Toilet Auger

We try not to think about clogged toilets, an unpleasant subject, until it happens to us. I don’t know why plungers became the default household tool for unclogging toilets, because they don’t work 100% of the time. Closet augers do, and they don’t require bending over a smelly mess and splashing the foul water up and down, either. That’s why plumbers use them when you pay them hundreds of dollars for a house call. Augers are cheap ($30), very easy to use and also easy to store (they’re called closet augers, after all). So get one, now, before you need it. Then when you do, leave the bathroom, and take a few deep breaths to relax while you watch one of the short how-to videos on YouTube. You pull the handle out so the bulb is right up against the curved tube, protected by no-scratch plastic. Then put the auger into the bowl (no need to bend over), and push and spin at the same time until the handle is all the way down. The most gratifying part is the moment when you actually break through the clog – whoosh, the toilet flushes just like it’s supposed to. A few more normal flushes to rinse the toilet and the auger, pull it out to dry, and put it back … in the closet.

-- Matthew Perks  

Ridgid K-3 3-foot Toilet Auger
$27

Available from Amazon



Bissell Natural Sweep

Like the classic, previously reviewed Hoky, this quick and quiet carpet sweeper is what I grab for touch-up “vacuuming.” Lightweight, never needs recharging, no noise, very little to break, it’s much superior to a Dustbuster. Cleans low carpets fast, empties fast. All the same satisfying benefits of the Hoky — but half the price!

-- KK  

Bissell Natural Sweep Dual Sweep 92N0A
$23

Available from Amazon



Amped Wireless WiFi Range Extender

My cable modem and WiFi router are on one end of our long house. The signal peters out before it gets to my daughters’ bedrooms, and because they like to do their homework in their rooms, I needed to come up with a way to extend the range. The Amped Wireless SR20000G Range Extender did the trick. I placed it in our dining room and it greatly extended the wireless signal. Setup was trivial and hassle-free. The speed of the data transfer did not noticeably diminish (i.e., my kids don’t complain when they watch Netflix on an iPad). I recommend this quick solution for spreading Wi-Fi around your house.

-- Mark Frauenfelder  

Amped WirelessHigh Power Wireless-N 600mW Gigabit Dual Band Range Extender, Model SR20000G

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Amped Wireless $140



How to Build This Log Cabin for $3,000

A log cabin is one route to cheap housing. You need land with access to lots of tall straight trees. And time. Lots of time. With a chain saw and winches you can erect a modest uninsulated shelter for less than $5,000. People spend up to a million dollars making artfully styled log homes; this is not one of them. It’s a quick and dirty home-made shell without wiring or plumbing. This guy shows you how.

-- KK  

“How-to” Build This Log Cabin for $3,000
John McPherson
1999, 140 pages
$23

Available from Amazon

Sample Excerpts:

how-to-cabin1sm

One specialized logging tool that will be handy is the can’t hook (or peavy … one has a pointy end, the other, as here, don’t). This is of special help when rolling uneven logs … especially when fitting in and out several times while notching.

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Ripping logs into boards may seem daunting at first, but it ain’t that bad. There are more efficient ways to cut lumber but not that I am aware of “straight from the saw”. The main thing is to have sharp chain ALWAYS! The sharpness will allow the saw to do the work and all you need do is concentrate on following the guide string.

how-to-cabin2sm

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how-to-cabin3sm

This was my log raisin’ challenge. As the main support purlin, it was 32 feet long with a small end diameter of 12 inches. Lotsa log! I set up two logs as a ramp, hooked up (as described in that chapter) and pulled away. There were so many points of contact of the cable between the winch and the tie off points that the winch never strained.

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how-to-cabin-4




Cree 9.5 watt LED light bulb

I have used the Cree LED warm bulbs for a month and they are a excellent replacement for a 60 Watt incandescent bulb. The light is better than CFLs I have used. This new 800 lumen light has a color temperature of 2700K, on 9.5 watts. It has the shape and general look of a incandescent bulb and is a screw-in replacement. Its rated life is 25,000 hours and comes with a 10 year warranty At $13 from Home Depot, I see this as a game changer and a CFL killer. They work with dimmer switches.

-- Louis Nettels  

Cree 9.5 watt LED light bulb
$13 from Home Depot

Available from Amazon



Citrus Magic Litter Box Odor Eliminator

We have three cats and they share one litter box. It gets smelly fast. I clean the box at least once a day, and often twice a day. Until a year ago I kept a can of aerosol air freshener next to the litter box, which I would spray after cleaning the box, but it didn’t do a great job. Citrus Magic Litter Box Odor Eliminator does the trick. After cleaning the box, I sprinkle the white powder over the surface of the litter, then mix it in with the litter scoop. The bad smell goes away, replaced by a pleasant citrus fragrance. The cats don’t mind it. One 11.2 ounce container lasts about 2 months.

-- Mark Frauenfelder  

Citrus Magic Litter Box Odor Eliminator And Freshener
$6 for an 11-ounce shaker

Available from Amazon



Setting Tile

I checked this out of the local library when getting ready to tile a full bathroom floor and shower, and ordered my own copy before returning it. It’s not quite a reference, and it’s shorter than a bible, but it’s comprehensive.

The author does a wonderful job of explaining processes and tips. The information is presented logically, and is a pleasure to read. (This sets it apart from other how-to books that require multiple readings before you comprehend the information.)

I have remodeled one bathroom before finding this book and one after. It saved a lot of work and worry the second time around.

(I also recommend John Bridge Tile Forum for great FAQs and friendly advice.)

