Tag Archives: DIY

Picture of a pink Ikea flower shaped light for kids.

DIY Kid Wakeup Clock

Do you have a child that doesn’t quite understand that 5am isn’t an appropriate time to wakeup and come jump on Daddy? I do. Last spring, our 3 year old learned that when the sun came up, Daddy typically was also getting out of bed. That was a highly unfortunate coincidence at the time. As the spring became summer and the sun came up earlier, Daddy was woken up with “Daddy, get up – the sun is up” earlier and earlier. Things actually got worse as the days got shorter as she started waking up before the sun was up (out of habit) but then had no way to differentiate between 7am and 4am.

The quest for a simple clock she would understand started in the fall and was only satisfied about a month ago.

There are a lot of commercial options for children’s sleep clocks or children’s wakeup clocks. The problem with most is that they are really frickin’ expensive. I’m not paying >$50 for a specialty clock that doesn’t even have the actual time on it. The cheapest one I found was still $35 + shipping and was basically a light that turned on at a set time. Well shit, I can do better than that!

On a trip to Ikea, The Boss picked up a simple kids flower light for ~$10.

I then snagged a digital programmable timer for $10 from Canadian Tire.

Image of a programmable timer made by Noma

The brains of the DIY Kids Wakeup Clock

$20 later and we have a light that is programmed to turn on at the same time Daddy’s alarm clock goes off and then turn off again soon after (no need for it to stay on wasting electricity!).

Now when the 3 year old comes and jumps on me at 4am I can at least ask her if the light is on and if it wasn’t she will usually settle back down and go to sleep again. Small improvements are golden!

Oh, and I nearly forgot the best part! My $20 solution supports up to 20 on/off combinations and even supports a different wakeup time on the weekends! That’s worth way more than the $35+shipping option we had found online.

This version DIY Children’s Wakeup Clock cost a bit more than the initial one. I originally took an unused block heater timer to turn a light on and off. While it worked, it didn’t have the option of multiple programs and the light we used wasn’t that exciting from a kid’s point of view.

I think the $20 solution is pretty damn good and the best part is I can re-use both pieces once we get past this silly wakeup time issue.

DIY Time of Use Clock

Every now and then we find ourselves wondering what Time of Use period we are in. Usually this happens just as we’re getting ready to hit start on the electric clothes dryer. So I came up with an ultra simple Do it Yourself Time of Use clock. Here’s how you can make one yourself.

Taking an old wall clock, I popped off the plastic cover and made a circle out of a piece of paper that would fit inside the clock (without covering the numbers). Then I simply marked the hours along the outside edge of the paper and drew some guidelines to allow me to make the overlay. The one complication is that a wall clock is only 12 hours whereas a typical day has 24 hours (damn daylight savings time screwing stuff up twice a year!). To get around this, you simply make two sections to your overlay. In my example, I used the outer ring for AM times and the inner ring for PM times.

It’s only sort of confusing. You can see the two rings in the picture below.

Picture of a clock with colour coded sections indicating the current Time of Use period.

Quick and dirty DIY Time of Use clock. Maybe the kids will let me use markers next time.

Then I begged the kids for some markers but they said I could only use crayons so I just coloured in the appropriate sections based on the current Time of Use winter schedule. Then you just stick the overlay on top of your clock face, close it all up again, set the time and marvel at your ingenuity.

One problem I ran into was that the clock mechanism wouldn’t easily disconnect from the hands for me and I didn’t want to risk breaking the clock. To get around this, I simply cut the overlay and slipped it under the hands. A little bit of tape and it’s all good.

When the Time of Use summer season starts, I’ll just flip the overlay over, beg for crayons (or markers) again and put the summer season schedule on the other side. And that’s an Ultra simple DIY Time of Use clock to stick on the wall beside the electric clothes dryer.

Hydronic Heating Coil Sizing

As some of you may recall, I recent completed a hydronic heating coil replacement at my home. The actual replacement of my heating coil was very straight forward and easily something that the average DIYer could do themselves. Replacing a coil is simply some standard plumbing – cutting copper piping, soldering, etc. I say very easy as I managed to do it! ;)

Finding a replacement coil was the hardest part of my task as I didn’t know what I was looking for. I also didn’t know much about the heat output of a hydronic heating coil. So, first place I went to was Google where I searched for “water to air heat exchanger”. After pouring through a few links I found Heat Exchangers Online which has a fantastic table detailing hydronic heating coil dimensions as well as potential BTU output. Note, this is potential output and varies on a whole lot of factors. One of those factors is the temperature of the water you are going to be sending into the unit.

