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Category: DIY

Automatic Chicken Coop Door – Solar Time Table Switch

Honeywell makes a programmable digital “solar time table” switch that adjusts events automatically throughout the year based on daylight hours.

It’s far more reliable than a photocell, but one caveat — it runs on AC power. If you only have 12V DC power at the coop, use one of the other automatic chicken coop door methods I’ve written about: 12V timers or photocell. For those of you with AC power available at your chicken coop, read on!

On the Honeywell switch you’ll set the current date, your latitude & longitude & your event times, & the switch does the rest. The switch also has an override button that cycles the switch on & off manually.

The other component that makes the whole setup work is the relay. You’ll need a DPDT relay with a coil rated for 120VAC, but with 12VDC contacts. See the full product lists with links below for each relay type.

Option 1: Heavy Duty Functional Devices Relay

Heavy duty 120VAC/12VDC DPDT relay from Functional Devices.
Assembled: compact & dust proof.

The heavy-duty Functional Devices relay costs a little more (~$12) mostly because it’s rated for continuous duty at 10 million cycles. It will be on for hours at a time with this timer setup, so continuous duty is a good thing.

Also if you mount the Honeywell Solar Timer switch into an outdoor-rated junction box, the Functional Devices relay screws into the top of the box & you end up with a nice compact dustproof timer setup that will last a long time, even in a chicken coop.

Here’s the equipment list:

If the linear actuator runs backwards from how you’d like it to work, reverse the 2 actuator leads where they connect to the relay’s yellow & purple wires.

If YouTube is your thing, here’s the how-to video.

For setup tips & troubleshooting, scroll down below the “standard-duty relay” section below.

Option 2: Standard-duty relay

A standard-duty relay works fine but the relay coil may fail over time, since these relays typically are made with pretty cheap components. However if it fails, you can just unplug the bad relay & plug in a new one.

Here’s the full product list:

The blue & white wires run to pins (screw terminals) 7 & 8. The actuator connects to pins 5 & 6. Connect 12V power to pins 1/2 & 3/4 with each pair having opposite polarity from each other — so if the bottom pins have red/black connected, the top pins have black/red.

DO NOT GUESS WHICH PINS THE AC POWER (BLUE & WHITE WIRES) RUN TO ON THE RELAY BASE! If you can’t determine which pins 7 & 8 are from the tiny writing on the base, they are the outer/lower set of pins on the end of the relay base that has the “nub” that sticks out. Don’t confuse pins 7/8 with pins 1/2 on the opposite end or very bad things will happen.

If the linear actuator runs backwards from how you’d like it to operate, reverse the actuator leads where they connect to the relay base (pins 5/6).

Make sure you wrap the exposed screw terminals with electrical tape where the white & blue wires from the timer connect to the relay base (pins 7 & 8). Remember, those carry AC power.

Setup Tips & Troubleshooting (both relay types)

Safety first: Always work on the wiring with the AC power cord unplugged.

I recommend putting a fuse on the positive 12V lead. The appropriate fuse size is typically 7.5 amps for most linear actuators.

For 12V power supply ideas, see this post & scroll down to the “power supply options” section.

In a power outage, the Honeywell switch retains the programmed events. When the power comes back on, the door will catch up on whatever state it’s supposed to be in. One downside to this setup is there’s no easy battery backup to make this system work during a power outage, like there is for the other all-12VDC automatic chicken coop door methods.

I recommend placing everything in a weatherproof junction box & cover since the Honeywell switch isn’t really meant for a chicken coop environment.

Timer setup: use Automatic mode, & make sure for the event times you pick either the sunrise or sunset option. The timer lets you adjust the event time up to 70 minutes before or after sunrise/sunset.

If you don’t know your latitude & longitude, go to Google Maps, right-click near where you live, click “What’s here?” from the menu & use the numbers in light grey text (round to the nearest whole number).

Disclaimer: I’ve only used this system for a short time so far, & I’m using the heavy duty Functional Devices relay. If you went with the standard-duty relay, I don’t know how long it will last.

Any questions or comments, leave ’em below!

Heavy Duty Automatic Chicken Coop Door – Photocell

UPDATE: If you have AC power in your coop, a more reliable method uses a Solar Time Table Switch which adjusts automatically throughout the year for daylight hours based on your location.

A question that comes up a lot in my Automatic Chicken Coop Door posts is what’s the wiring diagram with a photocell? Ask & ye shall receive!

One thing I’ll say up front while I still have your attention — the wiring diagram above is NOT WRONG in terms of the photocell wire colors. It’s not what you’d expect. The black wire is positive, white is ground, & red is the switched output (+). Also, the pin wiring for the relay may change slightly depending on which relay you use. For instance, here’s the wiring diagram for the “heavy duty” relay option in the parts list below:

This is a “dusk till dawn” photocell which means the photocell switches on at night. It’s advertised as waterproof & the light sensitivity is adjustable. It also has fairly mediocre reviews on Amazon so if anyone has a better photocell to recommend, please do!

Here’s the parts list:

The DPDT relay is wired as an H-bridge. This means you make an “X” with power to the normally open (NO) & normally closed (NC) terminals so they have reverse polarity from each other. The “common” terminals connect to the linear actuator.

The photocell controls the coil, the coil switches the relay & that reverses the motor. The linear actuator’s built-in limit switches take care of the rest.

IF IT OPENS AT NIGHT & CLOSES IN DAYLIGHT: Flip the leads to the linear actuator where they plug into the relay.

POWER DRAIN: Although daytime power usage is minimal (0.004 amps) when the photocell is only monitoring the light level, the photocell & relay have a constant power drain at night of 0.12 amps when both the photocell & DPDT relay coils are energized. So I recommend only using this photocell system on dedicated power.

You can still use the photocell system with a solar panel/battery setup, but you would need enough capacity to handle the power drain (12 hours night @ 0.12 amps = ~1.5 amp-hours just for operating the photocell). If you need to conserve power, use this timer-driven system instead.

Here’s a video explaining the wiring:

OPTIONAL TIMER OVERRIDE: Don’t trust the photocell? Add a timer so that closing the door happens regardless of whether the photocell works. Here’s a wiring diagram for that:

Set up one timer event:

  • start time = forces the door to close
  • end time = door available for photocell to open

So for example, start time of 10pm & end time of 5am.

Keep in mind the timer only overrides closing — if you have a bad photocell that doesn’t recognize daylight, the timer won’t force the door to open.

I use a system of timers instead of this photocell system, because where I live has high winds & I’m concerned the photocell wouldn’t be reliable with blowing dust & snow. The timer system also has far less power drain which is useful if you have a solar-powered coop. I change the open & close times every few months to keep pace with daylight. But the photocell method is pretty slick & if it works for you, great.

Any questions, post in the comments below. Hope this helps!

Heavy Duty Automatic Chicken Coop Door – Easier Timers

UPDATE: I’ve also posted instructions for an automatic chicken coop door using a photocell with an optional timer override. However it consumes more power & the photocell may not be as reliable, so if that’s a concern, use the two-timers method below.

UPDATE II: For coops with AC power, there’s a 3rd method where the automatic coop door uses a Solar Time Table switch.

In March 2015 I posted a method for making an automatic chicken coop door using two timers & a DPDT relay, but the timer setup was complicated — one timer provided power, while the 2nd timer controlled reversing polarity & had to turn on simultaneously with the power timer. Not easy.

Here’s another method of wiring the timers that’s more straightforward. One timer opens the door & the 2nd timer closes the door. One event per timer … Simple, easy, inexpensive, & as reliable as the old way.

Automatic Chicken Coop Door Wiring

NOTE: Older CN101A timers may need the timer power wires swapped (reverse polarity).

