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Gearing Up for Cold Weather Ahead

There are very few places in the U.S. that weren't hit hard last winter. Even the generally calm, suburban Philadelphia neighborhood where I lived was plagued with multiple ice storms that down many power lines and rendered the roads impassable.

Folks in Boston faced record snowfall at 108.6 inches and one storm has come to be known as the January 2015 North American Blizzard (unofficially named Winter Storm Juno). To predict this early in the fall what we'll face this winter would be an exercise in futility, but being prepared for whatever comes is never a waste of time.

When asked what they wished they had done to better prepare for last year's historic storms, homeowners in the northeast part of the country tell me the following, in order of importance:

Purchase a Generator:
Losing power for even a day or two can be a hardship. Heat and hot water is lost at the time when it is needed most and the food on which you so diligently stocked up can be spoiled in just a few hours. Last year, millions of people across the U.S. lost power for a week or more and in some cases, it cost human lives. Whether you live in an area prone to tornadoes, tropical storms or severe snowfall, owning a generator will never be a regrettable decision. Since operating a generator is much more than plug-and-go, click here for a basic guide to purchasing the right machine for your needs.

Purchase a Snowblower:
While shoveling snow is an excellent cardio workout, it can also be dangerously strenuous for those not already in relatively good physical shape. The second most popular lament from ill-prepared homeowners was that they wished they had a snowblower for the storm of 2015. As one property owner tells us, It's not just the lazy factor - it's removing the snow quickly and thoroughly from driveways and sidewalks to avoid potential injury to those walking about. "It just gets to be too much," another makes note. "Sometimes it's better to just wait until all the snow has fallen and get it in one fell swoop."

Better Insulate the House:
Even for those homeowners who never lost power, the hardship came in the form of hefty energy bills. With furnaces working overtime and more people stuck in the home, heating and energy bills can be a disaster of their own kind. One very simple and affordable way to avoid energy loss is to pick up a few tubes of caulk and find the areas around the house where air is entering or escaping. Hovering a candle around door and window frames is the tried and true way to locate drafts, and sealing them up will make a marked difference in your level of comfort and your energy costs over the course of the winter. Another very simple and effective trick is to wrap your water heater to avoid heat loss. Quilted moving blankets are a great choice, but any old blanket will do.

Maintain the Gutters:
If cleaning the gutters is something that ends for you after the first major dropping of fall leaves, you may want to reconsider your plan. When snow and ice amounts surmount what your gutters can handle, it is important that they are as clear and free as possible. In addition to leaves, there is a lot of dirt and debris that can accumulate in your gutters - debris that can cause major problems once frozen in the system. A thorough initial cleaning at the end of October is a great start, but taking a peek once a month through the end of February can help avoid damage to the gutters - as well as to the roof. There are some inexpensive gutter tools out there that will avoid the dreaded ladder, but the first major cleaning should ideally be done by hand.

While we can never truly outsmart Mother Nature, we can surely be better prepared to take her on. We wish everyone a happy 2016 winter and hope that these simple tips can help make it as safe and comfortable as possible. Let it snow!

A front view of the recalled night light.

LED Night Lights Recalled Due to Fire Hazards

American Tack & Hardware Co. (AmerTac) recently announced the recall of around 227,000 LED Night Lights due to a fire and burn hazard. An electrical short circuit in the night light can cause it to overheat and smolder or melt, posing fire and burn hazards.

So far the company has received 25 reports of night lights smoking, burning, melting and charring. Fortunately no injuries have been reported.

There are three types of AmerTrac night lights being recalled. Go to the CPSC recall page for name and model number.

Consumers who own one of the recalled lights should stop using them immediately, remove them from the wall sockets and contact AmerTrac for a full refund.

Which bulb will dominate the market now that incandescent has been shown the door?

Are LEDs to Dominate the Lighting Market?

Embedded in a recent routine news release by LED manufacturer Lemnis Lighting was this little gem worth sharing: "A recent U.S. Department of Energy forecast predicts that LEDs will represent 76 percent of the general illumination market by 2030, but Lemnis predicts 80 market penetration by 2020 due to significant price drops…and further innovations in LED technology."

