Green Roof?

I’m waiting for Tesla to install solar roof tiles. The project is at the Xcel power company application stage. The permit from the city was granted. We decided to upgrade the roof to solar tiles the day the president announced pulling out of the Paris climate accords. We needed to do our part and figured for twice the price we can get over 3 times the solar that we have now and get a new roof. But the solar roof does not cover the flat roof at the front of the house. It needs at least a 2/12 roof slope.

Flat Roof
Flat Roof

I investigated installing a green roof on the front that would help nudge the house toward net zero. That means the house creates as much energy as it uses. The growing medium on the roof has insulating value. A green roof also manages rooftop water by absorbing it and releasing filtered water to catch in rain barrels. Since we are in Colorado we can only collect 110 gallons of rain water at a time and that is a recent change in the law. When we first moved here rain barrels were illegal.

I learned about green roofs when we toured one in Denver during a USGBC conference in 2013. So I’ve been considering this idea for a long time. The roof we toured was built from shallow trays of sedums. That is an extensive style roof and the lightest type. An intensive style has a deeper soil bed.

Green Roof Systems
Green Roof Systems

Extensive roofs are lighter than intensive but they can still weigh 30 lbs per square ft. fully saturated. That in addition to snow load can be too heavy for a typical roof. Fortunately we don’t have a typical roof.

Flat roof structure
Flat roof structure

But the first step is getting the official calculations from a structural engineer. I contacted Andy Creath from Green Roofs of Colorado and the person who presented at that conference years ago. He discussed the green roof options with me and arranged for a structural engineer to run the calculations on our roof.
Andy’s green roofs are not in trays. He creates a monolithic growing medium above waterproof membrane roofing material like TPO. A parapet rises above the roof edge to hold the plantings. All the typical green roof layers are installed and a patio and walkways would be incorporated into the design.

Denver Botanic Garden Rooftop garden
Denver Botanic Garden

The layers of a green roof are made from differing materials depending on the vendor but the design is the same. It is a layered system that creates a barrier rooftop but provides drainage for plant material and a growing medium. It is referred to as growing medium because rooftop soils are specially formulated to be lightweight and well-drained.

Roof layers for green roof
Roof layers for green roof

The roofs feature a variety of plants from wildflowers to succulents and cactus or grasses. Of course the Midwest and East require different plants than more arid areas of the country. Colorado rooftop gardens also require an irrigation system. The research conducted for the EPA determined that a green roof cannot survive in this climate without periodic irrigation.

This Old House Green Roof
This Old House Green Roof

In Colorado the plants are often varieties of sedum a low growing succulent with low water and nutrient needs.

Sedum Green Roof
Sedum Green Roof

This sedum roof is similar to the roof on the Denver EPA building. It is planted with sedum and the plants are in trays that sit on top of the other layers. This is the lightest green roof.

Intermountain Green roof with trays
Intermountain Green roof with trays

We had the structural report created and as I suspected our roof is built solidly enough to hold a green roof. The engineer’s conclusion was for a medium weight green roof.

For the calculations of this residence roof, the green roof system dead load of 42 psf was utilized. Based on the revised loading and the existing spans of the wood joists, the existing 2×12 joists spaced at both 16-inches on center and 24-inches on center do provide adequate capacity to carry the additional proposed superimposed green roof loading.

Donald E. (Leo) Whiteley, P.E., Assoc. AIA, LEED AP

The next step is to decide whether to engage Andy’s company to create the green roof or investigate a tray system. He told me that the best time of year to install the green roof would be fall. That would give the structure time to settle before the growing season. I’m waiting for the Tesla solar roof to be installed before we make a decision.

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Buried Pool Power

When I applied for a permit for the pool the requirement was to have a separate 20 amp GFCI line for it. The electricians installed that back in 2016. I have been using a long extension cord for the pool pump but wanted to install an outside box for the system. I tapped into the line that feeds an outside electric outlet on this breaker.

The box that I tapped into was an exterior power connection box. I turned off the breaker and clipped the wires. One set of wires continues to the outlet and the other is routed to an outdoor switch.

Outdoor switch
Outdoor switch

But before this wiring step I had to pull 100 ft of wire through the conduit.

Pulling power cable
Pulling power cable

I used the wire puller to start the wire through the pipe doing one section at a time. There is a 90 degree corner from the junction to the pool and that had to be threaded through in the right order with that first pipe cut to the correct length.

Each section got progressively easier since there was less wire to pull. But my hands got sore tugging on the wire and the leader metal. For the last pipe I was able to cut the wire to fit the rest of the way and that took off about 20 ft. of wire so it was even easier to pull the last piece of conduit and the elbows.

I used water tight connectors at the junction box and the switch box. These screw on the pipe to tighten them. I drilled a hole in the cover of the junction box for the fitting. But the conduit first had to be glued together at the joints.

Each piece of conduit was cleaned and pipe cement was applied. The wire had to be pulled taut to get the pipes close enough together to pull the joint tight. It was really hot while I was working on glueing the joints. I took a break and came back to it later in the afternoon when most of the line was shaded.

Glued conduit in trench
Glued conduit in trench

At the end of the line I used a piece of 3/4″ rebar to hold the waterproof outlet box. Inside the box I wired two outlets. I wired them so that if one failed the other would still be hot. I used this example from the internet.

Double outlet wiring example
Double outlet wiring example

Once the wiring was completed and screwed together I tested turning on the switch and getting power. But the first time I tested the outlet had no power. I took it apart and found a loose white connection and reassembled the box. It took quite a bit of delicate holding of the outlets and the box to line up the outlet screws and the box face plate. The outlets were used and I could not locate the bag of electrical screws that I have saved so the middle screws are missing.

Pump GFCI plugged in
Pump GFCI plugged in

I finally got the box connected and power at the switch in the waterproof case. I meant to install the box higher on the rebar but when I was glueing I didn’t have that last piece and I forgot to add it. So the box is a bit lower than I planned which should not make much difference since it won’t be live in the winter. The pump was plugged in and automatically turned on to boost mode. I turned off the solar so that the pump can run all night to make up for not running today.