This new system uses a dual-SPDT relay module which replaces the DPDT relay in the old design.

Any 2-channel SPDT relay module with a high-level trigger should work. Typically there are 6 terminals on one side: NO/NC/COM for each relay, & 4 terminals on the other side: signal inputs for each relay (IN1/IN2), & power for the module (marked as +/-, or VCC/GND). There’s a jumper block to select the trigger type.

The timer wiring is the same as before — daisy chain power to each timer, & then to the module. Jump (+) to both NO terminals, and (-) to both NC terminals. Connect the actuator leads to the COM terminals. Run the output from each timer to the module’s IN1/IN2 terminals.

NOTE: Both trigger jumpers must be set to HIGH (outward setting). Apparently this relay is occasionally shipped with the jumpers set to LOW (inward), which would require different wiring from what I’ve shown.

YET ANOTHER NOTE: Sometime in 2016, these CN101A digital timers changed so the two power leads are reversed from how earlier CN101A timers work. I’ve updated the wiring diagram above to reflect this change, so now looking at the timers from the front, (-) is connected at the far left & (+) is 2nd in from the left.

Parts list:

If you want a guillotine door instead of a swing door, get a 12″ extension linear actuator instead. Although around your chickens, maybe call it a “vertically sliding door”…

Power Supply Options

I’ve received several questions about my wiring diagram’s purposefully ambiguous “power supply”, so here are some different options.

Simple solar panel setupSolar panel: You can use a very low-watt solar panel connected directly to the battery with a fuse, so that the solar panel acts as a trickle-charger. The problem is the solar panel also slowly discharges the battery at night*, & so this system relies on whether the solar panel can generate more power during the day than it uses at night – normally not a problem, except if you live somewhere like I do without much sunshine in the winter.

* To prevent discharge you can add a blocking diode, but I’m not going to get into that  (Google has your back) — the solar charge controller below is a better method for about the same price.

Solar panel with charge controllerSolar panel w/ controller: This uses a solar charge controller which regulates power to the battery & automatically disconnects the solar panel at night. You can use any size solar panel, although panels over 20W are probably not necessary unless you are using a different system with a higher constant power draw (like a photocell) rather than the two timers.

Dedicated A/C powerDedicated power: If you have A/C power to your coop, you can use a 12V power adapter with an amp rating higher than the power draw of the linear actuator. This method is by far the least expensive, but if the power goes out, your chicken coop door won’t open/close.

Dedicated AC power with battery backupDedicated power with battery backup: Nice method that handles power outages. With this system you need a trickle charger (“battery maintainer”), and a 12V battery with an amp rating higher than the power draw of the linear actuator. As with any battery, put a fuse on the positive lead coming off the battery.

So that’s it for power supply options. Here are some other useful notes:

Fuse sizing: Typically the fuse is rated 50% more than the maximum power draw of the linear actuator, so for instance if your linear actuator is rated for 5 amps max, use a 7.5-amp fuse. For a 6-amp linear actuator, use a 10-amp fuse.

Wire gauge: 16-gauge or 18-gauge wire should be fine, unless you are using more than a few feet of wire for some reason.

Wire connectors: I used spade terminals to connect wires to the timers & battery tabs. Keep in mind you’ll need to use a larger size terminal (than your wiring) when you splice 2 wires into one terminal. You can order a nice assortment of terminals on Amazon, or your local hardware store typically sells individual spade terminals from the small parts drawers.

Timer setup: First, set the time. Hold down the “clock” button & (still holding down “clock”) press D/H/M buttons to set day of the week, hour & minute.

Then press & release the “P” button. The number in the lower left shows the timer event number (1, 2, 3 etc) & whether you are setting the ON or OFF time for each event. So the first time you press “P” the timer shows “1” and “ON” in the corner — you are setting the start time for the first event. Press the H/M buttons to set the event start info. To have the event occur every day, make sure the display indicates “MO TU WE TH FR SA SU”. To change it, push the “D” button. When you’re done setting the event start info, press “P” again & set the same info for the event’s end time. Press the clock button when you’re done.

Example timer settings:

  • Door open timer: start event 6:30AM, end event 6:31AM.
  • Door close timer: start event 8:30PM, end event 8:31PM.

Final step is press the “Manual” button until you see “AUTO”. That means the timer is ready to be triggered by the events that you set up.

Press “Manual” whenever you need to override the timer. It cycles through AUTO -> ON -> AUTO -> OFF, so you may need to push the manual button several times to trigger ON. Remember to set the mode back to AUTO when you’re done — otherwise the events won’t trigger the timer.

The “C/R” button resets the time if you make a mistake setting up an event.

Manufacturer instructions for the CN101A timer are here.

Troubleshooting: If the actuator runs backwards, switch the actuator leads where they plug into the COM terminals. If the wrong timer controls the wrong event, switch the timer output leads either where they plug into the IN1/IN2 terminals or at the timers (doesn’t matter, same result). If a timer doesn’t switch at all, reverse power polarity to the timer (swap positive & ground). Also make sure the power supply has sufficient amps because otherwise the red light will come on but the timers won’t actually switch the circuit. If the timers don’t work when an event occurs (no red light & no “click” sound), make sure it’s set to AUTO mode — push the MANUAL button until you see AUTO on the display.

Automatic Chicken Coop Door

Wiring & testing the prototype.

Circuit Details: With neither timer activated, both motor leads are (-). With one timer/relay pair switched on, one lead switches to (+), the other stays (-) & the motor either runs forward or reverse. With both timers activated, both motor leads are (+) … that shouldn’t happen with your timers set properly, but it’s fine if it does (not a short circuit).

Don’t shoot the hobbyist: So far this design seems reliable. I’ve only had to replace 1 timer that stopped switching after 5 years of use.

Troubleshooting: See below for two videos that demonstrate normal operation of the relay & tips such as how to set the relay module trigger & test the relay.

Questions for electrical engineers:

  1. Does this module handle EMP from the actuator motor being switched off, or ideally should I add something to manage that? There are a bunch of other components on the circuit board in addition to the two relays, not sure what it’s designed to handle.
  2. I’ve come across this relay module used with IN1/IN2, NO1/NC2, & NC1/NO2 each jumped together, like this, which seems to provide the same exact function as a single DPDT relay wired as an H-bridge. To me this makes very little sense — essentially using two SPDT relays to accomplish the same function as one DPDT relay, but with more complicated wiring & greater possibility of component failure. Are there any benefits to this setup over a single DPDT relay?
  3. Is there any benefit to using a motor reversing solenoid over this 10-amp relay module (perhaps built-in handling of EMP)? Or are those solenoids just primarily designed to handle more amps & a longer duty cycle?

Happy chicken coop dooring. Any questions or comments, let me know!

If you use this automatic chicken coop door design in a video or blog post, please give a link or mention this blog post. Much appreciated.

Replace Your Noisy Drobo5N (or 5D) Fan

PLEASE NOTE: Although I initially wrote this post about the Drobo 5N, several commenters have pointed out that the Drobo 5N & 5D use the same chassis & so this is equally helpful for fixing noisy Drobo 5D fans too.

Drobo5N fan replacementDrobo makes a nice backup system, but the cooling fans are crap. The fan in my Drobo 5N was no exception & failed after 3 years, most of which it spent on standby with the drives spun down. As far as I know, the Drobo cooling fan runs constantly even when the drives are spun down.

For the cost of a $15 fan & maybe an hour of your time, you can replace the fan in your $500 Drobo5N backup system.

You’ll need a replacement 120x25mm 12VDC 1.9W 2-wire fan, soldering iron & solder (or very small wire nuts), phillips screwdriver, 1/16″ shrink tubing (and lighter) or electrical tape, & a paperclip.

