Author Archives: diy

Quick Tips

Does the cat scratching at the litter box wake you up at night?

This post is a little off-beat. When we think of DIY projects, cats in litter boxes typically don’t come to mind.

But being a successful DIYer starts with a good night’s sleep! And that can’t happen if the sound of your cat scratching against the sides of the litter box wakes you up at night.

You would think a solution would exist for this. I looked all over the place for litter boxes that were made of a material other than plastic.

The closest solution is the “enclosed” litter box that is really designed to be more decorative than soundproof.

Necessity being the mother of invention and all, I decided to try my luck at solving this problem. It turns out that the solution is unbelievably simple and cost-effective…

Flex Seal can help you sleep better at night, literally

The Flex Seal commercials are almost humorous. There’s no way I’m riding in any boat that has a giant hole in it, only to be repaired by Flex Seal!

In my case though, Flex Seal was the first product that came to mind when I wanted to “rubberized” our cat litter box.

Run a cat’s claw against plastic and it’s almost an ear piercing sound. A cat’s claw against a rubber surface, however, is practically unnoticeable.

Sand it Down

A general rule of thumb is that products will stick better to a surface that is scuffed and dull than bright and shiny.

So grab an old or leftover piece of sandpaper and scuff up all areas of the inside of the litter box.

Grab a Paint Brush

Having never used Flex Seal before, I thought I could just dump it in the litter box and kind a swish it around to cover the bottom.

Not the case!

You want to have an old paint brush or some kind of spreader to move the Flex Seal around after you pour it out. Make sure to coat the walls of the litter box as high as possible.

Suffer for One More Night!

Unfortunately, Flex Seal takes a while to dry. Especially if you laid it on there pretty thick. Give it a full 24 hours before dumping any litter onto it.

It’ll all be worth it when you get that beautifully sound sleep the following night!

Exterior & Landscape

Removing Small Stumps without Grinding or Using Your Vehicle

A couple years back, we posted an easy way to remove shrubs or bushes using your vehicle.

While we still stand behind that method, it may not always be feasible or would require too much work to clean up ruts in the grass that the vehicle made.

Beyond that, not everybody has a vehicle capable of pulling a stump.

Removing Shrubs or Stumps with a Winch

Another option to consider is to use a winch to pull your bush, shrub or small stump.

I got a 4-8,000 pound manual winch on Amazon for under $50 and a couple of tow straps as well.

As you can see in the video below, I wrapped one end of the tow strap around an existing stump that I had.

I then wrapped the other strap around the shrub stomp I was trying to remove.

Then, joined the two straps together with my winch in the middle.

It didn’t take too much effort to start cranking the winch and hear movement in the shrub roots.

After about a dozen cranks on the winch, I was able to easily remove the shrub stump by hand.

Quick Tips

Reclaim that end piece of bread

When you think about it, we’ve all wasted a lot of bread in our time!

If you go through a loaf of bread per week, that’s 2 end pieces wasted every 7 days. That’s over 100 pieces per year (enough to make up a few loaves of bread).

Not to mention the extra space used up in your trash bag!

So how do you reclaim that end piece that nobody wants? Take 20 seconds to watch the video below.

 

Food / Cooking

DIY Meat Jerky Using an Affordable Dehydrator

I’ve been on the jerky kick lately and it has not been good for our finances!

That is, until an acquaintance of mine offered me some venison jerky and I asked him how he made it.

The short answer is to use a food dehydrator, but there’s a little bit more to it…

It turns out that there are tricks to the way you slice the meat, marinate it, pre-cook it and dry it.

I’ll let the video explain the details! The product used in the video is below

Presto 06300 Dehydro Electric Food Dehydrator



Quick Tips

Lawnmower Carburetor Leaking Gas? The Quick Fix.

“Didn’t I just fill the gas tank?”, I would ask myself week after week after cutting the lawn. That is, until I finally realized that there’s a gas leak somewhere!

The reason it took so long to discover the issue is that the gas was leaking so slowly that it was actually evaporating and not leaving any trace.

Yes, gas evaporation is a thing! There have been studies on it.

When trying to find the source of the leak, I started at the gas tank. Then I worked my way down through the fuel line, past the fuel filter and then right behind the air filter box where the carburetor sits.

Yep, My Carburetor is Leaking

Bingo! When I reached my hand behind the air filter box, I could feel that the carburetor was damp with gas.

