Prevent Slab, Copper Pipe and Ice Maker Leaks

We just had a bad copper pipe slab leak and have been dealing with on and off problems with the ice maker leaking. It is a long, sad story; to sum it up: we had to repipe the whole house, and ended up with a pressure gauge on the house plumbing. It was then I noticed that the water pressure was sometimes spiking to 100 psi. At first I thought we got a bad pressure regulator from the repipe company. They put a new one in, but the random high pressures continued. I finally figured out that when the hot water heater was heating the water, the pressure would rapidly rise. Makes sense, heating up water causes it to expand, and now that the plumbing system has no leaks, the water has no where to go and the pressure climbs. The solution, install an expansion tank where the water feeds the hot water heater. I also put a pressure gauge in so if I ever look up and see the pressure is not at 50 psi, I know something is not working correctly.

I get the feeling that if I had installed the expansion tank years ago, the copper pipes would have lasted many more years. Live and learn. Below is a pic of what the install looks like. Parts cost about $100. Repipe: $8,000 plus the cost to repaint the walls that got cut open.

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Fix a Leaking Tile Roof on the Cheap

On rainy days buckets would need to be put out to catch water dripping from the ceiling. In the past, I would call a roofer and get out a pile of cash. During one of those wallet thinning meetings with a roofer, he explained to me that often the valleys of the roof is where the leak is coming from. Roofs will be built with the tiles touching each other in the valley causing leaves and dirt to build up blocking the water from running down the valley. The build up can get so bad that the water will flow sideways past the flashing, break down the tar paper, and leak through the roof. It can get so bad that the wood sheathing can rot away (has happened to me, time to call the roofer).

Tracing the new leak up the wall and into the attic, I could see the leak was at a valley. I got on the roof (20 foot high, so took things slow), and did my best to clean out the junk that had built up in the crack of the valley. But there was little room between the tiles to work in, and while cleaning helped, the leak continued. So I put together a few tools, and spent an afternoon on the roof cutting open the valley to look like I have seen done by roofers.

Below is what it looked like working up the valley. The left has enough of the tile cut back to open a channel for the water to flow down the flashing in the valley. The right side shows progress working through the layers of tile and the 4 1/2 in diamond saw used to cut the concrete tile.

Cutting open the valley of a tile roof.
Dirt builds up blocking water from draining down the valley.

It was slow going, marking where to cut, shimming under the tiles to protect the flashing, cutting tiles, and chipping out the part to be removed. But since clearing a gap between the tiles, the rain rushes out and the leaking through the roof has stopped.

Tools used to cut open the roof valley.

This is not a good project for the new DIYer. Working on a sloped roof can be very dangerous and mistakes can damage a roof requiring expensive repairs. But I was able to spend a few hours on my roof and stop a leak for very little money. For tools I used a cheap angle grinder, a diamond cutting wheel (less then $20), a wide ruler and white grease pencil to mark the cut lines, ear protection, dust mask, eye glasses, gloves, and a pick to shim up the tiles and chip out the cut tiles.

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Ion Block Rocker iPA56 Bluetooth Aux Port Repair

Our 2 two year old, cute and destructive, directed her wrath at my Block Rocker breaking off a mini plug in the aux port. I tried without success to get the tip of the plug out of the aux jack and moved on to swapping out the 3.5mm jack for a more toddler proof 1/4″ jack.

To get the top off, remove the the 4 screws in the front, the 4 silver corner caps and one small screw in the back near the pull up handle. If yours is the same design, you should be able to gently pull up the top and get to the control electronics as seen below, moving slowly as to not damage the wires that are connected to the base.

The mini jack is sealed on all sides, preventing me from getting to the broken off plug tip that was shorting out the jack. Not seeing another option, I used a soldering iron to carefully heat up and work out the jack. Once the 3.5mm jack was out, I tacked on a white, black (gnd), red wire set to run to the 1/4″ jack mounted to the top as seen below. From what I can see, the white and red signals are summed on the board to convert stereo to mono.

Below you can see the 1/4″ jack on the top, and the empty 3.5mm aux jack. Everything seems to work the same, the new jack is much stronger, and if it did get broken, it is easy to pop off the top and get to the open access jack from the back.

Happy Block Rocking!

