At Home with Tech

Figure out which consumer tech you need, the right gear to buy and how to use your new gadgets.

Tag: Home Depot

Which Bulb Should You Buy for a Porch Light?

If you’re not sure which light bulb you should be using in your outside porch light, you’re not alone. Here’s the story of my journey to a solution…

My house has an porch-light fixture above my front door. The long, cylindrical fixture’s bottom is technically open to the outside elements, but the bulb is protected.

You can spot the bulb if you look deep into the fixture after you ring my doorbell. If I take my time getting to the door, and if you’re a tech geek like me, you might wonder what kind of light bulb I use. Funny you should ask…

Every six months or so for the past ten years, the bulb has burnt out, and I have to replace it. Each time, I’ve found myself faced with the dread of not exactly knowing which one I should be using. And that has usually led me to a moment of self-reflection and uncertainty about my place in the universe.

Because I’ve come this far in life, and I can’t quite figure out what it takes to screw in the proper light bulb. It blew out again last week. So I decided it was finally time to figure this out…

How Many Words Does it Take to Screw In a Light Bulb?
First off, it’s not like I’ve been entirely oblivious in my past attempts to choose the correct bulb. Previously, I’ve used GE outdoor incandescent postlights with bent tips. I’ve assumed that because they’ve carried the name ‘postlight’ they’re designed to weather the outside elements as long as they’re protected from rain. They’ve operated just fine, even though they must get a little damp now and again.
(I hope I’ve not been tempting fate.)

Unfortunately, I can’t find these GE bulbs anymore on Amazon. Plus, they’ve always been difficult to unscrew, because my fixture is so long and I can barely get my fingers in far enough to get a grip on the bulb. So, I’ve always wanted to find a bulb that’s a little taller.

And did I really mention the word ‘incandescent” earlier? What an embarrassment.
Yes, you’re right… I should have found an LED replacement by now.

Amazon Stumbles
So I went back to Amazon and began searching for ‘LED Postlight’ and ‘Porch Light’ bulbs.

Strangely, nothing popped up that talked about outside use or all weather construction.

Frustrated with my inability to use Amazon for immediate gratification on a Saturday morning, I invited my fourth grader to go with me on a light-bulb adventure to our local The Home Depot. And we drove off…

The Value of One-to-One Human Interaction
You can easily find hundreds of conflicting product opinions online for just about anything you’re looking for. Call me old-fashioned, but I still value the opportunity to walk into The Home Depot, find someone wearing an orange smock and ask my question. Over the years, I’ve usually received great advice at The Home Depot. And this time was no different…

I found my expert hovering in the lighting section and told him my story. I held up my burnt-out incandescent bulb and waited for his response.

He stared into space for just a moment and then directed me to a ‘Philips F15 Postlight dimmable LED’ that costs $4.47.

Illuminating
The packaging displayed a picture of a glowing outside lamp post. The fine print said “Do not use where directly exposed to water. Only install in operating environments between -4 degrees and +113 degrees Fahrenheit.”

I figured I was covered…

So, I bought the 7-watt LED, and my son and I drove home. When I installed it, the bulb was much easier to grip, and it powered up just fine. So, what more is there to talk about…?

Well, I wondered why I couldn’t find this Philips LED on Amazon. So jumped back online and typed in “Philips F15 Postlight.”

And there it was…
Philips LED Dimmable F15 Soft White Light Bulb

But the description didn’t promote it as a ’Postlight.’
And the technical details listed “Indoor use only.”

Still, there was that same photo on the packaging with the outdoor light post.

And in the user reviews, several talked about successfully using this bulb as their porch light.

The Fine Print
So what should we make of all of this?

I’m detecting a certain industry ‘hedge’ when it comes to screwing in light bulbs outdoors. No, my Philips LED doesn’t have a “use at your own risk outside” warning label. In fact, on the base of the bulb, the fine print said, “suitable for damp locations.”

So what’s the problem?

Well, Philips still seemingly prefers that you use its ‘postlight’ indoors.

But lamp posts live outside. And so does my porch light.

