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Home Repairs: Know When You Can DIY
Old 12-31-2011, 07:52 PM   #1
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Home Repairs: Know When You Can DIY

From the article:

"The savings can add up when you don't have to call a repairman, especially for things like painting, plumbing and appliance repair, said Ken Collier, editor-in-chief of The Family Handyman. "Parts are a small part of the cost. Labor is huge," he said."

http://www.usatoday.com/money/econom...terstitialskip

Funny, never heard of a voltage detector called a voltage sniffer before.
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Old 12-31-2011, 11:23 PM   #2
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Mentioned In the article:

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Avoid jobs where you could injure yourself or damage property.
Ooooh boy. Best to curl up in the middle of the floor in fetal position and suck thumb to avoid any chance of injury or property damage.

One can always injure themselves if they are a nitwit, or have no innate ability to think first. I wonder if that comment was inserted for perceived legal reasons. Or, the writer of the article is a nitwit, which I think may have a high probability.
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Old 01-01-2012, 08:33 AM   #3
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Originally Posted by easysurfer View Post
Funny, never heard of a voltage detector called a voltage sniffer before.
I hadn't either, must be one of those new-fangled gismos. Sounds like a good tool to have:

From: Electrical Inspections

"It looks like a fat ball point pen. It will make a noise or flash a light when it is near a live electrical line. You may have to go to an electrical supply company to get one. The sniffer will run about $25.00."

It probably senses the alternating magnetic field from an A/C line but that's an assumption on my part.
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Old 01-01-2012, 09:26 AM   #4
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I hadn't either, must be one of those new-fangled gismos. Sounds like a good tool to have:

From: Electrical Inspections

"It looks like a fat ball point pen. It will make a noise or flash a light when it is near a live electrical line. You may have to go to an electrical supply company to get one. The sniffer will run about $25.00."

It probably senses the alternating magnetic field from an A/C line but that's an assumption on my part.

Have a couple of those. (Got from Home Depot and Menards).

Sample of one: Non-Contact Voltage Tester-NCVT-1SEN at The Home Depot

Always better safe than sorry. I've know them as a non-contact voltage tester.
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Old 01-01-2012, 10:03 AM   #5
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Originally Posted by Walt34 View Post
I hadn't either, must be one of those new-fangled gismos. Sounds like a good tool to have:

From: Electrical Inspections

"It looks like a fat ball point pen. It will make a noise or flash a light when it is near a live electrical line. You may have to go to an electrical supply company to get one. The sniffer will run about $25.00."

It probably senses the alternating magnetic field from an A/C line but that's an assumption on my part.
They also "hide" the sniffers in screw drivers and wire strippers. I have owned one of each for several years already and never do any electrical work without them. Here is the example of a screw driver type:
Amazon.com: GB Electrical SDT-15 Circuit Alert Screwdriver Tester 6-in-1: Home Improvement
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Old 01-01-2012, 10:26 AM   #6
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For the non-contact type voltage detector, be sure its internal battery is not dead by checking against a known live/hot outlet, before using it.

The non-contact type may not be able to precisely pinpoint which wire(s) are hot in close proximity of multiple wires (hot or not) tangled/bundled together. So to be absolutely sure, I prefer to use a contact type (with high resistance resistor and neon bulb inside) to double check before any work starts. The motto here is always assume the wire is energized unless proven otherwise. A good DMM is also invaluable in any type of electrical DIY job.
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Old 01-01-2012, 12:12 PM   #7
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I've got one of these things, but it often gives a false positive light, probably due to feedback or other wires in the area. I prefer to simply put a volt meter on it to be sure.
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Old 01-01-2012, 12:21 PM   #8
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After years of doing my own repairs for my home, my rentals and my friends and family I've gotten myself to the point where I'm really really not enthusiastic about it anymore. I used to attempt anything when I was younger. A lot of that had to do with the challenge. Now that I know I can, it's just not as much fun anymore. I still do repairs, but I keep a short list of good technicians on my list of numbers. It funny though, they all know I've done the repairs in the past, so often they just encourage me on the phone to give it a try first along with very helpful hints to make the task shorter. Work becomes a chore for everyone eventually I guess.
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Old 01-01-2012, 12:38 PM   #9
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I started doing my own repairs on cars before we bought our home for cost savings alone. Then I ran into a situation where I was too busy and had to send the car out for repairs since I was out of town. Long story short I ended up having to do the repair again since it wasn't done right the first time so I now do almost all the home and auto repairs and it's worked out for us. My one complaint is I take too long, I guess that happens when most of the repairs are new to me and I don't have anyone to help other then my wife and kids. Sure does help in the savings department.
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Old 01-01-2012, 02:29 PM   #10
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This issue (doing your own home repairs) comes down to sticking with what you are good at. Every time a repairman said to me "this is pretty simple, you could have done it yourself" my reply was "I won't ask you to put together a multi-billion dollar budget submission if you don't ask me to fix a ______".