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Simple Script to Make Rotating Backups of a Directory

There are times where I want to make a simple, rotating backup of a directory so I can go back and look at how thing were in the past, or push a backup to another location. Below is the basic script I use. It makes a timestamped tgz, and then deletes the backups older then some number of days. file contents:
tar -czvf ~/devbak/public_html_$(date +%m%d%y-%T).tgz ~/public_html/* –exclude=*work* –exclude=*docs* –exclude=*.log –exclude=*.svn* –exclude=*.git*
# command to delete old backups
find ~/devbak/*.tgz -mtime +7 -exec rm -f {} \;
It puts the backups in a dir “devbak” and excludes a number directories that can bulk the file up, but not be very useful for the intended purpose. You will certainly need to look it over and tweak the script for your purpose.
To have it automatically run once a day, add the script to a cronjob.
You can edit you cronjob with the command:
crontab -e
Example line to add:
# 0 1 * * *   /home/user/cronjobs/
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Versatile Voltage Divider / Isolator Interface for Arduino / Raspberry Pi

In working on various projects, I often need to interface signals to the input of an Arduino, Raspberry Pi, BeagleBone, or custom digital input. I wanted to be able to handle signals from 5V DC, 24V AC (sprinkler controller valves), up to 240V AC (to monitor my well pump run time). It needed optical isolation and an indicator LED to make it easy to see when a signal is active. I also wanted screw cage connectors so I did not not need to deal with crimping headers and larger wires can be used when monitoring a signal some distance away. So I put together a basic building block type circuit board that can be adopted to a wide range of uses. Below is a image of what it looks like. You can see it uses all through hole components. Since I will be using this in many different ways, I did not want to hassle with tracking down SMD components in the different values I will need. Also through hole makes it easy to change the values in the field when I am away from surface mount soldering tools.


If you just want to see how it works and make one yourself, here is the schematic. The values will vary and not all components are needed depending on the application.

I wrote up some application notes to keep track of the values and part numbers I have used.

Or if this looks useful, I put the blank boards up for sale on Tindie:


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Solar Car Cooling Fan

I live in Southern California and getting in to your car after it has been sitting in the sun is only enjoyable for those that consider hanging out in a sauna while dressed in your finest Brooks suit a good time.

So I did some searching on the InterWeb thinking surely someone is selling a solar powered fan I can stick in my car so it will not be so hot when I get in. I did find a few solar car fans for sale, but they all have horrible reviews. So I thought it must be that they are using cheap fans and solar panels that are too small. I envisioned that if I used a quality fan connected to a large solar panel, it will keep my car cool, and surely others are looking for the same thing–I can sell it and make millions.

So now you know the dream, here is the reality: I took a high quality fan, mated with a large solar panel that covers the entire rear dash of my car, and left a data logger in my car to see how much it lowers the temperature. The result, I think I was able to notice a 2 – 3 degree difference. I say “I think” because day to day the outside temperature is different and you can not be sure if the difference is from the fan, a lower outside temp, or some combination of the two. The fan works, you can feel the hot air flowing out of the car. I guess it is just the laws of physics–the heat energy coming in from the hot sun is dwarfed by the amount of heat the fan can pull through the cracked windows.

You can see the pictures of what I put together below in case you want to give it a try. With a bigger panel and more fans, I am sure at some point you can get a decent reduction in temperature. Actually someone has already done this:

Look at features.

Here is what the Maybach does: “In sufficient lighting conditions, five rows of six silicon solar cells generate approximately 60 watts to power the vehicle ventilation fans, after the engine has been shut off. Solar module is included with the Electrotransparent glass roof package.”

If you are thinking, forget building a solar panel power car cooling fan, I’ll just get me a Maybach. Read all about these rolling luxury transportation systems here. I quickly came to the conclusion buying some extra Brooks suits to soak up the sweat would be a lower cost option.

Car fan running and off on alternate days

As for the millions I was going to make selling Solar Powered Car Fans, I guess I will live under the weight of my broken dreams and get back to work on my other side projects:

Schedule My Employees

High resolution control room amplifiers

Used by some of the world’s top mastering and recording studios

(Pic of my engineering/test unit)


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Zero Vampire Drain SLA Battery Charge Controller

12 volt sealed lead acid batteries are very useful for many applications, but many charge controllers put a small drain on the battery. Once this drain has emptied the battery, it will be ruined if not immediately recharged. But with a charge regulator that does not put a drain on the battery, it can store for months and still hold a decent charge.

So I put together a simple shunt regulator to test out the concept. So far it has been working well. I can leave it in the garage for months at a time, and grab it for camping trips, etc.

You will need a heat sink big enough to dissipate the excess energy from the solar panel. The piece of sheet aluminum seems to be enough for the 5W solar panel I am using to charge a 12V 7AH SLA battery.

There are pros and cons to this design. Pros: simple, no vampire drain, inexpensive. Cons: it does not cut the battery off when it runs low, you need to watch that, you will need a big heat sink if you have a big solar panel.


