August 2008

What I did yesterday afternoon

I always get my best ideas in the shower. In this case, the best way to get power to the gate motor.

There’s a plug point in the living room, I drilled a hole through the wall, fitted this box on the outside, and ran a pipe …

… through this Malawian-dug trenchette …

… to this weatherproof box, where I will eventually fit a plugpoint for vacuuming the car …

… and via a flexible conduit you almost can’t see in the above pic, to the gate motor.

A dip in the jacuzzi with a good looking girl and a glass of red wine rounded off the day.

At last, the 200mm unit

Recap : I bought the whole kitchen in flat format, audited it, found the two wall units were supplied twice, the two units under the window were too small, and four units were not supplied at all. I then managed to get them to fix the two units, and supply three of the four outstanding units.

Well, on Friday I finally got the last unit, the 200mm unit between the corner unit and the large (600mm wide) drawers.

This rack system comes from A&D Distributors (this is their display unit), and is made for a 200mm wide space. (I didn’t know this when I specified the 200mm unit. Serendipity).

This is what you get for R390. Including three baskets, not shown.

I decided to assemble this unit in place, because I realised I won’t be able to screw the sliding assembly into the 200mm wide (168mm on the inside) space, at least not easily.

Used two spare legs to level & square the unit while the glue dried.

With hindsight and perfect measurement, this unit should have been 195mm, not 200. The whole assembly, with a panel on the right hand side, is just proud of the doorway. But then again, the doorway is not yet trimmed. This sort of makes trim necessary, though.

On Saturday we went and bought 22 square meters of VNE20A1 (not named) grey tiles for the bathroom (from Builders Warehouse). R59.99/square. I also returned the brass fittings I didn’t use (because I got the same stuff cheaper at Muizenberg market) — R264.75 credit, w000t.

On a totally different topic — Saturday it rained, hard, so friend Randall came out on Sunday and spent most of his day fitting a gate motor, with very little help from me. I now have the Malawians digging a trench for power — the unit runs off a 12V battery, with a small transformer to keep the battery charged. The benefit of this is (1) it works when Eskom doesn’t and (2) you only need lightweight wiring, which saves a bit of money.

I’m sane! I’m sane! *happy dance*

At least, compared to these people, I’m sane.

This post sums up what I’ve learnt as well. I don’t look at the credit card slips any more, I just sign ’em :-)

Moloch’s Whore

Restoring an old house is like worshipping a pagan god in that both require sacrifice. Moloch demanded your first born child, old houses require much more.

Old homes require cash. Huge, filthy, fist-loads of cash.

At first you don’t mind so much. You think that a little sacrifice is necessary. You are still excited by the project, you are lulled by dream-visions of what the end product will be. You can see the fresh paint, the shining, refinished floors, and all that beautiful wood work.

Once you start feeding it money, it becomes easier and easier. It becomes part of your routine. Nails, saw blades, paint, and lumber become part of your normal monthly expenses. But, as the months and years drag by you start to feel the pinch. You put off your dry-cleaning as long as you can; you find yourself eating more pinto beans and peanut butter sandwiches; and, if you find a book or CD that you want, you put it on your wish list instead of buying it. Then a day comes when you notice that all your sport coats have shiny, thread-bare elbows, your shoes have cracked soles, and that you haven’t had a haircut in months because you thought it a waste of money.

Things that other people consider major problems become interesting challenges for you. Instead of taking your car to the shop when your car’s second-gear quits working, you master the art of driving without it. Five months later when first-gear also quits, you find yourself taking pride in the fact that you can start from a complete stop on an incline in third-gear.

Late at night as you lay in bed, you can hear this relentless sucking sound. It is a persistent whistling of the atmosphere around you vanishing into a void. You are anxious. You know that your savings are gone, your budget is maxed, and it is only a mater of time before everything around you falls to pieces. When you do sleep it is fitful and tense. You dream of a vast weight bearing down on you, pinning you to the ground. You awake tired and thinking, “Should I work on the bathroom ceiling or back hall this weekend?”

The Devil Queen, the old whore upon the hill, beckons. After so much, who are you to deign her?

Edit : so now I’m reading the Devil Queen blog from the beginning. Difficult thing, reading blogs backwards. But oh so worth it. John can write. And he likes Lovecraft, and Monty Python, and, and, and…

So much for their one saving grace

As hardware stores go, the Builders Warehouse in Tokai is… so/so.

