Po Po Polaris

Looks like he's peeing into the pool

One  of my favorite things to do is to come home late from work on a brisk February evening and stick my arms in cold pool water.  Yes it’s a mild winter, but 45 degree water is chilly nonetheless.  I wasn’t doing this just for fun, the little rug rat that runs around the bottom of the pool picking up leaves was broken.  My arms have finally thawed enough for me to write about this simple fix.

I noticed that the last couple weeks no matter how much the Polaris (model number 280) ran around it didn’t seem to be picking up anything and the bag was empty.  I’ve known for a few months that my filter cartridges were failing and sand and other tiny debris was getting through and back into the pool.  What I suspected was that some tiny thing had made its way through the auxiliary pump and down the hose and blocked up the spray nozzles that push vacuum leaves up.  Usually when something is wrong with the Polaris its that it won’t move forward.  With the Polaris running I pulled it up by the hose so that it was just barely out of the water.  I could tell that only a little water was coming out of the jets that point up into the bag.  I knew from prior observation that it should be blasting water out of that thing and soaking me, so I knew where the problem was.

Step 1: Remove two screws from bottom. Use the biggest phillips head that fits.


Step 2: Remove two screws holding this Y-shaped piece in and carefully tease it out.


Step 3: Remove the two screws holding the directional nozzle

Now here’s the tricky part. I could tell that there was a tiny little pebble in each of the two tips of the nozzles.  I poked them down with a little screw driver and tried to shake them out, but when I covered the top hole with my thumb and blew into the hole where the directional ball nozzle goes they would go back to clogging the holes.  After turning blue in the face trying to blow out the pebbles I realized I had an air compressor.  That helped tremendously.  Put the air in one of the tiny holes, cover the other and the top hole with your fingers and hopefully the pebble will blow out the back.  Don’t stop until you have found the pebble in your hand.  I thought I had it out one time and put it together and it clogged itself back up within a few seconds.

It goes right back together and since then it has warmed up enough for me to fix the root cause and replace my cartridge filters.


30 minutes



Xmas Electricity

Remember that “professional” does not mean “craftsman.”  The definition of professional that’s always stuck with me is litmus test of “did he get paid to do it.”

For example, no one is paying me to fix my car, or else I would do a better job than bending stuff back into shape with pliers.  I guess my solution was kind of crafty, but a real pro would buy a new switch and charge you for it.  It minimizes his time at your expense.

I was stringing up some Christmas lights and when I went to plug in the timer there was a pop and the circuit tripped.  After verifying the power was indeed off at the breaker I took out the outlet and saw this:

Food truck is here, I'll just jam all these wires in and be on my way. Click to enlarge

Explanation: those screws that pinch into the wire are energized.  When you touch the hot wire to the ground wire it trips the GFCI.  In general you don’t want that screw touching anything and you don’t want a strip off a foot of wire when 3/4″ is all you need to wrap around the screw or you get a lot of extra lightning rods sticking out of it like this:

Matching char marks on hot and ground

The reason why there are two black wires is one comes from the panel or outlet closer to the panel and the other goes to the next outlet.  Neutral/white is on the other side and never the two shall meet.  I trimmed up the excess wire a little bit, but there was still too much wire in general and the outlet was really flimsy (one of the screws to hold it in was a freaking drywall screw) so I mummified the whole thing in electrical tape:

It was 30 degrees out when I took this, no time to center the picture.

I was careful tucking the wires back in so nothing would touch and now I have Christmas from 5-10pm every night:

A picture of the Christmas lights this powers would have been more interesting

So remember, just because a professional electrician wired it doesn’t mean it was done right, or that he gave a damn.  If I had to wire outlets all day I would probably be pretty sloppy too, as it is I just have to fix one and fix the crap out of it.  My FiOS is on that circuit, if it trips I don’t have internet and the house suddenly gets very small and boring.


1 hr in the cold, so felt like 2


Spent – $.02 in electrical tape
Saved – I have no idea what an electrician cost, and without internet I wouldn’t be able to find out.

Steven Gangstead

Dishwasher fix

One of the things I got on the blog train for was sharing fixes I make around the house.  While there is a website for every subject imaginable I figured I’d just post and let Google sort it out.  I figure what I could do is make a post as helpful as possible with a lot of keywords and hopefully it will help out the next person who needs to do the same fix as me and they will just find it by Googling their problem. This is my second DIY post.  My first was about the pool

Came home one day this week and the dishwasher was broken.  I had started a load of wash before I left and it stopped in the middle of the cycle with partly cleaned dishes and a tub of water standing at the bottom.  It was unresponsive and the lights wouldn’t light. Luckily it was a cheap fix.  It was sort of quick (a couple of hours) but if you have the same problem and found this post then it will be a thirty minute job total.