Pool power box
Pool power box

Looking pretty good so it was time to clean up my tools and call it a day.

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Fixing Leaks in Pool Plumbing

I’ve been spending a lot of time on the pool plumbing. I’ve had a couple of pipe blow offs including one that moved a lot of water out of the pool. Each one of these threaded pipes blew apart when pressured by the pump start.

Leaking pipe joins blow apart at threads
Leaking pipe joins blow apart at threads

My solution was to switch the new pipes for older ones. Apparently the older piping had deeper threads and connect more securely. I also had issues with the opposite end of the hot water input pipe. I had connected the metric and the international pipe threads and although they didn’t leak the first time, it leaked and I could not re-tighten it after I switched out for the older hose.

Repaired leak at check valve
Repaired leak at check valve

I had an extra adapter with the correct thread on the backflush hose. So I took that out and moved it to the check valve. In order to attach it to the check valve I had to have a series of pipe fittings and clamps that show just how jerry rigged these connections are. I had to really get the clamps tight before these joins stopped leaking.

I also took advantage of having the system apart to install a new salt cell pipe. I bought it for $9 plus shipping from Intex because the old one leaked in two places. I thought replacing it would provide new threads that would help seal the connections.

New casing for titanium salt cell
New casing for titanium salt cell

The replacement worked! But I also replaced or turned around the rubber gaskets so that the seals were new too. This stopped the constant dripping from the salt cell connections when the pump was on.

New salt system casing
New salt system casing

Unfortunately having these leaks fixed turned up a new one. You may notice that for some reason this connection has an extra screw in the middle of the threaded area. I can’t imagine how that fixed the problem in the past. But I was able to use the threaded part from the old salt cell to replace it. Along with another gasket the newest leak was fixed.

Another leak discovered at the salt treatment section
Another leak discovered at the salt treatment section

The entire system has been fixed and is leak free for now. I’m still trying to keep the water warm and algae free though so I have been running the pump twice a day instead of once. The automatic timer is set for just once a day. I have been turning it on manually for its 3 hour run twice each day.

Pool connections from filter to solar panel and return
Pool connections from filter to solar panel and return
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Vinyl Lattice Floor for Inflatable Boat

Some time ago I picked up a pile of vinyl lattice edging at the Repurposed Materials auction. I had in mind to use the single edge caps to frame the glass for the trombe wall. I’m still hoping they can be used for that.

At the same time I purchased a pile of marine plywood that had been used as home development advertising. They have a thin layer of plastic sign material attached to them. We have used this plywood for various projects around the place and it has come in very handy.

We went camping as a family to a local lake and because of Covid virus we didn’t know if the beach would be open. But the lake was open to boating and fishing. So I purchased an inflatable Intex 3 person boat. I also upgraded to a rechargeable Intex air pump. We found that the pump worked best if plugged into a 12 volt power source.

Intex Seahawk 3
Intex Seahawk 3

The Amazon reviews recommended installing a solid floor to make it easier to move around in the boat while in the water. The boat arrived very late the evening before the day we were leaving for the campground and that morning it was raining! My plan had been to cut a piece of plywood for the floor of the boat. But with the rain that seemed too difficult.The more expensive inflatable boats came with a slatted floor and right next to the plywood is the pile of vinyl lattice dividers and edges so I got the idea to build the floor with them.

Composite lattice edges
Vinyl lattice edges

I inflated the bottom of the boat and measured the pieces that would fit the width of the bottom. They varied slightly in a few places as the boat bottom got a bit wider in the center and much narrower at the front. I cut the pieces with a circular saw. I used about ten 8 foot pieces of trim.

Slats in boat bottom
Slats in boat bottom

I cut 10″ pieces of the edging to link the slats together to form two layers, a wider top layer and a narrow bottom layer in the middle.

Lattice divider trim
Lattice divider trim
Vinyl Hanger Strap
Vinyl Hanger Strap

I used woven vinyl hanger strap left over from the ERV project and stainless steel staples to connect the slats. I planned to also put the tape on each side of the top slats but it turned out they held together without the extra tape. The boat bottom rolls together enough that I could fit it in the RV shower for transport.

In order to keep the edges of the slats from damaging the PVC of the boat I wrapped the edges with pool noodles slit down one side. Luckily Dave was at the store when I texted him to bring me four noodles. I tried to staple them on but they easily popped off. I finally wrapped them on with more of the vinyl strapping.

Inflated boat with floor
Inflated boat with floor

When we put the floor in the inflated boat it was a little too long so two slats and spacers were removed from the bottom. The remaining floor worked well although it made the boat much heavier to haul to the water. The wrapped pool noodle edging did not hold so I have to think of another way to keep the pool noodles attached to the floor.

We had a great time with the boat. It took my son’s strength to get us across the open lake though. Maybe a little trolling motor is called for?

Rowing across the lake
Rowing across the lake

Now that I had this idea, I’m thinking of other projects for the edging. There might be enough double slatted edges to build a walkway for the green roof or to make some kind of deck tiles for around the pool. What a great discovery!

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Interesting Design Detail

I have had to seek some unusual solutions to some unique spaces in our house. The opening in the partial “attic loft” in the family room bathroom was a difficult one to cover. Originally I thought it could use sliding barn doors but the sides both have vents in them that the doors would have to clear and the ceiling above the opening is very shallow so a track would not fit across the door.

I thought of several other solutions, but they all were restricted by the steep ceiling that kept any type of opening shutter from working in the opening. Then I was thinking some kind of panel in the opening would work. and it occurred to me that it would have to be held in by some type of latch. At one point I was just looking for panels about the right size and I came across metal peg boards that seemed to have just the right measurements for the space.

Galvanized peg board
Galvanized peg board

I could have ordered many different colors but the galvanized was the least expensive and most rustic in my opinion.

The opening was supposed to use 3/4″ trim boards and I used one on top and the bottom but the sides were too lopsided to use even 1/2 inch boards.

Off square opening
Off square opening

I measured for 3/8″ boards and thought I would need to use plywood until I remembered that I have several boxes of 3/8″ laminate flooring that I was saving to replace the carpet in the RV. The flooring was the exact size needed for the side boards in the opening.