My first thought was, “Dang! I’m gonna have to replace the carburetor.” But carburetors are over $100, plus whatever time it takes to figure out how to swap it out.

Next thought, rebuilding the carburetor. I’m sure the kits are inexpensive. But it still involves removing the carb, figuring out how to rebuild it, then replacing it.

Then, the most obvious choice hit me while I was sitting there staring at fuel line. An inline shut-off valve!

Inline Shut-off Valves

Not only are shut-off valves inexpensive (about $9 for 5 of them!), but they’re extremely easy to install.

All you have to do is cut out a segment of your existing fuel line (it’s easiest to do this when your gas tank is empty) and replace it with the inline shut-off valve.

fuel shutoff lawnmower

That’s it! You now just have to get in the habit of shutting off your gas line after each use.

Winterization Bonus

As a bonus, this will not only conserve your fuel, but will make winterization one step easier (as you now have a gas shut off valve).

Just before your last use of the season, turn off the gas line while your engine is running and let it starve itself out of gas.

This will prevent any residual gas from gumming up your components, especially your carburetor.

Or, If you’d rather watch the video…

Exterior & Landscape

Cutting down 30 foot high tree branches – without climbing

Believe it or not, there is an easy way to cut down high tree branches (we’re talking 30 feet plus) without training to be an acrobat, buying climbing equipment or paying a professional hundreds of dollars.

For many of us, that high tree branch is obstructing an otherwise beautiful view, adding wear and tear to our roof shingles or is simply dead and unsightly.

Whatever the reason, that tree branch has got to go! So let’s get to work…

What You’ll Need

Direct links to the products on Amazon are included. Total cost is about $35 – $40.  Most folks will already have everything they need, except the pocket chainsaw. In that case, you’ll only need to invest $20.

  1. Pocket Chainsaw
  2. Rope (100ft.)
  3. Gloves
  4. A 1.25 or 2.5 pound weight
I don’t have a 1.25 pound weight. I’m not trying to brag, but I only have 2.5 pound weights.
If you don’t have a plate weight, any object weighing around 1 lb. that you can tie the rope around or through will work.

Time Commitment

This happens a lot quicker than you might think. Once you get the hang of it, you’ll be taking branches down in 5 to 10 minutes.

Of course, cutting up and disposing of the branches will take additional time.

OK, How do we do it?

Step 1 – Cut the Rope

Cut your 100 foot length of rope in half to create two 50 foot pieces.

The easiest way to do this is to tie both ends of the rope to an object, then stretch the rope all the way out to find the center point. From there, just cut it with a knife or blade of some kind.

cut the rope

For extra credit, you can use a lighter to burn the end of the rope so it doesn’t fray any further.

prevent rope from fraying

Step 2 – Warm Up Your Shoulder

This is where that very light weight comes in that I mentioned in the beginning.

Tie the rope to the weight and throw it up over the tree branch you are trying to take down. You want to try to get as close to the trunk of the tree as possible.

rope over tree limb

Personally, I found this difficult with anything above 25 feet high. Believe it or not, the weight of the rope itself actually hindered the throw a bit.

For anything above 25 feet, I usually start with kite string and a small rock. Once you throw the kite string over the branch, you can tie the rope to the string and pull the rope over.

With extreme heights, you can try using a slingshot, or bow and arrow if you have that kind of skill (I do not).

Step 3 – Attaching the rope to the pocket chainsaw

Once you have one of your ropes hanging over the tree branch, it’s time to tie one end to your pocket chainsaw.

At this point, you’ll also tie the other rope (that is not hanging from the tree) to the other end of your pocket chainsaw.

Now, continue to pull the rope until the chain is sitting firmly on top of the branch you are cutting.

pocket chainsaw on tree limb

If you’re lucky, the teeth of the chain will be facing down on top of the branch. Otherwise, you’ll have to pull the chain back down a bit, then real it up again trying to make sure the teeth are facing down. This may take a few tries!

Step 4 – Start Sawing!

This is actually the easiest part. It just takes just a little bit of shoulder muscle.

Put on your gloves and start pulling the ropes back and forth at a consistent speed.

Do not exert any downward force on the ropes by pulling hard while you saw. Let the teeth on the chain do the work.

When you hear the branch start to crack, get ready to run!

If the branch did not come down cleanly, chances are that the chain is still hanging from the tree, and you can continue to saw the branch off until the cut is clean.

cut tree branch

Congratulations, you just did something that you may have never thought possible without hiring a pro!