If it requires more than a screw driver, I call a professional. I can afford it, I don't enjoy doing repairs, its always more complicated than it looks, and I avoid frustration and injury.
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Old 01-01-2012, 02:37 PM   #11
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For the non-contact type voltage detector, be sure its internal battery is not dead by checking against a known live/hot outlet, before using it.
And then, if you're a truly anal cautious military nuclear engineering type, you check it against a hot outlet afterward to make sure you didn't somehow fry it on the worksite...

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After years of doing my own repairs for my home, my rentals and my friends and family I've gotten myself to the point where I'm really really not enthusiastic about it anymore. I used to attempt anything when I was younger. A lot of that had to do with the challenge. Now that I know I can, it's just not as much fun anymore.
In my case I've become painfully aware of all the things that could go wrong-- like a simple faucet leak turning into a mess when the isolation valve starts spewing the second you touch it, and then you end up shutting off water to the entire house.

Or even worse, when you shut off water to the house and then the isolation valve fails shut.

Or the water heater element catches fire at the wiring connection, and that insulation isn't as "fireproof" as you'd think.

Or you discover that the circuit breaker's been tripping because of someone else's "home wiring" job.

Or you drive that picture hook into the wall and water starts spewing out.

So I no longer do home repairs on an evening or a holiday weekend... and I won't touch bathroom faucets unless I know the isolation valve is good!
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Old 01-01-2012, 05:45 PM   #12
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Re non contact voltage detectors - these things are great for finding the dead bulb in a string of series connected Christmas lights.
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Old 01-01-2012, 05:50 PM   #13
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Or you drive that picture hook into the wall and water starts spewing out.

So I no longer do home repairs on an evening or a holiday weekend... and I won't touch bathroom faucets unless I know the isolation valve is good!
Oh yes...before moving into my present home six years ago, DW HAD to make, hum, a few changes. We had to be out of the house we sold in about two months, so a contractor friend was brought in to handle it. During the process of removing a wall, part of just a few changes, one of the workers ruptured a water line. Oh boy, was I glad it wasn't ME trying to deal with it at that point.
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Old 01-01-2012, 06:00 PM   #14
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Re non contact voltage detectors - these things are great for finding the dead bulb in a string of series connected Christmas lights.
Oh! What a great idea!

Seriously. I'm used to using the gadget on wiring, but I never made the tiny cognitive leap to try it on those damn lights.
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Old 01-01-2012, 06:32 PM   #15
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Oh! What a great idea!

Seriously. I'm used to using the gadget on wiring, but I never made the tiny cognitive leap to try it on those damn lights.
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Old 01-01-2012, 11:46 PM   #16
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Seriously. I'm used to using the gadget on wiring, but I never made the tiny cognitive leap to try it on those damn lights.
I'm just glad that I've been able to avoid using the damn lights in the first place...
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Old 01-02-2012, 10:04 PM   #17
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Re non contact voltage detectors - these things are great for finding the dead bulb in a string of series connected Christmas lights.
Are you sure that works? If it's an open circuit, there's no current flowing.
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Old 01-02-2012, 10:59 PM   #18
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Are you sure that works? If it's an open circuit, there's no current flowing.
Sure - as long as the lights are AC powered. You get capacitance coupling to the non contact voltage detectors ('sniffer').

Test light - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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These can be used on strings of mini Christmas lights to detect which bulb has failed and broken the circuit, causing the set (or a section of it) to not light. By pointing the end of the detector at the tip of each bulb, it can be determined whether it is still connected at least on one side.
-ERD50
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Old 01-02-2012, 11:20 PM   #19
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The sniffer senses the AC electric field surrounding a live wire. It uses a very high-impedance amplifier circuit to sense the 60-Hz alternating voltage by greatly amplifying the minute voltage sensed with the capacitively coupled tip or probe, when the latter is placed in the vicinity of a live wire.

Note that it senses the electric field, not the magnetic field which only exists when there is a current flowing.

Telephone men have been using a version of this for a while, to trace a particular phone wire among a bundle. This type of wire tracer employs its own signal generator, connected to the other end of the wire to be traced to provide the excitation. The signal generator is usually at a higher frequency, like a beep, or a warbled tone. The detector is a high-impedance, high-gain amplifier driving a small speaker.

In the case of the light string, the absence of the sensed AC field in the wire after a bulb means that that bulb fails to provide electrical continuity.

The sniffer uses an active circuit to amplify, therefore runs on small batteries. On the other hand, the old simple "neon bulb+resistor" detector that must be touched to the wire is all passive and needs no batteries. The small current needed to cause the little bulb to glow orange actually needs to flow through the body of the human operator down to the ground!

PS. In contrast with the sniffer, the clamped-on ammeter for measuring current senses the AC magnetic field, which is proportional to current flow.
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Old 01-03-2012, 10:37 AM   #20
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Are you sure that works? If it's an open circuit, there's no current flowing.
I'm an ME not an EE, but it works for me.
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