Archive for the ‘Repairs’ Category

the Solar Cell

It would be tough to call today’s job a project.  It took about 10 minutes to fix and an $8 usd part from the hardware store.

Here is the problem!  It’s the middle of the day and the carriage lights on both side of my garage are still on.  Their both on an automatic solar cell that is supposed to turn them off in the morning and back on at night.  But it’s obviously not working.


Here is the box panel located on the south side of the house.  If you have a similar system, look on the southern side of your home first. That is likely where the builder would have located the box (at least in the United States).

Notice the size of the opening on the end.  It’s not larger than about 1/4 inch (3 or 4mm).  The replacement I purchased is about twice that size in order to let more light on to the solar cell.IMG_1308

It’s a simple procedure to replace the solar cell.  Take a screw driver and remove the top and bottom screws.  Inside you will find the back of the solar cell with three wires: red, black and white.


After TURNING OFF THE POWER at your circuit breaker box, simply unscrew the red wire from black (loaded) wire and attached the red wire from your new cell.  Do the same for the white and black leads.

The old cell should be held on with a screwed on ring with a foam piece of the weather-stripping between the ring and panel cover.  This should unscrew by hand if it’s to tight, you could use a pair of pliers.   In the picture below, I have removed the old cell and replaced with the new larger cell.  The plastic locking ring and weather-stripping are shown before installation.


Here is the new cell installed and the panel cover replaced.  You can clearly see the larger opening.  I’ll wait for nightfall to see if everything is working OK. (oh, and don’t forget to turn the power back on).



the Deck Chair

I have another small project from an exercise buddy!  We workout quite a bit and often follow-up those workouts with drinks on his deck.  He lives on a lake with a great view from his upstairs deck.  There are several nice deck chairs that as I understand were assembled as a family project with each of his young children getting to “name” a chair.  Well one of those chairs, being outside and exposed to the weather, had some typical wood decay and needed repairing.

My first thought was to take it apart, seeing as it was assembled with hex nut bolts.  I would then replace the rotted tendon with new material.  But even after removing a few bolts, those joints were weathered shut and there would be no easy disassembling of this chair….on to plan B.



Due to the significant amount of wood rot, plan B was to insert two 6 inch lag screw from the back side of the seat support – directly into the chair seat rail.


These are actually lag bolts/construction screws used to attached deck ledger boards.  They have self tapping “drill-less” threading to better  grab the wood.  They needed to be self tapping because I don’t own a drill bit six inches long.   And without a pilot hole, a regular lag bolt would likely split the wood.

With two of these installed I felt comfortable that the chair was fixed and it would have no problem supporting even the largest individuals.  However I knew that with just a little more repair work  I could make it stronger than when it was new.


So with some leftover IPE hardwood (pronounced “epay”) from another project I cut a small piece of wood that would be”sistered” to the original chair support with three outdoor rated deck screws.  (IPE is a fantastic outdoor wood. It’s very hard and mostly impervious to the weather, but it’s a bit tough to woodwork with being harder than Teak) and then another screw would be inserted from the back of the chair near the lag bolts.  This piece would in effect transfer some of the chairs’ support load to the back via second piece of the original chair platform, thereby taking some of the load off the lag bolts.


The end result is that the joint appears to be as strong as ever.  It doesn’t look real pretty but it’s certainly functional.  I think I could jump on the joint and it would not break.  I’ll return it back to its home this afternoon and personally use it to enjoy a post run and swim beverage.  Cheers!

the Downed Tree

A fierce thunderstorm blew through our neighborhood this past Sunday and broke apart a tall tree right next too our house.  It was a decent size branch that broke from the main trunk and landed on the roof.  I’ve had to deal with this sort of thing before so I knew I was up to the challenge to safely remove this from the house.

NOTE: Whenever you’re dealing with tree maintenance, safety is the most important factor to consider.  Trees are HEAVY!  This branch at the base where it broke from the tree might have been about six to eight inches in diameter and possibly twenty feet to the tip of the top branches, but I bet it’s weight was easily over a thousand pounds.  Fresh cut wood is referred to as “green” wood.  And green wood has a huge percentage of its weight in water.  Unless you know what your doing, I strongly recommend hiring a professional (like Treeo Tree Service) to do this type of project.


Branch on the roof!

To remove this safely I needed a tall 24 foot extension ladder, (electric) chain saw and my rock climbing gear (I’m thinking very few people have rock climbing gear and if you don’t, hire this job out).

I placed the ladder on the opposite side from where the tree split.  After donning my climbing harness and using gathered climbing gear, I climbed up the ladder and used what’s called a climbing runner and/or daisy chain to tie the ladder to the tree – this will prevent the ladder from moving .  I then set up another runner around the tree and through the ladder’s top rug.  The ladder was now secure to the tree and the second runner was ready for me to attach my hardness into.  I then examined my plan of attack on the limb.  This limb was still attached to the main trunk, that would need to be cut away.  In order to control this as much as possible, I used some old retired PMI rock climbing rope to tie off the end of the broken branch just above the split and then run that rope up and over a higher branch on the tree.  The other end of that rope is tied off to a ground level trunk of a large tree nearby.  You make this rope as tight as possible so when you cut through the broken branch, the now free branch doesn’t go flying who nos where!  I didn’t want the branch  just dropping from where it was hung up on the roof because the air conditioner was near where it would have fallen and I’m taking no chances in crushing my A/C.

photo 5

the Maven up in the tree developing his plan of attack.

