Frozen Pipes

24 11 2007

Night time temperatures are routinely approaching freezing. This increases the chance that your water pipes will burst as water expands to freeze. The expansion pressurizes whatever (metal or plastic) contains it, no matter its strength, and outdoor hose bibs, swimmng pool supply lines, water sprinkler lines and water supply pipes in unheated interior areas (basement, crawl space, attic, garage, kitchen cabinet), pipes running against exterior walls with minimal/no insulation.

How to prevent in-pipe freezing:

  • drain water from pool and water sprinkler supply lines following installer’s manual
  • do not put anti-freeze in these lines unless explicitly directed
  • remove, drain and store hoses used outdoors
  • close inside valves supplying outdoor hose bibs
  • open outside hose bibs to allow water to drain
  • keep outside valve open so water remaining in the pipe can expand without breaking the pipe
  • insulate water pipes with a pipe sleeve or use UL-listed heat tape, heat cable or similar materials on exposed water pipes, butting ends tightly and taping down shut
  • even 1/4″ newspaper padding provides more insulation than nothing at all
  • keep garage doors closed if there are water supply lines therein
  • open kitchen and bathroom cabinet doors to let warmer air circulate
  • when it is very cold outside, let the cold water drip from the faucet served by exposed pipes – even a trickle prevents freezing as water temperature running through it is above freezing
  • keep the thermostat at the same temperature day and night – by suspending the use of lower night time temperatures, you may incur a higher heating bill but you could prevent a more costly repair job if pipes freeze and burst
  • if going on holiday during the winter, leave the heat on in the home set to a temperature of no lower than 55*F

To Thaw a Frozen Pipe

  • suspect it if only a trickle exits a faucet turned on
  • locate the suspected area – pipes running against exterior walls or where the water service enters your house through the foundation
  • keep the faucet open and apply heat to the section of pipe using an electric heating pad wrapped around the pipe, an electric hair dryer, a portable space heater, or wrapping pipes in towels soaked in hot water from the neighbor’s home
  • do not use a blow torch, kerosene/propane heater, charcoal stove or other open flame device
  • apply heat until full water pressure is restored
  • check all other faucets for flow – if one freezes, others might also
  • add insulation to prevent a recurrence
  • call a license plumber if basic measures fail – do not try to be a hero

Stay warm tonight!



30 10 2007

Do not be caught unawares next time.

It was quite a dramatic experience for my visiting Midwesterner. I just poured on more Earl Grey.

Green Day

22 04 2007

We only have the one.

Baking Soda

6 03 2007

There are two refrigerators in my hotel room. One of them has a yellow box of baking soda in it. I cannot understand why. Naturally, this occasions a trip to the concierge I know and love.

Baking soda does not eliminate odors very well. As a wash solution, it is only mildly alkaline and can cut grease when dumped down a drain (but Drano crystal is more effective and more dangerous). The popular open box of Arm and Hammer (I always confused it with the golfer in my childhood) can absorb some odors but not very effectively at all. If some intrafridge odors are acidic, the alklaine soda will absorb and neutralize them but as it contacts water vapor, it loses a great deal of surface activity. It just does not work well. Activated charcoal would do the job but is more expensive.

I would recommend you throw your baking soda in the rubbish bin. Oh wait, the ad agency already thought of that. How they suck you in.  American consumers are stupid – let us sell them items that neutralize the odor of rubbish so it does not smell like rubbish any more. Umm, why? Who is smelling all this odor-neutralized rubbish?

Sole Mio

10 02 2007

Photons striking the surface of coated slice of silicon (photovoltaic cell) cause the photoelectric effect of forcing electrons to break away from their orbits around certain atoms inside that silicon. Those free electrons wander on that surface until they are captured by small embedded wires and shuttled down from cell to cell and out the positive end of the module all of the cells are wired together to form. Wiring many nodules in series creates a modular array with a combined voltage (very high 500 volts DC) that is run down specially rated wire to the first of two disconnect siwtches (DC disconnect switch) that allows the entire area to be safely de-energized if works is needed. Wiring continues from the switch to the DC/AC converter that converts it to low voltage (120-240 V) AC power and syncs the output AC power in line with the power produced adn distributed over the utility’s electric grid. Here, ground wiring is connected from the frame ground of the array to the service ground of the grid. Normal wiring continues out the AC side of the inverter to the second disconnect switch (AC disconnect switch) which is mandated by PG&E to protect field personnel in case their grid loses power and needs works. Normal wiring continues the AC disconnect switch to my existing electric meter. If I am producing more electricity than I am using, the meter will actually spin backwards creating an electrical credit that I might draw upon in evening hours or on cloudy days.