Quick Tips

5 Free Shipping Home Improvement Products that might surprise you

When it comes to buying larger items, retail traditionally wins. It’s difficult to compete with the customers seeing the product first-hand and not having to pay high shipping costs to receive their product.

It’s clear though, that some manufacturers of larger products are trying to find ways improve sales online. High-res images, 360 degree views and  customer reviews are helping to make this happen. But shipping costs have always been one of the biggest deterring factors for online shoppers looking to purchase large or heavy items.

However, it seems that many have found a way to offer free shipping and still maintain a competitive price. Below is a list of some products we found that surprised us with their free shipping offer, considering the price was equal to, or less than retail!

  1. Pressure Washers

    We found a few Generac pressure washer products that were part of the Amazon Prime 2-day shipping program. In each case, the price was almost identical to that of Home Depot or Lowes.

    Once you own a pressure washer, you’ll wonder how you went so long without one! They make easy work of cleaning concrete, stripping paint, washing your siding and quite a bit more.

    They also don’t use much gas compared to the time and energy they save you.

    The Generac pressure washer listed here currently has a 4.4 star rating on Amazon.

  2. Table Saws

    You don’t start to appreciate table saws until you try ripping a board with a circular saw or trimming 1/4″ off a piece of material with a jig saw.

    Table saws are much smaller and more portable than they used to be. This makes them perfect candidates for free shipping offers.

    We compared a number of table saws on Amazon against big box store prices and found that the prices were identical in almost all cases.

    When shopping for a table saw online, just consider the rip capacity. If you want to be able to rip sheet wood, make sure you look for a rip capacity above 24″. If you’re happy ripping sheet material with your circular saw, then you can save a few bucks on a model with a smaller rip capacity.

  3. Ladders

    This category might be the most surprising. Not only are ladders on the heavy side (as far as shipping goes), but their dimensions almost put them outside the limits of traditional ground shipping.

    Yet, we found online deals that actually beat retails stores by up to 25% and offer free shipping!

    The Little Giant is one such product. These multi-position ladders have recently become very popular for their quality and versatility. All the more reason we were surprised to see a price drop on Amazon.

  4. Subscribe & Save on Hardware

    We’re not necessarily surprised that certain hardware items offer free shipping. But the ability to subscribe to monthly purchases and save even more money is worth noting.

    Amazon’s Subscribe and Save item isn’t just for food. If you’re a builder or hobbyist of almost any kind, a monthly supply of your most-used hardware would eliminate trips to store and save you up to 15% in the process.

    As an example, woodworkers that rely on pocket-hold joinery might find that a subscription to pocket holes screws is a great way to ensure you’re never short on fasteners.

    And if you find you’re stocked up enough for a while, you can always skip a month in your subscription.

  5. 20 Gallon Air Compressor

    I’m not talking about those 3-gallon compressors that leave you constantly waiting while they refill with air. 20 to 30 Gallon compressors provide a higher CFM (cubic feet per minute) and still maintain a good degree of portability.

    We’ve seen these priced similarly on both Amazon and retailers with online stores, such as Home Depot. Home Depot even offers free shipping on some of their compressors.

    Amazon takes it one step further by providing free 2-day shipping if you’re a member of their prime program.

    One of the key benefits of air compressors is that the tools are cheap (as they don’t require a motor) and last a long time with very basic maintenance. Drop a couple drops of air tool oil in them every so often and you’re good to go!

Quick Tips

Replacing your projector bulb / lamp the cheap way

Nothing makes me happier than when a friend of mine starts bragging about their new 75″ TV. It gives me the opportunity to use one of my favorite TV-size humbling lines — “oh, you measure in inches?”

That’s right, with projectors we measure in feet! I’ve got a 10.5 ft. screen at home and the corresponding projector cost me a lot less than a 75″ TV would have.

But then a couple years go by and one day you notice that the projector starts “turning off” after a few minutes. A likely symptom of a dying projector lamp.

You hop onto the manufacturer’s website, ready to order a new lamp. Find your exact replacement lamp model and “smack”, the price is $300+ for a new lamp!

The good news is, there are a good number of non-OEM (aftermarket, if you will) lamps out there for a fraction of the price.

The trick is to check on Amazon and find a non-OEM lamp that fits your model projector. Browse the Questions section of the Amazon listing to see if other buyers had good results with your specific projector model.

