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Archive for the ‘DIY Home’ Category

Milorganite and Potassium

Tuesday, May 31st, 2016

Update (11/15/2018): Milorganite has updated their label and now shows a 6-4-0 N-P-K breakdown. The page I linked to below has also been updated to reflect their new specifications and no longer shows the 0.5% potassium. It is my personal opinion that this potassium is still in the product even though the website doesn’t show it. You can view the version of the specifications page from the time I originally wrote this post by clicking here.

I have heard some people say that Milorganite doesn’t contain potassium (K).  This is simply not true.  There is actually 0.5% potassium!  The reason the N-P-K on the bag reads 5-2-0 is that it gets rounded down to zero.  Because the actual breakdown is 5-2-0.5, that leaves you with 1.8LB of nitrogen, 0.72LB of phosphorus, and 0.18LB of potassium per 36LB bag!

Here is the full breakdown if you are curious:

N-P-K Analysis 5.0% Total Nitrogen (N)
2.0% Available Phosphate (P)
0.0% Potash (K-typically is about 0.5%)
4.0% Iron (Fe)
Typical Micro-nutrients 0.58% Sulfur (S)
0.68% Magnesium (Mg)
0.045% Zinc (Zn)
0.022% Copper (Cu)
0.133% Manganese (Mn)
Trace amounts of Boron (B) and Molybdenum (Mo)

The same information can be found on Milorganite’s website here.

-Daniel

Organic Lawn Fertilizer

Tuesday, May 31st, 2016

When some people hear “organic fertilizer”, they might think that it won’t work as well as a chemical fertilizer.  That couldn’t be further from the truth!

The problem with synthetic fertilizers, is that they only feed the grass directly.  They do nothing to improve the soil.  So over time, even though you continue to put down fertilizer, your soil quality continues to degrade.  Eventually, your grass will weaken as a result.  You will find yourself having to spread more fertilizer, and treat more disease in the lawn.  But this can all be alleviated by simply using organic fertilizer!

Which brand you choose doesn’t make much of a difference.  They all share a similar concept, which is to feed the soil.  Organic fertilizer contains the same basic nutrients as synthetic fertilizer, but relies on soil microbes to break it down and release them.  It is this process that improves the soil quality over time.  When there is a healthy ecosystem of life in the soil that is being fed by organic fertilizers, you will find that your grass will grow strong and vigorously, even better than grass fed by synthetic fertilizer!  It will also be more resistant to disease.

I’m not saying that you have to be 100% organic when deciding which lawn care products to use.  Insecticides, herbicides, and even synthetic fertilizers still have their place in lawn care.  I am simply recommending that that you give organic fertilizers a chance to improve your lawn!

-Daniel

Annual Bluegrass (Poa Annua)

Monday, May 16th, 2016

Poa annua can be a frustrating weed to have in your lawn.  It is usually a lighter shade of green than surrounding turfgrass, and isn’t as hardy.  Because it doesn’t stand up well to disease, traffic, or drought, having poa annua present in your lawn often leaves you with brown sickly looking patches.  Even though it can be tough to get rid of, there is hope!

There are two options when trying to eradicate poa annua.  Since it’s an annual, you can use a pre emergent herbicide to prevent it’s seeds from sprouting.  Or you can use a selective herbicide that will kill the poa annua, but leave desirable grasses.  I recommend using both methods for the best control.

If you opt to use the pre emergent, make sure to apply in late summer/early fall.  This is when most of the poa annua seeds will begin to germinate.

If you decide to use a selective herbicide, I recommend Tenacity.  It is safe for use on Kentucky bluegrass, tall fescue, fine fescue, and perennial ryegrass.  It may take more than one application to kill the poa annua.  Patience is the key.  You are going to want to wait 3-4 weeks between applications.  If your lawn is heavily infested with poa annua, keep in mind that you may need to seed some thin or bald spots after the herbicide treatment.

