‘D’ are the finish ratings of the panel surfaces and the ‘X’ means it’s rated for exterior humidity.

Plywood is 15 percent lighter and flexes less than OSB. They further state that their tests indicate that plywood holds nails better, too. Personally, I have no problem using OSB for wall sheathing, but I’d never use it for a walk-on roof deck and am loathed to use it on a gable roof--especially with the snow loads that we get in our area (the Northeast Ohio snowbelt). Several Ohio communities and several states including the state of Florida have banned it for roof decks due to swelling caused by high humidity along the edges.

Admittedly, OSB is better than it was ten years ago, I still will not allow it on any job that I'm involved in.  For a walk-on deck I specify 3/4” CDX plywood and 5/8” CDX for a roof that’s not walked on (though I prefer 3/4” CDX). On gabled roofs the building code specifies 1/2" four-ply CDX, I specify 5/8" for the snow loads we get. On shallow pitch roofs, I'd still would want 3/4" CDX. I would rather overbuild than have a roof deck collapse under snow

One last thing--if you ever do a roofing job with Sid, please smack him with a shovel for me.

22 January, 2015

Deck Story

I was going through some old magazines recently and found an article from 2003 about a deck collapsing and killing about a dozen people in Chicago. It was a third-story deck and it broke loose where the deck framing met the building wall. Granted, there were a lot of people on it, but a plank called a ‘ledger board’ was partially rotted and it split where the bolts attached it to the building causing the collapse.

While there are decks that fail because they are not built to code specifications, the most common problem is that they are not maintained well. Often when a deck is refinished; the joists, ledger board, and posts have not been coated with waterproofing. Joists can remain wet for a long period of time--unable to dry because of shading by the planking above and they will rot. So, it’s vital to do an annual inspection and maintenance to a wood deck, especially older decks on long posts. Homeowners can do most of the maintenance required, but if the deck is more than 6 years old (or if you don’t know the age), a professional should do an inspection that specializes in wood-frame construction. This keeps your deck attractive, protects your investment and prevents a deck failure.

When I have built decks, I tend to over-build. If the design load is for 40 pounds per square foot and the span chart calls for 2x8” joists, I’ll use 2x10s. Where some plans may have one support beam, I will add a second beam or more (see the beam near the house wall in the drawing above). Use bolts and nuts with washers that go through the rim joist instead of nails or lag screws to attach the ledger to the house. Having lived in the NE Ohio Snow Belt my entire life, I’ve seen enough structures collapse with 3-to-5 feet of wet snowfall (often at the ledger board) and I just don’t want that beggar to come down. 

It is important that railings are well secured and the spacing (4 inches) between balusters to prevent small children slipping through the railing. The stronger the deck is, the less likely Junior’s graduation party will bring it down, too.

So you may consider adding an extra beam under your deck to strengthen it.

Check the understructure to ensure the wood is solid. If you can push a screwdriver a quarter-inch into the wood, it’s time to replace it. Do the same test with the deck planks, too. If you replace any rotted planks, use galvanized or stainless steel screws instead nails to prevent the plank from pulling up.

You will need to clean the deck before refinishing a deck. A pressure washer alone will clean the deck to prepare it for refinishing if you do not wish to use chemicals. But if it is a long time between refinishes, a commercial deck cleaning solution with oxalic acid (wood bleach) may be necessary to remove the dirt, gray coloring, mildew, and stains. I found that using a garden sprayer to apply the cleaning solution and then using a scrub brush mounted on a broom handle to clean the surface works well. Grease stains (under an outdoor grill, for example) are tough to get out; a paste of TSP (Tri Sodium Phosphate) scrubbed into the stain will break up a lot of it. The pressure washer is then used to finish cleaning.

Let the wood dry for a few days before applying the finish. You can use a color stain water seal on the visible surfaces, but all the surfaces of the understructure should be treated with the clear water seal to prevent decay, especially the support beam and posts.