I needed to build another one of these and decided to use a bipolar transistor. Even though the one I built using the above design has worked well for many years, my concern is that the Vgs turn on voltage may not be consistent from MOSFET to MOSFET. So I used a MJE3055T instead. The 3055 is a bit cheaper and the turn on is based on the .7 V turn on of a bipolar junction. It has worked well, and it ends up the wiring is exactly the same. Bipolar transistors require more current to drive, but if you use a 5W zener, you should be fine for most things the 3055 can handle.

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SUN-2500P Power Inverter Remote Control

In searching for inverters that could run a 3000 – 4000 watt load in an off-grid solar system, I found some low cost inverters on eBay (SUN-2500P is the model I see on these). An issue soon came up after putting them in service. If anything happens, and the inverter trips, it never comes back on-line until I go out and manually reset the inverter. This is a showstopper for a number of reasons, so I set out to find a way to auto restart the inverters.

The units are controlled by a DPST switch. I wanted to have the units normally running, or normally off depending on the state of a toggle switch, and have a signal put the inverters in to the other state to to either reset or power on the inverter.

So I took a DPDT toggle switch and a DPDT relay and connected the throws together. I spliced the poles in series with the switch already in the inverter so if it is turned off, the inverter goes off regardless of the relay status. Made a small assembly and mounted it by removing one of the air slot cross members.

Here is an idea of what it looks like:

I connected wires to the really coil, put a strain relief zip tie to the assembly and ran them out of an air slot. While this is not the most professinal modification, it saved me from a show stopper situation with these inverters. I am testing these running 2 units ganged together to run a 3KW load with some success. The long term reliability of these inverters is still in question so in the end I my end up with a higher end solution. Time will tell.

This solution ran well for a few months, but for some unknown reason, they both blew up. The company that sells these was unresponsive, so I paid up for one big, higher end inverter, and it has worked well for about a year now.

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Repair Yihua PS-3010D Power Supply Stuck at 50 Volts

I have a Yihua PS-3010D 30V 10A power supply and one day it would only output 50V. After doing some measuring with my volt meter it looked like the top supply rail was shorted to the output. I could see a bunch of power transistors on a heat sink and assumed they were the output devices. I removed 4 screws at the base, 2 at the top that the control board was mounted to, cut a few zip ties, and used some tin snips to make the hole at the bottom the wires were running through into a slot. Then I was able to carefully work the output stage out enough to work on it.

I could see that the transistors were being used as emitter-followers with the emitter of one of them being used to drive the bases of the other 3 wired in parallel with sharing resistors on the output.

I removed the orange wire you see running around the bases and did a back to back diode test on each of the 3 transistors wired in parallel. I could see one was shorted and the others looked OK. I went to my junk box, found a 2N3055 transistor (with a date code from the 1970s!), put it in, soldered the orange wire back into place, and…the power supply was back on-line. My best guess as to what happened is I connected the power supply to a circuit that had a charge on it and it back feed the power supply. So took a TO-220 diode (FERD40H100STS) and connected it so it will dump back fed power to the big filter caps.

Not sure if this will work or not, and I am not going to try and blow up my power supply to test it. But the diode has not caused any problems so I will leave it in and hope it saves me next time.

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Build a Cheap 24V 20A Battery Charger

I have a 24 volt battery bank I use to run an off grid well pump. On cloudy days, sometimes I want to run the well to test out sprinklers, etc. So I wanted a battery charger that could put out 20 amps if I connect it to my generator. Ends up you do not go to Wally World and get a cheap 24V battery charger. The ones I found were expensive, and put out less then 20 amps. So I bought a used 24 volt transformer on eBay for $50, got a 40 amp diode, cut up some wood I had in the corner and put it all together to see if it would get the  job done.

The diode PN I used is FERD40H100STS. When I hooked it up, it worked well. With the well pump running and the battery bank voltage dropping to about 22V, this charger was pumping about 450 watts into the battery bank. Close to the .5 KVA rating for the transformer. As the batteries charged, the power went down. Once the batteries were mostly charged, it was putting out about 200 watts. The plate the diode is mounted to is the positive out, the other wire coming out of the transformer is the negative connection. As you can see, I have 1/4 ” bolts for the + and – so I can put jumper cables between the charger and the battery bank.

If I had to build it over, I would have put a fuse somewhere (you should), and would have made the plate the diode is on bigger (it gets hot).

I have some extra diodes. If you PayPal $4 I will drop one in the mail in the USA. Or you can find them online. The main thing is to watch eBay or such sites and find a good deal on a used transformer. New they are pricy.


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