Filed under: Electrical, Power and Data Distribution
As I was scrolling through our extension cord page this morning, I was reminded of a product that, for no good reason, I’ve given way too little attention to. I’m all about electrical safety and smart working, and so is this little gem. How could I have passed it by?
Ever joined an extension cord to the power cord of a device or tool and started working, just to have some klutz come tripping along, catch his/her foot on the attached cords, and rip them apart? Rude interruptions like that can definitely cramp your working style, not to mention do the type of cord damage that can lead to an eventual electrical fire. Not good.
But I’ll tell you what else qualifies as “not good.” The way that people are apparently tying cords together to prevent this from happening. Are you serious??? I was so surprised to find that this is actually standard practice that, just for fun, I Googled “tying extension cords together.” A frightening number of results came back, one of the worst (and most popular) of which was a step-by-step eHow tutorial on how to get the job done.
While this seems like a quick and easy fix for the extension cord separation problem, people don’t seem to realize that tying an electrical cable in knots can lead to cracked insulation (hello, nasty shock) and damaged conductors – the kind that overheat and ignite. This solution is essentially a wolf in sheep’s clothing, or more specifically, a stupid and potentially harmful move disguised as a fast and clever fix for an annoying problem.
Call me crazy, but if I’m going for a simple but ingenious solution, I’d prefer that it be the genuine article, and not a half-baked “problem solver” that will most likely bite me back when I least expect it. That’s why I really like the Qwik-Lok Extension Cord Connector.
This twist-lock connector actually hardwires onto an industrial extension cord, replacing the original female end. Once it’s on there, whenever you plug in a power tool or piece of machinery, all you have to do is twist the connector, and it will actually lock the other plug in place internally, by sending spring-loaded locks through the holes in the device’s plug prongs. After the cords are locked together, it would take well above 250 pounds of pulling force to pry them apart.
Yep, I think that should hold.
No, Burt Ward never exclaimed that one during his years as Robin, and yes, it is kind of a weird way to kick off a blog post. But cut me a break – what else was going to pop into my head when I found out about Ideal Industries’ Duct Seal?
Duct Seal is a soft, putty-like compound that can be molded, squished and worked into just about any small gap in flashing or heating/air conditioning ducts, and around pipes, conduit and electrical boxes. It helps stop air leakage, makes surfaces smooth and void-free, and pretty much saves the day, just like the Dynamic Duo.
Because it’s ultra pliable, Duct Seal can take almost any form you need it to; you can work it into a low-profile sheet to patch cracks in ductwork, or mold it into more of plug-type shape to fill in the holes and gaps that are usually left around electrical boxes or pipe penetrations. Just work it into place and smooth the surface: problem solved.
Unlike some other filling materials, Duct Seal never hardens, so if you ever need to undo your work, the compound can be easily removed without you having to hack or chip away at it, or otherwise make a mess. But here’s the really cool thing: even though Duct Deal stays soft, it’s actually paintable, so you can match it to your walls for a seamless finish.
The Duct Seal formula is completely nontoxic, and unlike many other chemical-based repair materials on the market, you can handle it without gloves or fear of skin irritation/chemical absorption. It’s also completely non-corrosive, so it’s safe to use on both plastics and metals. Ooooh, and one more thing: Duct Seal also has a relatively high flash point (590°F), so it’s helpful in preventing electrical fires.
While it may not be a caped crusader, Duct Seal is a multitasker that’s really worth keeping in your toolkit. Because it’s able to run the gamut between HVAC, plumbing and electrical, it can save you from having to keep a stock of different tapes and filler compounds on hand, and unlike some of the stickier products out there, it’s actually easy to redo if you need to make changes.
So Bam!!! Pow!!! Splat!!! Take that, holey ductwork.
Triplett Breaker Sniff-It (Type 2): Because “Eenie-Meenie-Miney-Moe” is No Way to Find the Right Circuit Breaker
Tell me if this has ever happened to you. You’re sitting in your home office, hammering out a blog entry (or Facebook status update, or similar) on your laptop, when suddenly the overhead light goes out, and your PDU starts screeching for lack of electricity. Just as you’re saving your work and powering down so that you don’t lose anything, you hear a muffled “Ummmmmm… sorry!!!” drifting up from the basement, and you realize exactly what’s happened.