I personally have a Sony Bravia projector that I’ve been happy with for the past 9 years. In all fairness, the $300 bulb I first purchased lasted about 7 years (over 6000 hours).

Though, I did purchase my current non-OEM lamp almost 2 years ago (almost 2000 hours now) at just $40 and it’s still running strong!

Mini Projects

Get dressed in front of this window without offending neighbors

If you have empty-wall syndrome in one of your spaces, consider this low-cost DIY project. You’ll end up with a useful mirror in a position where a side window would normally be placed.

At first glance, what appears to be one solid piece of glass is actually 9 individual window tiles. This project will cost you about $100 in materials.

Because it’s a mirror and not see-through glass, the project becomes quite a bit easier as you aren’t required to create a mortise in each of the mullions to hold the mirrors. Instead, you simply glue the mirrors onto the face of the frame.

Beautiful Window Pane Mirror DIY

Mini Projects

How I got my Radon levels down with DIY mitigation

I’m not a certified radon mitigation professional. I’m not a professional contractor or licensed electrician. I’m also not a plumber. I want to make it very clear that the methods I used may not be in alignment with the EPA’s recommendations for radon mitigation. This post simply outlines the steps that I took personally to reduce the radon levels in my home.

That being said, I’d use this article more for inspiration, than as a step-by-step, how-to guide to radon mitigation.

You maybe asking yourself, “What does being an electrician or plumber have to do with mitigating radon?” You’ll soon find out that some of the steps require knowledge of basic wiring and drainage (in this case, draining air out of your home through PVC piping).

Measure your existing radon levels

You might already know you’re home radon levels. You may have purchased a mail-in home test kit or are going by your local average radon levels.

In either case, I encourage you to purchase your own radon detector, as you’ll want to measure levels in various areas of your home both before and after you install your mitigation system.

I personally chose the Safety Siren Pro Series3 Radon Gas Detector. I got it on Amazon for about $130. You simply plug it into a wall outlet and it will provide you a reading within 48 hours.

Before you decide where to install your mitigation system, you should spend a couple weeks testing your radon levels in various areas of your home.

During my testing, I found that my highest levels were coming from my sump pump crock. From what I have been reading, this is very common, as radon gas will take the easiest route to escape from the ground and into the air.

high radon reading

My radon reading: 39.1 pCi/L. Yikes!

With that in mind, the remainder of this article will be specific to installing a radon mitigation system over your sump crock.

You maybe asking yourself, “if the majority of radon is coming in through my sump pump crock, why not just cover and seal the crock?” The reason is that if you prevent the escape of Redon from one spot, it will simply trying to find another way to escape into your home.

Other common places where Radon tries to surface is through the expansion joint in your basement slab or even cracks in the basement floor.

Given this, the best course of action is to capture the radon gas as it enters and evacuate it, with a mitigation system, into the outside air.

So, let’s get started!

Finding the Right Sump Cover

If you have a sump basin (a plastic container that lines your sump hole), this process is a little easier. Sump basins typically come with a partial cover, but offer fully sealed covers as a separate purchase.

In my case, a separate sump cover was available, but it had a “not for radon use” warning imprinted on it. I purchased it anyway!

You may ask, why didn’t I go with the $100 radon safe sump cover offered by various manufacturers? The short answer is: because my cover cost $10 and it did the job after I applied a bead of silicone sealant around it.

If you don’t have a sump basin, don’t worry, it just takes a little extra work. I actually have a second sump hole that did not have a sump basin in it.

In this case, I purchased a 24 x 24 sheet of Lexan from my local Home Depot. I then used a jigsaw to cut a circular shape out of the Lexan that fit nicely over the sump hole. And again, once everything is in place you could be sealed with silicone to make it airtight.

The advantage to Lexan is that it’s clear and you are able to see if there is ever water in your sump hole.

Purchasing an Inline Exhaust Fan

The inline exhaust fan is what will actually draw the radon up from your sump hole and push it outdoors.

Since it will be running 24 hours a day, seven days a week, it’s important to consider these two criteria when purchasing your fan:

  1. Wattage vs. Airflow
  2. Sound

Don’t worry too much about the duct size, as long as it’s larger than 3 inches. You can reduce or expand to fit your piping as needed.

The fan that I purchased (the Fantech 100) had the following specs:

  1. 130 CFM
  2. 20 Watt
  3. Extremely quiet
  4. 4″ duct

The fan itself, at about $130, was over half the cost of the project. (EDIT: I see the fan is now about $110 on Amazon.)