They’re large, and have a selection of stuff, but there’s also a lot of stuff they don’t have. And their prices are good, sometimes, but some other stuff is a complete rip off.

Their sales staff range from pretty good… to useless. The paint guys are great. The electrical guys are not bad at all. On the other hand, the bunch hanging out by the tool section have no clue as to what they’re selling, and can’t offer any advice. And the dude on the cut board counter should be drawn, quartered and shot.

<me> “Excuse me, how much is your bullnose postform countertop (points at stuff on shelf one meter from dude) in Etimo?”

<dude> “I can’t tell you that we have to order specially” *wanders away*.

Not “can I get back to you?”. Not “approximately $bignum but I’d have to confirm”. Oh no.

But despite this, I spent probably R50k with these guys the past few months.

Because they were open until 19:00. Convenient. But this changed — they now close at 18:00, just like all the other hardware stores. So they’ll be seeing a lot less of me.

Oh, and they’re also a gunfree zone. In my friend Richard Boothroyd’s words, “not when I’m there, they’re not”.

Geek Alert : Some basic jacuzzi mathematics

It takes one kilo-calorie to heat 1 litre of water by 1 degree C. A calorie is 4.184 joules. In science-speak : “The specific heat capacity of water is 1 cal/gram-C or 4.184 Joule/gram-C”.

A Joule is also a Watt-second. Which relates to the well-known kilowatt-hour by a factor of 3 600 000.

In mathematical terms :

Q = mc(DeltaT) : m = mass, c = specific heat capacity, deltaT = amount you want to heat the water (or anything else) by. The important thing is that all the units match, to get Q in Joule you need c in Joule/gram-C.

The optimal jacuzzi temperature seems to be 39C (102F). So if the water is at 15C, deltaC = 24.

And thumbsuck : the typical jacuzzi is around 1000 litres.

Q = 1000 x 4184 x 24 (Note the sly dropping of the decimal from 4.184 — this is because we’re working with litres not grams, a liter of water weighs 1000 grams) = 100416000 Watt-seconds = 27.89 kWh. Which at the current 47.38c/kWh equates to just over R13.

And with a 4kW element, this will take almost 7 hours. Of course this ignores any losses, anything that’s warm wants to cool down, so it will take more energy and time to actually heat the jacuzzi to 39C.

I’m contemplating keeping the thing at say 25 degrees or so, that won’t lose too much heat to ambient and it’s halfway there, energy and time speaking.

Ouch eina moer

About four or five years ago I rewired the DB at Amperbo. It’s a 3 phase ‘box, and dated back to shortly after the second world war when my grandfather built the place — think ceramic holders for fuse wire, big switch boxes looking like something from Dr Frankenstein’s lab, and the like.

I replaced all most of this with modern trip switches, an earth leak unit, two geyser circuits, etc. We also ran new wires up to the loft for the geyser and lights, replaced some of the wiring to the plugs (especially the rusted pipe under the kitchen floor which shocked Pieter every time he cooked in bare feet), and so on.

Anywayz, at the time, we bought a 3 phase earth leak unit, cost a bit over R800, and we thought it was rather steep.

So I went to buy a 3 phase earth leak yesterday. R1715.

And thence the title of this post.

Geek Alert : Electrickery

This is the distribution board (DB). The pre-payment meter (bottom left, outside the picture) was wired in later, see the taped wires on the left hand side? The extended wires go down to the meter and then back up to the mains switch at the bottom left.

The red/blue/yellow wires go to the switch at the upper right hand side, and from there to the cable that feeds the garage. That’s the whole point of 3 phase — power to the workshop!

Nicely balanced phases, one phase feeding plugs, one phase feeding lights, and the third phase feeding the geyser.

Only one problem — I much prefer my lights and stove to also be on the earth leak circuit (I got the worst shock of my life unscrewing an Edison screw lightbulb from a metal mounting. The socket was fed via ripcord / flex and obviously the outside of the screw was live. That house still doesn’t have earth leak, but then, I don’t live there any more).

Oh yes, the reason I’m tracing all of this is that I need a circuit for the oven, and two circuits for the jacuzzi (the jacuzzi is wired for a single 40A feed, but I have three 30A circuits only). I have the old stove (3 phase) feed, as well as two plug circuits, the one that used to feed the kitchen, and the one that used to feed the lounge. I’m planning to use the old lounge circuit for the kitchen, and the old kitchen circuit for the fridge and the washing machine / tumble dryer (which will have to live out on the back stoep).