Also see the very helpful comments on these steps from Tad Harrison — the 3rd comment at the end of this post.

  1. Shut down & unplug the Drobo. Remove the hard drives & remember the drive order in the bays. It might not matter, but why tempt fate?
  2. Remove the magnetic faceplace & pull out the rubber gasket from the groove behind the faceplate.
  3. Unscrew the 4 rubber feet on the bottom of the unit. Also remove the small hatch on the bottom that covers the mSATA bay.
  4. Slide the metal case off the chassis. I don’t think it matters which end you slide it off. The case is split in half on the bottom. You’ll need to lift up one side just a bit to get the case to slide past a few items in the mSATA bay.
  5. Push in the plastic tabs to remove the fan backplate on one end & the drive bays on the other end. I think there’s 5 tabs for each. This part was easy.
  6. Unscrew 4 screws total, on the sides at the fan end: 1 upper & 1 lower screw. Leave all the other screws in place. Trust me on this.
  7. Slide the top of the chassis back & up to separate it from the bottom/sides. This can be tricky – use a flat screwdriver to pry the lower slot closest to the back (see photo) if it’s stuck. Unplug the white plastic fan & power switch connectors when you can get to them – they just pull, no clips.
  8. Drobo5N fan anchor

    Don’t pry off from the head end!

    Finally, easy access to the fan! Not so fast, Batman. The fan is held in place by 4 plastic anchors that work like drywall anchors – there’s a center pin which spreads out the tip of the anchor when it’s pushed in all the way. Best method for removal is push the center pin from the fan side with a paperclip or small nail until the anchor pops out. Don’t try prying the anchors from the cap end or you’ll likely end up breaking them off.

  9. Cut the fan wire close to the old fan so you have decently long leads on the connector plug end.
  10. Solder (or use wire nuts, or butt splice connectors) the plug onto the new fan wires. If you solder, use shrink tubing! It’s awesome. Remember to slide the tubing on, before you solder.

Now you’re ready to put everything back together. Really this is just an excuse to start the instruction numbering over at #1. Also now that you’re in this deep, let’s make putting your Drobo back together look like 4 steps:

  1. Reattach the fan to the chassis with the plastic anchors you didn’t break. Make sure the the fan is oriented correctly so it blows air out the rear vent. The side with the hub struts is the “exhaust” side, so you would want that facing the rear. Stare at the fan blade shape for a bit & you’ll figure it out. Some fans have arrows on the cowling that indicate airflow direction.
  2. Slide the chassis back together, reconnect the fan & power switch connectors, & screw the 4 screws back in. PRO TIP: make sure the fan wires aren’t in the way of the fan blades.
  3. Snap the fan backplate & the drive bays back in. It can be a little tricky to get the drive bays seated all the way. Make sure you line up the many clear plastic nubs along the bottom edge with the all holes (these are the blue lights that indicate capacity).
  4. Slide the chassis back into the case. Reinstall the mSATA hatch cover, rubber feet, rubber gasket, drives, & magnetic faceplate. Plug in & turn on.

Nice work. You saved $500 on a new Drobo.

Hope the new fan lasts longer than the old one.

Beer & Seltzer Kegerator Fridge Conversion Guide

Preface: if you already have a kegerator & want to add seltzer, all that’s stopping you is $60 in parts. See the section at the bottom of this post.

Stupid kegerator

Dumb idea. Who wants 15 gallons of just one beer?

Most beer drinkers want a kegerator, which has obvious benefits: cheep beer, always cold, rarely runs out, no empties, access to beers you can only get by keg… bonus freezer space …

You buy beer in half-barrel kegs because per drink, it’s half the cost of bottled or canned beer. But there’s no sense having a huge half-barrel keg taking up your entire your kegerator, especially as it gets toward empty. Also there’s having to drink 15 gallons of just one type of beer & getting sick of it.

What you need is 4 soda or corny (originally, “Cornelius”) kegs. And a few other things. We’ll get to that. What you may not know is:

  • For some variety, trade corny kegs with a neighbor/co-worker/relative, so you don’t have to drink 15 gallons of one beer yourself, thereby ruining your favorite beer.
  • You can easily use the same CO2 system to make an endless supply of seltzer or soda. This blows away a Sodastream in all respects, especially price & carbonation.

The idea here is get a half-barrel keg, but transfer it off into three 5-gallon corny kegs. Use a 4th corny keg for seltzer. Corny kegs take up far less room in your kegerator fridge & are easier to manage.

The fridge

Old fridge

Use an energy-star rated fridge, from 2001 & newer if you can.

Chances are you already have an old fridge, so you’re not choosing what fridge to convert into your kegerator. If you do have a fridge choice, get a model with the freezer on the bottom, & one that maximizes corny keg space (see keg layout below). You can store beer kegs for a year or more, so some extra space for reserve kegs in your fridge is a good thing.

Some people don’t like the idea of an extra fridge because they think there’s a high electricity cost. That’s only true for refrigerators over 25 years old. Any fridge made this century is an energy-efficient model that will add $6/month. Older models from 15-25 years ago might burn through $10/month. The Energy Star website has a fridge energy cost calculator.

Keg layout

Best choice: a bottom-freezer fridge w/ room for 6+ soda kegs.

Best choice: a bottom-freezer fridge w/ room for 6+ corny kegs.

Figure out how many corny kegs will fit in your fridge. Take out all unnecessary bins, shelves, etc. Keep the fridge door bins if you can, since it’s nice to have storage for some bottled beer too. The door needs to close, so adjust your depth measurement for that. The plastic floor of your fridge is not meant for 50-lb point loads as you roll kegs around, so make a plywood floor insert to distribute the keg weight.

There are two types of corny keg connections: ball- & pin-lock. They’re equally good but the kegs are slightly different dimensions:
Keg couplers

  • Ball-lock: 8.5″ diameter, 25.75″ tall w/ couplers
  • Pin-lock: 9″ diameter, 24″ tall w/ couplers

That minor difference can matter if space in your keg fridge is tight. Pin-lock kegs by themselves are shorter, but their couplers are taller. You can get a pin-lock keg down to 23.5″ tall (again, with couplers) using a ball-lock conversion kit.

Tap layout

Figure out how many taps you want, & the best place to locate them: the side, or the door. Few things to consider here…

Locating the taps on the sides:

  • Coolant tubes. Find out where the coolant tubes are by running the fridge with the door open for a bit. Condensation will form on the interior walls showing you where the tubes are. On most fridges, the tubes are only in the back of the fridge & the sides are just foam, meaning you can put your taps pretty much anywhere. That said, don’t mess up. Hitting a coolant tube will instantly ruin your fridge.
  • The taps will extend into the fridge compartment by an inch or two, so make sure there’s still room for your keg layout. If space is tight, the best place could be for the taps to go on the fridge door in between the bins.
  • Determine where you’ll be drilling through on the inside & then mark the layout on the outside, or vice versa. Especially for taps located toward the back of the fridge, make sure you’ll be drilling into the fridge compartment & not into the radiator space.

Locating the taps on the fridge door:

  • Fridge door link for long tap handles.

    Fridge door link for long tap handles.

    If you have a top-freezer fridge, either make a fridge door link (see photo) or locate the taps low enough on the fridge door so there’s enough room to open the freezer without hitting the tap handles. Short tap handles extend 5″ from the center of the tap holes to the top of the tap handle. Long tap handles can extend upwards of 12-18″, so in terms of pour height, long taps work better located on the sides of the fridge, or use the door link. For a bottom-freezer fridge, tap handle height isn’t a problem.

  • Open the fridge door to see what you’ll be drilling through on the inside.

Regardless of the tap locations, you’ll need a flat or mostly flat surface on the inside of about 1.5″ diameter to tighten down each tap shank nut, which keeps your taps from spinning.