This Philips LED model number is #9290011822.
I’ll let you know how it goes…

A Digital Sniffer Can Be Your Nose’s Best Friend

Gas in the home doesn’t always look like this. If there’s a leak, and you don’t know it, your nose is your only defense. Or is it…?

Gas in the home doesn’t always look like this. If there’s a leak, and you don’t know it, your nose is your only defense. Or is it…?

Did you know your nose might be called upon at any moment to save you and your family?

If you use natural gas to heat your home or power your oven, you might be familiar with the fact that your gas company adds a rotten-eggs smell (mercaptan) to its otherwise odorless natural gas to help you know if there’s a gas leak.

But what if you can’t totally trust your nose?

I just went through one of these real-life ‘moments’ a few nights ago.

Let me set it up like a Lifetime movie…

After the Opening Credits
Scene 1: Fade up to a nighttime shot of a typical suburban neighborhood.
The full moon glows overhead.

An ominous music track begins…

Zoom in to a house containing a sleeping family, all cozy in their gas-friendly home.

Dissolve to the parent’s bedroom.

Cut to medium shot of the happily sleeping husband. The clock on the night table glows 4:00am. Next to it, an outdoor thermometer display reads 15 degrees.

Cut to tight shot of the wife’s eyes popping open.

“Are you awake?”

“Murphenpoppen. Cragglesnaffen. Mmmrph. Uuuhh.
Yesss!”

“Do you smell something?”

“What?”

“I think I smell gas. Do you?”

“I’m not sure. My nose is a little stuffed. Hang on.
(SNIFFF)
I don’t think so.”

“I do. Would you go downstairs and check it out?”

The husband gets out of the bed and embarks on the critical mission.
His weapon of choice: His nose.

The stairs creak ominously as he descends.

Fade to back.

Putting the Nose to Work
I’m happy to report my life is not a Lifetime movie.
That said, here’s what happened next…

I walked carefully about the kitchen and the basement and put my nose in action.
I sniffed the stove. I sniffed the oven. I sniffed here and there. I sniffed everywhere.

Our two cats watched me perform this strange human ritual of safety.
They were not impressed.

My verdict: Nothing.
I couldn’t detect any signs of a gas leak.

I think I may have picked up the essence of a few charred remains from dinner.
(My meat-broiling skills have been a little off lately.)

But my nostrils did not reveal anything else out of the ordinary.

So I shared my findings upstairs, and we both went back to sleep.

Time to Team Up with Technology
The fact that I’m still here to document this incident means my conclusion was correct.

And I want to thank my wife for waking me up in the dead of night to go on what might otherwise be considered a fool’s errand.
(Up until then, I hadn’t figured out a post topic for this week!)

Because I suddenly realized how nice it would be if I had a little technology on my side the next time to help with the investigation.

The Digital Sniffer
We all have carbon monoxide detectors in our homes, but it’s not common to see digital gas sniffers hanging around. I guess the rotten egg smell is supposed to do the trick all on its own.

The gas detector market is mostly focused on devices that can zero in on the precise location of a gas leak. These $200-$300 (and up) sniffers will help your plumber isolate the spot on the gas pipe needing repair.

But these expensive gadgets overshoot my particular parameters.
I just want some affordable tech to tell me,
“Yes, your nose is correct. There’s gas in this room! Get out now!!”

I’d let the professionals take it from there…

Conversely, I want a device to support my conclusion if, in fact, there isn’t any gas hanging around the house.

I would certainly sleep better knowing that the rest of my night won’t play out like an explosive scene from a Michael Bay movie.

Sure, your schnoz should easily detect the rotten egg scent, but what happens if you’ve just recovered from one of those nasty January colds?

Sniffing Out the Best Solution
The good news is there are a few less-expensive sniffers out there that should do the trick.

Here are a couple more choices out there around the $100 price point:

Earlier I hedged with the phrase, “should do the trick.”
It’s worth repeating each of these choices received some percentage of reviews saying the device came up short. And the fact that there are other options costing hundreds of dollars more is a reminder that these sniffers have certain limitations.

That said, the EUi CD100A appears almost universally loved.

Keeping Your World Safe, One Sniff at a Time
A digital sniffer can be exceptionally useful to have around the next time you “think you smell gas.”

