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Titus Road, Powered by Honda

26 Nov

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The day after the hurricane came through, we lost power, as did the majority of Long Island. I am not among the LIPA bashers. All you had to do was drive around a little to see what they were (and still are) up against. The sheer amount of trees that fell down is mind boggling, and it seems like 75% of them fell on roads and power lines. In any event, we were without power… For a few minutes, at least.
Unlike last year’s power outage from Irene we were prepared. We got back from my brother Tim’s wedding on Saturday and got right to work prepping the house. Some of this included getting the Honda EU2000i generator hooked up to the house. A while back I had ordered a transfer interlock for our electrical panel, and had procrastinated on installing it. Obviously, the time had come. There would be no running of extension cords through cracked doors and windows this year, the entire house would be powered up by the generator. I took my amp meter and with Corinne upstairs on the phone I checked the amp draw of various lights and appliances throughout the house. Doing this enabled us to decide what we could use freely, what we could sparingly, and what we should probably avoid using. We found out that heat/ hot water system, since it runs on natural gas, was a pretty small consumer of electricity. It only needs to run the circulators, the combustion fan and the controls. Both refrigerators were also pretty low consumers, except on motor startup. The microwave, toaster oven and hair dryer were on the no-no list.
The generator we have is very small, so it does have limited capacity, but for a house with gas heat, hot water and stove we found it more than met our needs. It is my opinion that most backup generators are oversized. This really came into play when the gas shortage started and we were using about 1/6 as much gas as other people with full size generators. Most people I spoke to were reporting gas usage of 4 to 5 gallons for an 8 hour period. We were using just about 2 gallons for a 24 hour period! Most people were only using their generators in the evening due to the gas shortage and THE NOISE. Over a 6 day period we only shut our generator down 3 times, and that was to change the oil. Besides that it ran constantly for 146 hours. Due to our careful usage we were able to be extremely fuel efficient. Our refrigerator never defrosted because it had power for all but a total of maybe 3 hours. We were careful with lights we used and hand washed the dishes rather than using the dishwasher (although it could handle it). We switched from the big plasma TV to the smaller LCD, which used about 150 watts instead of about 350. Most of our frugalness was to maximize fuel efficiency and keep the generator running nice and quite. Even at its loudest, though, it is probably 1/8 as loud as a standard generator, and at its normal level on Eco mode it is super quite. You can just barely hear the hum inside the house. If any of our neighbors had their generators on, we’d have to open the window to hear our little guy.
I can now fully endorse the Honda EU2000i generator as a durable workhorse that can power our entire house if we are smart about our energy usage. It operated flawlessly for the duration of our power outage. I strongly recommend adding an hour meter to this or any generator that does not have one to keep tabs on maintenance.

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Drain Disdain

12 Aug

This was going to be a product review. The drain in our bathroom was not clogged, but it was a little slow, like if you put both faucets on full blast the drain wouldn’t keep up and the sink would start to fill and then take a while to drain down. I decided I’d try some drain cleaner since I didn’t feel like trying to snake it out. I went to our local hardware store and was recommended a product that was supposed to work very well. Here’s the picture of it from when this was supposed to be a simple product review.

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It’s called FlowEasy drain opener and it’s supposed to be more gentle than something like Drano. It’s a buffered acid which supposedly means it’s not bad for the pipes, although the precautions they suggest you take to protect the sink sort of make me think it might not be that gentle after all.
The directions ask you to pour in a certain amount, a pint in this case, and then cover the drain and wait 15 minutes (but no longer) and then rinse with cold water for 5 minutes. As soon as I put the liquid in you could tell a reaction was occurring, it is activated by contact with water. They warned me it could smell pretty strong so I opened the window, turned on the exhaust fan and closed the door while I waited the 15 minutes. I went downstairs and you could actually feel the heat in the pipes from the action of the acid. When I rinsed it out it seemed like the water was flowing great, I cleaned up and cleaned the bathroom and I was pretty pleased.
The next morning, however, I ran the sink and it started to back up. It backed up to the point that it would not drain at all. I think what happened was that some of the gunk that was dissolved by the acid finally broke loose and piled upon itself to cause a clog. I hoped maybe a little plunger work would help but all it did was push loose crud around and I was also rewarded with water shooting out the overflow. Even when I tried to cover the overflow plunging still didn’t do the trick.