Once the trim was installed it was a simple matter of screwing in the magnetic tool bars I used to hold the pegboard in place.

Magnetic Tool Holders
Magnetic Tool Holders

I spaced two on the sides and one at the bottom to hold the metal panels. But then I remembered that the sides were out of square. I had to take out the top screws and put shims behind the sides to straighten out the opening

Shim to square opening
Shim to square opening

I also used some of the ceramic knobs I got from a craigslist ad to help put the panels in place and remove them. The job was soon finished. I’m thinking of hanging some tin signs or a wreath on the pegboard as decoration. Trim for the frame will be done later.

Pegboard panel door to attic
Pegboard panel door to attic
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Master Bedroom Barn Doors

The master bedroom also had a curtain instead of a door since we had guests who needed privacy.

Master Bedroom Curtain
Master Bedroom Curtain

Due to my brother’s help and because I completed the family bath door, it was time to try to install barn doors instead. I ordered a 6′ bypass track because it was an Amazon warehouse deal and cost less than $100. Most of the bypass tracks are closer to $200 full price. I thought the track might work if I mounted it above the light sconces. But we found that it needed to be closer to the floor. So my brother helped cut about a foot off of the tracks and repaint them black.

For the family room I hung one door on each side of the opening because the doors with the cross pieces were too wide to slide toward each other. But I got the brilliant idea to remove one side of the cross pieces to allow for both doors on the same side of the room. The master does not have enough ceiling room to hang a barn door on the inside. I had new bolts for all the doors that were more decorative than the bolts that came with them but removing one side of the cross pieces meant that they were too long. My brother cut each bolt to the correct length for a single cross piece.

Cutting off the bolts
Cutting off the bolts

He also spent quite a bit of time trying to sand out the doors where they were faded from the cross pieces and he sanded out all the water marks. I told him that I had intended to mar the wood and stain them to look antiqued but he is a perfectionist beyond my skills. While he was working on the doors I installed the track.

Double bypass track
Double bypass track

All of the boards for the frame and the track were reused from the trim work on the original house. The track was installed on a wide board as in the family room. This allowed for the bolts to be inserted anywhere along the top and not have to hit a 2×4. I had to use the bracket for the second track in a U shape instead of an L shape because I didn’t have enough room to attach it above the board. The track needed several adjustments to get the hangers on the door so that it hung below the opening. The bolts for the U shaped bracket interfered with the sliding J hook so they had to be turned around. The track has to be level so there were several adjustments to level it.

Fitting the barn door
Fitting the barn door

Testing the door for height and the cross piece side, I decided to use the cross pieces facing the living area instead of the bedroom. That copied the look of the family room doors. One idea was to install small casters below the doors so that they would not swing because installing a guide on the concrete floor would be difficult. However the wheels made the doors too tall for the hanging brackets so I had to remove them.

Wheels too high
Wheels too high

Another issue was that the floor is off level by at least 3/8″. So the bottom of the doors scrapes the floor on the shallow side.

Floor off level
Floor off level

Although the first door was hung high enough to slide across, the second door pulls on the track down enough to eliminate the same space below allowing it to scrape. I tried installing the J brackets just a bit lower and adjusting the bolts of the track to push it as high as I could but the door still scrapes. So I will have to cut off the bottom to fix it.

First door installed
First door installed

These doors are extremely heavy even without one set of cross pieces. So I need help carrying them outside to cut. My back got sore just maneuvering them around.

One tip I used for drilling straighter holes than I did on the first set of doors was to use a piece of 1/2 pex pipe to keep the drill bit straight on the door. Although the article recommended metal I just used what I had and the holes stayed straight and true.

Drill jig
Drill jig

I also dented the center of each hole with a dart that was laying around to give the bit a start in the correct position.

It turned out that the doors did not have to be trimmed. The weight of hanging the doors pulled the header board away from the wall. My brother noticed and helped install some long lag bolts into the 2×6 over the door frame. That held the board against the wall and the doors cleared the floor.

Bedroom doors with sconce lights
Bedroom doors with sconce lights

Another “just needs trim” project completed.

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Family Bathroom Door

We have been using a curtain in the doorway of the family bathroom since the interior was completed.

Bathroom Door Curtain
Bathroom Door Curtain

It provided enough privacy and it was adequate coverage for the building inspection. The plan was to install a rustic door in the opening. That was the project the day before we were expecting a short visit from my brother. There was a chance we would have guests using the bathroom and it seemed that having a door would be a good idea.

As usual though it took far longer for the project and I made several mistakes before the project was finished. I re-used a door frame from the original house. These frames are real wood and I found that the newer “wood” frames from the Home Depot are veneer instead. Since the original had cutouts for the hinges, I planed the hinge cutouts off the door and recut them.

New hinge cutout
New hinge cutout

I bought two hinge templates to make this job easier but I broke the Porter Cable almost immediately because the router bit I tried did not have a hub. And the Ryobi didn’t fit on the door because it is meant to hug the door about 2″ deep and the cross pieces didn’t allow for that.

Porter Cable Hinge Template
Porter Cable Hinge Template
Ryobi Hinge Template
Ryobi Hinge Template

I clamped the Porter Cable template together to hold it while I got the hinge outline routed and then discovered I had turned the template in the wrong direction. Therefore I had to cut the hinge section completely through the door edge.

New hinge cutout
New hinge cutout

Even worse I misplaced the lowest cutout. I cut it below the bottom mark. Which I found when I was attempting to hang the door.

I chopped the door to pieces putting in the new hinge cutout above the routed one. What a mess.

Wrong cutout marks
Wrong cutout marks

The door hit the top of the frame when I tried to close it. When I cut it down to fit the opening, my saw cut was crooked so I planed it with the new hand planer while the door was in place in the doorway.

New bathroom door
New bathroom door

I still have to fix an electrical switch that stopped working. And I’m working on a cover for the attic opening. So the ladder is still in the bathroom. Eventually it will get put away.

