Static Electricity: Not Good For Your Old Thermostat…

Two nights ago, I went to turn up the thermostat because I was freezing. I forgot to put on my slippers, so I was walking on our carpet with wool socks… and I even expected to lose a finger when I touched the thermostat… because I had done it so many times before. But this time it was different.

Not only was my finger numb for the next 15 minutes, but it soon became warm in the house. We usually keep the thermostat under 70 degrees during the day, but in the evening, when I get a chill, I turn it up to 70. When I went to bed, I was about to turn the thermostat back down to 66 degrees for the night, when I noticed the temperature inside was 73, even though the thermostat was set at 70. This didn’t look right.

Upon further evaluation, it was revealed that the furnace had not shut down in the hour since I had shocked myself… it was stuck in a permanent “on” cycle. Well, that would not do, I need it cool at night to sleep, so I shut the furnace off completely. Then I went to my trusty computer and ordered a Nest E thermostat like I had installed in our Florida home (don’t ask me why we are living in Illinois in February while owning a perfectly nice home in Florida).

Nest Thermostat

I went to install the thermostat the next day (I ordered it rush delivery) and when I opened up the old thermostat, I mistakenly thought I had both an Rh and Rc wire installed (it turned out the previous owner of the house had wired the Rc and Rh wires with a jumper, but had run it under all the other wires and it looked like two separate wires), which is not compatible with the Nest E… so I returned the Nest E and ordered a Nest 3rd Generation Thermostat instead.

The Nest 3rd Generation thermostat is a little more advanced design with the ability to work with almost every furnace and air conditioning unit that operates with 24V thermostats. The Nest E had the limitation where you could not have 2 transformers in your system (when your furnace and your air conditioner are actually using two separate blower systems). Personally, I was irritated at myself for not digging a little deeper into the wiring, because I could have saved about $80 and the time it took me to return one thermostat and get the replacement. If I had only unscrewed the old thermostat’s base from the wall, I would have seen that only 4 wires went into the back of the thermostat, instead of the 5 I had initially believed to be there. But enough about spilled milk… clean it up and go on, right?

The Nest is great! I love setting up a schedule for the furnace and air conditioner for my sleep patterns. I have the furnace set very low from midnight to 5:30AM, for best sleep temperatures, then I have the furnace come on to bring the temperature up to 67 degrees, and then at 7:30AM it goes to 70 degrees for the rest of the day. Well, that is the plan, anyway. During the course of the day, my wife and I will adjust according to how we are feeling, and the cool part is that the thermostat will remember that when the outside temperatures are above freezing, that we don’t need it as warm during the day and when the temperatures are colder, that we might need it to be set a little higher.

Another cool feature of the Nest series of Thermostat is that when you are away, the system knows it and goes into ECO mode – where it keeps the house temperature between the limits that you set for it (although it will not allow you to let it get colder than 45 degrees in the house to protect your pipes) until you get home. This works as long as you have the Nest app on your phone and have registered the thermostat with your app. I have both the Florida home and the Illinois home on my Nest app, so when we make the trip to Florida, the Nest will lower your heating and cooling bills by not running if you are not there. My Florida electric bill has been under $50 each month that we are away, and I really like not having to constantly adjust the thermostat when I get up and go to bed.

Another great feature is the monthly report you get to your email, letting you know your energy usage. This has been a nice reminder that we aren’t heating or cooling an empty house and that there may be other ways to save energy if we notice a significant increase in usage (sometimes a grandchild will open a window, and unless you check the whole house every time they visit, you don’t know about it).

Of course, it would not be truly automated unless you could also control it with Alexa (here we call her ‘she who must not be named’ because when we say her name she answers us with cryptic messages… “hmmm, I don’t know that one!”). The integration is simple enough, although you may have to get creative in naming the device when you have more than one home. Luckily for us, the Florida home has the thermostat in the hallway and the Illinois home has it in the dining room, so it was easier than naming them Fred and Barney. So we ask Alexa to turn up the temperature in the hallway or dining room, depending on where we are. In homes that have multiple thermostats, this gives you an even greater control over you home energy use, as you can set different temperature schedules for each one.

The Good and the Bad

Of course, there is a serious flaw in the logic of having the Nest know where you are. If you are not home, but other family members are home, you need to turn the ECO mode off. Otherwise, you run the risk of freezing out your family members when you leave the house. When ECO mode is on, telling Alexa to fire up the heater will not work if the person with the phone the Nest is following is away. Bummer, honey, can I get you another blanket while I am at the store?

This is probably the only negative that I have found so far. The Nest thermostat, in my opinion, has changed the way we keep our home climate the way we like it. Now I only have to worry about getting shocked when I turn the lights on or off… wonder if they make something for that?

Alexa Enabled Orbi Voice Harmon Kardon Speaker With WiFi Range Extender

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Orbi Voice is the best way to get Alexa enabled music at your command while extending your WiFi throughout your home. Heck, you could probably extend the WiFi all the way to your neighbor’s house with this system.

The price is what you would expect to pay for a WiFi extender, but you get Harmon Kardon sound and Alexa control of your music and anything else you want to control… I happen to like being the boss and ordering my house to do my bidding, and I am sure you will, too!

Orbi Voice with Alexa

Geo Grid Driveway: The Final Chapter

Sorry this took longer to finish than I would have liked, but like all construction jobs, the weather is still the foreman. We had a few days (finally) of rain and then I ordered the remainder of the gravel before beginning the task of setting up the grid.