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It was time to get some tools out and try to find where the clog was and hopefully dislodge it. I got a shallow pan and a cup from the recycling bin and emptied all the water I could from the sink, then I took off the P-trap to see if that contained the clog. I did a pretty good job of containing the spillage, and there was some loose particles in the trap, but nothing major. the pipe was pretty clean. I then tried to remove the tail piece where it connects to the drain in the wall, which was a tough job, but finally with a pipe wrench and the assistance of a mallet I was able to break it loose. There was not visible clog at this point either so I went and got the snake, which is just coiled flat steel with a little hook on the end to try to catch hair and other debris that might cause a clog. The fear with a snake is that once it’s in the pipes the hook might actually hook onto something solid and you won’t be able to get it back. This was not a problem for me because I couldn’t even get the snake around the first bend. The drain goes into the wall and then quickly goes to T fitting, with one pipe going down for the drain and one above going straight up for the vent line. This is a straight T fitting and the snake just did not want to go around this corner no matter what I did. It was very tempting to try to use more chemicals to break down the remaining clog but I didn’t want to get dressed down by the person I knew I’d be calling if it didn’t work.

So, I skipped that step and some aggravation and went straight to the calling an expert step. It’s a tough thing for a person like me to have to do, to admit that I couldn’t do something that seems to be within my capabilities. But, I really didn’t feel like re-builidng the entire drain system for the house, and I have a feeling Corinne might not be too pleased to be showering at the gym while I tried to figure out how to do so. I’m sure I could do it if I really wanted to, but it would probably be time consuming and messy, and I had already spent too much time monkeying around under the sink. When I talked to Deegan, the plumbers that installed our new heating system, they said they could send somebody by later that day. When he showed up he obviously was a little concerned with what I had put down the drain, but he actually seemed to condone my do it yourself effort, and gave me credit for at least trying. He brought in the power snake, which is a little more sophisticated, and work off a drill motor powered coiled snake, which is a lot more flexible than the solid spring steel.

This machine spins around to try to scrape the walls of the pipes and dig in to clogs and drive them out. Even with the big machine he still had to fight the hard turns in the pipe. He did pull out a very old toothpaste cap, which probably was helping to create a dam. After a while of trying he wasn’t sure he had gotten it but he was a hitting a point where the snake would not go any farther in so he decided to try re-assembling the drain and running some water to try it out. It flowed nicely and we even ran the tub and flushed the toilet to make sure the clog hadn’t relocated itself. It wasn’t exactly cheap to have this service performed, which is why I tried to avoid it in the first place, but the plumber did say that at least I should be reassured by the fact that even he had trouble with the big machine.

A few days later our drain still seems to be in working order so hopefully that should be it as long as we can avoid dropping caps down the drain!

The Huskee

30 May

We had our big Memorial Day weekend camping trip and the truck was filled to the roof line with camping and cooking supplies and food!

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There was lots of great food including my baby back ribs, as promised, and a 14 hour brisket by Matt.

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We even made two kinds of chicken drumsticks from a great butcher in New Hampshire.

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And of course, there were the clams, as usual. I don’t have a picture of that because I was too busy spilling a whole tray of hot wine and clam juice all over myself. Luckily I was wearing my Carhartts (which I promptly ripped off) and I was given lots of ice quickly so the burning was limited to about 15 minutes with no lasting effects, so that was fortunate, plus I managed not to drop any actual clams!

The Clams and the Ribs were both transported in frosty style in the good old Huskee Hercules “disposable” cooler.

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This cooler was purchased one day at work when we forgot a cooler and meant to be thrown out. Almost two years later it’s still kicking along and it does a great job of keeping meats and stuff cold for long periods. I think it may have better insulation value than the “real” coolers we have, and we usually reserve it for just such things, so it does not get opened up repeatedly either.
This is a very low tech cooler, but as far as styrofoam coolers go it is built like a tank, I’ve even carefully stood on it on occasion when loading the truck. The sides are very thick and it even features a deluxe packing-tape hinged lid.