Inside bathroom
Inside bathroom

I will have to remove the whole door and redo the cutouts at some point and trim out the doorway but for now there is a bathroom door that closes.

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Solar Pool Set Up

The extra parts arrived and all of the piping was finally connected with minimal leaks. Not without several issues however.
I had the bypass valve assembly ready to install.

Bypass valves for solar panel
Bypass valves for solar panel


Unfortunately the plastic that the reducers were made from did not hold using pvc glue. The union blew apart when I turned on the pump. I also had left the piping overnight without noticing a bad leak at the return pipe.

Huge leak at pool return hose.
Huge leak at pool return hose.

The pool leaked several inches of water as a result.

Inches of water lost
Inches of water lost

I was not sure what to use the connect the two pieces of tube from the filter to the bypass valves. It turned out that the discharge hose was the right diameter so I clamped a short piece between these pipes. There is no strength in pvc discharge hose. So I had to prop the valves on a piece of plywood.

Bypass with hose connection
Bypass with hose connection

While shoving the filter and pump into a new position I didn’t notice that I had kinked the supply inlet hose. That kink caused flow issues.

Piping with crimp
Piping with crimp

Once the piping was together and water flowing I set the Hayward valve to send the water through the solar panel. I can feel the water in the panel moving through the piping by thermosiphon as planned but the heat is immediately taken from the exchanger so the pipes stay hot but the exchanger is cool.
I also have a dripping leak at the pool water union that no amount of tightening seems to help.

Leak at hot water union
Leak at hot water union

Although in sunny weather the system seems to be helping to warm the pool, we have had several cool cloudy days and cold rain that is competing with the sun for heat.

The solar pool circulation is set up for now and I hope I can fix the few dripping leaks eventually.

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Log Trim

The house is coming along enough that when I cleaned up the mud room for spring, I started decorating it. I have been collecting logs for trim for a few years. I purchased old log beds and railings to repurpose as trim. And I’ve been saving photos of log trim ideas.

Log Trim Idea
Log Trim Idea

I have enough logs of the right size to cap off the doors and windows in the house. I will recycle the original pine trim for the sides. First I used a wood splitting wedge and a five pound sledge to split the logs from the railing along a crack. Then I decided to get out the table saw to get a better flat edge on the back side to meet the wall.

Inner door log trim
Inner door log trim

I recently added sawdust collection and wheels to the table saw. I bought a chute for under the table saw that connects to a 4″ flexible pipe and a 4″ to 2.5″ reducer at the end.

Dust Hood
Dust Hood
Dust Collection Hose 4
Dust Collection Hose 4″

Pipe 4 to 2.5 reducer
Pipe 4″ to 2.5″ reducer

I have a cyclone canister for the whole house vacuum that is required for picking up sawdust and ashes and it can pick up liquids. It is a 5 gallon stainless steel canister with connecting hoses.

Wet:Dry Vacuum Intercept
Wet:Dry Vacuum Intercept

Of course the hose to this is much narrower than 2.5″ so I had to jerry rig some connections to hook up the sawdust hose to the vacuum. But once it was hooked up and running it seemed to really reduce the amount of sawdust created by the saw.

I cut the solid side from several of the railings to create the over the door header logs. To run them through the table saw I tacked a board to the side. Sliding along the fence that board kept the log straight.

Inner door log trim
Inner door log trim

I’ll use the side that was drilled for the spindles as firewood. I got all four doors in the mudroom covered with a log header.

Garage and closet doors
Garage and closet doors

Then it was evening and I had to roll the saw back out of the center of the garage again. But it’s so much easier to take it out use it and clean up afterwards now that it is on wheels and attached to the vacuum.


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Solar Pool Heat

Everything takes time and money. The solar pool heat project is no different. I have put together a system based on the old copper collector and a new stainless steel heat exchanger.

This is the system design.

Solar pool heat with thermosiphon
Solar pool heat with thermosiphon

I purchased a solar control system way back in Arizona when I thought I would add it to the black plastic solar heat that I installed for our pool there. I never did that but still had the controls.

A new purchase from Amazon was a 155000 btu heat exchanger in stainless steel so that the salt water would not corrode the copper. I had no idea the item would be shipping from China. I wish that Amazon made that more obvious in their listings.

Shell and Tube Heat Exchanger
Shell and Tube Heat Exchanger

These heat exchangers are specifically for pools or other water warming or chilling functions. There is a series of tubes that run inside the shell. The tubes transfer heat from the collector system to the water that runs through the shell. The exchanger should work in a thermosiphon system installed above the top of the collector.

Solar Tube Installed
Solar Tube Installed

In the basic plumbing diagram above there are two three way valves. I purchased a heavier duty Hayward valve for the controller and valve mechanism. The second valve could have just been a tee but I liked the idea of another shutoff if needed. The larger Hayward valve is usually set to have the cold to the collector off but it would open automatically when sensors read a warm panel temperature and cold pool temperature.

Dual Valves
Dual Valves

The cold pool water input uses pool hoses and the hot water output is mostly PVC pipe. At the bottom I used pool hose because the water should just be warm when it reaches the pool hose. Just before the pool hose there is a Fernco sump pump check valve that will prevent water from reverse siphon.

Hot connection on bottom of photo, Cold on top.
Hot connection on bottom of photo, Cold on top.

The big problem with the install is the constant leak where the valves for the solar system attach to the pump. It turns out that the Intex pump has a metric connection while the PVC plumbing is NPT. So I am waiting for a conversion piece that I will be able to attach instead.

Intex Conversion Connectors
Intex Conversion Connectors

I am hoping one of these edges will accept a slip PVC connection to hold the dual valves even though they are set up for a hose connection. Then I should be able to reinstall the valves without a leak.

I also ordered a new salt cell holder from Intex and a new O-ring for the salt cell. I’m hoping these new parts will stop the current leaks at the salt cell.

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Replaced Pool Valve

The used pool filter had a big crack in the valve that I tried to repair with silicone goop and tape. It was good enough to run for awhile while the new valve was ordered from Intex. Because of COVID-19 the valve took almost three weeks to arrive but the cost was really minimal. I also ordered a gasket but the valve came with a new one.