It’s an age-old story, one that’s resonated throughout human existence for as long as there have been circuit breakers. Someone needs to replace a light switch or receptacle, so they mosey over to the breaker box, throw what has to be the right breaker (according to the time-honored “Eenie-Meenie-Miney-Moe” selection process), and plunge the wrong part of the house into the depths of darkness and electrical deprivation. Oopsie.
Aside from the sheer annoyingness of it all, there’s also the danger factor. There are some people out there who are trusting and assume that as long as they’ve snapped the supposedly correct circuit breaker into the “off” position, they’re clear to safely begin work. That type gets shocked far more often than I do. Me, I prefer to take the more paranoid route and check a few hundred times that the circuit I’m about to touch is nice and de-energized. That process is significantly shortened if I know for sure that I killed power to the right breaker to begin with.
And how does one do that, you ask? Very easily, thanks to gadgets like the Triplett Sniff-It Type 2 breaker locator. It’s a super simple two-piece electrical tester that leads you straight to the correct breaker switch the first time around, no guessing or squinting required. To use it, you just plug the receptacle unit into the outlet on which you’ll be working, and then take the “sniffer” part of the test set to your breaker box. Run the nose of detector over the circuit breakers, and when the tester starts to beep and blink, you’ll know you’ve found the right one.
The Sniff-It Type 2 isn’t limited to use with receptacles; if you need to customize your testing, you can also use optional accessories like light socket and alligator clip adapters to tailor this amazing little detector to just about any job.
Two and a half weeks ago, my husband and I wrapped up our final DIY project of 2010: making our wallpapered, dark-paneled kitchen a little (actually, a lot) easier to look at. While the rest of our little house has a good dose of original 1920s charm, the kitchen had fallen victim to several decades worth of “cheapest way out” fixes, and was more or less begging for mercy. So we scraped layer after scary layer of wallpaper, and then sanded, primed and painted the heck out of the wood paneling beneath. After that, all that was left to do was put in a backsplash where there had been none before.
So, in order to keep things vintage-but-not-too-old-fashioned and stay in harmony with the age of the house, we used some faux pressed-tin tiles to complete the look (for the record, they look awesome). They’re modern and “old school” all at once, and are even kind enough to match our brushed nickel cabinet hardware. So believe me, the last thing we wanted to do was screw up the whole look by slapping white plastic wall plates back onto the outlets once our “metal” backsplash was installed.
The solution? Brushed stainless steel wallplates, like this one from Leviton‘s Acenti line. They’re sleek, beautiful, allow for a flawless transition between electrical outlets and the stainless steel decor surrounding them, and compared to a lot of other home upgrades that you could be shelling out for, relatively inexpensive. And what I like about Leviton Acenti stainless wall plates is that they’re available in many more configurations than you’d find at most local home and garden centers. While most retailers typically carry classic single-gang styles (and maybe double-gang if they’re getting really fancy), the Leviton plates are available in up to 6-gang configurations, so you’re covered in almost any conceivable situation, from your kitchen to a large office.
Remote Controlled Power Outlets: How to Switch On the Twinkle Lights Without Knocking Over the Christmas Tree
Filed under: Electrical, Gadgets, Power and Data Distribution
I made a discovery last night. A bad one. One that could mean the premature demise of my Christmas tree unless otherwise remedied. I can’t plug in/unplug the lights unless I practically climb over and through the tree. That’s twice a night, people, and we’re talking about one of “them balsams” referenced in the Parker-family tree-buying scene in A Christmas Story… the kind that shed their needles like nobody’s business. We’re still nearly 3 weeks out from the Big Day, and I’ve been getting nervous that I’ll have a huge, bald Christmas tree skeleton in the corner of my living room by the time the 25th rolls around.
Needless to say, the old noggin has been working furiously to come up with a solution that doesn’t involve me knocking needles, ornaments and tinsel off the side of my beloved tannenbaum 14 times a week. And by George, I think I’ve got it! Remote-Controlled Power Outlets. Don’t know why I didn’t think of these babies before, but I figured that at least a few of you must be struggling with the same problem, so I wanted to get the word out while there’s still plenty of time.
