Wednesday, September 23, 2015

A Khaki Life: Cleaning out the dryer

If we define "green" as environmentally aware and proper and "brown" as the opposite, most people probably are living a "khaki life." I know I am.

I also know that I should try to do better. I'm not going off the grid, or buying carbon offsets for my every car ride, but I try to do a little bit in my every day life. And, honestly, I have more time than money so whatever I do to get greener will probably involve more sweat than cents.

Take this weekend. I've noticed our clothes dryer -- a GE model we bought 5 years ago -- was estimating cycles at longer and longer intervals. Used to be it would weigh the clothes and check the humidity (or whatever it does) and suggest it would take 62 minutes to dry a load of laundry. But that time was creeping up until last month each load was taking 73 minutes.

About the same time, the washing machine overflowed and I checked the manual and saw that I was supposed to clean out the filter every six months. Oops. At least I didn't wait six years.

When I was done with the washer, I checked the dryer manual for maintenance tips. There was nothing listed.

Then, on social media, one of my neighbors was asking about dryer vent clean out services. Aha!

Our dryer is positioned in our basement so that there is a fairly long vent to the exterior -- six feet up and then 20 feet out -- because of an addition the previous owners had made to the house. The output vent on the side of the house had plenty of dust and lint around it which was a good clue that there was probably a lot of lint in the venting.

Dryer lint brush
Turns out, dryer vents are just tubes stuck into one another like the extending attachments on a vacuum cleaner, with one crimped end that fits snugly into the wider opposite end of the next piece. So, armed with a lint brush I bought from Sears, a stick, a bucket and a vacuum, I cleaned out my dryer vent.

Each section of the vent is less than 2 feet long so after taking the sections apart, I stood a section up inside the bucket, scrubbed the sides with the brush and then scraped at any loose bits with the stick. I even stuck my arm in to flail my fingers about a bit, but that was not very effective and I was afraid the metal edges might cut me. I tried to get most of the dust and lint I removed to fall into the bucket, but anything I missed was vacuumed up.

The last step was to disconnect the vent hose from the back of the dryer. Have you ever tried to move a dryer? Surprisingly light!

There was a ring securing the hose to the dryer and I should have loosened the ring with a screwdriver (lefty loose-y) but instead, when I pulled the dryer away from the wall the hose popped off by mistake.

Well, it was off anyway, so I cleaned out the lint from the back of the dryer and from the hose. That was a satisfying job. I then pushed the dryer half way back, deposited a skinny 11 year old girl behind the dryer and made her affix the hose back to the dryer (right-y tight-y) before I would pull her back out.

Daughter retrieved, dryer back in position, I set the machine to a short "fluff" cycle just to make sure there weren't major leaks in the venting system. It all checked out!

Then I did some laundry. When the load went into the dryer, I set it up and the machine estimated drying time to be: 43 minutes. That's quite a bit of difference!

Now, not everyone has an extra long dryer vent that has not been cleaned out in 5 or more years, but the point is that regularly maintaining our appliances will improve their efficiency. Which reminds me: those coils under the fridge need to be vacuumed, the radiators need to be cleaned... there's lots to do.

Let me know if you have any regular maintenance routines that help you live greener by tweeting me @jakcheng

Wednesday, September 09, 2015

Visiting Los Angeles

Great guacamole at Tito's Tacos
This summer, my daughter (age 10) and I took a trip to Los Angeles. We were there to visit my sister, and also just to explore the city; my daughter had never been to L.A. and I hadn't been since she was born (!).

We had a great time and here are some non-chronological thoughts and memories:

Great tacos! Our first stop was Tito's Tacos and it was terrific. Best crunchy taco I've ever had, packed so full of rice, beans and meat that when it fractured, it basically held it's shape. Excellent flavor and texture. Our last stop was Taco Beach Cantina at the Long Beach airport (what a great little airport with no franchises, easy security and just a friendly, relaxed atmosphere).

Not a performer, just a guy practicing his hobby
Venice Beach! Skateboarders! A giant hoop! There was plenty of entertaining people watching on the beach, and the water was warm (compared to the Atlantic) with good waves for body surfing.

Having a drink in a Hobbit house, Warner Bros
Studio Tours! We saw the Warner Bros. lot and Universal Studios. If you have only time for one? Well, for myself, I was interested in the movie making process and history and Warner's is more focused on that, driving you through a working backlot, walking through sound stages and then ending at a cool interactive museum with hands on exhibits and trick photography.

Velociraptor training at Universal
At Universal, it's more of a theme park and the "studio tour" is a ride -- they do point out sound stages but it's less informative and more entertaining. As for the rest of the park, Universal has a few cool "rides" -- the Minion adventure was a fun 3-D thing where the seats rock back and forth to simulate movement -- and the shows are great (Waterworld stunt show, trained animals, Special Effects) but are also designed more to entertain than inform. For what it's worth, my daughter loved the Universal Tour.

Just a regular guy trying to make a buck
Santa Monica! The famous pier and beach are great, and the promenade had fun street performers. Coming from Boston, it's strangely difficult to find ice cream (i.e. not on every corner). The coolest thing in Santa Monica for me was the Camera Obscura. It's a neat optical effect and there's something great about how it seems like a secret hidden in plain sight -- most people just walk right by the building.

Griffith Observatory
Griffith Observatory! Established by the wealthy Griffith J. Griffith to bring astronomy to the public, the Griffith Observatory is cool just by existing. Some nice exhibits and a memorable presentation on comets and the search for life (you need the elements CHNOPS); all the tour guides, presenters and waiters we met in the city were clearly born entertainers.

Levitated Mass
LACMA! The museum inspired my daughter to make some art. There are lots of great pieces in the museum but my favorites were Chris Burden's Metropolis, Michael Heizer's Levitated Mass and James Turrell's Breathing Light.

Malls! I suddenly discovered the whole southern California mall culture. True, you need to drive to most destinations, but the malls provide communal pedestrian areas with lots of people watching.

We had a great trip and looking forward to visiting again.