-- Dave Rudolph  

[Author Michael Byrne also has a few tiling how-to videos at the Fine Homebuilding site. -- Mark Frauenfelder]

Setting Tile
Michael Byrne
1995, 260 pages
$16

Available from Amazon



Scotchlok Butt Connectors

I came across the Scotchlok series connectors when preparing to replace the sensor within my fridge. Rather than the traditional cut-replace-solder-heatshrink, I used these. They’re particularly useful because:

- A soldering iron isn’t required; great where there isn’t much space to work or the location is remote.

- They seal the connection from moisture ingress with a gel.

- No additional insulation or sleeving is required.

To join two wires, you just insert both wires into the connector and clamp the coloured cap down using pliers. No need to strip wires, which saves even more time. It creates a connection by driving the wire into a ‘U’ contact, displacing the insulation. The gel is released at the same time which protects the connection from moisture.

I’ve not had any in-application for more than a few months, but so far, so good. 3M have apparently been producing these for over 50 years and they’re used widely in telecom applications.

The Scotchlok range seems to cover applications from larger gauge low-voltage applications down to smaller data cables, such as CAT5. There are also tap connectors that allow you to tap into another wire without breaking the connection.

The only downside is that they seem to be sold in large packs. I only wish that someone would sell a selection pack, with a few of each type and size.

-- Oliver Start  

3M Scotchlok IDC Butt Connector, 100 Pack
$11

Available from Amazon



Clog Hog

I have a home that has a septic system. Living in MN, this winter was very cold. The pipe from the house to the septic tank froze and water backed up into the house. The plumber wanted $200 just to come out (I am in the middle of nowhere), plus he didn’t guarantee that he wouldn’t have to dig up the yard. My wife found the Clog Hog. It only cost $130. (less than the plumber’s trip.) Compared to the cost of a plumber, I had nothing to lose. The Clog Hog connects to your power washer and uses water to cut through ice and other clogs in pipes. It took me about an hour to get through about 6 ft of ice in the pipes. It didn’t damage the pipes and worked fast. All I needed was patience.

-- Jim Sauber  

[This requires a pressure washer to use (not included). -- Mark Frauenfelder]

Clog Hog
$99 – $149 depending on hose length and type of pressure washer you have

Manufactured by Clog Hog.



Lutron AuroRa Wireless Lighting Control System

I recently moved to a very rural area, and my garage and house are under heavy tree cover. At night, even with a moon, it’s pitch-black, and when I shut off the car headlights it’s completely dark and I frequently have to shuffle slowly through the darkness to the porch, trying to avoid various obstacles. Leaving spotlights on is an expensive solution, even with LEDs, and I actually like the darkness of the forest as long as I’m not walking through it trying to avoid hitting my shins on a rototiller. I wanted a system to turn on the spotlights before I got out of the car, and then easily turn them off after I got into the house. Making this additionally difficult is that the garage and house are on separate switching systems, so I needed something that was wireless and had good range.

I did some digging around on various websites, and found many expensive solutions: $75+ per switch, with much higher prices for a central control system, and more for remote controls. What attracted me to the Lutron system was first the price, and then the simplicity of the setup: you get 5 switches, 1 master controller, 1 switch control panel, and one visor remote as a full kit. Their documentation online was clear, and I could quickly understand how I needed to implement the system. After about 20 minutes, I had replaced three switches and had the system working — it was almost too easy, and I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop. So far, it’s been working like a charm and the 3 year old in me laughs when I drive up the dark driveway, press the button, and see everything light up.

The switches are officially dimmers, and there is a slider beside each pushbutton switch. I just have the sliders cranked up to 100% — I never use the dimming function, but they seem to work well. Even with the slider set to a dimming level, the remote control can override that and put the lights at 100% if you press any of the “All On” buttons on the remotes. I’ve been using it for a week or so, and it was one of those projects that I’m surprised was so easy and has had such a big return — I didn’t realize how much time and aggravation the lack of lighting was costing me.

Upsides: Cheap! $100 for five switches, controller, and remote is a no-brainer. Easy installation: it’s simple, well-documented, and standardized. The switches support screw-type connections as well as stripped-wire press-in type connections. Extensible: if you want to go with more bells and whistles, there seem to be quite a few ways you can interface Lutron components with other stuff. Distance: I am using the remote at distances of at least 100 feet outdoors with the receiver just inside a metal-sided wall.

Downsides: I discovered that each switch needs at least 50 watts of draw to work correctly. I put a single 20 watt LED spotlight on a switch, and it just flashed instead of working correctly. I solved that problem by swapping out to an incandescent bulb – those lights aren’t on much, anyway. The system only has five switches, though you can put 10 switches in a local configuration — I’ve already purchased another set. They can’t be used with fluorescent fixtures or any other non-dimmable load, though I imagine if you keep the dimmer at 100% they’d work (though don’t quote me on that.) I don’t think these components will work with the newer “RadioRA 2″ devices that Lutron is selling, which may be why these are so cheap. I’ve only seen “Light Almond” or “Ivory” models for sale — the white ones seem to be hard to find.

Extensions: I purchased a RAMC-MFE “Entry Master Control” which has some simple switch-activated input and output ports for remote control — I’m going to link those to my security camera system, which already has remotely-accessible switch capability so I can control my lights from a web browser. I’m sure there is a way to do this via a direct web interface with Lutron components, but that moves into the areas where they seemingly obfuscate the solution in order to divert me to “VAR” resellers who make a living by explaining unnecessary complexity, so I gave up. I bought an extra wireless controller for my other car — RA-VCTX-WH is the model.

-- John Todd  

Lutron AuroRa Wireless Switch/Dimmer Remote Control System (AR-ENT-1)
$99

Available from Amazon

Available at Walmart for $99