Model: Whirlpool Gold – Quiet Wash Plus (front of door)

Model number: GU940SCGB2 (located on a silver badge on the inside of the unit on the right side, you have to open the door to see it)

I assume this dishwasher came new with the house so that would make it about 12 years old.  What a piece of junk! Just kidding, 12 years is a good time, but you know what’s better? More years.  I’m getting a fence put in and I don’t want to have to buy an appliance on top of that.

The first thing I did: I heard that a common failure point for dishwashers was the latch on the door.  It gets a lot of use and there are a couple relays in it so I thought maybe one of those was out and the unit was shut off because it thought the door was open.  It wasn’t too hard to do, and I verified the relays with my multimeter.  I even undid the screws that secure it to the counter adn rolled it out and looked for … I don’t know what I was looking for.  It was plugged in.  After a little research online I found out what I SHOULD have done.

The first thing I should have done: Since it wouldn’t power up then something is wrong with the supply of juice.  If it powered up but didn’t turn or pump then I would look at a motor but this was more basic than that.  No power.  So start from the wall (figuratively, you don’t have to slide it out).  The power chord isn’t going to fail, so where does it lead?  Disconnect the power!  Then remove the toe plate. It’s just two screws on the front of the unit.

Washer with toe plate removed

Next go to the silver box (indicated by my awesome MS Paint arrow).  This box is where the generic extension chord is hacked off and spliced into the power for the washing machine.  On this Whirlpool it’s on the right side of the unit.  You did turn the power off, right?  Because the next step is to open it up.  Don’t know how to turn the power off? Step 1: Call an electrician because you don’t want your first time to be based off of some yahoo’s instructions on the internet.  OK.  Power’s off.  Open it up (one screw).  If your machine broke like mine then diagnosis is complete.

You know you're in the right place because of all the WARNING and DANGER signs. Those are for guys who don't know what they're doing (like helmets), but not for me!

I was unable to take a good photo of the carnage in there, but it was obvious this was the problem because a charred half of a wire nut fell out and the end of the wire was burnt black.  I cut off the charred bits of those wires and stripped some back and put a new wire nut on.  I also changed out the other wire nut just for good measure.

Circled are the two ends of the live wire (white = common and was unaffected). Also circled the remains of the wire nut that fell out when I opened it up

I don’t know why it failed after a decade of service, but I can speculate.  If your dish washer is fixed now and you don’t care why then stop reading.  My engineering speculation is if the motor is going out it might be drawing more current when it first turns on.  It didn’t look like there was a fuse anywhere so there’s nothing to limit a current spike, so that could cause the wire to warm up.  It looks like the solid core wire (the one that goes to the dish washer, the power chord was braided) broke off at the end.  If any of those little braids were still making contact they would have fizzled when trying to take the whole load and that’s what burned the wires.  I know the dishwasher won’t last forever, but I hope this gets me a couple more years out of the appliance.

Total cost of fix: about $.20 (two wire nut out of a $2 box)

-Steven Gangstead

Salt Water Pool Trick

The pool in my back yard has a mechanism that generates chlorine by electrically separating chlorine out from salt that you dump in.  If I remember my chemistry correctly when you put salt in a solution the sodium and chlorine separate into ions, so I guess all you need to do is add an electron back to the chlorine and you’re good to go.  You’ll see these advertised in real estate flyers as “salt water pools” but it’s not salty like the ocean.  Ocean water is around 35000 ppm (parts per million) while the pool only needs about 3000 to function.  I love it because a 40 lb bag of pool salt costs about $6 and I put in one about every 3-4 months.

The salt water pool presents its own maintenance challenges.  This summer I’ve had a hard time keeping the chlorine level up in the pool.  I’ve been leaving the salt generator up at full blast and there’s never more than 1 ppm.  It’s also been a blazing hot summer and I’ve had to add about a half inch of water every week, I don’t know if that’s relevant.  I started testing more than pH and Chlorine with some test strips that have extra tests on it and the alkalinity is also real high.  Yesterday I pumped about 6 inches of water out of the pool and filled it back up from the tap.  About 5 hours later the chlorine level had shot up to 2 ppm.

I think what was happening was that the evaporation of the water was causing a build up of something that was preventing the salt generator from doing its thing.  Reading around on the interwebs I found that evaporation will cause the hardness of the water to go up because the minerals don’t evaporate out, this or the collection of something else that doesn’t evaporate out must diminish the salt generator’s efficacy.  Hope this helps another salt pool owner out.