First of all, raise your hand if this is the first time you've heard the phrase "general illumination market." That's what we thought.

Just as we're all getting comfortable swapping our incandescent bulbs for CFLs, we're told that LEDs are the future and to get on board. So which is it going to be?

It's hard to dispute an authority like the DOE, although making predictions as far out as 2030 seems to be ignoring the possibility (likelihood, really) that an even newer technology will supplant both CFLs and LEDs and become the forerunner. Heck, we may even see more than one new technology take its turn at the top by 2020.

There's no denying that one sees more LEDs on the shelves these days, and at decreasing prices. The press release cited above is, as explained, from Lemnis Lighting, who was announcing three new lines of its Pharox LED replacement bulbs. The lowest priced bulb of the bunch -- a 200 lumen LED -- retails for about $4.95.

It seems like a lot to spend on a bulb, but remember these things last much, much longer than the $.25 incandescent bulbs that are going bye-bye.

Have you switched out the bulbs in your home? Have you incorporated LEDs into your life?

Floor lamps recalled due to shock hazard.

Lamps Recalled Due to Shock Hazard

More than 5,000 Overarching Floor Lamps by West Elm were recalled due to a shock hazard. The lamps are susceptible to a short circuit in the wiring, which poses a shock hazard to owners.

So far there have been 39 reports of short circuits in the lamps, including three reports of minor shock, one report of a minor burn to a person's finger and two reports of minor property damage.

Consumers who own one of the recalled lamps should unplug it immediately and return it to West Elm for a full store credit.

Go to the CPSC recall page for more information on the floor lamp recall.

These lamps pose a shock hazard.

Over 40,000 Lamps Recalled Due to Shock Hazard

Big Lots recently announced the recall of almost 45,000 "Five-Light Floor Lamps" due to a shock hazard. The wiring for the lamp's light sockets can become exposed, posing a risk of electric shock to consumers. Additionally, use of a standard 40-watt can generate excessive heat, which can melt the double plastic shades over the bulbs.

Although there have been four reports of melting shade lamps, there have not yet been any reports of injuries.

Consumers who own a recalled lamp should stop using them immediately and return them to a Big Lots for a full refund.

Coming home to a warm home or one without power?

Time to Buy a Generator?

The winter storm that slammed the East Coast left 3 million without power and caused at least 9 deaths, according to the New York Times.

Many will be without power for days, leaving those who were unprepared without heat, hot water and a way to keep refrigerated food from going bad.

It may be overreacting to suggest that this is just a taste of things to come this winter, but now might be the time to invest in an emergency backup power unit.

The portable generator option is suitable for those shopping on a budget, while the permanent solution will better power a home with numerous electricity needs/wants, including the amenities as well as the necessities.

This article will help dispel any misgivings about backup power and should encourage those who are on the fence to take the step to better protect the home in the event of an outage.

What a tangled web we weave...

San Diego's Blackout Blues

My sister-in-law in San Diego sent me a message late last week after I tried getting in touch with her:

"Hey! We're in the middle of a rolling black out! The power is out in all of SD!…It's been 100 degrees for three days straight…Killed the power…"

The blackout lasted from Thursday afternoon to Friday morning and affected 1.4 million San Diego Gas & Electric customers.

The cause of the blackout was apparently traced back to a substation outage that caused a transmission line to shut off and trigger a cascade of blackouts that hit San Diego and also spread to parts of Arizona and Mexico.

More ammunition for the Smart Grid advocates, I'd say. One of the most important advantages of the Smart Grid is the elimination of these kinds of cascading blackouts. A Smart Grid would not only be "self-healing" but it could better isolate an outage, limiting the number of customers without power. San Diego's blackout, then, would have been avoided as the outage -- which originated in Yuma -- would have been isolated to Yuma.

Perhaps the building of the Smart Grid could be this country's New New Deal: An investment in an aging infrastructure that would position our country as leaders in energy efficiency. It would create jobs, cut down on greenhouse gases, increase national security. What's not to like?

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