Tap details

Who knows, you might get this tap handle someday?

Next, tap shank length. The shank goes from the outside of the fridge to the inside. The tap faucet should stick out from the fridge so the tap handle (especially tall ones) can tilt back closed without hitting the fridge. I’d recommend getting at least 5″ long tap shanks. Whether or not you end up using long taps, it’s nice to have some space around tap handles, & it’s easy to make a wood spacer. More on that later.

For horizontal tap spacing, I’d wouldn’t go tighter than 3″ on center. Consider the available width on your fridge, your drip tray width, & future tap expansion plans. If you’re not ready to not put in your maximum number of taps right away, with tap spacing over 6″ apart, you can always add a tap in between later on.

Drip trays

There are two types, drain hole & no drain hole. Trays with a hole have to drain somewhere, like into a bucket — get these if your pouring style is to dump the first foamy half-pint down the drain. Drain trays are also good for amateur guest pourers who frequently overfill. Be warned though — with either style, mold will grow after a few weeks, & it stinks. No drain means limited spill capacity, & you’ll need to rinse it out more often — not necessarily a bad thing — and it looks cleaner, less like a science project.

Trays are available starting at 6″ wide & go up from there. Tap faucet spouts extend down a couple inches, so to fit most beer glasses, plan on locating the drip tray top at least 9″ below the tap holes’ center line … 12″ below is pretty common.

Minor detail: the drip trays will need to be mounted out from the fridge wall the same distance as the wood spacer you make for the taps.

No gaugesA caveat for beer super-snobs

This setup assumes you’re good with keeping your beers at one common pressure. Most beer drinkers are okay with this. If you seriously need your beers kept at simultaneously different pressures, this setup is not for you.

I’m buying what now?

Here’s the shopping list. Don’t get overwhelmed. You save $1 with each beer you drink! IMPORTANT: Kegs & couplers linked below are ball-lock.

  • CO2 tank – $65 for 5-gal tank (empty), or rent from your local homebrew shop.
  • Dual-pressure regulator (60 PSI max) w/ shutoff & check valves – $103
  • 4-way manifold with shutoff & check valves – $50 (less & more valves available)
  • Drip tray – $24 for 6″ no drain wall-mount, or $24 or $16 for a 19″ no drain stainless that requires shelf or glue mount. eBay, MoreBeer.com & BeverageFactory.com are good sources for more drip trays.
  • D-style keg coupler – $26
  • Air tubing, 12′ of clear 5/16″ ID – $10
  • Beer tubing, 100′ of clear 3/16″ ID – $55 – each tap requires ~15′, & with this large roll you can just replace tubing rather than using strong chemical beer line cleaners.
  • Beer line (5′) with ball-lock coupler & party tap – $14
  • Beer line tail piece fitting – $3
  • Quick disconnect set – $15 each, get two
  • Male quick disconnect – $7 each, get two
  • 11 hose clamps (1/4″ to 5/8″ range) – $4 for a 10-pack. Get two packs since you’ll need more for your taps – see below.
  • Spray bottle – $3
  • Sanitizer, 32oz – $16 for iodine-based or $24 for acid-based Star San
  • PBW cleaner, 1lb – $9
  • Keg lube – $5
  • O-ring kit for corny kegs – $3 – just in case.

If you aren’t putting in your maximum possible number of taps right away, get a manifold with more valves than you might use at first. This makes future expansion easy, & just leave the extra valves shut off. With a 4-valve manifold you can have 4 beer taps with a shared line for keg transfers, or 3 beer taps plus a dedicated transfer line. Also, most manifolds have a pass-through port on the end so you can always add another manifold later on.

For each tap, you’ll need:

A new keg. So pretty.

A new keg. My precious.

  • Ball-lock corny keg – $120 new, or ~$60 (used) on eBay, or try Craigslist.
  • Perlick 630SS stainless tap faucet – $40
  • 5″ stainless tap shank w/ nipple assembly – $22
  • Air tubing assembly (5/16″ ID clear) w/ ball-lock air coupler & hose clamps – $9
  • Ball-lock beer coupler – $5
  • 2 hose clamps (for beer line)
  • Tap handle – $2 for a plastic handle, or the sky is the limit on eBay, buy them direct from your favorite breweries, or make your own.

The new kegs from MoreBeer.com are amazing, made in Italy & shipping is free! Granted you can save a lot with used kegs, but be prepared to deal with cleaning soda syrup residue, leaky O-rings & other light keg maintenance — no big deal & O-rings are cheap, but used kegs are just not as easy, or as shiny.

If you need to cut costs, you can find a chrome-plated tap & shank combo for half the price of stainless, like this one (2 taps with 2 shanks for $57).

Kegerator Beer Taps

Side taps. The wood spacer allows for taller tap handles.

The 5″ tap shanks are likely much longer than necessary to get through your fridge wall, so you’ll need to make a wood spacer for the outside of the fridge. The benefit is you can use long tap handles — the spacer creates enough room so the tap handles can reach shut-off position without hitting the fridge. Cut & stack thin boards together until you get the thickness you need. Hardwood scraps work great, especially flooring, or pine 1x4s. If you don’t want the option of using fun long tap handles (what’s wrong with you!), get shorter shanks — whatever length is just long enough to get through your fridge wall.

A 5-gallon CO2 tank should last around 6 months, depending on how much you drink. I usually go through something like 2 half-barrel keg transfers & serve 4 kegs of beer & 4 kegs of seltzer. Seltzer is at a higher pressure, so it takes more CO2 per keg. Eventually consider getting a spare CO2 tank, because it sucks when you run out & can’t pour beer.

Get the hole saw set. Works much better than ruining spade bits.

Tools required

  • Saw (for wood – jigsaw, handsaw, etc)
  • Knife
  • Power drill
  • Tape measure
  • Crescent wrench
  • Regular screwdriver
  • 3/4″ & 1″ hole saws – $13 for a 13-piece set
  • Tap wrench – $3
  • Round metal file (optional)

When pushing beer or air tubing onto a barbed fitting, first dunk the tubing in a cup of very hot water for a minute or two to soften the tubing. Otherwise it’s basically impossible.

Setting up the CO2

  1. Get your CO2 tank filled at your local homebrew supply, welding supply, etc.
  2. Determine a good place for the CO2 tank outside the fridge & make a bracket or strap for it so it can’t fall over. Also decide where to put the air manifold, probably outside the fridge again. Mounting it on a board makes things easy. If you do put the manifold inside the fridge, that means less drilling (only requires 1 hole for the CO2 supply hose) but definitely put the manifold in front near the door, not behind any kegs.
  3. Screw the regulator onto the CO2 tank. It’s a rubber gasket, so don’t overtighten & don’t use teflon tape. Close the inline shutoff valves below the regulators, then open the main tank valve. Turn the pressure adjustment knobs on each regulator to set one at ~12 PSI (beer), & the other at ~40 PSI (seltzer). If you turn a knob to decrease pressure, bleed off the excess by opening the inline shutoffs very briefly to bleed off the excess pressure & see the reading change.
  4. CO2 manifold shutoff valves

    CO2 tanks & manifold with shutoff valves.