But should you entirely trust one of these ‘more-affordable’ units?
Of course not.
(I wouldn’t completely put my life in the hands of a $300 device.)

Just think of a digital sniffer as simply another addition to your overall tool belt to help you protect your world.

And your nose will thank you!

I’ve Got the Power: Buying the Right Portable Generator

Worried about how to power your personal Skynet, Matrix or HAL during a blackout? Time to flip a switch and generate some watts!

Worried about how to power your personal Skynet, Matrix or HAL during a blackout? Time to flip a switch and generate some watts!

Power.

Lately, I’ve been obsessed with power.
No, not the megalomaniac kind.

The type that powers your personal tech.

Feed Me!!
My tech is always hungry.

I’ve got my handy Anker portable charger for my portable tech when I’m on the road.

I’ve got multiple UPS battery backups for my home office gear.

I always feel a dull ache whenever I watch my toddler play with my arsenal of flashlights. Another emergency light source draining away…

I own multiple rechargeable batteries, and I always throw a twenty pack of AA’s into my cart whenever I’m at Staples.

I read Facebook with envy when I see one of my friends installing solar panels on his roof.

What’s going on that I crave so much reserve power to keep the digital wheels turning?

It’s like worrying about never having enough to eat…
I’m always feeling like the orphaned Oliver.

“Please sir, may I have some more?”

Like it or not, AC and DC energy is the food to sustain your digital life.

It’s Gettin’… It’s Gettin’
It’s Gettin’ Kinda Hectic!
Certainly last fall’s Hurricane Sandy was a huge wake up call.
It decimated the Northeast and knocked out power for weeks.

Mother nature reminded us how fragile our power grid can be.

Get a Portable Generator!
When Sandy blew by, my house went dark for the better part of a week.
The inside temperature dropped into the low forties.

But I was lucky.
My family and I escaped and stayed over with friends who own a portable generator.
It kept their house fully operational.

Sure, there was heat and hot water.
But I quickly turned my attention elsewhere-

  • Internet access- Check.
  • Charging stations for portable devices- All you can eat.
  • TV- Yup!

It was like living in an alternate reality bubble.

The only clue we weren’t in Kansas anymore was the hum of the portable generator sitting in the driveway.

By the end of that week, it was crystal clear what I needed to protect the House of Lester…

It’s taken me five months to follow up on that decision, but I’ve finally taken the first step.

Ring. Ring…
Mr. Electrician, I have a job for you!
So before you can actually use a portable generator to power your house,
you need to do some electrical work.
(which is why it’s not a good idea to delay making the call until
The Weather Channel starts tracking the next planet-killing storm)

There’s the right way and the wrong way to handle the electrical challenge…

Option 1: Reverse the Polarity in Your Warp Drive Engine
Certain intrepid souls with some electrical skills have been known to do their own electrical jury-rigging.
It’s called ‘backfeeding,’ which refers to connecting power from the generator directly back into a house outlet.

This is extremely dangerous, and the web is filled with warnings about how you can electrocute yourself and others down your power grid.

I’m generally not into death and mayhem. And I don’t fancy myself an electrical MacGyver. So I passed on the backfeeding idea.

Option 2- Manual Transfer Switch
Hire an electrician to properly install a manual transfer switch next to your house’s electrical panel.
And that’s what I just did last week!

This additional power panel allows you to safely use and switch between your power sources.

My electrician also ran a weather resistant 30-amp plug to the outside of my house for the generator.
(Safety tip: The portable generator can’t be positioned too close to your house or you’ll risk carbon monoxide poisoning. That would be bad, especially after you went to all that effort not to blow things up.)

The whole shebang is not inexpensive.
I spent over $1,000, doing it the right way with my electrician.
But you do what you’ve got to do.
(The idea is to survive the power outage, right?)

So my house is finally ready for action.
Time to buy the portable generator!

How Much Power Do You Need?
Some portable generators are beefier than others, and yes, you pay more for the extra watts.
How much do you really need?
5,000-6000 watts should be sufficient to handle most of your home’s basic needs.
(My friend’s generator offers a healthy 6,000 running watts.)