The last thing to consider when purchasing a fan is wiring. I could not find a decent fan that plugged into a wall outlet. It’s possible I didn’t look hard enough, but all of the in-line fans I saw were hardwired.

Don’t let this scare you away, even if you don’t have the basic knowledge of wiring. Because we are installing this over a sump pump, it’s very likely that you have an outlet close by.

You can likely hardwire the exhaust fan to the wire that feeds your sump pump outlet.

Connecting the Fan

radon fan
This part was probably the easiest of the whole project. I simply purchased two rubber / flexible couplings and use them to join the fan with the rest of the system.

I did this in case the fan ever needs replacement. In the event that happens, I’ll just have to unscrew the rubber couplings and replace the fan.


Determine your exit point and fan location

Next, you’ll want to determine the exact point that the PVC piping will exit your home. I chose to drill a 3 1/2 inch hole in my rim joist (in the basement) and send the pipe out there.

You don’t want to drill that hole just yet, in case something goes wrong along the way. But, it’s important to identify where the exit pipe will be, so you can plan your piping.

You’ll also want to consider whether you want the exhaust fan to be inside or outside of the house. It is recommended that the fan be as far away from the radon source as possible so typically, professionals place the fan outside the house. The fan does a better job pulling the radon than pushing it out.

That being said, I personally chose to locate the fan inside my cozy basement, away from the elements (rain, snow, etc) and also improving outdoor aesthetics. I can’t be certain that I would not have achieved an even lower radon level if I placed the fan outside, but I’m still happy with the results.

Prepare your sump cover

sump cover

In this step, we’ll need to drill three holes into the sump cover, as listed below. All told, I believe this ran about $35.

  1. 3 5/8″ hole saw – for the 3″ radon mitigation pipe
  2. 1 5/8″ hole saw – for the 1 1/2″ sump water discharge pipe (if you have an old hole saw from a doorknob kit, that’s perfect)
  3. About a 1″ drill bit – for the sump pump wires (a wood boring bit will work fine)
  4. Hole saw arbor bit

Before you drill the holes, make sure you dry fit all the pipes together to ensure you locate the holes in the proper place on the cover.

Prepare your sump pump

We’ll need to do a couple things to our existing sump pump before we can apply the sump cover and seal it in place.

  1. The cut and splice.  I chose to make a cut in my sump pump power cord(s), run them through a small piece of conduit, then splice them together again inside a conduit box.
    My thinking is that this would make it a little easier to seal the hole where the sump power wires exit the cover.This was the only option with small conduit, as the actual plug at the end of wire doesn’t fit through 3/4″ conduit.So, why didn’t I just go with larger conduit? Since radon will also escape up into this conduit, I wanted to be able to seal around the wires, so a smaller size conduit made more sense.
  2. The pipe union. We’ll do kinda the same thing with the discharge pipe that comes out of the sump pump.  We’ll want to cut it and put a union in place to make it easier to service the pump if needed.

Seal the Cover

This is the easy part, but also the semi-permanent part. I used silicone to seal the cover over the sump hole. Anyone who has sealed with silicone before knows that it’s not permanent, but it’s a pain in the neck to remove the silicone bead that you created.

So the lesson here is to make sure that you have a high-quality some pump, that is positioned well in the hole, before you seal the cover on. Also ensure that all your electrical is in good working order before sealing the deal.

Once your electrical is done, pop the cover over the hole and pipes, then put a bead of silicone around the perimeter of the cover and also around the pipes that are coming out of the cover.

Outside piping

I choose to connect the PVC pipe coming out of the basement to a vinyl gutter than runs vertically along a piece of trim on the corner of my house. It is technically supposed to exit above the roof line, but I couldn’t justify the extra effort to do that.

I also know that the fan performance and rate with which the radon can be mitigated will be reduced by turning my exit pipe 45 degrees (as shown in the photo).  But, I felt it was more important to keep animals and water out of the system (especially the fan).

Try it out

Get a final radon reading before you seal the sump cover.

Then, after you seal the cover, turn on your in-line fan and put the system to work!

Reset your radon detector, then wait 48 hours and check your reading again.

If all goes well, you’ll see a drastic reduction in radon. Otherwise, check that all your silicone seals are complete and that all pipe joints are snug and glued properly.

I put a few images of the finished project on Imgur: http://imgur.com/gallery/VzwML