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Winterizing a Vacant Home

 
Whether you are shoring up a shore house for the winter, battening down the hatches at your summer cabin, or simply planning to leave your home for an extended period this winter, there are a few must-do steps to take that will help ensure your spring or summer return is not met with disaster.

Plumbing System
The single most important chore is to prepare your plumbing system for freezing conditions by thoroughly draining all pipes and tanks. First, locate and turn off the main water valve, usually located at the water meter. If you are unsure where the valve is, simply call your plumber or do a little internet research to find it. Next, working from the top floor down, open all sink faucets. When in the basement, open laundry tub faucet (where all upper faucets eventually drain) and empty hot water tank. Return to upper floors, open all tub and shower faucets and flush toilets. After just a few minutes, all pipes and drains should be fully cleared and ready for the winter freeze. An added measure for homes in climates with extended freezing periods, pouring a little antifreeze into the drains is a good idea. Some homeowners choose to be extra cautious and blow air through the plumbing systems with an air compressor, but this can be a somewhat involved process. Calling a professional for this task is usually the best way to go, and generally only costs a couple hundred dollars if the system is drained beforehand. Don't forget to shut off the valve for outdoor plumbing (if it is separate) and drain outdoor hoses.

Heating and Power
Even if you plan to visit the home periodically, it is best to disconnect any propane tanks and all natural gas in the home (must be done by the utility company). It is always a good idea to leave the electricity on with light timers and motion detectors, as this discourages potential burglars, but if you must turn off the electricity, be sure that battery operated smoke detectors are functioning properly.

Other Indoor Considerations
To avoid critters setting up shop, be sure to close and seal (with plastic and/or duct tape) all fireplace dampers, dryer vents and, of course, any pet doors. Stuffing spaces around plumbing pipes (especially under sinks) with steel wool is a great way to keep out rodents and scattering mothballs throughout helps to deter a variety of pests. Finally, unplugging and thoroughly cleaning the refrigerator (and leaving the doors open) will avoid molds and mildew from growing.

Outdoor Considerations
Locate and remove any overhanging branches to avoid potential roof damage and clean gutters/downspouts thoroughly. Removing fallen leaves from under or near the home and storing firewood a safe distance away helps to keep mildew, termites and other pests from getting too comfortable. Scheduling regular plowing or snowblowing is always a good idea, as it sends the message that the home is not vacant for an extended period. It also helps to avoid potential liability if there are shared sidewalks or if the home is being shown by realtors.

If money is no object and security is a looming concern, you can consider outfitting your home with smart technology. Remote surveillance and control can help ease your mind and also be very convenient if you're not doing a full-on shut down. You can raise the heat before a visit and operate lights and a security system from wherever you are. Whatever your plans, following the simple steps listed above will avoid a whole host of potentially costly problems and allow you to relax over the winter months.





GE Engineer Steve Froelicher and his crew work on the M-100 Chlorinator. Photo courtesy of GE.

New GE System Converts Salt Water to Drinking Water

 
With last summer's record heat and prolonged drought still fresh on our minds, we bring you news of the WaterStep M-100 Chlorinator. This may just be a game changer.

The device is the result of a collaboration between GE, the non-profit WaterStep and a handful of volunteers. Built in the garage of GE engineer Steve Froelicher (and with help from fellow engineer Sam DePlessis), the M-100 has been over a year in the making.

Essentially, the invention uses electrolysis -- generated by table salt and a car battery -- to produce chlorine gas, which then disinfects contaminated water to make it drinkable.

According to the organization's website, the M-100 Chlorinator is capable of generating enough chlorine to disinfect 38,000 liters of water per day -- enough for about 10,000 people.

What does this have to do with home improvement, you may ask? Those of you living in the central states who took the brunt of last summer's droughts know the seriousness of the water shortage issue. If last summer was as portentous as some would have us believe, a device like the M-100 may be a must-have for communities in the future. Or, if things get real bad, individual homes.

Watch this space for more.




Microwave energy in a water heater application -- can it work?

First of its Kind Microwave Energy Water Heater Revealed

 
Waderport Corp. - a water heating technology company - just announced the completion of a microwave energy tank-less water heater built with the company's proprietary microwave heat-engine technology.