These remote-controlled outlets are cheap and easy to set up, which is pretty nice considering that most of us tend to be tapped-out on both time and money around this time of year. Here’s how they work: just plug a remote outlet into a standard wall receptacle, and then plug whatever it is you’ll be switching on/off remotely (for me, Christmas lights) into the remote outlet. Then grab the remote control, point, and click. You can even use them outdoors – we’ve gotten great reviews from a few customers who have used the outlets to operate lights and fountains in backyard water features.
Did I mention that they have built-in timers, too? During the holidays or at any other time of the year, the possibilities are endless.
NOTE: This product has been discontinued and is no longer available.
We do offer a similar alternate product – Check out the Tork/NSI 655D Remote-Controlled Indoor/Outdoor Timer
It’s happened to the best of us: you need to change an outlet or swap out a light fixture, but when you run to the breaker box to shut off the circuit you’ll be working on, confused head scratching ensues. Maybe the breaker labels are a little too old and worn to read, or you just can’t make out the chicken-scratch of the last people who lived there. Whatever the reason is, your lack of breaker ID leaves you using the old trial-and-error method, which is no way to locate an electrical circuit. When it comes to electricity, Trial and Error are not our friends – they’ll either have you turning off all the wrong breakers before you find the right one (have fun resetting every digital clock in your house), or otherwise thinking you flipped the right one the first time around… until you find out (the hard way) shortly thereafter that that’s not the case (ouch).
Thankfully, Ideal Industries is in tune with Mystery Circuit Breaker woes, and has come to the rescue with an extremely cool Digital Breaker Finder. This two-piece locator is super-simple to use, and will cut out all of the guessing and time-wasting that you usually deal with on your quest to find the right breaker. Just plug the transmitter into the receptacle that you plan to work on, and then mosey to the breaker box with the receiver in hand. Run the receiver over the breakers until the green LEDs flash, and you’re in business. Too easy.
I realize that I’m recommending this from a consumerish, home owner standpoint, but this is a total must-have for professional electricians and HVAC technicians as well. Walking into strange houses and decoding their individual breaker situations day in and day out is even more annoying than deciphering one’s own circuit breaker fiasco, so toss one of these breaker finder sets into your tool bag – the faster that you knock one job out, the sooner you can get onto the next. And lowering your risk of shock never hurts either.
And I thought that Wire Nuts® were cool. Sure, those twist-on connectors have been the standard for a long time, and they’ll probably stay that way. But they just got some new competition, and I have to say, I like what I see. Not because I’m disloyal or a slave to the Newest Thing, but because, deep down, I sometimes – just sometimes – have a need for speed, and an affinity for laziness. Wire nuts, while a cinch to use, still require all of that twisting, which was no big deal until I laid eyes on HellermannTyton’s Helacon Easy Connectors. These things use a unique system that turns almost zero effort into amazing results – they’re so easy that it’s really not even fair.
That’s all thanks to the fact that they’re “push-in,” and not “twist-on” – Helacon connectors use a dual-spring system that splices wires as soon as they’re pushed into the connectors’ ports, or poles. No twisting wires together and then screwing on a connector… just strip the conductors, insert into the ports, and you have automatic spliceage. Nice.
In addition to the Effortless Factor, these things are extremely versatile, because they can be used anywhere in the world, in almost any household electrical applications. Use them with receptacles, light fixtures, switches, you name it – as long as you’re working with solid wire in the range of 12-22 AWG, you’re good to go. Helacon push-in wire connectors are also available with 2, 3, 4, 5 or 8 poles, so you can choose exactly what you need, instead of improvising your way through a job with just one product at hand. How easy is that?
Robertshaw Programmable Thermostats: Don’t Let Utility Bills Soar Just Because the Temperature Drops
Filed under: Electrical, Energy Conservation
In honor of the fact that Autumn, my very favorite season, is just one day away, today we’re going to talk programmable thermostats, which are about to come very much in handy as temperatures soon begin to drop. Sure, we’re in that perfect place where it’s a little too cool for AC yet way too warm to turn on the heat, and you probably want to just sit back and enjoy this brief lull in utility abuse. But don’t let next month’s lower electric bill fool you into a false sense of security: colder times are ahead. Before you get too caught up in caramel apples, jack-o-lanterns and diving into piles of leaves, it’s time to get down to business.
