Archive for the ‘Personal Life’ Category

Whole Home Humidifier

January 23, 2018 2 comments

1320352173735008201water-droplet-hi.pngDry air is very unpleasant to be in for extended periods of time. Last winter I tried to rectify the problem by using a single ultrasonic humidifier. It seemed totally inadequate, so I purchased a second higher capacity unit. I quickly became annoyed at how tedious it was to fill the reservoirs. And neither really solved my problem well. This year, I decided to install a whole home humidifier system.

Installing a Humidifier is not an easy task, and required quite a bit of knowledge of different building systems. See below for all of the work that I did, what I learned, and a list of parts.

System Selection

The most common type of whole home humidifier is a bypass humidifier, where water trickles down a special mesh pad that heated air passes over. The humidifier unit itself is quite large and must be attached to a fairly large surface area of unobstructed flat ductwork, as well as have a return/supply bypass. Unfortunately I did not have the space on either side of my furnace (cold air return, or heated air supply) to place the bypass unit.

I did quite a bit of research to find some alternatives. I selected a steam humidifier; an AprilAire 800. The AprilAire 800 is a steam generating machine which placed on a wall/support close to the hot air supply of the furnace. A steam pipe is connected from the steam generator to the ductwork. The AprilAire 800 has a replaceable canister with electrodes in it.  The unit fills the canister with water and generates steam. Periodically, the system will flush the mineral rich water out to reduce mineral buildup in the canister.

A significant benefit to a steam system is that it doesn’t need the furnace to run heat at the same time it is humidifying, it only requires air circulation.

The unit has a capacity of 34.6 gallons a day, but my configuration will be at 23.3 gallons a day. Seems the maximum capacity of a bypass unit would be about 12 gallons a day. Ultrasonic units have a capacity closer to 3 gallons a day.


Looking at any HVAC system, the largest part is usually the furnace/blower which heats and moves the air.  The air conditioning coils, which cool air, are usually hidden within duct work following the furnace. It was important not to damage the AC evaporative coils when drilling a hole and inserting the steam pipe.

Vent Stack

In order to fit the steam generator into my closet, and avoid the furnace’s gas supply line, I had to adjust the placement of the exhaust stack. I have an 80% efficiency gas furnace which requires an exhaust stack made of type B vent.  Type B vent is essentially double walled metal duct. I tied into my building’s common exhaust stack on the second floor, so I have to deal with the stack coming up from the unit below me.  The unit below me also has an 80% efficiency furnace.

My first attempt was removing the long 6 foot 5.5″ diameter section, and re-routing it with new 45 degree elbows, and smaller vent sections.  After getting the parts, and starting assembly, I discovered two things:

  1. I did not calculate the section lengths correctly.
  2. Type B vent from Amerivent is painfully difficult to work with.

Instead of buying additional type B vent parts and correcting my calculation error, I decided to rig my own system up with parts from Home Depot. The most important part of this vent stack was that it was double walled. The exhaust from the system below me needed to stay hot so that it would rise and leave the building above the 3rd floor.  And the exterior of the vent needed to remain cool so not to have any risk of fire or burns. My solution was a 6″ to 4″ reducer collar on both ends of the 5.5″ section I was taking out, and a 4″ flexible dryer vent within a 6″ flexible dryer vent as the ductwork.


I installed a Nest thermostat several years ago. I knew it had the ability to operate a humidity supply system when I started on this new humidifier project of mine, however, connecting the Nest to the AprilAire 800 was not as simple as connecting a wire to both devices. The nest can only connect to one device directly. In my situation, it was the furnace/blower/AC system. The AprilAire 800 is turned on and off by completing a circuit. The solution was to add a “common” wire from my furnace to the Nest, and then connect a relay to the common line and the asterisk connection on the Nest.  Here is the wiring diagram:

Nest W-Powered Humidifier

After connecting all the wires, the Nest detected the change, and I went through the options of how the humidifier needs controlled.  I selected that when humidity is requested, the fan should also operate.

The guided setup was pretty slick. I was even able to select what time the humidifier should NOT operate, which is nice when combined with my ComEd hourly electric supply pricing; I only run the humidifier at night when electricity is generally cheaper. If only Nest had a way to integrate the ComEd hourly price API and set an electricity price threshold for the humidifier to operate.