Final Size For Driveway

We had decided on the last day of digging that we didn’t need to go as far as we had initially planned. It turned out that the extra four feet would not add any benefit since the current length was actually already longer than both the Jeep Grand Cherokee and the Nissan Altima, so, unless we wanted to go all the way to the fence to be able to park both cars in the driveway, we were done digging up the lawn. We still had a day or two of leveling the inside of the hole so that it was at least 4.5 inches deep from the sidewalk along the right edge of the driveway. That would be our limiting height, since it is easier to bulk up the grass side of the driveway with landscape timbers than it is to make the sidewalk go higher.

Once we had the area leveled, we rolled out the landscape fabric. In hindsight, I would have rolled out two layers of the fabric, and then driven some wooden stakes or something to hold it in place. It only moved a little bit, but it was still irritating when it did. We then unboxed the Geo Grid and the stakes. I had ordered two grids, because my calculations originally called for a lot more than one grid would have been able to cover. But once we decided on the actual size of the driveway, one grid was actually enough to fully cover the driveway.

Unboxing the Geo GridThe Geo Grid was easy enough to manipulate and lightweight enough for one person to lay out, but I was glad my wife was there to help me with it, because I would have been cussing at the landscape fabric as I dragged it all over the place while moving the Geo Grid. I ordered a starter kit of stakes that includes the tool for pounding them into the ground and 2 additional bags. I could not find them on Amazon, so I ordered them directly from the manufacturer. After installation, we had enough stakes left over for the second Geo Grid if we ever decide to make a  driveway for the other car.

Laying out the Geo Grid

Note: the stakes are actually very important for the overall installation. You are better off using more stakes if possible to avoid the grid floating up when you pour the gravel.  I started in one corner and drove a stake every 3 loops along the right and left sides.  If your budget can handle it, I would recommend getting enough stakes to handle every other loop instead. At $1.50 per stake, it adds up.

I was a little confused as to how to use the stake driving tool, but once I messed around with it, I figured out how to use it without losing a finger or breaking a stake.

As you can see in the video above, I almost fell into the hole while driving that particular stake… but it was pretty straightforward.

Adding Gravel To The Geo GridAdding gravel was about as easy as it gets. If you can get a load of gravel from your local quarry, I am sure it is less expensive than the $5 per bag I paid to have delivered from my local home depot. Pea gravel is way better than the larger stuff. The first 10 bags of my order had the half inch sized gravel and I was not really happy with it, then I realized that the rest of the pallet was the pea sized gravel, so I spread the bigger gravel out and covered it with the pea gravel. Overall, I had to use about 140 bags to finish the driveway.

Finished Geo Grid DrivewayAs you can see from the photo, once the gravel was poured and the landscape timbers placed, the driveway looks nice and it is very functional. We already have the Nissan parked there and love the fact that the birds can’t get to it from the power lines anymore.  Now to figure out a way to protect the Jeep…

Geo Grid Driveway


Geo Grid Driveway Day 3

making progressRight now, I am really wishing I had bought one of these…

Even though it does not seem like we are making much progress, the digging is going smoothly and my neighbor is getting more than a couple of wheelbarrows of dirt… each day I talk him into more. “Hey, Dave, that spot there is looking a little low, you definitely need more dirt there! Oh, and here next to your patio, look at how low that is!”

Also thinking about putting a sign up in the front yard: FREE DIRT. But I talked myself out of it when I figured people would start grabbing bags of gravel instead of the dirt.

Still, my wife and I are managing to not give ourselves heat stroke. The temps have been steadily increasing daily. This weekend, the temps are hitting 80 by 10 AM, so the digging stops early. Might have to set up a lantern outside and start night digging if I want to get this done before football season! The Geo Grid arrived yesterday, but I didn’t have the energy to take photos of the unboxing. Will try and get that done on Monday, since we aren’t near ready to bring out the grid anyway!

On Monday, I am also expecting the landscape fabric to arrive as well. The plan is to lay a couple layers of landscape fabric down before I place the geo grid and the landscape timbers. This will help keep the weeds from taking over for a year or so. Hopefully longer, which is why I am going to double it up.

Landscape Fabric

As we are digging up the yard, we find some stones that we are keeping to the side. I figure if I can accumulate at least one gravel bag’s worth of stones, that will be one bag less I need to put down. Back at it tomorrow!

Geo Grid Driveway Day 2

Getting more digging doneDigging is quite a bit of work when you are used to using a mouse and a keyboard all day. This became painfully evident after the first hour. But I digress from the timeline.

I woke up with a brilliant idea! Yesterday, we had taken the sod around the house to the backyard. It was a long process that required us stopping the digging and taking the wheelbarrow full of sod and rolling it around the house, down one step and up one step then maneuvering the wheelbarrow around the gate in the fence.

This morning, I grabbed my 20 volt circular saw and sliced an opening in the fence in the front yard, so we could drag the sod straight back without a lot of struggle. I wanted a gate there, anyway, so this solved that problem, too!

After that was accomplished, the digging began. My neighbor noticed us working and stopped by to say hi. It turned out he needed some dirt, so I was able to talk him into a few wheelbarrows of dirt. Another problem solved!

While I would have loved to have finished the digging in one day, the heat, my age and my lack of conditioning led me to decide that I should take it a little slower. So each day, the plan is to get three wheelbarrows of dirt out and be happy with the progress. A few times, I saw people driving by with backhoes and I would have loved to talk them into shortening the workload here, but I was too tired to chase them down the road.

Maybe tomorrow I can get them to stop…lol.