-Daniel

Best Lawn on the Block

Monday, May 16th, 2016

Want to know the secret to having a beautiful lawn?  Here are a few simple tips!

  • Aerate your lawn every year.  This can be done in either the fall or spring.  Heavily compacted lawns may need to be aerated twice per year.
  • Mow tall.  Northern cool season grasses like to be mowed at 3-4 inches.
  • Mulch your clippings.  This helps to recycle nutrients.  If you mulch your clippings for the whole season, that is the equivalent to applying almost two pounds of nitrogen per 1000 square feet!  Mulching clippings DOES NOT cause thatch!
  • If your yard is full of weeds, make a blanket application of weed killer using a hose end or hand pump sprayer.  Once the weeds are under control, it is best to use spot treatments and limit herbicide use.  Having a thick, tall, healthy lawn will help to crowd out weeds.
  • If you have grub issues, apply a grub treatment such as Grub-Ex.  Your local extension office should be able to assist you with application timing.
  • Apply a pre emergent herbicide in the spring to prevent crabgrass and other weeds.  Usually the time to apply is when the forsythia are blooming.
  • Apply four applications of Milorganite fertlizer.  For cool season grasses, it is recommended to apply 36 LB per 2,500 square feet around Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, and Thanksgiving.
  • If you want to give your lawn an extra boost, or if it is in especially rough shape, add a spring application of Ringer Lawn Restore fertilizer to your schedule in addition to the Milorganite.

By using these tips, your lawn will be looking great before you know it!

-Daniel

Basement Watchdog battery quick tip

Thursday, December 10th, 2015

Battery terminal corrosion can be a serious issue for a Basement Watchdog system.  If you want to prevent the terminals from rusting, first clean any existing corrosion using a small wire brush and some battery terminal cleaner (if your system is new, you shouldn’t have to worry about cleaning).  Then, connect the battery terminals securely.  The final step is to coat the terminals and posts liberally with dielectric grease.  It is important that you only apply the grease AFTER you have connected the battery and tightened the terminals.  Your battery terminals will now enjoy a long corrosion free life!

-Daniel

Emerald Ash Borer Treatment

Monday, January 26th, 2015

The Emerald Ash borer, or EAB, is a small green beetle native to Asia that has been inadvertently brought to the United States.  Because of the way the larvae feed on Ash trees, the host tree will die within a few years of infestation.  If you have an Ash tree on your property, there is hope.  Some chemical treatments have been shown to be very effective against the beetle.  For trees smaller than 15″ diameter at breast height (DBH), you can treat your tree yourself using off the shelf options from the hardware store or garden center and get good results.  The two most popular active ingredients in homeowner treatments are imidacloprid and dinotefuran.  Dinotefuran has the advantage of moving through the tree’s vascular system much faster than imidacloprid.

If you decide to go with a DIY imidacloprid treatment, consider the following:

  • Use soil drench treatments only on very small trees.  Make sure you pull away all mulch so that the treatment goes on to bare soil.
  • For trees larger than a few inches DBH, consider imidacloprid injections instead of a soil drench.
  • Perform soil drenches early to mid spring, and injections mid to late spring.
  • Applying fertilizer annually helps the tree heal and stay healthy.

If you decide to go with a DIY dinotefuran treatment, consider the following:

  • Use soil applied treatments only on small trees.  Make sure you pull away all mulch so that the treatment goes on to bare soil.
  • For larger trees, consider using a bark applied treatment.
  • Dinotefuran should be applied mid to late spring.
  • Applying fertilizer annually helps the tree heal and stay healthy.

The best option is called emamectin benzoate, or TREE-äge.  It will work on Ash trees of all sizes, and is over 99% effective at killing the EAB in Ash trees (much higher than any other treatment).  Another plus is that it only needs to be applied every other year, whereas imidacloprid and dinotefuran need to be applied every year.  The only downside is that it must be applied by a tree care professional.  That generally makes it the most expensive treatment option.  If you are serious about saving your Ash tree, I would highly recommend TREE-äge.  I also recommend that you get competing quotes from multiple tree care companies to be sure you are getting the best value.