Intex six way filter valve
Intex six way filter valve

Replacing the valve was a headache though because to get the old valve off the system the middle post came with it. The filter media is not supposed to get into this central post so I had to empty all the media and replace the center post.

Refilling filter media
Refilling filter media
Cap prevents media in piping
Cap prevents media in piping

I backlashed the system and tried the filter and got a low flow alarm. That was it for the evening. I just decided to tackle it the next day.

Low Flow Alarm
Low Flow Alarm

The next day I ran the pump on recirculate for several minutes and it ran fine. Then I switched to filter mode and it continued to run without an error. It may have been that the media needed to just sit and settle. The filter still drips from the salt cell connections though.

Reconstructed filter system
Reconstructed filter system

I was finally able to get back to setting up the solar system.

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Stripped Down Solar

One of the reasons the repair I tried for the 3′ x 7’ solar panels was a disaster is that the glass broke when I was moving it. The glass in the solar panels seems to be extremely fragile.
I decided to revisit the smaller panel that I had not broken yet just because it would be easier to carry. While I was doing that I looked more closely at the collector plate in the broken panel. I cut it out of the panel by slicing the bent copper with my multi tool and a metal blade. Now I had just the copper collector plate from the solar panel.

Copper Collector
Copper Collector

The panel is copper on the back side and has a black finish on the sun side.

Black panel side
Black panel side

The collector gets very hot in the sun. But I can’t run the salt water from the pool through it because it will corrode. So I bought the stainless steel heat exchanger to separate the heating fluid (plain water in this case) from the pool water being heated.

Shell and tube system
Shell and tube system

In most designs with a shell and tube heat exchanger the solar fluid is run by a pump. But it would be nice if I could use just a thermosiphon system for this function. The simplified example below uses liquid without a pump. The tank must be above the collector and the circulation of the fluid occurs naturally when the hot liquid rises and cooler liquid sinks back into the collector. A more complete thermosiphon system would be connected like the diagram on the right.

Simple thermosiphon closed loop
Simple thermosiphon closed loop
Thermosiphon System
Thermosiphon System

What if instead of a water tank, I placed the shell and tube exchanger above the collector? Would that create a natural thermosiphon? Imagine the lower tank is the pool. The pool pump would drive the water through the tank at the top to pick up the warmth from the solar heated water. Then it would return to the pool. Would the water in the solar panel and heat exchange tube circulate naturally? What would happen when the pool water is not being heated by the system?

I began to set up the system using a garden cart that has a slanting lid. I bought a few of these from a craigslist ad and they have been very useful as outside work tables.

Panel on garden cart frame
Panel on garden cart frame

I used the hose to fill the lower panel hose with water and had the upper hose running into a bucket of water. I was able to fill the system with water by eliminating bubbles while filling the hose attached to the bottom of the panel. I laid the hose vertically when it was full and there were no more bubbles in the bucket and eventually all the water emptied into the bucket. So it had to be siphoning.

Panel with high and low hoses
Panel with high and low hoses

The question is whether the circulation would continue if the loop was closed. I’ll have to experiment. When I get all the connections for the shell and tube heater, I’ll install it at the top of the panel and figure out how to get the natural convection started. That is the plan anyway.

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Low Growth Full Sun Xeriscape

Dave started a garden border in front of the house. He installed leftover tile pieces in a concrete base to create a flat planting area for some xeriscape plants.

Forming the planter
Forming the planter

He leveled the tops of the tile pieces and filled the area in with dirt.

Along front patio
Along front patio

He researched the xeriscape plants that were low growing and like full sun at the Denver Botanic Garden annual plant sale.

A couple of the varieties were already sold out even though we shopped during the member early sale. These were the varieties that he wanted.

Pussytoes
Wine Cups sold out
Evening primrose (spotted and big fruit) 
Blue Buckle Penstemon
Purple prairie clover
Blue Flax
Globe mallow sold out
Wallflower
Silky Phacelia
Aspen Fleabane
Showy Fleabane
Sand Sage sold out
Wellington form buckwheat cushion

With some substitutes we still bought 12 varieties.

Spotted Evening Primrose
Spotted Evening Primrose 4-8″
Pussytoes
Pussytoes 3″
Mules Ears Wildflower
Mules Ears Wildflower 2-3′
Wright's Buckwheat
Wright’s Buckwheat 3′
Silky Phaecelia
Silky Phaecelia 2′
Penstemen Blue Buckle
Penstemen Blue Buckle 12-14″
Aspen fleabane
Aspen fleabane 1′
Blue Flax
Blue Flax 18-20″
Sand Dune Wallflower
Sand Dune Wallflower 2′
Bigfruit primrose-sundrop
Bigfruit primrose-sundrop 8-10″
Wellington Buckwheat
Wellington Buckwheat 3″
Germander Teucrium sp
Germander Teucrium sp 4″

We don’t have much flower sense for planting a mixed bed like this so I found a sample garden at plant select.org and altered it to reflect the varieties that we ordered.

Xeriscape Border
Xeriscape Border
Xeriscape plants
Xeriscape plants

Our bed was not nearly as wide either so the plants ended up just two deep.

Planted xeriscape
Planted xeriscape

We are hoping we have a low water use but colorful border eventually.

Patio Border
Patio Border
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Pool Problems

Seems like nothing I do lately is without issues. The pool was leveled but not very well, so that when the water delivery happened it was about 3″ out of level. Not too bad, water guy said he had seen worse. The water was delivered on a beautiful day.

Water Delivery
Water Delivery

It just looks so inviting going into the pool. I’m not going to worry that it is a bit uneven.

Off Level
Off Level

I had dumped the old sand from the filter tank thinking pool sand would be available at several local stores. But I was wrong. Home Depot and Walmart and Lowes did not have pool sand in stock.

Pool without filter
Pool without filter

I did some research and ordered a filter medium that is supposed to last longer than sand and filter out smaller particles.It is a zeolite mineral found in volcanic rock called ZeoSand which is an alternative to pool sand. It replaces pool sand by a 1 to 2 ratio so I only needed 50 lbs. Some reviewers were unsuccessful with this product saying it leaked into the pool water making it cloudy. But so far I have not noticed that issue.