Sure, you can permanently install a permanent home standby generator in your backyard, but that kind of project comes at a much higher price point.

Which Brand?
Of course, there are lots of brands to choose between.
Consumer Reports likes Troy-Bilt, Honda and Generac.
My electrician let me know he’s also partial to the Generac line of generators.
So I focused on that company.

Fuel?
There are two main fuel source options to choose between…

Gas
The portable generator market today is flooded with gas generators.
Yet, everyone I’ve talked with agrees gas generators have several major drawbacks.

  1. When the power goes out, lots of gas stations close
  2. The remaining gas stations have long lines
  3. You’ve got to store many gallons in your house to keep the generator going.
  4. Gas is flammable
  5. Gas goes bad quickly

Sign me up?
Not so fast…

Liquid Propane
Yes, it’s like what you use to run your gas grill.
There aren’t many LP portable generators out there, but my informal survey suggests they’re the superior choice.

  1. Easier to store propane tanks long term
  2. LP generators are more energy efficient
  3. It’s safer

My friend is a strong liquid propane proponent and he quickly convinced me of the wisdom of LP.

Thank you, Sensei.

Which Liquid Propane Portable Generator?
You can buy my friend’s Sportsman GEN7000LP portable generator on Amazon for $1,000.
It’s clearly a solid choice.
(6,000 running watts. 7,000 surge watts.)

But after doing my own due diligence, I like the brand-new Generac LP5500.

Generac talks about its ‘breakthrough’ research bringing propane generators to the market.

In 2011, they successfully experimented with their small LP generator (LP3250).
Now they’ve built a larger version, the new LP5500 (model #6001), which will start shipping in the next few weeks.

The Brand New Generac LP5500 Propane Powered Portable Generator

The brand new Generac LP5500 propane powered portable generator is here!

It offers 5,500 running watts and 6,850 starting/surge watts.
The going price around the web is $800.

It’s a relatively small unit with room in the back to hold your LP tank. It has two cushy wheels for easy transport, and it’s powerful enough to play in the big leagues with its competition.

Consumer Reports recently posted a video report from the 2013 Home Show featuring the introduction of the LP5500.
Their video provides a great visual overview of this model.

So even though I normally like to wait to read multiple customer reviews before making a decision, I’ve already got a gut feeling that this yet-to-be-released generator is the one for me.

Where to Buy It?
Again, as of this post, the LP5500 isn’t in stores yet, but websites are already selling it as a backordered item. They suggest they’ll have it sometime in April.

The next super storm could be around the corner, so I’m feeling it’s a wise choice to pull the trigger now and get in line for this one.

My electrician suggested buying from an online company called Norwall.
But they’re not listing my Generac yet.
Bummer.

Another online retailer, Electric Generators Direct has it listed and backordered for amost a month.
I called them to check them out, and the representative I spoke with seemed very nice.
But I don’t know the company.
Next…

Amazon’s got it.
But the page lists a shipping ETA from 1-3 months.
Pass!

Then I noticed this week Home Depot has the LP5500 on its website.
(but not in stores)
Backordered only for another week.
Ships 3-6 days after that.

Everyone knows Home Depot!
BINGO!!

The Right Choice?
So I’m planning on doing the deal with Home Depot.
But before I buy my orange Generac, I thought I’d first share my own research through this post and ask if anyone out there wants to challenge my decision on the LP5500.

Really, it’s less of a decision than an educated guess.

I should also mention a major reason I’m not taking the proven path by going with my friend’s larger Sportsman is I’m simply looking for a more compact unit to store.

Slave to My Machines
So now, I’m moonlighting as my own power company to ensure the survival of my tech beyond a regional or global blackout.

I feel like I’ve entered “The Matrix.”

Maybe I should just connect the plug into the back of my skull to feed my electronics, like in the movie.
No, that won’t work. Not enough juice…
(need a bigger brain)

That’s why the entire human race had to be enslaved to power the endless whims of technology.

Things are much different in real life…
(really?)

I wish you a successful and safe journey in your search for your own watts!

Soon I’ll be able to scream at the top of my lungs…
“I’ve Got the Power!!”

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