If you decide that you do not want to spend the money on treating your Ash tree, it is important that you remove it when the EAB gets close to your area.  Untreated trees provide a breeding ground for the EAB and worsen the problem.  Not to mention that once the tree dies, it will become a safety hazard.

-Daniel

Sump pump replacement

Friday, January 16th, 2015

A few weekends ago, I decided it was time to put some work into my sump pit.  My pump was acting up (the switch was sticking on intermittently), so that gave me an excuse to dedicate some time and thought to it.

When we moved into the house it came with a 1/3 hp Sears brand pedestal pump.  Although it was quite crusty, and I considered it to be under powered for the job, it was actually a very reliable pump.  It was already a few years old when we moved in, and then it lasted another 16 years, giving it a service life of almost twenty years!  When it finally did fail, luckily I was alerted by my HomeSitter alarm.  I found the pump with the switch in the on position, but it wasn’t running.  Because the water level kept rising, the motor housing was already partially submerged (I have a deep pit).  I knew that it was time for a new pump.  I figured why not replace it with another Sears unit, since this one lasted so long.  I rigged up a utility pump to drain the pit temporarily so I could run to Sears and pick up a new unit.  What they had was a 1/2 hp Craftsman brand pedestal pump.  It seemed to be built very well, with a cast iron base and stainless steel stem.  To top it all off, it came with a lifetime warranty! (I am a sucker for lifetime warranties, although a certain quote from Tommy Boy comes to mind…)  It was almost a direct replacement.  The old pump was 1-1/4″ and the new one was 1-1/2″.  Luckily the pipe was all 1-1/2″, with a reducer on the bottom.  I cut off the old reducer and glued on a new 1-1/2″ threaded fitting, and it was in!

Unfortunately, despite it’s impressive build quality and lifetime warranty, here I am again looking for a replacement pump two years later.  This time I was facing the opposite problem.  The pump wouldn’t turn off!  I would find it running, with the switch fully in the downward position.  The first time it happened, I toggled the switch and it turned off.  Thinking it was just a fluke, I forgot about it.  But then it happened again the next day, and the next day.  And I finally realized the switch was on it’s last leg.  This shouldn’t be an issue though, right?  I have a lifetime warranty to fall back on!  Wrong.  Sears discontinued the model I bought, and the only model they did sell under the Craftsman name no longer has a lifetime warranty, not to mention it is a 1-1/4″ pump with a less impressive flow rate.  Sears corporate may have failed me, but luckily the manager at my local Sears hardware store did their best to make me a satisfied customer.  Because they no longer make an equivalent Craftsman/Sears pump, they made an exception and allowed me to have my pick of which pump I wanted from the plumbing isle for a one time exchange.

Left-Basement Watchdog Special, Right-Zoeller M98.  I used a square rubber patio paver that I cut the corners off of to make a nice bottom in the pit.  It’s important to keep cables neat and tidy so they don’t interfere with float operation.

The pump I ended up choosing is the Zoeller M98.  It is a 1/2 hp submersible pump, with 1-1/2″ discharge, and a very similar flow rate to my previous pump (61 GPM@10ft lift).  It has a cast iron housing, and is built like a tank.  If I wasn’t limited to what they had on the shelf, I would have choose a Zoeller N98.  It is the same pump, but without the built in float switch.  The unfortunate fact of many sump pumps is that the float switch fails long before the pump itself.  That is why the good folks over at TouchSensor Technologies have created the LevelGuard pump switch.  It has no moving parts to wear out and fail, allowing it to last just as long (if not longer) than your pump.  But the key is to get a pump without an integrated float switch (Zoeller pumps that start with an “N” come without a switch).  If the float switch on my M98 ever starts acting up, I plan on converting it to an N98 and installing a LevelGuard switch.