Considered by the company to be the first of its kind worldwide, the unit -- which is best known as the "multi-cavity microwave heating unit -- uses microwave energy or radio frequency to heat water, rather than traditional heat elements and thermal transfer. According to a company spokesman, the unit has the potential to compete with other efficient water heaters on the market both from an energy saving standpoint and, eventually, a price standpoint.

A third party laboratory is currently performing testing and analysis on the unit to confirm the company's "informal efficiency claims." So it looks like we'll have to wait and see just how efficient this new technology is.

Be on the lookout for updates!




Transform your water-wasting toilet into a high-efficiency machine!

FlushAll Solves Water-Wasting Issues

 
Flushing efficiency. It's a challenge for all toilet manufacturers. Since Congress mandated a 1.6 gallons per flush (gfp) maximum almost two decades ago, toilet companies have been trying to do more with less. After all, what's the point of a toilet that uses only .8 gpf if you have to flush it three times to get the job done?

Enter the world of toilet accessories. No, we're not talking fancy handles or chromed-out parts. We're talking easy-to-install valves that take an ordinary toilet and make it, well, extraordinary.

Or at least more efficient.

The FlushAll is the newcomer on the block, a $20 "high performance valve" that provides 40% more flushing power with less water. According to the company, a home can save 2,500 gallons of water per year, per toilet. It all adds up, folks.

Installation takes about 30 minutes and there's a helpful installation video for those lacking plumbing instinct to follow.

Have you tried a water-saving toilet add-on? Tell us about your experience. Did it help? Was it worth it?




Vent collar separation poses a carbon monoxide poisoning risk.

Tankless Water Heaters Recalled Due to Carbon Monoxide Poisoning Risk

 
About 13,000 Navien Instantaneous (or Tankless) Water Heaters were recently recalled due to a risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.

According to the CPSC, the water heaters were found to have an unstable connection that causes the vent collar to separate or detach if pressure is applied. The detached vent collar poses the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.

Fortunately there have not been any incidents or injuries reported.

Consumers who own a recalled unit should immediately contact Navien to schedule a free repair. In instances where use of the recalled unit is continued while waiting for the repair, a carbon monoxide alarm should be installed outside all the sleeping areas of the home.




It might not look like much, but this bidet toilet seat packs quite the technological punch.

Affordable Hi-Tech Toilet

 
The toilet may not seem like the most likely place to find technological innovation, but that hasn't stopped manufacturers from making it so. Automatic flushing, seats that raise up and down on their own, even calming music -- it's all found its way into the porcelain perch.

But those perks come with a price. Hi-tech toilets tend to come with a sticker that can be, for lack of a better word, shocking.

Manufacturer Brondell has taken steps to change that reality with the release of the Swash 300, a wirelessly controlled bidet toilet seat that sells for $249.

The Swash 300 also features an adjustable heated seat with an integrated slow closing "slam free" seat and lid. The anti-bacterial dual nozzle system is also adjustable in both pressure and temperature.

Affordable luxury. No longer an oxymoron.




I guess technically you can't call it "hands-free" washing, can you?

Greenbuild 2011: Spotlight on Hands-Free Faucets

 
As one of EPA's WaterSense Partners of the Year for 2011 it's no surprise that Delta Faucet is leading the way in water-saving technology. At this week's Greenbuild 2011 in Toronto, Delta displayed their latest in touch-activated and hands-free bathroom faucets.

Featuring their innovative Touch2O Technology, Delta's Talbott and Lahara collections allow users to tap the faucet on or off anywhere on the spout or handle. Perfect when hands are full or dirty. The water will automatically turn off within one minute of being tapped on.

Additionally, the Addison and Laraha lines feature Delta's new Touch2O.xt Technology, which features a four-inch sensing field around the entire faucet. The faucet automatically responds when users approach the sensing field. There's no infrared used. Just moving the hands out of range shuts off the flow within seconds, which saves money. And the touch-free starting keeps the faucet clean.

Pretty cool features all around. I do wonder at the sensing field. There are plenty of times when my hands come within four inches of the faucet when I don't have intentions of turning it on. I think I might get a little annoyed with it turning on and off constantly just because I got too near it.



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