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.