Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Problems which lead to solutions which lead to problems

By Michael

In two and a half years of living here in our Ukrainian village, we've had more than enough of our fair share of electronics that have broken. I could go through the list, but that would just be too depressing--for me. To give you an idea of the kinds of things I'm talking about though, we've had vacuum cleaners and blenders break or stop working seemingly out of nowhere.

As I frequently admit on this blog, I am not a handyman, but my knowledge of all things home repair is growing. When we first arrived here I at least had some experience from wood and metal shop in junior high school. I am naturally interested in building things with my hands, and when I was younger I enjoyed sawing wood and creating things in my parents' basement.

Unfortunately, I didn't know the first thing about electronics from a practical standpoint. I went to a "Blue Ribbon School of Excellence" in the US of A and could fill out all sorts of worksheets about complicated circuitry in my high school physics class. However, when I arrived at our house I couldn't even hook up an outlet.

I first got the idea that I better learn about electricity when we moved in. A friend of ours--a local from Lviv--said that if the lights flicker, then that mean the electricity is not that good. I asked him what he meant, but he wasn't able to expound on that statement. It turned out that our lights did flicker, but I didn't know what to do about it.

Then, last December, there was an "electricity emergency" in Ukraine because a major power plant was having some problems (I wrote about it here and here). We read on the internet that there was a risk of power surges and to not use electronic appliances during peak hours in the morning and night. I think there were one or two weeks when we didn't have power for a period of time every day.

And this past September I was talking with my brother and sister-in-law, who just bought a small voltage stabilizer for their laptops and tablets. They explained that a stabilizer helps protect the batteries and the equipment itself. They let me know that Yulia and I could get a small one like that or a big one for the entire house. Thanks for the tip, guys! :)

Yulia and I talked about it and planned to get one before installing a washing machine sometime in the future--until our vacuum cleaner just stopped working out of nowhere last Saturday. We hadn't even owned the thing for a year, so we suspected a power surge messed up the motor. Yulia was vacuuming on a Saturday night, which is a peak usage time.

This twisted our arm, and we bought a voltage stabilizer for the whole house earlier than planned. My father-in-law helped us connect it a few days ago. Luckily it was very straightforward.

Bam! Problem solved!


Not so fast, Michael and Yulia!

It works the way it is supposed to. I don't think we'll have problems with power surges anymore. It cuts off all the electricity if there is a really dangerous power surge. This has already happened several times. It cuts the power for six seconds and then turns back on.

However, the new problem is that it hums and make a loud clicking sound. It mainly clicks during peak usage times (mostly in the evenings), but it also sporadically clicks in the middle of the night. We had to hang the stabilizer in our dining room, which is right next to the bedroom, and the clicking is loud enough to wake us up.

To get a good night's sleep we turn off the power to the whole house using the circuit breaker, though I'm not sure if that is a long term solution. I'd like to hide it in a wooden cabinet like the one I built for the circuit breaker. It will hide the stabilizer, breaker, and electric meter and hopefully muffle the humming and clicking sounds.

When I'll find the time to build a cabinet for the voltage stabilizer is another question. My father-in-law and I have been digging a trench for sewage pipes. Our septic tank was just delivered and it's been waiting in the city for me to take for several days now.

I managed to dig a descent sized pit this week--a particularly drizzly week and mostly by lamplight after dark. I just don't have any other time to get it done.

So here we are in our never ending cycle! Problems lead to solutions...which lead to problems again.

Unstable voltage? Get a voltage stabilizer!
Got a voltage stabilizer? It's gonna make some noise...build a cabinet to muffle the sound.

Want to build a cabinet? Try finding time between teaching English on Skype and digging trenches and holes in the November mud. And do it in the dark!


  1. Now you are well trained to be a Ukrainian coal miner.)) That should put a big smile on your face Michael. It really is incredible how much you guys have accomplished in a couple years or so. Kudos to both of you.The "to do" list is getting shorter now? I mean the big project "to do" list. Small project "to do" list is life long perhaps. Hang in there! There is light at the end of the tunnel...or is it light at the end of the septic trench? )))

    1. Thanks for the nice comments! :)

      The big project to do list is getting shorter--though we have a few more plans up our sleeve. And, as you said, the small project to do list is is life long. That's for sure!

  2. ah, a septic tank just in time for my visit ;) hoping to see you this april/may!

  3. A septic tank pit dig and installation is a good candidate for hiring a local person with a mini-excavator. If there is someone local you can hire that is, and if you have the money.

    I have dug a lot of holes with shovels, and I can say from experience that for larger jobs, and especially to place the tank in the ground, an excavator is worth every penny spent.

  4. Hey. I have arrived finally! The cottage is my dream. But not to sidetrack, why don't you use a composting toilet? At Charming Cottage there isn't even an outhouse now, but even if there had been one, I am going to build a simple composting bog. I had one at the cabin in Guatemala. It was ideal. You have a lot of electric appliances. I couldn't imagine having a vacuum cleaner or washing machine. I think Charming Cottage is going to be the very basic version of what you are doing. It will be interesting for me to continue to live simply, albeit with four distinct seasons now, as opposed to the Eternal Spring I was afforded in Guat. I think I will invest in a power surge protector for my computer. That is the only electronic equipment I use. I am so excited. It is so beautiful and black soil/sand, WOW, I have never seen nor felt such rich, fertile land. <3 p.s I am loving Ukraine. It has to be one of the world's best kept secrets. :)

    1. Yay!!! Welcome to Ukraine! :)

      We do use a composting toilet and plan to continue using it. The toilet will be for going #1 inside (especially during cold weather, rain, or snow). It will also be more welcoming to friends and family who may not be as enthused about composting as us!

      We were originally only going to use small 50 mm pipes which would just run off into some gravel outside, but after thinking about it, we thought, what the heck. Let's just put in some big pipes and a septic tank so that visitors could use a toilet at our place if they so desire.

      We do have a lot of electronic appliances, but we only got them after we realized they would be more of a help than a burden. During our first winter here, for example, our bedroom (now the living room) didn't have any source of heat. We had to get a space heater which kept the room at least a little warmer than a refrigerator. Ditto for anything else. We went for months without a vacuum, but once you really get into renovations and there is dust everywhere from boring through walls and such, a broom just won't cut it sometimes. Same thing with power tools. I'll go for months until I am absolutely sure I need something and then get it.

      When I was digging, I went down to a meter eighty until I hit clay. There's some GOOD soil here. Probably even better where you are!

  5. I will start posting pics and blogging soon, then you can see what Charming Cottage looks like. It was better than I ever imagined and the nice thing is that the woman who lived there for her entire life, 93 years, her name was Maria. :) Thank you for replying and I look forward to enjoying your conveniences one day. At the moment, I am renting a very posh flat that belongs to a friend's friend, down here in Kyiv. It is ultimate luxury and it will be a shock to move to the cottage, but it is the kind of shock that I thrive upon. :)

    1. Ah, we were just about to ask you what your place is like. Please do post some pictures!!

      Enjoy Kyiv. It's a lovely city!

      You'll find A LOT of Marias here. Welcome home! :)