Fall is the perfect time to evaluate the energy efficiency of your home, by checking the seals around doors and windows, switching over to insulating thermal window treatments, and maybe even installing a programmable thermostat. If you didn’t move into a newer house that was already equipped with one, a digital thermostat like Robertshaw‘s Invensys 9700i might seem like an unnecessary investment – after all, what’s wrong with turning a dial? But in reality, it’s a little too easy to turn that dial and crank the heat higher than it needs to be. With cranked heat comes cranked utility bills, and often, wasted energy. You shouldn’t be paying for what you don’t really need.
Living greener at home (and saving money) has a lot to do with making slight adjustments to your heating and cooling habits, and those adjustments are made far easier with programmable thermostats, which let you limit and maintain holding temperatures, instead of constantly fiddling with them. And one really cool thing about the Robertshaw 9700i Thermostat is that you can actually program you heating (or cooling) 7 days out, according to what your schedule is like, and when you’ll be home. That means that you can set it to let the temp drop right after you normally leave for work, and bring it back up to a more comfortable place just before you’re due to arrive home. It’s kind of like having a digital, money-saving butler – except it doesn’t get a salary.
Wow- it feels like lately, I can’t stop talking about fire protection products or Mike Holmes. Up to now, the two subjects have remained separate, but today, they’re colliding in this very blog post. Last week, I was watching yet another episode of Holmes on Homes during yet another treadmill workout, and one of Mike’s contractor pals took the trouble to wrap the backs of new electrical boxes with these flexible sheets of intumescent material, the kind that expands and hardens when exposed to fire, so that smoke and flame can’t spread too far from where they originate. Pretty neat stuff, considering that electrical wiring is a prime source of heat, sparks, and other nasty fire-starting things. Suffice it to say I was impressed at the contractor’s overall safety-mindedness and attention to detail.
Anyway, lo and behold, a few days later, I found out that we actually just started selling a product that’s very similar to the one used on the show. It’s called the Power Shield electrical box insert, and it’s perfect for maximizing the safety of outlet boxes, switches, and other electrical assemblies in fire-rated walls. And best of all, it’s super easy to use: just peel off the backing, and smooth the adhesive side of it against the rear wall of your electrical box. Once in place, it won’t cause any damage to your wiring (it’s non-conductive), and when exposed to fire, will have the ability to expand to up to 24 times its original size to contain flames and smoke.
Well, well, well. If my inner DIYer hasn’t found another product to love. These days, I’ve been dreaming of putting a tile backsplash in my kitchen. Most of my focus has been on things like mud, grout, trowels, tile cutters, and the actual tile itself, but I had a small epiphany (a “light bulb” moment, if you will) the other day, as I was watching Holmes on Homes while sweating it out on the treadmill.
Good, responsible and detail-oriented Mike Holmes was rescuing another family in distress from the shoddy work of a disreputable contractor. He was primarily there to right a prematurely disintegrating tile floor, but decided to throw in a bonus new backsplash for the long-suffering homeowners. There I am, doing my “hamster-in-a-wheel” workout, and watching Holmes do some proper tile work. At one point, he and his tile guy notch a tile to fit around an outlet box, and it hit me that installing a backsplash changes the thickness of your wall, and can make things a little tricky as far as outlet boxes are concerned.
If you tack (or nail, or glue) any type of decorative finish onto drywall in a way that causes your outlets to become recessed, in many (or all) cases, you’re not meeting electrical code. I love pretty tile, but not at the expense of receptacles that aren’t quite safe.
Anyway, to make a long story short, the SliderBox™ came across my desk just 2 days later. It looks like any boring old electrical box, but it’s actually able to adjust to different depths without any hassle. Want to add tile to your wall? Just slide it out to make it deeper. What about if you remove a decorative overlay from your wall? Just slide again for a shallower box. All you need to do is loosen a couple of screws, which is a heck of a lot easier than replacing – or relocating – the junction box altogether.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve got a project waiting for me. Has anyone seen my tile nippers?