Circuit Current
Oven 14.5A
Dishwasher ~5.5A
Stove (Electric domino) 13A
Geyser 18A
Lights (estimate) 5A
Washing Machine 7A
Tumble Dryer 11A
Jacuzzi Heater 18A
Jacuzzi Pump 6.6A

I played with these values a bit and realised that I’d have to change things around quite a bit to balance the load on the different phases. I also grouped things together logically — we’re unlikely to use the oven and dishwasher at the same time, and even less likely to be in the jacuzzi with the pump on at the same time. So also, the jacuzzi heater can be on the same circuit as the washing machine and tumble dryer, those things are not likely to be used all at the same time… I hope. Comments are of course welcome.

Circuit Red Blue Yellow
Plugs 1 (Bedrooms) 5A
Plugs 2 (Kitchen) 5A
Oven 14.5A
Living Room 5A
Dishwasher ~5.5A
Stove (Electric domino) 13A
Geyser (18A)
Lights 1 (estimate) 2.5A
Lights 2 (estimate) 2.5A
Fridge 5A
Washing Machine 7A
Tumble Dryer 11A
Jacuzzi Heater (18A)
Jacuzzi Pump 6,6A
Total 38A
27A 45.5A

(You’ll notice that the total is not the sum of the column — this is because, for example, the fridge, washing machine and tumble dryer is on one 20A circuit, if it draws more than that the subcircuit will trip).

A total over 30A total is obviously bad, since that would trip the mains. On the other hand, we can learn to not run the jacuzzi heater, the washing machine and the tumble dryer at the same time. The geyser can of course come on at any time, which is why they invented a little black box called a load control relay. I bought a 10A unit — if the stove circuit (stove, jacuzzi pump and dishwasher) draws more than 10A, the relay will make sure the geyser doesn’t come on. If I’m only using one of the stove plates, the stove will draw less than 10A and the geyser will have power.

I might end up fitting a load control relay to the jacuzzi heater circuit as well if things turn out to be a problem.

Weekend kitchen progress

OK, as noted in the previous post, I assembled the unit under the sink.

I also turned the units I’d assembled earlier — which go under the stove etc. — on their backs, aligned them and clamped and screwed them together. Because of the corner unit, I could of course only do this for the long side. (OK, I also don’t have the one little 200mm wide unit yet, but that’s besides the point).

That’s the (15A) socket for the oven. I’m going to run the wires in a pipe down the outside of the kitchen wall, then in via the funny hatch on the left hand side (no idea what its purpose was originally). The wire also continues to the right and through the wall to feed the three plug points in the living room (we removed the pipe feeding those three points when we knocked out the wall between the kitchen and the living room).

With Tanya’s help and much swearing, we got the unit into position (we didn’t get pictures of the bit where I was stuck behind the corner unit and had to climb up and over the wall…)

It’s even level. (OK, it’s resting on the batten you can see in the first pic, and that’s level, so it didn’t have much choice… but still).

With oven and drawers installed. Looking lekker.

Tanya enjoying some gardening when not required to push, pull and swear at kitchen units.

Assembling kitchen units

I realised that I never posted the details on how the cabinets go together, so this weekend I took some pictures (19 20 thousand words’ worth).

These are the three units which go under the sink (see the floor plan).

From the top : the two runners which form the top, the bottom, and two sides per unit.

This is the one side. They drilled the centre hole on the left hand side off-center, so I chose that side to be the top (no other choice, really).

Insert the dowels, three for the bottom end

and two for the top.

This is the pin and cam that is used to pull the unit together.

Glue, install.

Pin poking through, cam installed, and cam tightened.

Basically the same thing at the top. I learned the hard way that here it’s important to align things, because the single dowel allows for rotation, and then the top edges come out uneven. So hold the corner square while tightening the cam.

Don’t forget the backing board.

Fit the other side, and the feet.

I repeated this exercise three times, laid the three units on their backs on the floor, clamped and aligned the front edges, and screwed the whole thing together, just like Tom Silva shows on this This Old House video.

Because of the water and waste pipes, I didn’t fit the backs to the two right-hand units. Which means I had to cut the back bit off the top strips so that I can slide the back in later.

Cutting the hole for the sink. Tip : clamp the bit you’re cutting out so that it doesn’t break and splinter the last bit.

Tanya will have to wear heels to wash dishes — the counter height is 1m.