Category Archives: Home

Ebay Motion Activated LED Bulb from China

I stumbled on some motion activated LED bulbs on Ebay from China and thought it would be a good solution to my motion wall mount porch light that had died.  A replacement was around $40 from Home Depot and it didn’t match my existing lights.

While waiting for the bulb, the listing got removed.  I became curious about the reason and guessed that the bulbs were not UL/CSA/EU safety certified.  Though the risk is small since the bulbs are low power, if they did start a fire, your house insurance may not cover the damage.

When the bulb arrived, I didn’t notice any safety certifications on the box and will probably not use it.  I tested it and it did seem to work.  It was a bit longer than a typical bulb and so it didn’t fit my light fixture.

Just a precaution for those ordering electrical products  on Ebay from China.

Flip Your Upside Down Kwikset Smartkey Knob

I had updated my front door knob and deadbolt to Kwikset Smartkey and wanted to change the knob on my shed to Smartkey so I could use the same key.  I had installed a cheap Defiant lock and over the years, the base was cracked and the knob tarnished.  The cheapest Smartkey lock was the Kwikset Tylo Satin Chrome available by mail order on Home Depot’s US website for $16 USD.  However, when I installed it, the cylinder was upside down.  The slot should be at the bottom and the key should be inserted with the teeth facing down.  I checked the instructions and they indicated it was ok to install it that way.  I googled the problem later and found out the cylinder could be flipped.  The official way is to use a special tool but there are some youtube videos on how to flip it without the special tool.

The cyclinder is held in by two spring clips that need to be pushed in to release it from the knob.  The access is very narrow and it is difficult to see the ends of the clip.  What worked for me was to use needle nose pliers to push in a sliding tab at the opening to better access one side of the clip.  I pushed a small hex key in there to push out one side of the clip.  I could then use a small screwdriver to release the more accessible side.

Repair A Buzzing Doorbell Transformer

During the reno of my basement, I heard a loud buzzing coming from a bedroom and I suspected it was the doorbell transformer.  Since they are typically mounted to an electrical box for AC power, I disassembled the ceiling light and found two wires coming from a knockout on the top of the ceiling box.  I disconnected the wires and the buzzing stopped but my front door bell was also dead.  I determined I would have to cut out the drywall to repair or replace the transformer and since I planned on painting the ceiling, there wasn’t a reason not to fix it.  Cutting a hole large enough to access, I took a pic with my cell phone to determine how the transformer was mounted.  A screw was expanding a collar connecting the bottom of the transformer to the ceiling box.  Once I had the transformer out, I could see the problem.  It looked like when it was originally installed, it was missing a rivet at the top holding the plates together.  The installer just put a nail into the hole and bent it to hold it together.  I headed to Home Depot to buy a bulk nut and bolt for around $1, fixed the transformer, reinstalled it, and patched the ceiling.

Bathtub and Surround Reno with Densshield

My brown 60’s bathtub was in need of a replacement.  The problem I had was mainly the colour of the tub and some rust on the outside lip.  The grout had a bit of mildew in spots and I was worried it was coming from behind the wall.  The ugly floral tiles and seashell soap holder tile also needed to come down.

I had replaced the shower valve with a pressure balanced one previously (no more blasts of hot water when someone turned on a faucet or flushed a toilet.  See post here.  The next step was to replace the bathtub (before the floor and vanity).

To minimize plumbing, I wanted a replacement bathtub close to the height and drain location close to my existing tub.  Most tubs carried in big box stores are “above floor drain”.  These tubs are higher to allow the drain pipe to run above the floor where the floor can’t be cut out such as in concrete condos.  The only model I could find close to my original tub was the Bootz Aloha carried at Home Depot in the US.  The Canadian version was an above floor model.  Thinking I would need to rent or borrow a truck to bring it back, I measured the box and determined it would just fit into my hatchback so my first hurdle was solved.

I had looked into bathtub reglazing and research indicated it only lasts about 5 yrs.  I did find an epoxy painting product but for both, the cost would almost be the same as a new tub.

The next design challenge was choosing a backerboard.  The best and most economical solution I found was Densshield which is a drywall product coated with a waterproof layer.  I did my research and read and watched a few installation videos on youtube.

One feature I did want to add was a shower niche.  I looked at buying a pre-built niche and ended up building one with 2×4’s and densshield.

With densshield, the face is waterproof but the edges are not.  In their videos and instructions, they recommend using polyurethane sealant or silicone to seal joints.  I picked up Sikaflex sealant from Home Depot for this application since thinset would more easily adhere to this.