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It shows the wear, of course, and I reinforced the hinge with some new packing tape, which has held up quite well for what it is made of. If you come across a Huskee and might be in the need for a cheap cooler that’s just about as good or better than a “real” cooler, I suggest you pick one up… And tell me where you got it!

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Little, Yellow, Different (Dewalt DCF885 20Volt Max* 1/4″ Impact Driver)

21 May

First off, Dewalt, you ain’t foolin’ me! The 20Volt Max* name is strictly marketing, in fact this same item, DCF885, is sold as the 18Volt in other countries; there’s a reason there’s a big * next to “Max” and it’s because the battery is rated for its max charged voltage, while the previous generation 18Volt was rated for its nominal voltage.

So, why am I writing this, anyway? What has driven me (bad pun?) to buy yet another power tool? Well, in working on the deck this weekend we ran into an issue that I thought me might run into. We kept killing batteries. I have a kit with an 18Volt drill and driver, which comes with 2 Lithium-Ion batteries and a charger. If you’re only using one of the tools it’s perfect, but as soon as you try to use both for an extended time you wind up having a dead battery and your spare is on the other tool. The efficiency of having a dedicated tool for drilling and one for driving screws is negated when you can’t use one of them because one of the batteries is on the charger. The clear solution was simple, an extra battery… or so it would seem. It turns out that the 20Volt Max* series is not an upgrade from the 18 volt, it is the next generation, and so it would seem the classic Dewalt battery mounting system that has been in use for, I’d guess, 15 years or so is being phased out slowly.

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Old vs. New Battery Mounting system

I found that replacement batteries were a little hard to come by, and expensive if you did find them. So expensive that for the price of two 18 Volt replacement batteries I realized I could get two 20Volt batteries as part of a kit with a charger and the new version of my beloved 1/4 impact driver. Now, granted I DO have a total of four tools that use the old 18Volt system, the aforementioned Drill and Driver, a jigsaw and a circular saw, all of which are great tools. But sometimes I rationalize my way into making a new purchase that seems redundant and in the end, I now have two 1/4″ impact drivers.

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What is an impact driver and why do you want one?

An impact driver differs from a drill in that it is specialized mainly for driving screws and bolts. An impact driver is much like an impact wrench that many people will equate with a NASCAR pit stop. The impact driver functions by repeatedly hammering a rotating shaft at a very fast rate, which translates into the bit turning quickly and with lots of torque. This torque is much higher than what you’d get with a standard drill with a screw bit but puts much less strain on your wrist. With a regular drill if the bit encounters resistance there is a strong twisting action that can really take you for a ride and possibly twist your arm or jam your hand into something. With the impact driver you simply pull the trigger and push down, there is very little twist feel. A regular drill will strip out most screws over 3″ or bog down before they are driven in, meanwhile an impact driver can drive in an 8″ lag bolt without pre-drilling and no wrist strain. An impact driver with a Lithium Ion Battery is significantly lighter than a comparable drill causing less fatigue, and the body is also a lot smaller, making it possible to get in much tighter spots.

One drawback is that impact drivers are LOUD, that has actually caused us to call it a day earlier than we might like because we’re afraid we’re disturbing the neighbors. An impact driver is NOT a drill, it doesn’t have a drill chuck, it only has a bit holder. Impact drivers are also very fast and strong so if you’re doing delicate work like woodworking or furniture assembly you should either use a different tool or have a very good feel for the impact driver or you will tear the wood apart. I could countersink a #10 screw all the way through the mahogany decking if I tried, it’s that strong. On that topic, there is no adjustable clutch like a drill would have, so again, not over-driving is a serious consideration when deciding whether this is the right tool for the job you’re doing.