    Cut & use ~3′ from the 12′ of air tubing, & run it from the CO2 regulator you set at 12 PSI to the air manifold’s supply end. Save the other ~9′ for the CO2 supply to the D-style coupler for keg transfers.
  5. Find a good spot for the air hoses for each tap to pass into the fridge, where hoses won’t get in the way of your keg layout. Drill holes for the air hoses. Don’t hit any coolant lines. Use a 5/8″ drill bit or hole saw, or a 3/4″ hole saw. 3/4″ is larger than the air tubing, but it won’t matter after you seal them. Dull any razor-sharp edges with a metal file or screwdriver.
  6. Run air hoses for each tap through the holes you drilled. These air lines run from the manifold valves for as many beer taps you’re putting in, & also one air line directly from the seltzer regulator. Tape the ends of the hoses as you push them through so you don’t get fridge foam crud in them. Seal around the holes with silicon sealant.
  7. Cut air hoses to an appropriate length, & attach the air couplers to the hose ends inside the fridge (if they didn’t come preassembled) — just don’t make the air tubing too short. The air couplers are harder to push onto the kegs once the air lines & kegs are pressurized. If vertical space is tight, leave enough tubing so you can push couplers onto kegs just outside the fridge where it’s easy & then set the kegs back into the fridge. Label the air hoses #1 #2 etc at the valve end & also at the coupler end.
  8. Check for leaks — pressurize the system with the regulator & manifold valves open, then turn off the tank valve & check the pressure gauge after ~15 minutes. It should not read zero.

If you have a leak, spray soapy water on all the CO2 fittings. Try around the regulators first since that’s high-pressure, especially the threaded metal fittings on the regulators & manifold. Carbon dioxideIf threaded fittings are leaking, try tightening them & if that doesn’t work, you’ll need to take them apart, clean off the old teflon tape, wrap on new teflon tape & retighten. Also repeat the pressure test with the manifold valves closed. If that fixes the leak, it’s either the check valves directly below the shutoff valves (retighten or re-teflon & tighten), or the keg couplers are leaking around the pin that’s up inside the coupler. That’s fine since they will be on beer kegs, & what matters is the O-ring seal on the keg poppet. Remember to shut off manifold valves for any CO2 supply lines you aren’t using.

If you have an extra valve at the manifold that you’re not using for beer taps, save it for a dedicated air line to the D-style coupler for transfers — that one doesn’t go into the fridge. Or if you’d rather use all your manifold outlets for taps, that’s okay — you’ll set up one tap air line as a dual-purpose keg transfer air line, using a quick disconnect. More on that later.

Setting up the taps

Shiny Perlick taps.

So pretty. So shiny. So much potential.

  1. Drill your tap holes. A few simple words, but such a big step. There are many things to consider here … intrusion into your keg layout, faucet spacing, pour height, tap handle clearance, drip tray … By now you’ve worked all this out, right? Right. Once again, don’t hit any fridge coolant lines. Use the 1″ hole saw. Or you can use (ruin) a 1″ spade bit, but it’s not pretty. The tap shanks are actually 7/8″ diameter but if you drill the holes at 1″, you’ll have less trouble getting the faucets aligned nicely.
  2. Install the tap shanks through the holes. They should extend into the fridge interior as little as possible — which means creating a wood spacer for the outside of your fridge & drilling the tap shank holes through that as well. This will help get the taps away from your fridge enough so you’ll have room for long tap handles. Tighten the shank nuts.
  3. Put the taps on! Use the tap spanner wrench. If you didn’t get one, use vice grips with leather or thick cloth pieces in the jaws so it doesn’t scratch your precious shiny taps. Don’t overtighten.
  4. Coil your beer tubing so it doesn't turn into a giant unruly mess.

    Coil your beer tubing or it’s a giant unruly mess.

  5. Cut your beer tubing to length. There’s a whole science devoted to determining beer line length to get the correct PSI at the tap, which affects foam. Ignore anything that says 3/16″ tubing drops 2-3 PSI per foot — it’s not a linear equation & far more complicated than that. Plan on 12-15′ of beer tubing per tap or if you want to get exact about it, smart physics-PhD-type people have you covered.
  6. Connect your beer tubing from the tap shanks to your (beer) keg couplers.

Setting up the transfer system

The finished product.

The transfer system (short air hose for photo purposes only).

American beers typically come in kegs with a Sankey “D”-system valve. To transfer it you’ll need a beer line that goes from a D-style coupler to a corny keg coupler. You’ll also need a CO2 line to the D-style coupler, either directly from the manifold, or you can set up a dual-purpose CO2 supply using one of the tap air lines. Either way, use the leftover 9′ section of air tubing — it’s probably longer than you need but you can cut it down once you figure out what length is convenient.

    1. If you are going with a dedicated air transfer valve from the manifold, attach the 9′ air hose on to the manifold valve. Cut the air hose a few inches away & install a quick disconnect where you made the cut, with the female end toward the manifold & the male end on the long section of hose.
    2. If you’re dual-purposing a tap air line as the transfer air supply, cut one of the 5′ air line assemblies about a foot from the keg coupler end. Put a quick disconnect on that, with the female end toward the manifold & the male end toward the keg coupler. Then put a male quick disconnect on the 9′ section of air hose.
  1. Attach the other end of the 9′ air hose to the D-style coupler to the barbed fitting, usually labelled “GAS IN”, that’s at an angle.
  2. Take your “Beer line with ball-lock coupler & party tap” & cut the line in half. Remove the beer tubing on the party tap end & save it for the next step — even at 5′ length, it’s far too short to prevent foam. Instead, cut ~12′ of beer line from your bulk roll & put that onto the party tap instead. Put male quick disconnects on both the party tap hose & the keg coupler hose.
  3. Take the short leftover beer line from the last step & attach one end to the D-style coupler using the beer line tail piece fitting, & put a female quick disconnect on the other end.

Sanitize your kegs

If your kegs are really dirty, scrub with dish soap & rinse. For used kegs, you may also need to take off the poppets with a socket wrench to clean them too (search YouTube for help). Add cleaner per the instructions on the container & let sit. This can take 24 hours with some cleaners. Rinse when done. Lube the gaskets with keg lube.

Mix appropriate amounts of sanitizer & shake for an appropriate amount of time. I do about 2 minutes but read the instructions. I prefer iodine-based sanitizer because it’s very effective but not harmful chemicals. Some people prefer Star San. To each his own.

Pro tip: Do not spray sanitizer in your eyes.

Pro tip: Do not spray sanitizer in your eyes.

Do sanitizing with the keg slightly pressurized — hot tap water will heat up the air inside the keg & usually does the trick, or add a bit of CO2 — that lets you run sanitizer out the IN (with keg upside down) & OUT (keg upright) poppets by pushing the pin down with a highly technical tool, like a fork. Do not spray sanitizer in your eyes. Run some through the pressure relief valve (keg upside down) too.

Most people don’t open their kegs after the sanitizer step, & both Star San & iodine-based sanitizers don’t need a rinse — read the labels. Watch YouTube videos if you need more help. Don’t leave the keg open if you rinse it, so bacteria & other contaminants can’t get in.

Partially pressurize your empty sterilized keg, but not all the way or you’ll waste a lot of CO2. This will help you check the seals & also slows down the beer as it starts transferring, which prevents foaming.

Last step is to mix up some sanitizer solution in a spray bottle. Spray all the couplings & keg poppets.

Do whatever it takes to get the keg home safely.

Do whatever it takes to get the keg home safely.

The first beer transfer

Get a half-barrel keg. Treat it like a sleeping baby, no shaking, bumping or dropping it. That creates foam, ENEMY OF BEER. Also, keep it cold, because again with the foam.

Ready for a drink? Okay, but pay attention here because the order matters. Do it wrong & the beer can backflow up the air line.

  1. Clean the half-barrel keg’s D-fitting with your sanitizer spray bottle.
  2. Connect your CO2 supply line to the D-coupler.
  3. Turn on the air valve at the manifold — either the dedicated line, or the dual-purpose tap line depending on how you set it up.
  4. Connect the D-coupler to the party tap — press the quick disconnect until it clicks. Make sure the party tap is closed. If it’s open, beer will start pouring out in the next step.
  5. Connect the D-coupler to the half-barrel keg — twist clockwise until it stops (turn firmly but not hard), then push down the handle until it clicks.

