Sunday, June 30, 2019

Cordless yard tools

Someone who does not know me well asked me by email if I could repair the engine in her weed wacker.  I bit my tongue and politely replied that I don't use gasoline powered yard tools and would not choose to repair one even if I could.  I urged her to see this as an opportunity to go cordless and reduce pollution and emissions.  

The EPA says that: "A conventional lawn mower pollutes as much in an hour as 40 late model cars for an hour."  Plus I don't like the stink of gasoline or the awful noise.  Cordless yard tools are now in their prime and very affordable.  You can buy them at almost any hardware store.

Shown above are my Black & Decker 20 Volt cordless hedge trimmer, weed wacker and my home made monster lawn mower.  The hedge trimmer I refer to as a "Light Saber" - I can just wave it near anything less than 1/4" and it cuts right through without slowing down a bit and can chew through up to 1/2" branches.  The weed wacker is also very powerful.  Both tools last over 20 minutes on a charge which is plenty for home use.

Back in 2005 when I built my cordless lawn mower, there weren't many options for cordless lawn mowers, but they are common now thanks to advancing lithium battery technology that has driven the costs down dramatically. 

If you are a curious/nerdy person, you can read about my electric lawn mower construction in my detailed blog:  It was featured in Popular Science Magazine in July 2008 and I inspired several people to do similar conversions of lawn mowers.  Mine is very powerful and can charge through tall grass with impunity!  It has a 22" cutting path while cordless models range from 14" to 21".
Popular Mechanics recently reviewed 6 best cordless lawn mowers for around $500.  Read the full review here.  Or this excerpt:
 "The benefits of a battery mower are obvious from the moment you engage the operator lever: They’re incredibly quiet. Gas-engine mowers succeed because they produce so much power that they can afford to waste most of their output as noise, heat, and friction. With battery mowers, that output occurs at the power plant, not in your yard. These mowers are also mechanically simple. There’s no electric start or recoil start, either—just push a button to power it up. Like any electric machine, basically it’s on or its off. There’s no engine oil, spark plug or air filter to change. Keep the battery charged and sharpen the blade. That’s all there is to it. As with cordless power tools, you charge a battery separately from the tool or machine, which allows you to simply swap out the battery when it’s dead and to keep on working."

Friday, June 7, 2019

Water heater maintenence - drain bottom and check anode rod

There are 2 things you can do to extend the life of your basic tank style water heater.  One is to periodically connect a hose to the drain valve and flush out the sediment at the bottom of the tank for a few minutes - or 4 to 5 gallons.  This prevents the sediment from building up and potentially damaging the heating elements or blocking the drain valve.  Here's a video that explains exactly what to do.

The other thing is to check the anode rod.  This is a sacrificial electrode inside the tank that slowly dissolves to prevent the tank lining from rusting.  It looks like a long metal rod made of aluminum or magnesium.  Replacements cost from $17 to $45 depending on type and size.  I check my rod every year.  This process will likely require 2 strong people and a 1/2" ratchet wrench with a 1 1/16" socket.  Here's a video on how do do this:

I used a long piece of pipe over the end of my ratchet wrench to get enough leverage to break it loose.  

Here's what my rod looks like after 2 years:
I took it outside to hose off the gunk before I replaced it.  I think it is good for another year or two, but I will check it every year.

These simple maintenance chores can more than double the life of your water heater and save you a lot of money!  And from a sustainability perspective you are keeping the water heater out of the landfill.  If everyone did this there would be a lot less old tanks being disposed of.