Differences between the DCF885 (20Volt Max*) and DCF826 (18Volt)

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DCF826 Weight: 3Lbs,1.5oz

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DCF885 Weight: 2Lbs,14.5oz

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18Volt Li-ion Battery Weight: 14.75oz

20Volt Max* Battery Weight: 12.625oz

As you can see, the new version of the driver is lighter, as is its battery. At the same time the 885 spins at 2800 RPM vs the 826’s 2400 and the 885 impacts at 3200 IPM vs the 826’s 2800. Driving torque is also bumped up a bit from 1330 for the 826 to 1400 for the 885.

The battery on the 885 I have is rated at 1.5 AmpHours while the one on the 826 is rated at 1.1 AmpHours, theoretically this should translate into longer run times. It should be noted that higher capacity batteries are available for both the 826 and the 885, but at significant weight penalty in both cases.

The 826 has a single LED light under the bit that is on with the trigger, the 885 has three LEDs surrounding the bit holder that stay on for 20 seconds after you release the trigger, a neat function but it would also be nice to be able to disable that delay.

The 885 has a new bit holder that you can now just push the bit in with one hand, you still need to release the collar with your other hand to release the bit, but it is a small improvement.

There is a belt clip included with the 885, this apparently was an accessory you could add on to the 826 as I can see the threaded hole for it where the clip would go.

One thing I will miss on the 885 that the 826 featured was a spare bit holder. I would usually keep a torx bit in the chuck and a philips in the spare holder and always have the other readily on hand. This is not available on the 885, though one video showed a magnet on the side opposite of the belt clip on a European version.

So, what’s the verdict? Is newer better?

I don’t know, it’s raining and I haven’t tried it yet, and really only some solid use will show if this new version is an improvement or if they cut corners. I’ve dropped my old 12 Volt Dewalt drill off ladders numerous times and it’s still in one piece and kicking, I can only hope they are still built to the same standards as that drill while adding all this new technology. I assume any improvements over the 826 will be incremental; the slight reduction in weight and size is nice, and I’m hoping I’ll get a little more battery life out of the new one. I do like how I can keep the charger in the case and plug it in, where the old one sat sideways and had to be removed from the case to be used. Obviously this new case is just for one tool where the old one was for two, so the new case is considerably smaller.

If I run into any problems with the DCF885, you can be sure I’ll sound off about them here, until then we’ll be putting this thing through the wringer finishing off the last 1200 or so linear feet of decking we have yet to install.

Click here for update post!

Coleman Comes Through

17 May

Last year we bought a propane powered Coleman camping lantern at REI for one of our camping excursions. The first time we used it, though the glass globe cracked. At first we weren’t even sure if it was cracked or there was something on the glass but our friend “Uncle” Andy did the honors of touching it to check; it turns out it was not only cracked but also hot enough to alter finger prints. It was a painful lesson.

When we got back we went to REI to see about getting a replacement glass, and they said that while they do carry it, they were currently out of stock. Fall and winter came and the lantern with the broken glass sat forgotten in the basement. We finally have another camping trip on the horizon so I figured it would be a good idea to address this issue again.

I dug up the box and then I went online and found the Coleman customer service number, my faith in well established American companies bolstered by my recent experience with Weber barbecues. I called up and explained what had happened and that I wondered if this might be covered under warranty. The guy at Coleman listened and then replied, “Well, no that’s not normal. You certainly should not have to replace the glass on your lantern each time you use it! We stand behind our products and of course we’ll be happy to send you a new one, free of charge.”

So, after taking my information he promised it would be packed well so it we didn’t receive the next one pre-broken.
Today when I got him there was a box waiting for me with GLASS stickers all over it. Our new globe had arrived! I brought it inside, unpacked it from its bubble wrap cocoon and sure enough, it had arrived in one piece, so I got to work swapping out the globe.

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Now our little lantern is as good as new and hopefully this globe will last as long as the lantern does.

The Nest

26 Feb

In my review of the new Trane Z-wave thermostat we installed we received a comment from my friend Donavan about the new thermostat he got, called the Nest. I wrote such a thorough reply to his comment that I decided maybe it would justify a blog post of its own.