For the tiles, I wanted something that wouldn’t look dated in 10 yrs.  Though larger tiles are more modern, subway tiles tend to be timeless.  I settled on 6×8 tiles and 2×2 green glass tiles inset in a diamond pattern for a small design feature.  I purchased these at Lowes since they are sold individually there.

Step 1 – Demolition

My friend came over to give me a hand with the demo and tub installation.  Hammering out the tile, the area behind the tub was dry and mold free.

To remove the tub, the drain had to be unscrewed out.  I had purchased a drain wrench but it wasn’t really needed and a pair of slip-joint pliers could be used by sticking the pliers inside the drain.

With the tub removed, there was a  bit of a time capsule in garbage the original installers left inside the old tub cavity.  There was an old pepsi bottle, boxes from some of the bathroom accessories  and leftover mosaic tile from the original walls.  I considered using some of the original tiles in my design but couldn’t really fit it in.

I took the old 60lb steel tub to the metal recyclers and got a whopping $2 for it.

Step 2 – Tub Installation

The drain pipes in my 60’s house were 1-1/2″ copper using compression fittings for the tub drain.  When we dry fit the tub, the drain location was about 1/2″ off and we were able to line it up by angling the drain pipe.  The overflow pipe was too long so I cut it down and used a Fernco fitting to reattach it which also gave it some play to line up properly.  The shower valve also no longer lined up to the center of the new tub but it could easily be moved since the copper pipes have a bit of play when not attached to the framing.

When I replaced the drain, I didn’t tighten it enough nor did I check it adequately for leaks so I had to replace some wet drywall on the ceiling downstairs.

There is a good youtube video on installing the Bootz tub from the manufacturer though they don’t recommend any product names.

Step 3 – Framing the niche

With 6×8 tile, I wanted the niche to fit four of these inside so I made the niche 12×16 which could hold several soap and shampoo bottles.  A minor problem arose since an electrical cable ran in the area where the niche was going to be built.  Luckily, there was enough slack in the wire after some clips were removed for the wire to go around the niche.  I had to be careful with the measurements since I wanted a full tile at the bottom edge of the niche and it had to be centered.

Step 4 – Installing the Densshield

I picked up the Densshield at Lowes and it comes in 60″ x 32″ sheets which is perfect for surrounding a 5ft tub.  However, I needed a little bit extra for the sides of the niche and the area beside the bottom of a tub.   You should get a 4″ x 32″ strip left over with the two sheets on the main wall.   Instead of buying and wasting an extra sheet, I cut strips from the top of the sheet opposite the shower head.  This area would be the driest and would rarely be in contact with water.

One question was how to install the Densshield over the bathtub lip.  I left a 1/8″ gap (spaced with a nail) and also used 2×4 blocking where possible to give both the lip and Densshield and edge.  In hindsight, I should have used a minimal gap like 1/16″ since it is hard to fill a larger gap with the sealant.

For screws, a box of 200 1-1/4″ Rock-On backerboard screws was enough for this project.  Screws were set every 6″ following the instructions since it has to hold a lot of weight with the tile.

I put Sikaflex between the butted joint on the wall,  the inside corner joints, over the screw heads, and the exposed edge of the Densshield along the bathtub lip.  I also sealed all the pipe openings and the edges when I lined the niche with Densshield.  There are youtube videos where they use a paint-on waterproofing membrane like Aquadefense or Redguard on the edges but those are not available in small quantities and Sikaflex should work just as good.  The Sikaflex does take a couple days to cure so I covered the walls with dollar store shower curtains since I needed to use the shower while it dried.

After it was dry, I reinforced the joints with cement board tape and modified thinset.

There is also a good youtube video from the makers of Densshield on the installation process.

Step 5 – Tiling

My existing tile wall is about 64″ high above the tub.  With 6×8 tile, I would need 10 and half rows of tile.  I had used the following:

  • 4 sheets 5′ x 32″ Densshield (Lowes)
  • Pack of 200 1 1/4″ Rock-On cement board screws
  • 2 tubes of Sikaflex polyurethane sealant (Home Depot)
  • Fibatape cement board tape
  • 140 pieces 6×8 tile (Lowes sold by piece)
  • 20 pieces 6×6 tile (Lowes sold by piece)
  • 4 – 2″ x 2″ green glass tile (Home Depot)
  • 50lb modified thinset (I had about 5 lbs left over)
  • 2 – 1lb unsanded grout (I had a leftover tub)
  • PVC 5/16″ edge trim (Schluter BW80)
  • 1/4″ x 1/4″ notched trowel
  • budget grout float
  • mixer paddle attachment for drill (didn’t buy one but it would have been much easier than mixing thinset by hand) (Harbor Freight?)