Cheers. Nice work.

Pour off a pint or two. Cheers. The half-barrel is 15.5 gallons & 3 corny kegs fit 15 gallons. So you have at least 4 pints to drink, or store in a growler if you must.

Okay, ready for the keg transfer.

  1. Disconnect the party tap from the D-coupler, & connect the ball-lock coupler. Have some paper towels handy, because the quick disconnects will drip a bit.
  2. Connect the ball lock coupler to your sanitized keg’s OUT poppet.

Beer will start flowing from the half-barrel keg to your corny keg, backfeeding down the OUT tube into the bottom of your keg. Every few minutes, pull the pressure relief valve for a second or two, not too much or the beer will foam & filling your keg full will take MUCH longer. Keep going until foam starts shooting out the relief valve when you pull it.

Get a bathroom scale & put the keg on it. When it hits ~51.5 lbs, it’s full. Anything less & you need to wait 20-30 minutes. This is an excellent time to have another pint, & start filling another keg. By then the foam will settle & you can try topping it off more.

Eventually you’ll hear the bubbling sound of your half-barrel keg going empty.

Clean up

  1. Sterile areaRemove the D-coupler from the half-barrel keg & the corny keg coupler from the corny keg.
  2. Disconnect the transfer air & beer lines at the quick disconnects.
  3. Connect the party tap to the D-coupler & open the party tap to bleed off the residual pressure in the beer line.
  4. With the party tap still open, push the D-coupler handle down, turn it upside down & run tap water through the D-coupler & out the party tap, then run some sanitizer solution through it, then drain it.
  5. Disconnect the party tap & attach the ball-lock coupler. Push in the bottom of the ball-lock coupler — this can be a little hard — use the sanitized head of a small screwdriver. Run more water & sanitizer through the D-coupler, & drain the lines again.
  6. Put the whole transfer setup away somewhere clean, ready for your next keg transfer.
  7. Tag your corny kegs with the beer details & transfer date.



Final beer setup

Make sure your air lines are pressurized. Connect your CO2 & beer lines to the kegs you’re tapping (close taps first) & put everything into the fridge. Check for beer leaks & make sure the fridge door shuts all the way. Pour beer out the taps. Drink. Be merry. Have parties. Enjoy your awesome new beer drinking experience.

Check for beer leaks again in a few hours, just in case.

ONLY CONNECT A CO2 LINE TO A KEG WITH THE MANIFOLD VALVE SWITCHED ON, SO THE CO2 LINE IS PRESSURIZED. Better yet, connect the liquid line first & pour a glass, then connect the pressurized CO2 line.  Kegs can build up pressure while sitting. Pouring off beer before hooking up the CO2 reduces keg pressure & prevents backflow up the air line. Some keg couplers don’t have an integrated check valve (backflow preventer). Even when they do, they don’t always work.


What about the seltzer?

Oh, right. The seltzer. Fill a sanitized keg with tap water. Hook up your 40 PSI CO2 line, shake the keg for 10 minutes, & put it in the fridge. Come back & start drinking seltzer in a few days. For faster carbonation, get a carbonation stone ($6).


Go buy a 6-pack.

I’m bored, what else can I do?

Build a keezer. It’s a kegerator made from a chest freezer. More room for more kegs!

Already own a kegerator & just want to add a second seltzer regulator?

1/4" MPT regulator coupler LHTGet another primary regulator ($55) that can handle up to 60 PSI & has a shutoff AND a check valve. Then buy a 1/4″ MPT LHT coupler ($5) or if that’s out of stock, try here. This setup works better than secondary regulators with no chance for cross contamination.

Threading info on the regulator housing.

Threading info on the regulator housing.

The LHT (left-hand thread) adapter will handle the typical CO2 regulator thread setup. Check your regulator threads to be sure — check the housing, or you can tell by looking at it: which way would something twist when being screwed in? Clockwise = RHT, Counterclockwise = LHT.

Remove the pressure gauge from your old regulator & remove the tank inlet from your new regulator. Thread the two regulators together using the adapter with teflon tape. Set the new regulator at 40 PSI, clean & fill a keg with water, hook it up to your seltzer CO2 line, shake the keg for 10 minutes to give it a head start, & wait a few days for full seltzer carbonation. For faster carbonation, get a carbonation stone ($6).

Heavy Duty Solar Powered Automatic Chicken Coop Door

UDPATE AUGUST 2016: I’ve redesigned this automatic coop door so that one timer controls opening & one timer controls closing. See this blog post. Note that the parts list changes a bit with this new automatic coop door design.

Fox and baby chickenWhen we first got our chickens, each night I’d walk up to the coop & close them in. That worked great until the night I’d fall asleep putting our 3 kids to bed, or start watching a late-night movie, & suddenly OOOOHH SHIT, THE CHICKENS!!! …followed by a guilty run to the coop, wondering if I was about to find sleepy hens or a poultry massacre.

Chickens are a tasty snack for lots of predators. It’s a tough spot in the food chain. Locally we have raccoons, possums, weasels, foxes, coyotes, neighborhood dogs, hawks, eagles, owls… my friend Chris who loves fried chicken a little too much… Raccoons at night were my main concern.

A few months of this started to feel like Russian roulette. Like so many other pet chicken owners, I decided to try building an automatic chicken coop door.

On Youtube there are plenty of automatic chicken coop doors that use string to raise/lower a guillotine-style door, sliding vertically in a track. It’s a safe design — it won’t kill chickens if one gets in the way while closing — but I was worried the door would get jammed from ice & snow.

I wanted something with a direct drive to use with a door that swung up on hinges to open. Here’s what I ended up using:

  • 12V linear actuator, 8″ extension, IP65 rated w/ built-in limit switches & mounting brackets: ~$55
  • (2) 12V programmable digital timers: $5 each
  • automatic chicken coop door12V DPDT relay w/ base: $3 **SEE UPDATED RELAY METHOD HERE
  • Wiring, inline fuse holder/fuse, terminals: $6

A/C dedicated power option:

  • 12V 6-amp power adapter: $7

A/C with power outage protection:

  • 12V 7-amp battery: $17
  • battery maintainer: $20

D/C solar power option:

  • 12V 7-amp battery: $17
  • Low-watt solar panel: $32
  • 12V solar charge controller: $16 (optional)

Total cost: $81 dedicated A/C, $111 A/C battery backup, or $123 solar D/C ($138 w/ charge controller)

Linear actuators use a small motor to move an extendable/retractable arm. The arm moves very slowly with 50 to 200 pounds of force. Get one with built-in limit switches & an IP65 rating so dust/water/ice/snow is no problem — pretty great for chicken coops. There are various lengths for the arm travel distance. I got the 8″ model & it takes about 20 seconds to extend/retract the arm … plenty of time for chickens to move out of the way. Small 12V actuators like these usually have a rating of around ~5 amps, so make sure to use a relay, fuse & wiring that’s appropriate. Also make sure the actuator comes with mounting brackets, or you’ll need to come up with something.

Typically, actuators with higher force ratings mean slower movement. Same goes for the arm extension length — longer extension means your door closes more slowly — more time for chickens to get out of the way.

Next, how to power it. If your coop is near A/C power, you could use a 12V power supply instead of the battery/solar panel. Just make sure the power supply is rated for enough amps to reliably drive the linear actuator motor. Better yet, use a 12V battery permanently hooked up to a battery maintainer & you won’t ever have to worry about power outages.

