Sunday, February 28, 2016

Using Teflon to silence noisy heating system pipes

Fixing My Noisy Heating System on a budget
My home has a hot water baseboard heating system, and the noise the heating system made had been driving me nuts for years.  Each time the boiler came on the pipes started to click, snap, and tick as they heated up and cooled down.  It was loudest in the master bedroom, to the point where I could not sleep at night.

These clanky heating system pipes let no one sleep.
The problem wasn't with the boiler, and the problem wasn't with air in the pipes.  The problem was with the installation of the heating system plumbing.  Whoever drilled the holes through the walls and joists for the heating pipes drilled them in an uneven way.  The heating pipes rubbed against many of the holes, so as the pipes heated up and expanded they would "click" loudly.

The clicking, tapping, and clanking could be heard throughout the house.

Some Expensive Suggestions

One home improvement expert suggested that, for $800, I install heavy insulation around the plumbing to try to reduce the noise.

Another expert suggested that I get a plumber to properly route the heating pipes - which would cost several thousands of dollars.

Stopping the Clicking

Then I had an idea - what if the holes that the pipes traveled through had very low friction, like a slippery Teflon pan?  Then the pipes wouldn't snap, click, and pop as they rubbed against things.  Instead, the pipes would glide through the holes.

And so that's what I did.

The 15 Minute, $20 Fix
  1. I bought a sheet of Teflon from Amazon.  A sheet of Teflon looks a bit like a sheet of smooth yellowish paper.   It is very inexpensive, and it can withstand very high heat.
  2. With scissors, I cut the Teflon sheet into 4 inch by 4 inch squares.
  3. Wherever I could see a heating system pipe moving through a hole, I would wrap the pipe with the Teflon square, and then push the Teflon into the hole.  I wiggled the pipe a bit to make sure that I insert the Teflon square fully between the rubbing surfaces.
Teflon Sheet: Low friction, low cost!
I swear to God that within minutes I realized that my 15 minutes of labor stopped the noise that had been bothering me for years.  I also swear to God that I installed these Teflon squares at 4 AM because I wasn't sleeping.

Now my heating system is totally silent and I have been sleeping like a baby!  I am very happy every day I think about my fix.  I only wish I did years earlier.

Saturday, July 04, 2015

Q&A: Installing an SSD in a MacBook

I've installed many SSD drives in MacBooks.  Here is a set of questions asked:

Q: Should I bother to install an SSD, or just get a new MacBook?

I have found that replacing a hard drive with an SSD results in a substantial increase in performance. 

I estimate that a MacBook with an SSD "feels" more than three times faster then a MacBook without an SSD.

Q: Which SSD drive do you buy or recommend for a MacBook?

I think that most any good laptop SSD will do.

These days, I have been buying SSD drives that are about 250 GB, as they are often under $70.  In particular, I have installed these SSDs with great success:
Q: What tools do you use to remove/install an SSD drive in a MacBook?
I feel that one needs to use the right tools or not do it at all.  And so when dealing with any laptop, that means using the correct phillips-head and torx head drivers.

Generally I only need one small phillips-head screw driver to upgrade a MacBook hard drive, but it is important to use an appropriately-sized driver.  If I were starting from scratch I might get a driver set like this $12 kit.

You might find this hard to believe, but screw drivers do wear out.  It is dumb to strip a screw head with a worn driver, as such an occurrence can turn an easy project into an expensive and time-consuming nightmare.  Use good drivers, and retire worn drivers to less-critical duties such as "nail punch" or "lever".

I also use an ice cube tray to organize any screws I removed, so that I can always put them back in their home. 

Q: What tools do you use to transfer data from old drive to new?

When dealing with laptop drives, I use a small USB to SATA adapter cable that I keep in my tool box.  I currently use a USB 2.0-based adapter, but these days I would definitely get a faster USB 3.0 device like this Startech USB 3.0 to SATA Adapter.  Under $12 is amazing for a tool that can be used for years.

When dealing 3.5 inch desktop drives, like those found in an old iMac or Mac Pro, I use a USB to SATA drive dock.   A dock is heftier and uses an external power supply to power those big drives.  A dock like this Sabrent USB 3.0 to SATA External Hard Drive Docking Station looks good to me.  Oh, and note that these docks can also accept 2.5 inch laptop drives.  Nice!

Each of these devices should last at least a decade, so having one or both in my toolbox is a great investment.

Q: What other software do you use to migrate data?

I exclusively use the "free" built-in tools: Disk Utility, Migration Assistant, and Time Machine.  Other people swear by CCC and Super Duper.  Those are great tools, but I find that built-in tools do a great job for me.

Q: What about TRIM support?

TRIM is an SSD firmware feature that helps keep SSDs fast.  Unlike traditional hard drives, SSD storage locations must be cleared before they are reused.  TRIM helps speed this process considerably.

TRIM is not required, but it can only be enabled by the operating system.

Mac OS X v 10.11 (El Capitan) will use TRIM if you enable it.  To enable TRIM, this command must be entered into the Terminal:

sudo trimforce enable

Not running El Capitan?   It's a free upgrade for all modern Macs.  All my Macs now run El Capitan, because El Capitan is faster, more efficient, and more reliable.  See it at Apple's Mac App Store.

Afraid of TRIM?  No problem.  I haven't enabled TRIM on all the Mac's I manage, but the SSDs still seem to be running very fast.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

LanceJ's Ultimate Mac Boot Stick

After a few years of fooling around, I decided to make up my own ultimate Mac Boot USB stick.

My goals:  When I administrate computers, I want to have most everything I need on a single boot device so I don't have to fool around downloading, installing, or searching.

My boot stick includes the software that I need most frequently.  It isn't that complicated, but it took a while to actually figure it all out.  Best of all, you can easily make your own!

Required Stuff:

A 32 GB (or larger) USB 3.0 "thumb drive".  These devices are inexpensive, portable, fast, and readily available.  I use something like this PNY USB 3.0 stick.

What not to use:
  • Small thumb drives.  You may be able to get away with a 16 GB device, but anything less than 16 GB will limit your flexibility. 
  • Hard disks or SSDs.  They're more expensive, bulky, and HD's are less reliable
  • SD Cards.  An SD card is an option, but the truth is that a standard USB 3.0 thumb drive is more universal.  They work on just about all Macs produced over the past 10+ years.

I created four partitions to on my Ultimate Mac Boot USB stick:
  1. El Capitan Installer (6.5 GB)
  2. Lion Installer (6.5 GB)  (if you deal with 1st generation Intel-based Macs)
  3. Memtest Partition (50 MB)
  4. Installable Software Partition (Remaining Space)
For very old Macs (like a 2005-vintage PowerBook) , I still lug around a Leopard DVD.  Oh well, old school equipment demands old school procedures!