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There is no doubt that this is, as Donavan put it, a sexy looking thermostat. It was designed by two former apple product designers, and it shows. It takes cues from the classic “The Round” Honeywell thermostat and pushes it about 100 years into the future.

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The Nest claims to attempt to learn your habits and heating and cooling preferences and adapt to them. Essentially it tries to predict your needs and plan the heating schedule based on your past settings, rather than simply letting you chose a schedule in advance. This is a very unique take on a ubiquitous piece of home control that we all are familiar with in some capacity. I applaud the designers for taking a huge leap from the traditional manner of setting your heating and cooling.

My problem with the nest is that it tries to predict what you want, but if I’m going to interact with my thermostat anyway, why don’t I just TELL IT what I want? The Z wave thermostat allows me to set a program based on our expected use and then modify that while we are home or away via the thermostat or iPhone/ website. (the Nest also allows remote control over your wireless device, say if you are coming home early from work and want to turn the heat up… but the Nest will also factor that change into your schedule)
I have experienced heating and air conditioning systems that tout themselves as “automatic” in various vehicles I’ve owned or driven, and instead of it being a convenience, I find myself trying to trick the computer into doing what I want. For instance, I can not get cool air to come out the foot vents of my BMW if the ambient temperature is below a certain threshold unless I turn it all the way down to 59°, the lowest setting. So because someone at BMW could not conceive of someone having sweaty feet when it’s cool out, it’s nearly impossible for me to get what I want.
So I have found that any time a machine tries to guess you want it is usually wrong, so I decided to decide for myself what I want the temperature of my house to be instead of having to consult with my thermostat.
I made the analogy that if I went with you to subway and ordered your sandwich for you based on what you’ve ordered in the past. I will probably get you something close to what you want, but you’re right there, why didn’t I just let order for yourself and you could have gotten exactly what you wanted?
I read a review of the Nest and the reviewer basically said he spent so much time trying figure out what the Nest would do and second guessing it every time it turned the heat on that he felt it achieved the exact opposite of what it is intended to do.
I think the Nest is very cool and very cool looking, but my feeling is that the kind of person that’s willing to spend $250 to replace a $50 thermostat probably is the kind of person who wants to have full control over their HVAC system, not to give it up the algorithms built in to some tiny computer.

Trane Zwave Thermostat

23 Feb

Today I installed our new Trane TZEMT400 Z-wave enabled thermostat. You may recall that this is a replacement for the 2Gig CT-30 we originally installed.
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One of the big additional features that this thermostat has (or that the CT-30 lacks) is that it reports the set point back to the Z-wave controller. This way you can tell what the heat is set at remotely, even if it has been manually changed at the thermostat. Installation was a little more straightforward than with the CT-30, due to the more logical method of mounting a plate with wire terminals and then snapping the control on to that. This thermostat did require the installation of a “C” wire, which required replacing the original 18-2 thermostat wire with an 18-3 to gain the extra conductor. I’ll probably cover this in a separate post.
This thermostat was the easiest device to pair with Z-wave I’ve used so far, there was no button holding or mystery sequences to enter, you just scroll to “Join Z-wave network” and press OK and then it’s up to the Z-wave controller. It worked instantly, and I did a remote enrollment at full power from about 15 feet away instead of bringing the controller right next to the thermostat. It also fetched the time from the Network as well, which was a nice touch.
The thermostat has only been installed for a few hours so I can’t really comment on durability ad user friendliness but I won’t be afraid to point out quirks and shortcomings as they are discovered.

Product Review: 2Gig CT30 ZWave Thermostat

14 Feb

Following below, is pretty much word for word my amazon review of the 2Gig Technologies CT-30 Thermostat with Z-Wave.