The tile count is for 10 rows x 4 for each side wall and x 6 for the front wall with the ends using 6×6 tile.  The 10 rows didn’t quite reach the old tile height so I added a row of tiles cut in half so I needed an additional 7 – 6×8 and 2 – 6×6.

I got lucky and found a used tile saw on craigslist for $20.  I did want to buy a used one since I wanted to take my time and not be rushed with a rental saw.

For a decorative feature, I bought some square 2″ glass tiles and would embed these in a few corners in a diamond pattern.

The first row is the most important and needs to be level.  Don’t count on your tub being level.  You do want the widest gap to be minimal since it has to be covered with a bead of caulking.

I had originally bought tile adhesive which had indicated it was good for wet areas.  After some online research, I returned it and switched to using modified thinset.

For caulking, it is recommended to use 100% silicone with mildew protection for bathrooms.  I used GE Silicon II which has a short handling time.

I took my time and tiled over several days.  For spacing, I used the nubs built into the tile instead of tile spacers.  With both the densshield and sikaflex, I knew my walls were waterproof behind the tile.

To cut the tile for the openings, I used both a circular tile cutter I purchased at Harbor Freight and the tile saw.  Since the wall was not perfectly plumb, I did a lot more tile cutting than I had originally planned.

Step 6 – Grouting

I had some leftover grout and the online MAPEI grout calculator indicated I should have enough with an extra 1 lb.

Grouting is pretty basic but a little tedious so I worked in sections.  I also wanted to make sure the colour matched my tile when it dried.

I did contemplate sealing the grout but didn’t do this extra step.

Step 7 – New Shower Door

One thing I didn’t want was an ugly shower curtain with my new bathtub and tile walls.  I was looking into a glass screen but found a modern, frameless sliding shower door at a local importer of Chinese made building products.  The door is thick 8mm tempered glass but instructions were minimal other than an autocad drawing.

I installed the fixed glass panel first determining the position with the plastic guide that installed in the middle of the tub wall.  Though the instructions were to screw it in place for an acrylic tub, I just siliconed it in place.  From the position of the panel, I could mount the edge frame and screw it into the wall.  Holes were easily drilled into the tile with a new masonry bit and some tape on the tile to minimize the bit from wandering.

With the fixed panel in place, I could then install the top rail since it is attached to the fixed glass panel.  The allen key for  set screws for the rail supports were not included but luckily I had a correct metric key in my tool box.


Maytag MDE2706AZW Dryer No Heat

I had changed my previous philosophy of repairing old appliances to replacing them with used ones on Craigslist.  People are always upgrading appliances and replacement parts can often cost more than buying a reliable used one.  With the original dryer which came with my house, I had replaced the belt several times.  I had purchased a refurb kit for around $20 consisting of a new belt, pulley and rollers and ended up replacing the whole dryer for about $50 a couple months later since I wanted a newer one with a temperature sensor.

My second dryer, a Maytag,  recently had an issue with no heat.  I pulled it apart and checked all the thermostats and they were all closed and there was 120V AC on that side of the circuit on the heater coil terminal.  The other side is fed by the timer and replacement timers were about $100 so I quickly found another used dryer for about $25.

My replacement dryer (Frigidaire)  was a bit squeaky so I took it apart to take a look.  This dryer was full of lint with a thick layer at the bottom and some burnt lint by the heating coils that could have easily caught on fire.  I vacuumed it all out and gave it a good cleaning.  It was only squeaky starting up and this was probably caused by a loose belt slipping.

With a working dryer, I wanted to go back and troubleshoot the Maytag since it was a bit more solidly constructed.  I removed the back of the console and noticed burnt wires at the timer connections.  One red wire coming from the temperature select switch was burnt to the point of disconnection and melted the insulation of nearby wires that contacted it.  I cut off the burnt section and re-crimped the connector (though I may go back and solder the connection).  I also re-crimped another connector that was also burnt.

Fence Repair

A recent windstorm had caused some damage to my back fence which required some repair.  I had reinforced some of the posts previously with the Fence Mender product  and had a spare I had planned to put in when the weather improved.  See previous post here.

Since the big box stores typically don’t carry cedar fencing materials, I headed out to my local lumber yard, Sunbury Cedar.  They carry short lengths of cedar wood (which are much cheaper than long pieces) and bulk exterior nails.  I would need 4′ 1×3’s to reinforce the panels and pressure-treated 2×4’s for the base.  I also needed to repair some lattice and they use that dimension of wood as scrap spacers in bundles.