Should you go solar? So you’re ready to stop buying your power from PG&E, and you have the means to buy thirty years of power up front. Where do you start?

  1. Check your roof. South-facing without shade is ideal, but west- or even east-facing can work. A 15 to 30 percent pitch is considered ideal.
  2. Pull out a year’s worth of PG&E bills and get an idea of your monthly electric use. If you want to zero out your bills, systems must be carefully sized; energy-saving methods such as switching to compact fluorescent bulbs and efficient appliances should be done first to save on the system size.
  3. Find a local installer you can work with, since your system will last for decades. There are many types of systems, but they are priced competitively. The California Energy Commission maintains a list of vendors searchable by ZIP code. The Northern California Energy Association publishes an annual Solar Energy Resource Guide, which includes a list of members as well as questions to ask contractors.
  4. How much will it cost?A medium-sized, three-kilowatt system runs about $26,000, but the combined state and federal rebates will drop the price to about $16,500. These rebates include:
    1. $2.80 per watt from the California Energy Commission, but the incentives may go down as early as August. By January, when the PUC’s California Solar Initiative kicks in, rebates will be $2.50 per watt.
    2. A federal 30 percent tax credit gets you another $2,000.
    3. PG&E charges $6 per month to plug you into the power grid. The meter is free, although most solar customers spring for a special time-of-use meter that costs $277 to install that lets you earn more credits for energy produced during peak demand — which happens to be when the sun is brightest. Since peak period rates are about twice as high off-peak, you can essentially earn two hours of off-peak electricity for every peak hour you generate. (Existing solar users get even higher benefits, but rates for new customers were changed in May.)

If you finance your system through a home mortgage, the increase in monthly payments may be less than your electric bill, and the interest may be tax-deductible.

Before doing groundwork, use the GoSolar Incentive site to determine preliminary work.

  • Do not pay more than 10 per cent or $1000, whichever is less, as down payment
  • Hire only licensed contractors and ask to see the license
  • Do not hire the first contractor who comes along
  • Do not rush into repairs, no matter how badly they’re needed
  • Verify the contractor’s license at or 1-800-321-2752
  • Don’t pay cash, and don’t let the payments get ahead of the work
  • Get three bids, check references, and get a written contract

Local PV cell installers –

Terra Cotta

17 06 2006

I find this intriguing in both color and substance. Terra cotta (literally, baked earth in Italian) is a hard semifired waterproof ceramic clay used in pottery, older wastewater drains and surface embellishment in building construction known for its natural brownish orange color. It has been historically used for sculpture, pottery, brick and roof shingles. In ancient times, clay sculptures were baked in the sun after formed, placed in ashes of open hearths to harden and then lime kilns wwer eused to fire them permanently. In 210-209 BC, a large volume was used to construct Emperor Qin Shi Huang’s army of China. Terra cotta and tile are used extensively in the town buildings of Victorian Birmingham like the Bell Edison Telephone Building below. Compared to marble, the product is far lighter and more durable, and can be further glazed for outdoor use or simulation of a metallic patina.

Terrific Travertina

11 06 2006

Travertina (travertine) is a form of massive calcium carbonate, resulting from a deposition by springs or riers. It is often beautifully colored and banded as a result of the presence of iron compounds or other organic impurities, and is variously known as calc-sinister and calcareous tufa, and (when used for decorative purposes, onyx marble, mexican onyx and Egyptian or Oriental alabaster. It is generally less coarse-grained and takes a higher polish than stalactite and stalagmite, which are similar in chemical composition and origin. The other chief member of the limestone family is marble (which has had pressure applied to it by the earth's crust)

Travertine can have four major finishes: polished (shiny), honed (matte), brushed and tumbled (textured). The type of finish determines how shiny the surface will be. Polished and honed surfaces are flat and smooth, while brushed and tumbel dsurfaces are flat and textured. The polished surafce is the shiniest, while the tumbled surafcereflects the least amount of light. The commonest finish is honed.

As it is a natural stone product, minerals that make up travertine are highly reactive with acidic solutions (e.g., orange juice, vinegar) and thus sealers will be required to provide some protection to decide if this is good foryour project.