Home Improvement

  • Home Improvement

    What’s with these weak-ass DC garage door motors these days?

    If you’re DC motor garage door opener seems weak, either your door is too heavy or the springs are past half their life. Be prepared to shell out some dough.

    If you’ve been in the market for a garage door opener in the past 5 years or so, you may have noticed the switch from AC motors to DC motors. Manufacturers like Chamberlain (Liftmaster/Craftsman) market the DC motor openers as “Ultra-Quiet” versus just “Quiet” of the old.

    The 2018 California SB 969 mandates that new garage door openers are available with battery backup – that necessitates the motors to work on DC power off of a battery. The rest of the country gets to enjoy the benefits and pitfalls of this new device at their own leisure.

    Yes, DC motors are quiet, especially if they are paired with a belt drive instead of the traditional chain drive mechanism. No clanking, no buzzing, no thunk at the start and end of the cycle. The AC/DC inverter (transformer)  quietly supplies constant steady power to the drive system. 

    But because it doesn’t draw its power directly from the house’s AC circuit, it will not answer to demand. That means, if the the springs on the door gets old and weak, you’ll notice the door slow down. If you’re an installer, you’ll also find out the hard way that the motor will not be able to assist you when lifting the door under a broken spring. 

    This is not because the motor itself is weak. It is because the motor is not allowed to draw more current from the house because there’s a DC inverter playing gatekeeper. It is in theory a safety mechanism that prevents problematic doors from being lifted and then falling on a person. The controller board should register an error and cease to function until the problem is remedied.

    Unfortunately there is an unintended effect. In case of a broken spring, the door will move a smidge under extreme load and damage the motor control unit – not the physical motor, but a small gearbox and circuit board attached to the motor.

    In an effort to make safer more quieter garage door openers, manufacturers have complicated the design of these units and made it more difficult to diagnose and fix. Fortunately, we have the internet, so we can sit at a desk and search instead of tinkering with the greasy innards of the garage door motor.

    The easiest solution for manufacturers would probably be to increase the motor current to 24V and put two 12V batteries in there…

  • Home Improvement

    Lutron Maestro Dimmer 3-way Crossed Wires

    If you are having trouble with the Lutron Maestro dimmer in a 3-way application, check that the two load wires (one on Brass and the other on Blue) are not crossed over.

    The LED on the master unit will not light but the load wire will be energized when the FASS is pushed in. That means the Hot wire is connected correctly to the Black screw on the master switch but the electricity is not flowing to the Load on the Black screw on the companion switch, thus there is no path to Neutral.

    The LED on the master unit will not light without a path from Hot to Neutral when you cross Brass to Blue/Blue to Brass. With a voltage tester, you’ll quickly find that the wire on the Blue screw on the companion unit is energized.

  • Home Improvement

    Product Review: GE Groov Caulk

    GE Groov Exterior CaulkAt the end of 2011, I tweeted and wrote about GE’s then new Groov caulk and how a rep at Momentive sent us a handful of tubes for T&E. By that time, all the caulking was done for the summer and I said we’d wait until it warmed up. Well, Summer 2012 has come and gone, and so has 2013. Looking back, I see that we have totally forgot to write a review for this product. So, better late than never – here goes.

    General Electric’s Groov interior/exterior caulk touts the long lasting benefits of silicone and the paintability of acrylic caulk in an all-in-one product. For most of my readers who might not have had the experience with both kinds of products; simply put, silicone caulk is the shiny caulk you use around places that get wet (kitchen/bath) and acrylic caulk is the matte caulk you use around baseboards and wood moulding you intend to paint later. So if you had a seam you needed to caulk but want to paint later in the kitchen around a wet area… you need a hybrid caulk like Groov.

  • Home Improvement

    Discontinued Westinghouse Circuit Breaker ca. 1994

    WestinghousePanelIf you’re lazy, jump to paragraph 6…

    The day before Independence Day (July 3rd for you non-celebrating Americans), the Northwest suburbs were hit with a major downpour. Rivers and lakes flooded and when that happens, basements flood.

    At this particular house, the sump pump continued pumping water out of the basement, but the clay under the foundation was filling up  with water faster than the 1/3 hp Zoeller could manage. So, water started seeping in through the cold joints (joint between the foundation wall and floor) and some hairline cracks in the floor.

    Fortunately, I was there on a separate repair job and noticed the water coming through. We were able to move out the cardboard boxes and fabric products up to the garage before any major damage was done.

    Because a single sump pump was inadequate to pump out enough water, I decided to have a backup pump and a backup battery installed. Backup pumps can throw water out of the basement five times faster than a regular pump (if only for occasional use).

    [READ FROM HERE] To install the backup battery system, I had to add an outlet next to the existing main sump pump outlet. Easy, just go get some conduit and 12 ga. THHN, and a circuit breaker… made by Westinghouse?

    If you’ve worked with a circuit panel in the 90’s, you may remember the red and blue circuit breakers (pictured). The breakers may have been marked “BRYANT” back in the 80’s. Well, I did some research and found out that Bryant was bought out by Westinghouse, and then Westinghouse’s electrical parts went to Cutler Hammer. And most recently, Cutler Hammer has been bought by Eaton. So, if you’re looking for the red and blue circuit breakers at your local Home Depot, you won’t find it.

    Do not dispair. Eaton’s got that covered with their “BR” series circuit breakers. “BR” for the original “BRyant” name. Although they’re not color coded anymore, the BR series Eaton breakers are the direct descendants of the original and work fine in a Westinghouse panel. I’m guessing color coding the switches didn’t make much sense for compliance (there must be color blind electricians, right?) and electricians work in low/no-light situations anyways.

    So after finding this out, I gathered all the necessary parts including an Eaton BR circuit breaker, installation went smoothly. It went especially smoothly with Klein Tools Premium Synthetic Clear Lubricant. Pulling 50 ft. of two 12 ga. solid wire through 1/2 in. EMT conduit was a breeze… albeit a wet breeze.

    With a new circuit installed, the battery backup system is working off of an independent circuit and outlet from the main pump. I hope we’d never have to rely on the backup to be actually pumping water out of the pit.

  • Home Improvement

    How to: Replacing a Tub Drain Strainer

    I was recently called to a rental property to see if I could find a stopper that would fit a tub drain. Apparently, a previous tenant had removed the pull-twist stopper and has misplaced it. Unfortunately, this manufacturer was no longer selling their parts around my area, so it was not economical to get the same stopper. But to install a new stopper, I had to remove the old center post from the drain strainer. The bad news was, that the center post was riveted to the strainer and would not come out. My only choice was to remove the whole strainer from the tub, but with the center post in the way, no drain wrench would fit. So I had to chisel out the strainer  – and decided that it might be fun to make a how-to video at the same time.

    Necessary Tools:

    • Hack saw (electrical recommended)
    • Cold chisel (3/4″ wide or similar)
    • Hammer
    • Pliers with long handle or needle nose
    • New tub drain strainer and stopper
    • Eyes & Ear protection
    1. Make a notch about 1/4″ deep into the inside edge of the strainer.
    2. Place chisel at an angle into the notch.
    3. Hammer chisel to turn strainer counter clock wise.
    4. After loosening, use pliers as handle to turn strainer.
    5. Remove strainer.
    6. Clean drain area.
    7. Apply new bead of plumber’s putty.
    8. Insert new strainer.
    9. Use drain wrench to tighten strainer onto tub.
    10. Attach new stopper to strainer.
    11. Check for water tightness.

    If you feel at all uncomfortable with any of these steps, please have a professional do it for you.