My fence panels are relatively thin and stapled and nailed together.  A well constructed panel should used 2×4’s mounted vertically (to prevent sagging) for the top and bottom rails.  The bottom rail should be pressure-treated to prevent rot and insect damage.  You can use Simpson hangers to attach the rails if you are building a fence from  scratch.

My fence only had a 1×5 at the base which rotted from the neighbour piling dirt against it on the other side.

To reinforce the panels where they were weak, I used 1×3’s screwed with 1-1/2″ exterior brown screws on both the top and bottom parts of the panel.  I made sure the bottom pieces were level.

To repair the rotted bottoms,  I  pulled out any remaining wood at the bottom and borrowed an oscillating saw to even out the bottom of the fence boards and the edge of the panels where it connected to the post.  I could then fit a pressure treated 2×4 at the bottom.  Screwing from the panel into the top of the 2×4 first made fitting the piece a bit easier.

When working with pressure  treated lumber, you need to use green ACQ screws that prevent corrosion when in contact with the chemicals in the wood.  If you need to cut the ends, you need to recoat it with “End Cut” preservative.

Here’s the almost finished job since I still need another Fence Mender on one remaining post and was short a 2×4 for one panel.


Weiser / Kwikset Smartkey Vulnerability

During my update of all my brass door hardware inside the house, I also updated my front door lock and deadbolt.  Since I wanted to use my existing Weiser keys, I purchased a Weiser front entry knob and deadbolt with their Smartkey system.  The Weiser brand is used in Canada while Kwikset is used in the US.

The first issue encountered was that the Weiser locks used thinner keys so my old keys could no longer be used.  However, the Smartkey was very easy rekey both locks to match my new keys.

Second issue was that when I went to Home Depot to get some more duplicate keys, they didn’t work.  Comparing the new and original keys, they did appear to match.  I ended up taking both the lock and keys back to Home Depot to get them re-cut and the new ones worked fine.

For the entry knob, my old lock had a push and turn system which made it very easy to both lock and unlock.  The new knob used a small round turn switch which was relatively more difficult to both lock and unlock.  The only advantage of this switch is the ability to lock the knob from the outside with the key.  In both designs, you can lock the door without a key (which is required with the deadbolt).

After my update, I did find out there are vulnerabilities with the Smartkey system.  They can be opened with a special tool fairly easily.  You can find articles and videos on youtube if you search.

I am not really concerned because if someone wanted to break into your house, they would get in and I also have my monitored alarm system.

Canadian Tire Garrison EA20 Safe Recall Model 046-0035

I was cleaning out some junk from my parents and found an unused electronic personal safe.  They had bought it from Canadian Tire and ended up not using it.  While testing it, I ended up locking it accidentally and realized I was missing the backup key to open it.  The lock is hidden under a removable front panel.  A quick google search found some youtube videos of how to open similar safes without the need of the code or the key by just pounding on the top while turning the knob.  Remarkably, this actually worked.  Google’s predictive search also led me to the search term “garrison safe recall” which led me to the recall notice here.   It is illegal in Canada to sell or give away recalled items.  Strangely, this item is still available on Canadian Tire’s website (maybe the problem has been fixed?).  I took it back and got a full cash refund on the non-sale price.

Unclog a Toilet with a Toothbrush Dropped Inside

My mom called me since their toilet was clogged with a dropped toothbrush.  I used a snake and got it to flush but it clogged again since the toothbrush was probably still inside.

If you look at a diagram of a toilet, the toothbrush is probably lodged at the U turn at the top of the trap since it can’t get past it.  Liquids will be fine but solids will get trapped.

Searching online, some solutions include removing the toilet, draining the trap and fishing the toothbrush out or melting it with a hot piece of wire.  One unusual suggestion was to attach a balloon to a plastic pipe and inflating it.  This seemed viable and a lot less work so I tried it.  I was a little skeptical since I didn’t think the balloon would be strong enough.

I had some plastic supply line pipe used for sinks and put a balloon at the end and secured it with some duct tape.  The pipe didn’t seem long enough so I extended it with another pipe and some more duct tape.

I assumed I needed to get the balloon past the U-turn and toothbrush so I cleared the drain a second time with the snake so that it could flush.  I couldn’t get the balloon down the drain as far as I wanted but decide to inflate the balloon anyway and gave it a pull.  This worked and the toothbrush dropped down.   It seems you only need a little friction against the toothbrush to dislodge it so you only need to push the balloon as far as it can go.