Zeosand
Zeosand

I backflushed the filter twice and each time had to work on pipes that were not fully tight. The water ran clear quickly though and I did let the media settle for a day before I started the filter.

Filter set up
Filter set up

The problem was that the multi valve on the filter was cracked.

Crack in Multivalve
Crack in Multivalve

There are actually two cracks, one around the pressure dial and one in the body. I was able to use plumbing Goop to seal up the pressure dial leak but could not get the long crack to stop leaking completely. I even tried a pool patch but with no more luck that Goop. Finally I wrapped silicone tape around the top and reduced the leak to a trickle. In the meantime I ordered a new multivalve from Intex and a few gaskets. Their shipping is delayed due to the Coronavirus so it will be a few weeks before they arrive.

Temporary repair
Temporary repair
Still leaking
Still leaking

I was able to run the hose into the pool while filtering to prevent too much loss of water. So I added the salt to the pool. I put in three of four 40 pound sacks because although the manual called for four, I was leery of putting in too much salt as the only fix is partially draining the pool and putting in fresh water.

The filter ran with the low salt warning before I put in the salt but afterwards the low salt warning was off. So 120 lbs of salt seem to be enough for now. I distributed the salt around the edge of the pool and then brushed it towards the center so that no thick piles of salt remained on the bottom.

Pool salt
Pool salt

Once the filter was set up I put in a thermometer to read the water temperature. It is about 65 degrees. But the nights are cold at around 40 degrees so I washed the solar cover that came with the pool in the driveway. This time I just used a hose with a spray handle and got most of the worst dirt off. I didn’t want to pop any more of the air bubbles. It was not difficult to fold it up and carry it to the pool. I spread it out over the water myself using some clips I bought for the heavy pool cover.

Plastic pool clips
Plastic pool clips
Stainless clips
Stainless clips

The first plastic clip popped off immediately. These are not very sturdy, but I was able to fit four on one side and hold the cover enough to spread it out. I’m hoping the stainless clips that I also bought will hold better.

Solar Cover
Solar Cover

With the cover on the pool water maybe it will warm enough to swim in a week or two.

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A Little More Awareness

A little more awareness would have gone a long way towards my installation of the new spa pack. I usually read directions but this came without specific directions just diagrams and pictures. I followed the diagram to wire the equipment. However the internal wires did not.

MT60 Wiring Diagram
MT60 Wiring Diagram
Incorrect Wiring
Incorrect Wiring

In the diagram the wires are from the top, Ground, White, Black, Red. But on the new device it is obviously wired Red, White, Black and the Ground is separate. I found the ground connection but did not see that the wiring was different from the diagram. That meant that I sent 256 volts to the GFCI frying it and to the board also frying parts on it. What a huge mistake that was! I have to send the entire system back for repairs.

Another mistake was during the installation of the UV/Ozone Sanitizer. It requires a small plastic check valve that only works one way. That is the definition of a check valve. It was unclear to me which way the valve was installed. It did not have an arrow marking on the valve itself. I tried to deduce from the diagram by looking at the slightly domed side. Of course I judged incorrectly and the water leaked back into the sanitizer. I took it apart and did not see that it would have been damaged as the light was above the trickle of water that came through the case.

Check valve on Ozone Santizer
Check valve on Ozone Santizer
Drippy UV Sanitizer
Drippy UV Sanitizer

Before the support person, Joe at Acura Spas, spotted the bad wiring when we tested the system. Unfortunately the tests on the main board yielded the correct voltage even though I had them wired incorrectly. He told me that the GFCI seemed to be broken so I tested the plug voltage going to the transformer and it showed 256 volts! That is when he double checked the photo I had sent him and realized the wiring had probably damaged more than the GFCI.

Even after I rewired correctly and removed the GFCI, the top panel did not light. That showed damage to the transformer and probably other parts.

Rewired Spa Pack
Rewired Spa Pack

The solution to this fiasco was to box everything up and send it back to the manufacturer for repairs. He said he would go easy on the cost of labor but the shipping both ways will be expensive. I’m sending back all the equipment from the UV sanitizer to the spa pack to the top panel control so that they can be sure it all works together and I can reinstall it correctly.

I’m very sad about this error. Not that it affects the overall spa that much but I feel embarrassed that I didn’t wire it according to the wires in the box instead of a diagram that was outdated. No decent electrician would have made that error. It is humbling.

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Getting Ready for Summer

This summer will be a staycation due to the Covid-19 virus. So to get ready I want to set up a 4′ x 18′ round pool that I acquired a few years ago but never utilized. I was able to get it for free for helping to remove it. The home had renters and the owners were going to sell so they had to move. They were glad to get it off their hands.

It is an Intex soft side pool so it consists of just metal poles and legs that the vinyl liner hangs from.

Intex Pool
Intex Pool

The liner suffered a few mouse holes from being stored outside. But I bought a patch kit and have patched the holes I found.

Vinyl Repair Kit
Vinyl Repair Kit

I was excited that the pool came with a salt water treatment system and a sand filter. It is an all in one unit from Intex.

Intex sand filter with salt water system
Intex sand filter with salt water system

This system is sized to work with an even larger pool so it is quite a good addition to the setup. I had to do a thorough cleaning including soaking the titanium plates in vinegar to get the system ready for hook up. I will also put clean sand in the tank. I plugged it in and it came on although I didn’t prime the system so it didn’t pump water.

To get the worst of the dirt off the pool liner I sprayed it with my new replacement pressure sprayer. I had purchased one last May and by September some internal part had broken and I had to have it replaced. Fortunately Amazon replaced it even though it was a Warehouse model and had no warranty. But then I am a very good customer of theirs!

I was worried about the new one because the connector that came with it leaked pretty badly. I ended up just replacing it with a connector that I had on hand from an old unit. I also had to change the hose because it would not tighten enough. But once I got a leak free connection I was able to spray the worst dirt off the pool liner and frame.