This product is actually made by the Radio Thermostat Company of America, and is marketed under several names, such as the one mentioned above, the 3M Filtrete 3m-50 (a Wi-Fi version) and the CT30 by Radio Thermostat, it is also available as part of the Vivint Wireless Alarm System. In any event, it’s the same thermostat and it’s available 3 ways: as a standalone unit, or with different “USNAP” modules, as a Wi-Fi thermostat, and as a Z-Wave thermostat. The latter two options offer some level of remote control of your heating and/or air conditioning system. Depending on how you set it up, this can be within your home or even outside the home on the web or your wireless device. The Wi-Fi version requires a subscription to a service, I believe. (don’t hold me to that)

Overall, it is a nice thermostat. We were working through the kinks and starting to get used to it, but we woke up one day and the heat had not turned up as scheduled. The thermostat would not respond to Z-Wave commands or report back the temperature, so I knew something was up. It took about 2 hours of troubleshooting but I got it working again. Problem is, if it DOES fail when you’re away it won’t continue on its normal schedule, it will just stay at whatever setting it was left on. I don’t think this is the case, but I would be worried that it could get stuck off, which would be trouble in sub-freezing temps.

The thermostat does have a pretty cool looking touchscreen interface, but it projects off the wall a bit, and looks a bulky from the side, and being in the hallway, that’s how it is first seen. If it weren’t for the reliability issues, we’d probably put up with some of the quirks, but we are most likely going to try the Trane TZEMT400 instead, which will run off its own built in schedule if it loses Z-Wave connectivity.

the 2Gig/ Radio Thermostat CT30

My issues with the CT30:

  1. Once connected to Z-Wave, it will not run off the built-in schedule on the unit, you must schedule from Z-Wave.
  2. Unit does not report set-point temp to Z-Wave. ie: If someone changes the temp at the thermostat, the change will not be reflected in Z-Wave, it will only know the last setting that was initiated through Z-Wave. This seems to be a known, designed by choice, issue.
  3. After about a week of seemingly working fine, it began to lose contact with the Z-Wave network, and commands would not be sent to it. I changed the batteries, removed it, and re-added it a few times before it would work normally again. At that point it was not recognized as the same node, so all my scenes in Vera did not refer to it anymore, so I had to redo all the scenes.
  4. From reading the forums, it seems reliability can be spotty due to running off batteries rather than 24V power. Of course, the fact that this unit can run on batteries is one of its main selling points… What I will say about running power to this thing, (or the “C” Wire or “Common” as it’s referred to) is that the C Wire is no more than a ground back at the source of the thermostat wire. This is rarely mentioned in the all the posting about C Wires and transformers, etc., but from what I have learned, that essentially all it is. I do not have a C Wire, but I do have a Common back at the Taco SR502 that my boiler and hot water tank are hooked to, so all I have to do is pull a 3rd wire to my T-Stat and connect to the terminal labeled “COM” in the SR502 and it should work. But if it didn’t have that, I should be able to just run a wire to the metal cabinet of the boiler, furnace, or wherever the T-Stat wire originates from.
  5. I would prefer there to be a plate that mounts to the wall where you wire to and then the unit snaps into the plate. The LuxPro this replaced was like that, and is also “armchair programable” as they say. Also, the battery and wiring access covers are tricky to remove and there is no instruction on how to do so.
  6. Not knowing that the built-in schedule would be useless, I went ahead and programmed the whole thing. This was a tedious process which did not seem to function exactly as the manual says, especially the “Copy” function which did not seem to work at all.

Product Review: Tide 150oz. Liquid with Pour Spout

13 Feb

This is a review more of the dispensing bottle than the product itself, which is fine. I like to use the powder stuff with bleach (which is color safe actually, but they don’t say that anywhere on the box for some reason).

Anyway, this review is about the giant bottle with the pour spout. Are you tired of unscrewing a cap, then pouring detergent in the washing machine, then having to put the cap back on? Neither was I. The spout seems like a solution in search of a problem. All you have to do now is pull off a cap, fill it from the spout, dump the cap, and put it back on. Sounds like the same number of steps, doesn’t it? Except we’re leaving a step off, which is thoroughly rinsing the cap before replacing it so you don’t wind up with this…

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A nice sticky gooey mess on top of your dryer (in our case). After this happened a few times we dug our previous normal bottle out of the recycling bin and simply used the spout bottle to refill it.

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Of course, as Melinda and Alex can attest, even a standard bottle of Tide can cause havoc, so watch out!