In the next trip up the ladder I ‘ll be taking my chain saw.  Being a small 16 inch electric, it’s compact and easy to handle.  You’ve got the extension cord to deal with but that beats a running gas engine or one to start up on a ladder.  The saw cut through the branch in a about 5 seconds and then the branch only dropped about 3 inches before the climbing rope went to full tension and prevented the free branch from falling.  Just as planned!


Here the limb is hanging by the rope that’s up and over a taller branch and tied off a larger nearby tree.

I return to the ground and carefully loosened the tied off rope and slowly lowered the limb to the ground before cutting it up into firewood and such.  I’ve done this exact thing on another tree on the opposite side of the house, so I had some experience at this.  It took about 2 hours but don’t rush this sort of project, take your time and plan for safety.  If your not 100 percent sure what will happen after each of your moves, then as I said.  Hire a pro and let them take the risk.

the Extension Cord

I’ve had this old extension cord light fixture sitting on a shelve in my garage that I’m pretty sure has gone unused in over 10 years.  I can’t really image using it any time soon so I decided to convert it to a simple extension cord.  Now that will get used, likely later today!

The first step was to purchase a replacement three prong female plug end at the hardware store.  It was about $5.  I then cut off the old light assembly leaving just the cord end.  You then need to strip the orange plastic covering back a bit and then strip about a quarter inch of each wire’s plastic coating.

Wiring the plug is pretty straight forward.  Green wire to green screw, white wire to silver screw and black wire to gold screw.  I was able to confirm the correct wiring using a gadget given to me eons ago.

You simply plug it in the new outlet and if the “O” and the “K” light up, then your wiring is OK, get it!  There is a chart on the side of the tester to tell you what the wiring issue is depending on which lamps light up.  Very easy to use.  You can buy a similar type of tester for under $15 dollars.

For about 30 minutes work, I now have an additional usable extension cord.  Now back to the deck project.Image



the Hatch Covers

A good friend of mine needed replacement hatch covers for his small sail boat;  theProjectMaven to the rescue.  The old covers were weathered and a bit rotted on the edges.

First we started with marine grade plywood.  Marine grade is not something you will typically find at your standard big box lumber retailer.  But not too far from my home is a specialty lumber retailer with a fantastic selection of exotic hardwoods and hard to find plywood.

It was easy enough to use the old covers as a template and cut out the new one’s on my 17 inch bandsaw.  I was also able to reuse the brass wood screws used to hold the  oak hardwood cleats.  The oak cleats themselves were in good shape and after sanding off the old finish they were good as new and ready for refinishing.

The only other item that needed to be fabricated was the long skinny piece you see between and behind the right cover.  The original was beyond repair.  That piece is important as it acts as a security feature.  Just the left hatch gets locked down and this bar prevents the right side hatch from being removed until the left is released.


I didn’t really care for the vent slots that were used in the previous design.  In fact my friend hated them as they allowed bugs to enter.  One too many hornet stings and he knew he needed a different approach.

I ended up using two stainless steel vent covers I purchased at a local marine supply business for about $5 each.  Both of the new vent covers were backed with some scrap screen I had and became instantly bug proof.

One of two stain coats applied.

One of two stain coats applied.

Nice fit!
Nice fit!

Once the second coat of stain was dry, I applied five coats of marine grade poly supplied by my friend.  I think the new hatch covers ended up looking better the originals.  Now I’m just waiting for some good sailing weather.

the Drain Pipe

When my house was built and due to being located on a sloped grade that leads to a creek, most of the dirt in our front yard was trucked in to raise the grade to street level.  As such it’s settled quite a bit since we’ve lived here.  It was getting to the point that the necessary slope away from the house was disappearing. Rather than bring in tons a dirt to slope the ground (and do major damage to the existing landscaping) I devised an idea to install an underground drain to divert the into an existing gutter.

Step number 1: dig a trench about 18 inches deep, sloping about 1 inch towards the gutter.


Step number 2: fill the trench about 2 inches deep with gravel.



Step number 3: Install PVC drain pipe in trench.  This is special drain pipe which is made with holes from the factory.


Step number 4: attach the drain pipe to the existing gutter.


Step number 5: back fill with more gravel.


Step number 6: top with previously excavated dirt and your finished.  In my case, I added a simple covering of mulch to match the surrounding area.  Since installation of this drain pipe, we have not experienced any pooling or puddled water near this portion of our front yard.


the Front Porch

My home has a western exposure and receives the full brunt of Indiana weather which typically travels from West to East.  Wind driven rain is a particularly tough maintenance issue to deal with especially with the wooden trim found on many midwestern homes.

Gaps on the wood trim is an early sign of impending wood rot

Gaps in the wood trim are an early sign of impending wood rot

Here is what the bottom of post looked like with  the trim removed.

Here is what the bottom of post looked like with trim removed.

The important thing to consider here is that these two posts are supporting my front porch. If either one fails, there is an excellent chance that the entire porch would fail. Not an inexpensive fix even if no one was hurt during if it collapsed.

Some serious rot!

Some serious rot!

Look closely at the above picture, its hard to tell but the 2×6 lumber the builder choose to use was not pressure treated for outdoor use (pressure treated pine is common in the Midwest for outdoor exposure). Now I understand that these two pieces of lumber were “protected” by their painted gray cedar trim, nevertheless it should have been assumed that water would get behind or under the trim and rot this support.

Newly installed pressure treated posts

Newly installed pressure treated posts

Nearing the finish

Nearing the finish

After the new interior support posts were installed. I was able to re-use much of the old outer trim. The unpainted trim was newly purchased cedar.

Total repair costs per support post was about $25 and several hours work. Much cheaper than a full porch collapse don’t you think?