Leaking hose connector
Leaking hose connector

The pool was so heavy that I used the riding lawnmower and wagon to carry it to the tarp on the lawn. There is already a trampoline set up there and a pool will be a great addition.

Trampoline
Trampoline

My son and I set up the pool on a lovely calm Sunday. I read that if the ground slopes and it’s too difficult to even it that instead the top rim of the pool can be leveled.

Leveling the pool rim
Leveling the pool rim

We used some of the rubber tiles to lift the legs on the low end. Once the pool was in place I took a large sponge and a white 3M scrubby and thoroughly cleaned the sides and bottom of the pool with Simple Green in warm water. But just as I finished the wind began to pick up gusting over 20 mph. The pool was at risk for being blown over and twisting or breaking the metal posts. I decided to stake the poles like a tent in a strong wind.

Poles on rubber tiles and staked
Poles on rubber tiles and staked

I had to run around looking for tent stakes and cord which for some reason was hard to find despite the fact that I have several tents. Every few minutes I needed to go back and straighten the poles so they would not blow in. After staking the tops of the poles the bottoms were sliding underneath the liner so I staked the bottoms too. I had to use old cloth lanyards to stake them as I could not find more cord.

I started running water into the pool using a hose attached to the freeze proof well pump. Unfortunately I found that the spigot was leaking badly so much of the water ended up at the well pipe. What did begin to fill the pool led me to discover there was a leak causing a puddle of water outside the low side of the pool. I finally turned the water off over night.

So the wind didn’t destroy the pool. The next morning I smoothed out the bottom of the pool where the water was holding the vinyl down. Eventually I found a hole on the floor of the pool and patched it with the vinyl patch that luckily works underwater.

Pool wrinkles
Pool wrinkles

I turned on the hose to fill the high side of the pool and the water was not flowing from the spigot. It was leaking pretty badly by this time so I tried to add a gasket and a pipe clamp over the leak. Unfortunately that stopped the leak but when I checked later the water was still running very slowly. I realized the vacuum breaker was probably broken. I had another one but it took me awhile to find it. By evening I went back out and removed the broken one and installed the new one and the hose started running again with no leaks at the spigot. So I left the hose on even though it was getting late.

Fortunately when I checked the puddles outside the pool they were drying up and it did not look like the pool was still leaking.

Leak fixed
Leak fixed

I ordered water for the pool and the spa and it should be here tomorrow. It looks like the pool is going to be fun this summer.

Pool set up
Pool set up
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New Spa Equipment Install

The exercise spa that we have been enjoying since 2015 broke down just after New Year’s Day. I thought that the heater wore out but it turned out that the circuit board burned through where the heater connected to it. We had extended travel plans through February and early March so I delayed the order of the new equipment until I returned in mid March. Although the weather turned cold and snowy for a week after the new equipment arrived, it finally warmed up enough to begin the installation.

I had a problem understanding the installation directions for the Ozone/UV Sanitizer that I added to the new system. On our system the pump is before the spa pack and heater so water goes from the pump to the heater and then back to the spa. The design example I was trying to copy has the water flowing through the spa pack to the pump and the input on the left of the device instead of the right. So it didn’t work for my install.

Ozone Plumbing Design
Ozone Plumbing Design

I called Acura Spa for clarification and was told to use another install diagram. But instead of flowing directly into the spa, the return flows into a feed to one of the jets. In this arrangement it did not matter that the pump is in front of the control pack.

Ozone Plumbing
Ozone Plumbing

I installed the first manifold just past the Spa control pack and valve. It attached to a flexible area of solid pipe so it was easy to install.

Manifold leaving pump
Manifold leaving pump

The recommendation was to hook the second manifold into a return jet going to the side of the spa instead of the high flow jets. This would prevent reducing the flow to those jets. I cut the spa pipe after the main jets before the pipe bent around the corner going to the side jet.

Pipe does not bend enough
Pipe does not bend enough

I had to reduce the size of the manifold to 1 1/2″ to install it in this position. I asked Acura support why the piece has two 3/4″ outlets instead of one and the answer was that the piece does not come with just one outlet! It’s too expensive to have one made just for this application so the second port has to be plugged.

Manifold for sanitizer
Manifold for sanitizer

I had some difficulty getting this spa pipe to connect to the manifold and then bend around the corner of the spa. I glued in a few extra pieces of pipe to get the manifold installed here.

Output for Sanitizer
Output for Sanitizer

I connected the output for the sanitizer on this side. Then the input hose was attached to the first manifold.

Pipe to Ozone UV Sanitizer
Pipe to Ozone UV Sanitizer

In order to loop the O2 line above the water level I had to attach the sanitizer to a board to raise it in the cabinet.

Sanitizer installed too low
Sanitizer installed too low

The next step was inserting the new spa pack in between the pump and the return water side. I just had to connect the same power lines to the new control and attach the pump ground where it was on the old pack.

MT60 Wiring Diagram
MT60 Wiring Diagram

Our system has a 12v light and a single pump and now the ozone sanitizer so it does not have the extra plugs shown on the left of the diagram.

Plug for 12v light
Plug for 12v light

I just had two bare wires for the 12v light so I had to order a cable from Acura Spas just to get the correct plug for the unit. But in the meantime the new Control box is installed in the plumbing and wired.

Spa Control Box
Spa Control Box

Now I just have to clean the spa so that I can order water and see if the new plumbing is tight and the new controls operate correctly.

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Finishing Up the Bathroom

There were a few more tasks to finish the bathroom remodel. The contractor and his helper came one more time to complete the job. The largest project was the installation of the solar tube in the ceiling. He finished the rest of the tube in the attic having already installed the outside skylight. Then he cut the hole in the ceiling for the interior trim.

I could not believe the difference the solar tube made in the bathroom. It positively glows.

Glowing solar tube
Glowing solar tube

It is so bright it feels like the lights are on in the bathroom. What a great way to keep from having to turn them on. It certainly counteracts the dark tile. Even at night there is a bit of a glow through the tube.