Battery and control unit for backup pump

Up until now, I have been lucky enough to be home each time my primary pump has failed.  My fear has always been that it will happen when I’m not home.  Since I was going to be putting in a new primary pump, I figured this would also be a good time to install a backup pump.  The backup pump system I choose is the Basement Watchdog Special.  It seems to be a good value, it’s the middle model between the “Emergency” on the low end, and the “Big Dog” on the high end.  It will pump about 28 gallons per minute (GPM) at a ten foot lift, which is a few GPM shy of half the capacity of my primary pump.  For a small 12v backup pump running off of a battery, the lower flow rate seems reasonable.  Most of the time, it wouldn’t have any trouble keeping up.  Obviously there is a chance that at some point, the water could be flowing into the pit faster than it can pump.  But I would much rather have it pumping water out at 28 GPM than 0 GPM without it!  And of course, all of this is only a factor if the primary pump has failed or the power is out.

The “wye” and check valves. Be sure to use the proper cement for the type of pipe you have. I had to use a multipurpose cement because I have a combination of PVC and ABS.

Installing the new primary pump was a breeze.  Because my new M98 is 1-1/2″ discharge like my old pump, I was able to reuse the old pipe and fitting.  The backup pump installation required a little more work.  I had to cut out a section of pipe above the existing check valve to install a 45 degree “wye” fitting.  The new pipe for the backup pump then comes out of the wye, goes to a 45 degree elbow, and and then goes down to the backup pump.  It is very important to have a check valve below the wye fitting on both the primary pump pipe, and the backup pump pipe.  This keeps water from flowing out through the backup pump while the primary pump is working, or vice versa.  After getting all the plumbing done, I filled the battery with acid, topped it off with distilled water, and hooked up all of the wiring.  The backup pump comes with it’s own float switch that zip ties to the discharge pipe.  You want to make sure that the float for the backup pump is at least a few inches above the water level that would normally kick on the primary pump.  I also drilled a 1/8″ hole at a 45 degree angle pointing down on the pipe above the backup pump.  This prevents the pump from becoming airlocked (when air gets trapped in the impeller housing, preventing the pump from moving water).  This isn’t necessary for my primary pump (M98), since it already has a hole in the impeller housing to prevent airlock.  All in all, installation was fairly straight forward.  I am very happy with the way things turned out, and I feel much better knowing that I now have a backup system in place.

Quick overview of my setup:

So, what should you take away from this?  An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.  Take the time to install a quality primary and backup pump, and you will have a dry basement.

-Daniel

Ethanol in gasoline

Sunday, December 14th, 2014

Most people have heard of E85.  But have you heard of E10?  Many people have not.  But those same people unknowingly buy it all the time.  Most regular gasoline now contains 10% ethanol (E10).  So what does this mean for you?

For cars:

If you have a car that is labeled as “Flex fuel”, or is fairly new, then you don’t have much to worry about.  But if you have an older car, it can mean worse gas mileage and deterioration of fuel system and engine components.

-Ethanol requires higher compression engines to burn at peak efficiency, so using it in engines designed for pure gas can cause the MPG to decrease.

-Ethanol negatively affects rubber and plastic parts in your fuel system.  This causes hoses, seals, and other parts to break down, leading to the failure of those parts.

-Ethanol separates from gasoline if stored for long periods of time.  This is called phase separation.  When this occurs, the ethanol settles on the bottom of the tank.  This can result in your engine getting a high concentration of ethanol.  For engines made to run on pure gasoline, this can cause serious damage.

-Ethanol attracts water into fuel.  This can cause poor engine performance, rusting of fuel system components, and frozen fuel lines.

For small engines:

Many of the same points I made for cars apply to small engines.  But the problem is often compounded when fuel is left in equipment for long periods of time.

-One thing that is usually only noticeable in small engines, is the increased engine operating temperature when ethanol fuel is used.  The reason it affects small engines more greatly is because they are usually air cooled as opposed to liquid cooled.  The ethanol burns hotter and causes the engine run hotter than it was designed to.  This can put more stress on components and decrease engine life.