In my case, my Polaris hot water tank is set to 60°C (or 140°F). Using the table and based on my plenum size, I was looking at a 18×18 coil. That would potentially produce around 70k BTU. Now, there’s a bunch of other factors involved here. The flow rate and pressure of your water going through the coil also come into play. Note that I didn’t have to do the sizing math to figure out what coil I needed – I had a coil already that I was looking to replace. My guess was that the existing coil was capable of heating my house so a similar sized coil should also be able to heat my house.

I just tracked down the specifications for my Taco 006 Circulator Pump that is used to draw water out of my hot water tank. I’m realizing now that I’m not going to get the potential 70k BTU out of the coil as that rating is based on 12 GPM. The 006 is only capable of a maximum of 10 GPM. I should probably have a Taco 005 Circulator or Taco 008 Circulator to be able to move more water through the coil and thus increase the potential BTU output. Of course, a higher volume pump would draw more water from the hot water tank which in turn could cause it to heat the water more often thus consuming more gas.

One other thing I looked at was the output of my old electric forced air system. It has 4 electric coils, two are 5kW and two are 4.6kW for a total of 19.2kW of heating capacity. Since electric heat is 100% efficient, we can do some quick math once we know that 1kW is equal to 3432 BTU (thanks again Google). Therefore, my original electric system was capable of around 66k BTU. Good, I was in the right ball park anyways with the heating coil size I was looking at replacing.

The way my system is connected is very simple. The Polaris hot water tank has a secondary set of water inlet/outlet that you can connect for this application. Basically, my circulator pump turns on when there is a demand for heat. This draws water out of the hot water tank and pushes it through the coil. After exiting the coil, the water returns to the hot water tank where it mixes with the other water in the tank. Eventually, the Polaris will detect that the water temperature has dropped and it will perform a burn to heat the water back up. Basically, I’m not burning gas the whole time I’m heating so this should result in a reduction in the amount of gas I use.

Since this was a forced air retrofit, when there is a demand for heat, my existing 1/2hp blower also turns on. The blower will stay on as long as there is a heating demand (plus 5 or so minutes after the demand has been satisfied). I’ve read that ideally you should have your blower turn on after the circulator has run for a bit to ensure that you are going to be blowing hot air. Also, you want to have your hottest water entering at the “exit” side of the heat exchanger. For example, if your air is traveling left to right through the finned section of the coil, you should have the water entering the coils on the right hand side and exiting on the left hand side. This way, the air is heated first by the cooler water and heated last by the hottest water.

Now for the downsides of this type of heating system.

The system is slow to recover if the temperature in the house is set lower than “normal”. I bought a programmable thermostat soon after we moved in but I haven’t been able to make much use of being able to setback the temperature at night or when we aren’t home. It simply takes too long to recover the temperature to our preferred 22°C.

One other related issue is on really cold days (-25°C and below), the system can barely keep the temperature at the set point. If you leave the door open too long, the house can drop a degree or so and it will be an hour or more before it recovers. I don’t think this one only affects my heating system but it would be nice if it could recover a little faster.

The system can often lead to a lack of hot water for domestic use, especially first thing in the morning when we are taking showers. Now, this one is partially due to the heating system drawing off of the hot water tank at the same time. It’s also likely due to a malfunctioning proportioning valve (aka anti-scald thermostatic mixing valve) that I have to install on the domestic side of my hot water tank. Since I run at 60°C, that can cause serious scalding so I need to have an anti-scald valve to keep the water temperature lower. This mixes outgoing hot water with cold water coming from my supply. Obviously, in the winter here, the water is coming in at less than 10°C so the mixing valve could be part of my problem.

Finally, the biggest problem with this system is no one knows anything about it. ;) It can be a huge pain in the butt when you need to get it serviced. Last winter I had some issues with my Polaris tank and thankfully I rent the tank. The difficult part is explaining to the service tech on the phone that yes, I have no hot water but I also have no heat. One point of failure is not good. Thankfully I still have my electric coils so as long as I have power, I can heat the house.

Would I recommend this style of heating? Sort of. As a retrofit it works and it’s cheaper than installing a whole new furnace. I’m not sure if I’m really saving any money as my gas bills are roughly the same as other people I know. I’d much rather have in-floor radiant heating though and I’m seriously considering a transition of this house to radiant heating. We’ll have to replace much of our flooring in the next few years if we stay here and a retrofit to in floor radiant would be fantastic.

I’d love to hear about other people’s experience with a hydronic retrofit as well as any pointers on ways I can improve the heat output or address my issues.