Nighttime glow
Nighttime glow

One more major job was replacing the threshold now that the door was wider. Luckily I had saved some bamboo from repairing the steps so I had some long enough pieces to use. Although they were in bad shape at the edges and had to be planed down and pieced together. The final job was quite nice.

Bamboo threshold
Bamboo threshold

We also had a grab bar that needed to be installed in the tiled bath. That required drilling into the tile and I was glad that it was done with the correct drill bits so that it is sturdy and did not crack the tile.

Grab bar installed
Grab bar installed

The pipe for the tub spout was shortened and they spot soldered the spout to keep it from twisting on the pipe.

After I used the sink I thought a pipe was leaking so they took a look at the faucet and figured out that it was not the pipe connection but the faucet itself. If the lever is pressed too hard when turning it off it leaks from the handle. It probably needs a new cartridge but by being gentle with it we have avoided further leaking for now.

Over the weekend I also installed the towel holders and moose hooks.

Towel Bars
Towel Bars

I had the rustic towel bars that I bought in Arizona at the Restore there.

Moose Hooks
Moose Hooks

The moose hooks were another second hand find. The contractor also attached the rustic toilet paper holder to the side of the vanity.

Rustic toilet paper holder
Rustic toilet paper holder

I washed and hung the double shower curtain. I found this bear-moose-canoe shower curtain at the Goodwill a few years ago. There is a white nylon liner curtain too. These were in the bathroom before the remodel.

Shower curtain
Shower curtain

I am very pleased with the results of this rustic bathroom remodel. I’m going to place a few more decorative items and call it done.

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Shower Niche Light Issues

The niche light was a disaster. It did not go as planned. What I wanted to do and what happened were not the same. I wanted a sleek row of LED lights that were waterproof or damp proof in the shower. The wiring was 120 volt because it was prewired for a strip light. The lights that I ordered, however, did not match the specifications for a shower light so had to be returned and after I researched the problem, I found out I could use a 12 volt LED light strip and driver instead.

120 volt romex wired to switch
120 volt romex wired to switch

We believed that since the wiring was for 120 volt we had to add an electrical box to wire the dimmer/driver. Later my son said we could have used the romex for 12 volt wiring and installed the driver remotely. That was unfortunate news after struggling to install a box large enough for the device in a cutout on top of the niche.
The top of the niche was spaced down with some scrap boards and another piece of Kerdi board to accommodate a dual gang 12 volt electric box.

Top marble installed with gap for electrical box depth
Top marble installed with gap for electrical box depth

At first we planned to use a shallow box but that box frame would not tighten properly in the opening.

Box for LED driver
Box for LED driver
Deeper box installed
Deeper box installed

Then I realized that the waterproof box cover had screw holes at the edges not in the middle like a regular cover. So I had to find a way to attach the cover to the box.

A box extension fit inside the 12 volt box and had bolt holes at each corner where the cover had holes.

Deep box with frame to attach lid
Deep box with frame to attach lid

In order for the bolts to be held in the corners I glued the nuts under the bolt holes. Unfortunately they kept breaking off.

Frame to accept waterproof cover
Frame to accept waterproof cover

Eventually I had to take the frame off and bolt the cover on holding the nuts in place. Then I just friction fit it into the larger box. I placed industrial velcro above the box and on the driver to hold it in but allow it to be removed if necessary and I screwed the orange DC wire box up into the top of the gap in the niche. I had to remove the wiring a couple of times to remove and replace the box extension.

Driver wiring
Driver wiring

Once I got it all together with the cover on and I could not fit the light strip behind the box. I had to slice off part of the cover and take out the whole box to move it over the edge of the hole. While I was cutting the hole inside the tile a little bigger with the multitool I rested it on the niche and of course knocked it off with my elbow and scratched the new tub!

Tub bottom scratches
Tub bottom scratches

I was very angry at myself for that accident. I should have covered the tub with cardboard or a blanket while I was working. I have ordered some Porce-a-fix in Bootz white to repair the scratches. This product was recommended by the contractor.

The cut for the cover was rather uneven as the box is not quite straight.

Cut off to fit light strip
Cut off to fit light strip

I used double sided 3M tape to attach the light to the upper tile and held it in place with some extra tile pieces overnight. The next day I snapped on the light strip cover. Thankfully that part was easy.

Niche with electrical cover.
Niche with electrical cover.

The dimmer switch does not have much of a range. It is difficult to tell whether the LED’s are at full light or at the least light.

Lighted niche
Lighted niche

But with the light on the electrical cover is much less noticeable. I’m sure I will ignore it after some time passes, but it is not what I had envisioned.

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Bath Assembly

It took less than a day for the contractor and his helper to assemble the bathroom. But it was not without headaches.

Connecting the vanity
Connecting the vanity

The faucet is a used kitchen faucet I purchased on Craigslist. In my first install the edge of the faucet was a bit too close to the top edge of the sink. So I purchased a sink drain escutcheon to lift the faucet, but it was too tall to fit the nut under the counter and fasten it. I used a dremel tool and cut off wheel to shorten the metal piece and it was still a little too tall so the contractor helped by cutting out a layer of the underside of the counter and getting enough room to fit the washer and nut and tighten the faucet.

Then there was the issue of fitting the drain below the sink. The SINGER decorative bar seemed to be exactly below the drain so in order to get the pipe lined up with the wall he had to loop it in front of the bar.

Sink drain in front of base
Sink drain in front of base

The toilet was reinstalled and the tub spout attached but not completely fitted because they didn’t have the solder and flux to make the connection.

Tub spout too long
Tub spout too long

I had a copper framed mirror that was hanging in the front mud room but it was perfect for the bathroom. So I brought it to the back so it could be hung.

Copper framed mirror
Copper framed mirror

We had to judge how high it should be and I found out that a shorter person can hardly see their head because its a bit too high.

Bathroom assembled
Bathroom assembled

Unfortunately the trim behind the door ended up being crooked. I’m not sure whether the door was crooked or the wall. The door works well though and I’m assuming the trim won’t be noticed.

Door trim is angled.
Door trim is angled.

The crew got this far before leaving for the weekend giving me time to work on the LED light install.

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