-Ethanol eats away at fuel lines on power equipment with small engines.  You may find yourself needing to replace fuel lines as often as every 2 or 3 years.

-Ethanol attracts water into the fuel.  This causes the fuel to go bad and small engines to run poorly or not at all.

So what can I do?

The easiest thing to do is find gasoline that doesn’t contain ethanol.  It will be labeled as “100% gasoline”, “pure gasoline”, or “no ethanol”.  There is a website, pure-gas.org, that can help you locate stations that sell ethanol free gas.

If you are in doubt of whether or not gasoline contains ethanol, you can test it using a small testing bottle such as this one:

If you can’t find pure gasoline locally, there are still some things you can do:

-Try not to put more fuel in your vehicle/small engine equipment than you will use within two weeks.  The longer ethanol fuel sits, the greater the chance for phase separation and water absorption.

-Drain the fuel from the carburetor and tank on small engine equipment when they will be stored for long periods of time.

-Use a fuel additive like Ethanol Shield to help prevent ethanol related damage to your vehicle or small engine.

-Consider using a bottled premixed gasoline for small engine equipment that isn’t used frequently.  These fuels contain no ethanol and have a long shelf life.  The time and money you save on preventing repairs will pay for the extra cost of the fuel.  Some examples of this type of fuel are TruFuel and VP Small Engine Fuels.  You can usually find these at your local hardware or auto parts store.

 

Hopefully this has helped you become more informed about the fuel you are using and saved you from trouble caused by ethanol in your fuel.

-Daniel

Fixing miniature Christmas lights

Sunday, December 14th, 2014

Christmas is just around the corner, and that means many people are hanging lights.  This can be fun, but it can also be frustrating.  Sometimes you pull out a strand that worked fine last year, and only part or none of it lights up.  Many people then throw the strand away and buy a new one.  But I have found that with the right tool and a few minutes of your time, you can fix many of these strands.

My tool of choice is called the Light Keeper Pro.  The main function of the tool is to repair the shunts in the bulbs.  The purpose of shunts is to pass the electrical current on to the next bulb if the filament burns out.  Normally, the shunt activates as soon as the filament fails, but sometimes they don’t work and need a little help to activate.  This is where the tool comes in.  While the strand is plugged in, you pull out a bulb in the burnt out section, insert the tool into the socket, and pull the trigger.  Each time you pull the trigger, it sends a high voltage blast of electricity into the bulbs to help activate any shunts that haven’t yet done so.  You can tell when the job is done because the previously unlit portion of the strand will light up.  The tools also has a few other features, such as a current detector, and a bulb removal tool.

If you are interested in this tool, and in fixing your lights, I recommend you visit their website and check out their instructional videos.

I would like to wish everyone a Merry Christmas!  And hopefully this will help make your holiday season a little brighter (pun intended).

-Daniel

Water Heater Maintenance

Wednesday, July 2nd, 2014

Proper water heater maintenance is easy to forget to do.  Your water heater sits tucked away in a basement or closet.  Most people usually find out they have a problem when there is no hot water.  But with a little planned maintenance, you can prevent issues and extend the life of your water heater.  I was recently doing some work on my water heater, and so I figured I would write a quick post about it.

Things that can help your water heater live a long happy life:

-Flush your water heater each year.

-Check the anode rod when you flush the water heater. *

-Replace the anode rod if it is heavily deteriorated.*

*Quick tip: Use an impact wrench with a 1-1/16″ socket to loosen the anode rod if you are having trouble removing it.

Another common issue that is often easy to fix is a pilot light that won’t stay lit.  There is a device called a thermocouple that controls the flow of gas to the pilot light and burner.  The thermocouple is heated by the pilot light.  If the thermocouple is cold (pilot light not lit), it is supposed to shut off the gas.   If it is hot (pilot light lit), it is supposed to allow the gas to flow.  When these go bad, they fail safe to the off position and shut off the gas.  They are usually easy to replace and you can get a new one at most hardware stores.

-Daniel