Our coop is on wheels & we move it around our field far away from A/C power, so I needed it to be self-powered. Linear actuators only draw a few amps so a small 12V battery will do the trick — I had an old one lying around that wouldn’t start the lawn mower anymore, but worked great for the coop door.

Solar panelTo recharge the battery, I used a small 1.25-watt 12V solar panel. Since the panel’s power output is so low, it acts as a trickle charger, & that way you may not need a solar charge controller as long as the panel is in direct sunlight for most of the day. I’d still recommend a charge controller to make sure the panel doesn’t have a net drain effect on the battery in winter or other low-light conditions.

Last challenge was for the door to open in the morning & close in the evening. I went with a simple setup with very low power draw: two programmable 12V timers.


The first timer (the “power timer”) switches on twice a day for 1 minute each to provide power to the actuator. The second timer (the “reversing timer”) energizes a DPDT relay concurrently during one of the power timer events to reverse polarity to the actuator. That opens & closes the coop door.

The last piece is a 12V DPDT relay wired as an H-bridge. This relay has 4 sets of +/- pins: normally closed (NC), normally open (NO), common, & coil. The coil switches the common between the NC pins to the NO pins. For the H-bridge setup:

  • connect your power source (+/-) to the timers’ power inputs. Fuse on the (+) wire.
  • both timers: jump power (+) over to the 1st switch pin.
  • power timer: connect 2nd switch pin (+) to a NC pin on the relay.
  • jump that same NC pin (+) to a NO pin, but with opposite polarity.
  • reversing timer: connect 2nd switch pin (+) to a coil pin (doesn’t matter which one).
  • connect the linear actuator (+/-) to the common pins.
  • connect ground (-) to the remaining open pins on NC, NO, & coil.

If when you’re all done the actuator operates the opposite from what you want, just flip the actuator’s connections to the relay’s common pins.

Automatic chicken coop door wiring diagram


Next, program the timers so their clocks are set identically. Let them sit for a few days & figure out which timer is faster than the other. Use the faster timer for the reversing timer.

Power timer: set for two daily events (morning & night) of 1 minute each. For example, 6:30AM- 6:31AM and 9:00PM – 9:01PM.

Reversing timer: set to run concurrently with the morning power timer event, so it comes on sooner & stays on longer than the power timer. For example, 6:30AM – 6:35AM. I prefer the morning run so if anything goes wrong it only means the door won’t open (no big deal).

Whenever you change the time, make sure the reversing timer is always just a bit ahead. This way you can have the morning event start at the same time on both timers.


Check the timers after a month. I was surprised to find my timers get about 20 seconds off from each other. To compensate, I set my reversing timer event to stay on for 5 minutes — energizing the relay coil is a very minor drain on the battery. That way my system can run for over a year before I’d have to resync the timer clocks. I change the timer settings 3-4 times a year anyway, to adjust for daylight.

Here’s the whole system in action:

UPDATE: In the video I mention mypushcart.com as a good source for the actuator, but they don’t include mounting brackets. Lately you can find IP65-rated actuators on eBay with mounting brackets included for the same $60 price, with free shipping.

Electrified Raccoon-Proof Bird Feeder

Fence Charger Bird Feeder

Okay so not quite 20,000 volts, but it’s a nice zap that makes raccoons want to get away, very fast.

One night last spring, a pack of raccoons broke into our basement & ate our baby chickens. I discovered the grisly murders at 1AM. Chicken leg stumps in pools of blood. Dripping red arcs spattered across our chest freezer. Feathers & raccoon paw tracks everywhere. A scene straight out of CSI: Hobby Farm. I spent the next 4 hours cleaning like Winston Wolf in Pulp Fiction.

Since then I’ve been on a personal vendetta to remove food sources, as the best way to discourage the cute little killers from living anywhere close by. I double-walled our compost bin with hardware cloth & ultra-secured the trash can. It wasn’t enough. They started eating the sunflower seeds from our bird feeders. Well played, raccoons.

For awhile I took the bird feeders in at night, but then the early morning birds miss out, all because of the evil raccoons. Can’t have that.

Enter the small-animal-safe electrified bird feeder.

For an electrified bird feeder to work, there needs to be a “live” part that’s energized by the fence charger, & another part that’s the “ground”. The live section needs to be electrically insulated from the ground, so the electricity goes nowhere while there are no raccoons around. When the animal touches the live & ground at the same time, they complete the circuit & feel shocked.

Here's the idea. The racoon touches the live wire stretched across the railing, & the metal pole of the bird feeder is grounded. ZAP.

OPTION #1: A length of exposed live wire runs along the railing, & the hanger is grounded.

My bird feeder hanger is mounted with screws into our railing post.

There are two ways to make this work:

  1. Ground the feeder hanger, & run an exposed live wire along the deck railing.
  2. Ground the deck railing, & make the whole feeder hanger “live”.

Bird Feeder MountI went with method #2 because the deck railing wires go flat on the railing & I liked how subtle that looked. The hard part is then the feeder hanger needs to be insulated from the deck & can’t touch the screws. I widened the mounting holes to fit short pieces of rubber (beer) tubing inside, & put the screws back through the tubing. I used a rubber spacer & flat washer on the screw head end, & a plastic spacer of 1/2″ PEX water line (which fit nicely over the beer tubing) to hold the feeder hanger away from the deck. Bird Feeder Insulated Mounting ScrewsThen I drilled another hole in the hanger & used a small bolt to attach the live wire. I ran a loop of ground wire on top of the railing with fence staples.

In hindsight, method #1 is MUCH easier. The feeder hanger doesn’t have to be changed around since it’s part of the ground — attach the ground wire behind one of the existing mounting screws. Run a short length of exposed “live” wire along the deck railing with a few insulators to keep it from touching. Pretty simple & a lot less work.

Few things to keep in mind: the fence charger isn’t waterproof so either stick it indoors or build a small box outside. The grounding rod should be within 20′ of the charger. I set up my charger just inside the cellar bulkhead & then ran the wires outside. Don’t hit anything when you set the grounding rod: sewer pipes, water lines, power conduit, large rocks…

Here’s the equipment list:

DO NOT use a charger with continuous output (not pulsed).

DO NOT use a charger with output over 0.7 joules (for livestock).

Those can kill small animals.

I used a low-power pulsed fence charger that’s specifically rated for small animals — squirrels, rabbits, raccoons, cats etc. It puts out 0.5 joules at a 1-second interval, with a 2-mile range.

Continuous-output chargers, even with low power output, are dangerous. They shock constantly, so sometimes animals can’t escape. It’s a never-ending taser — the continuous charge overpowers the animal’s muscles & eventually stops their breathing & heart. Pulsed-output chargers shock very briefly & animals have time to escape between pulses.

Some inexpensive continuous-output fence charger models to stay away from: SS-525CS, SS-725CS or EAC10A, which are branded Havaheart, FI-Shock, or Zareba. Amazon has reviews for those like “Good job keeping dogs in, KILLS kittens though” … or another one, “Kills small animals”.

Get a pulsed low-output (under 1 joule) fence charger like the Patriot model listed above. Other fence chargers will work if they have pulsed output, AND less than 1 joule. Here are some other models to consider: EA2M, EA5M, EAC5M. You’ll find these with -RS, -FS, -Z, -BL suffixes which are just the branding … Red Snap’r, Fi-Shock, Zariba, Blitzer.

The total cost is about $140.

Fix Whirlpool/Maytag Fridge Ice Buildup

Whirlpool Fridge Ice BuildupLast year we bought a shiny new Whirlpool fridge, french-door style with the bottom freezer. Eight short months later, water started leaking out the bottom of the freezer & pooling onto the floor. Apparently it had been leaking for awhile because when I pulled the fridge out, I found the water had been draining toward the back wall, quietly warping our hardwood floor. We don’t have the icemaker hooked up so it was definitely a defrost problem, caused by a little drain grommet. Thanks for nothing, Whirlpool.