Power Supply

The AprilAire 800 can operate at 120 or 240 volts AC and run at 11.5 or 15 amps. It’s shipped to accept the most efficient and common configuration; 240 volts at 11.5 amps. Lucky for me, my 200 amp load center is right behind where I wanted to put my AprilAire 800, there was plenty of empty positions in the panel, and there was already an easily accessible conduit used for a whole home surge protector to run the new circuit within.  Through the research I conducted, I found 14 AWG wire was plenty for my 4 foot run of cable. One odd thing to me was that I didn’t need a neutral wire. Apparently that is how the 240 volt system works. Instead of a hot and neutral, there are two hot lines, but on different phases.

Water Supply

Almost any humidifier system on the market accepts a 1/4″ connection, which can be installed without soldering copper pipe. I was able to run a poly pipe from my HVAC closet down through my neighbor’s closet, and then into the basement. I tapped into my neighbors humidifier supply line with a tee, so there was no need to pierce another section of pipe.

One important thing I learned is this: when using compression fittings (rather than quick connect), poly pipe should use plastic sleeves, and copper should use copper sleeves. If copper is used on a poly pipe, the copper cuts into the pipe instead of compresses/seals the pipe, leading to leaks and possible 100% disconnection. I ran into both problems attempting to install my line. It’s only after significant research that I found the problem. What is most concerning is that kits sold with poly pipe frequently include all brass fittings! It’s funny to read the reviews on Home Depot’s website where most are negative, and if people are not complaining about leaking or failures, they are suggesting buying the proper plastic sleeve to prevent leaks.

The brass sleeves that came with the copper tee also had to be changed out with plastic sleeves. It wasn’t the simplest task, as the brass sleeves were somewhat “built into” the tee. Some force had to be used to remove them.


My HVAC closet already had a simple PVC drain system in place for AC condensate.  I connected to that with a new tee and even added a P trap.  I feel like such an accomplished plumber. Protecting my floor was important, the PVC cleaner and cement would easily damage the wood floor.


Installed Pictures


Fixing my Zyxel NWA1123-AC

October 6, 2017 Leave a comment

My home network is pretty advanced. I have a PFSense home-built router (based on Zotac ZBOX CI323) that connects to my modem, several smart switches (Netgear JGS524E), and 2 wireless Access Points.  The two access points are both made by Zyxel; an NWA1123-AC and an NWA1123-ACv2.  I thought it would be prudent to upgrade the firmware of both devices this week but ran into a problem.

Since both need different firmware, I first downloaded the firmware for the v2 device, and then did the v1 device.  Somehow I managed to download the NWA1121-NI firmware for the v1 device, and then applied it. As I was doing some configuration on the device, I saw I was missing the 5 Ghz settings, which lead me to figuring out I had flashed it with the wrong firmware. I thought it would be easy to revert back since I was able to go one way, but that proved wrong! The device wouldn’t accept the correct firmware.

I did some hunting around the internet, gave up quick, and submitted a technical support request.  Zyxel got back to me the following day saying I would have to RMA the device, sending it back to them, assuming it was in warranty. After some following correspondents,  it was determined that I was out of warranty/support. I turned back to the internet.

I found, on Zyxel’s website (PDF), they had directions on how to have the device pull firmware from a TFTP server before the router fully booted. However, there were some critical steps missing.

  • There’s no serial port on the AP; WHAT?
  • How do I unzip a bin file? And how do I unzip what comes out of that?
  • What software do I use to TFTP?
  • What software do I use for a terminal?

Zyxel support insisted that this KB article on their site did not apply to my AP problem, and there was no way I could recover the device without sending it in to them.

I did some more hunting and found someone over at the site posted the internal parts of the NWA1123-AC AP, as well as some serial port details. I also found a page for serial port specifics saying I needed a USB TTL adapter.  The same page had details on the pins to connect the adapter to on the AP (see: Router with serial port / header / pins). Turns out Amazon and my local MicroCenter both carried a USB to TTL adapter, for use with RaspberryPi devices. I biked over to MicroCenter, and picked one up.

Once I got home, opened up my AP, connected everything, downloaded and set up Tera Term and TFTPD64, and starting going through the KB article. I used 7zip to extract the contents of the bin file, and the contents of the subsequent file. I ended up with the files shown in the KB article, so even though 7zip said there was extra contents that wasn’t extracted, I figured I was on the right track.

Everything seemed to work great, and got my device flashed with the correct firmware! Sadly, Zyxel’s poor design required me to clear my browser cache to get the AP’s config page working correctly, but if that was the only hiccup, I wasn’t too angry, and I had been stupid enough to flash the wrong firmware on the AP in the first place.

Access Point saved from certain death!

Amazon Alexa Skill – Electric Price

July 26, 2017 3 comments


I was sick of opening up my phone to check the ComEd hourly price of electric supply, so I decided to make an Alexa app for my Amazon Echo!