Fixing the drain is easy & takes about an hour, although that’s mostly time spent watching ice melt during which you should eat all your ice cream. It’s probably 20 minutes of actual work. Here’s how to fix it — you’ll need a 1/4″ nut driver & a flat-head screwdriver. All the screws on my fridge had the slot in the top, so you could do it all with just the screwdriver.

Step 1: Don’t kill yourself. Unplug the fridge. You can wait until later but don’t forget.

Freezer DoorStep 2: Freezer door. It’s 4 screws, one in each corner. Just loosen them a few turns — don’t take the screws out entirely — it’s much easier putting the door back on when the screws are already in place. The door slides up & off.

Step 3: Lower basket. It lifts out, no tools required. Now’s a good time to start eating all your ice cream.

Drawer ScrewsStep 4: Upper basket. Remove the 2 screws at the front of the rails, then lift up the rails slightly on each side, to slide the basket forward.

Drawer Gear On the plastic pieces at the back sides of the upper basket, push in two tabs with your screwdriver on each piece & pop them up. This will let the upper basket slide out off the rails.

IcemakerStep 5: Icemaker. Remove the lower screw, then loosen or remove the two screws above the icemaker. Unplug the wire harness where it passes through the rear panel — squeeze the sides of the plug & pull. Lift the icemaker up & out. The water tube will slide out of the guide.

Center GuardThermostat GuardStep 6: Plastic guards. The thermostat guard is the skinny piece to the upper right. Push in (to the right) the tab on the left side in the middle. The guard opens like a door pivoting on the right edge, & pulls out.

The center fan guard has two tabs at the top on each end that push in toward the center, & another tab in the middle at the bottom of the guard that pops up.

Rear PlateStep 7: Freezer panel. Remove the 4 screws in each corner. Push the thermostat back through the slot at the top, & also push the icemaker plug back through its slot.

FAST/HARD WAY: Pull carefully up & out from the top middle edge. Be careful because that sucker is SHARP! The back panel will bend vertically in the middle as you remove it, but it’s flexible & will pop back into shape.

SLOW/EASY WAY: If you don’t like bending the panel around the drawer slides, you can take off the slides. The metal rails have tabs that push in to release the whole slide assembly, which pulls out forward. You only need to take the rail housings off one side — when you go to remove the rear panel, just pull that side first. To release the upper section (that you already unscrewed in Step 4), left it up, bend in & pull out — the back end has a tab through the freezer wall. The lower plastic slide housing unscrews with 4 screws.

Whirlpool Ice Buildup

Step 8: Ice Dam. By now you should see the ice problem. Typically the entire evaporator tray is completely iced, along with some of the tubing. MELT IT ALL. Warm water applied with a turkey baster works well. Be careful not to puncture the coils because … that will ruin your fridge.

Do all the ice melting while the drain is still plugged so it runs out into the freezer floor where you can sponge it up. If the meltwater goes out through the drain hole, it can flood the pan under the fridge — no big deal, just dirtier water & more mess.

Drain HoleThe drain hole is near the front of the rear tray in the middle. It’s pretty wide (1/2″) & short, only ~2 inches long. It goes straight down into a rubber “duck bill” grommet that’s probably plugged up with gunk, that you access from the back of the fridge…

Rear PanelDrain GrommetStep 9: Drain grommet. Pull out the fridge so you can access the back side. Remove the screws (6?) around the lower access panel, pop the power cord up & tilt the panel out of the way. The plastic tray under the fan is the evaporator tray — that’s where the water SHOULD normally be dripping into & evaporating from.

Behind (technically in front of) the fan, there’s a black drain slide into the tray that leads up to your plugged drain. Push the slide aside to see the drain. There’s a rubber “duck bill” grommet on the end. Pull it off & clean it — it’s no doubt plugged with gunk. Better yet, trim the opening very slightly so the hole is larger — see this site for photos.

Step 10: Put it all back together. Some tips: if you lived hard/fast & didn’t remove the rails & rail housing, getting the freezer panel back in place can be a bitch. Make sure you slide the tray rails all the way out before you start trying to put the rear panel back. Bend the panel vertically along the middle so it springs back into place on each side. Again, wear gloves. Once it’s in place, don’t forget to run the thermostat wire & icemaker tube/plug out.

When you put the the top tray back, make sure it’s all the way to the front before you pop the plastic pieces on each side back down, so the gears on each side are aligned in matching grooves. Otherwise your drawer will be crooked & probably won’t slide.

Hope this helps. I have a Whirlpool GX2FGDXVY but these steps work on other models too including Maytag etc.

Here is an excellent video of this entire process.

Convert Your Dehumidifier to Self-Draining for $30

DIY Self-Draining Humidifier ConversionWhen we bought our house, the previous owners kindly left us a dehumidifier for the basement. It’s the small inexpensive kind, 30 pints capacity (whose bright idea was it to size dehumidifiers by pints?!) which fills up in some ridiculously short interval, that probably sells a lot of 70-pint models the 2nd time around.

The problem is the collection tank. It jams easily against the side walls & fills up with water an inch from the top. Emptying without spilling half the water is an exercise in futility.

I’ve emptied it relentlessly for 4 years, waiting for the unit to fail so I could feel better about buying a new & improved & hopefully self-draining model. Come to find out the dehumidifying mechanism was designed far better than the tank & refuses to die. So the daily jammed tank spilling continued …

…until today, when I realized that I’d acquired a 12V bilge pump, old garden hoses, a programmable timer, & an overflowing box of power adapters. See where this is headed?

  1. Put bilge pump in the dehumidifier tank.
  2. Drill holes for hose to pass out of the tank at the top above the cutoff water level, & through an outside wall. Or into a floor drain if you’re lucky enough to have one. Or you could have it empty directly into your grey water line if you’re feeling bravely plumber-ish, & the vertical run isn’t too much for the bilge pump — in that case, try a slower but far more powerful diaphragm water pump instead.
  3. Attach hose to the bilge pump & run it to wherever you ended up in step 2.
  4. Find a 12-volt power adapter with an output amp rating sufficient to run the bilge pump — 1.5A for the Rule 360GPH linked below — and plug it into the timer.
  5. Set timer to run a few times a day for ~1-2 minutes each run.

Total cost is ~$30 for the bilge pump & programmable timer. Everyone has old hose & 12V power adapters. Setup time is 1/2 hour. Have one less daily annoyance! Your life will never be the same.

I used two PVC 1/2″ 90-degree elbows to help run the hose out of the dehumidifier collection tank. I used a 7/8″ spade bit for the holes, which worked great on the plastic tank — high speed, don’t push hard, just let it melt. I sealed the hose hole to the outside world with some outdoor-rated silicon sealant. An inline fuse on the positive wire to the bilge pump is a good idea. If you’re into the finished look for your wire splices, get some fancy-pants heat-shrink tubing. Your local hardware store has all this too.

IMPORTANT NOTE: I found if my dehumidifier shut off from a full tank, the bilge pump draining the tank wouldn’t reset the warning. The only way to reset the “FULL” shutoff is to physically remove & replace the tank… sad defeat for my nifty self-draining system.

The workaround is make sure the tank never gets full. There’s a popular Stanley-brand timer that only supports 1 event per day — but once-a-day draining might not be enough to keep the tank from filling up, so get a timer that supports multiple daily events like the GE-brand timer linked above.

SOME PHOTOS: You’ll see I used a 12V timer since that’s what I had lying around (so it went between the power adapter & the bilge pump), but the better way is the 120VAC timer as described above. Simpler setup, fewer splices, better power consumption, etc.


power adapter

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