It took about 2 hours. It was strange I had to set up both an Alexa skill and the AWS Lamda function, then link the two. I ended up copying most of the code from someones reference code on checking stock prices. Changed the regular expression function which found the stock price to a substring of the ComEd API returned text. Works pretty well! Only problem I’ve had is when the ComEd API is down. If it happens too much, I guess I’ll have to update it with some error handling.

Alexa Skill: Electric Price

Ask: “Alexa, ask Electric Price for Current Price.”

The logo is crap, I know.  And I couldn’t use the ComEd company name in any of the program details/functions, so its a bit generic.  But pretty good for my first try if I do say so myself!

Raspberry Pi CTA Tracker Kiosk

February 9, 2017 Leave a comment



I purchased a Raspberry Pi 3 about a year ago and finally got around to creating a fully functional CTA bus/train tracker out of it.

Parts Needed

Raspberry Pi 

Micro SDHC Cards


Cable (Cable that came with screen was defective)

Keyboard and Mouse (any will do, but I like this)

CTA Tracker URL:

Create your specific CTA Tracker URL and save it for later

Read more…

My Three Favorite Windows Add-ins

October 21, 2016 Leave a comment

I love having multiple monitors!  However, one problem with multiple monitors is that Windows doesn’t extend the task bar very well onto the second or third monitor.  It by default doesn’t extent it at all, so to select applications/windows to make active, you have to go to the other monitor.  There is an option put the same task bar on both monitors, but with that, I don’t know which program/window is on which monitor.

ZBar to the rescue. ZBar adds a task bar to the other monitor(s), and displays only the applications/windows on that monitor. It also removes the applications/windows on the primary monitor’s task bar. I love it.

WizMouse imitates a really nice MacOS feature; it makes the window under the mouse scroll when the user scrolls.  Windows by default only scrolls the active window/frame.  With WizMouse, I can scroll the list of emails in Outlook, and then move my mouse over to the preview, and scroll that, without clicking in the frame!  I can also move my mouse over an Excel document which is open in the background, and scroll it, even though the Excel window is under a bunch of other windows.  What a fantastic program!

ArsClip keeps track of my copy-paste activity and allows me to past something that I copied before the most recent copy. I’ve set mine to give me the history menu when pressing ALT+V.  The program also allows me to “paste values” with a keyboard shortcut; I’ve set mine to CTRL+SHIFT+V.  It saves me so much time!

Freezer Lightbulb

December 9, 2015 Leave a comment

I recently had to replace my freezer (KFFS20EYMS) light bulb and thought it would be an ideal time to switch to an LED bulb. I couldn’t believe how difficult it was to replace the bulb!

The bulb had no markings on it, other than the voltage and wattage. I had no way of knowing the socket size. I reviewed the manual, which was no help (it actually gave me a good laugh telling me to use the correct size, but didn’t tell me the size to use):

Not all appliance bulbs will fit your refrigerator. Be sure to
replace the bulb with an appliance bulb of the same size,
shape and wattage.

Replace the burned-out bulb with an appliance bulb(s) no
greater than 25 watts.

I contacted Whirlpool, makers of my fine KitchenAid appliance, and they couldn’t tell me the socket type, but they were more than happy to pass me on to their 3rd party parts retailer which would sell me the incandescent light bulb for way more than it was worth.

I tried a standard Candelabra bulb (size E12), but it was too small.

I took a trip to my local Home Depot; none of the bulbs there looked right.  I almost took a bulb from a floor model, but I thought I didn’t want to steel from them. So I turned, again, to the internet.

Apparently Whirlpool decided to use a non-standard light bulb socket size. From some deep digging and assumptions I guessed that the socket they used was a European socket size E14; no wonder I couldn’t find a replacement bulb at Home Depot.  Funny thing, that E14 socket is supposed to be for 220 volt European power, and this light was 120 volt. That doesn’t make any sense to me at all. What was Whrilpool thinking?

I ordered this lovely E14 to E12 adapter at amazon that would let me use any standard candelabra bulb! Problem solved.

…Now to get an LED bulb that will fit in the protective housing.

Poor general contractor: Design Build 4U Chicago

June 10, 2014 Leave a comment

I have been going though a renovation project for the past 1.5 years in Chicago IL.  The contractor, Design Build 4U Chicago, has been an absolute nightmare.  More details to come on that.

If you find this page looking for details on the following, please add yourself to this google group.

Contractor: Design Build 4U Chicago
Trade License Number: TGC028355
Owner: John Hochbaum
Vice President: Stephen M. Probst (Stephen Probst; Steve Probst)

John P. Hochbaum Jr.


Stephen Probst