Archive for September, 2009

Electrical outlets don’t last forever!

September 29th, 2009 No comments

Electrical Tip of the Day:  Many homes have receptacles which are damaged, have internal parts that are worn, or have deteriorated over the years (some older outlets were made from a product called Bakelite – a precursor to modern plastics that did not tend to hold up well). Outlets also deteriorate from repeated use, from plugging-in and unplugging.  As a result, when plugs fit loosely into receptacles, especially the two-prong ungrounded type, they may slip partially or completely out of the receptacle with only slight movement of the attached cord.  Receptacles in this condition may overheat and pose a serious fire hazard.  In addition to a device being worn, loose or improperly mounted receptacles and switches can pose just as much danger.  It does not take much movement for a loose device to cause a short circuit situation inside a junction box.

We recommend that homeowners have a qualified electrical contractor replace all deteriorated and damaged receptacles.  In older homes (typically any dwelling over 20 years old) we highly recommend what we call a “full device and switch” – were we come in , replace all the devices in the home, re-wire all the device junction boxes, and check each location for deteriorated wiring / signs of  over-heating.

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Tax credits for home improvements

September 28th, 2009 No comments

I am getting asked about this more and more now, so I went looking for an up-to-date list of the currently available tax credits for homeowners regarding energy efficiency improvements to a dwelling.  I found this list on the Energy Star web site, which is good information that could really effect the bottom line of a project.

Tax credits are now available for home improvements:

  • must be “placed in service” from January 1, 2009 through December 31, 2010
  • must be for taxpayer’s principal residence, EXCEPT for geothermal heat pumps, solar water heaters, solar panels, and small wind energy systems (where second homes qualify)
  • $1,500 is the maximum total amount that can be claimed for all products placed in service in 2009 & 2010 for most home improvements, EXCEPT for geothermal heat pumps, solar water heaters, solar panels, fuel cells, and small wind energy systems which are not subject to this cap, and are in effect through 2016
  • must have a Manufacturer Certification Statement to qualify
  • for record keeping, save your receipts and the Manufacturer Certification Statement
  • improvements made in 2009 will be claimed on your 2009 taxes (filed by April 15, 2010) — use IRS Tax Form 5695 (2009 version) — it will be available late 2009 or early 2010
  • If you are building a new home, you can qualify for the tax credit for geothermal heat pumps, photovoltaics, solar water heaters, small wind energy systems and fuel cells, but not the tax credits for windows, doors, insulation, roofs, HVAC, or non-solar water heaters. More.
Product Category Product Type Tax Credit Specification Tax Credit Notes
Insulation Insulation Meets 2009 IECC & Amendments 30% of cost, up to $1,5001 FAQ on Insulation.

Check to see if you have Home Performance with ENERGY STAR in your areas. Adding insulation to your home is covered.

Windows & Doors Windows, Doors, and Skylights Before June 1, 2009:
Must meet ENERGY STAR criteria

After June 1, 2009:
U factor <= 0.30

SHGC <= 0.30

30% of cost, up to $1,5001 Not all ENERGY STAR labeled windows, doors, and skylights qualify for tax credit.

More information

Storm Windows & Storm Doors In combination with the exterior window over which it is installed:

  1. has a U-factor and SHGC of 0.30 or below
  2. Meets the IECC
30% of cost, up to $1,5001 FAQ on Storm Doors and Storm Windows.
Roofing Metal Roofs,
Asphalt Roofs
All ENERGY STAR qualified metal and reflective asphalt shingles 30% of cost, up to $1,5001 FAQ on Roofs.
HVAC Central A/C Split Systems:
SEER >= 16, EER >=13

Package systems:
SEER >= 14, EER >= 12

30% of cost, up to $1,5001 FAQ on Central ACs.

FAQ on Air Source Heat Pumps.

Note — not all ENERGY STAR products will qualify for the tax credit.

Air Source Heat Pumps Split Systems:
HSPF >= 8.5, EER >= 12.5, SEER >= 15

Package systems:
HSPF >= 8, EER >= 12, SEER >= 14

30% of cost, up to $1,5001
Natural Gas or Propane Furnace AFUE >= 95 30% of cost, up to $1,5001 FAQ on Furnaces and Boilers.

Note — not all ENERGY STAR products will qualify for the tax credit.

Oil Furnace AFUE >= 90 30% of cost, up to $1,5001
Gas, Propane, or Oil Hot Water Boiler AFUE >= 90 30% of cost, up to $1,5001
Advanced Main Air Circulating Fan No more than 2% of furnace total energy use. 30% of cost, up to $1,5001 FAQ: What if the fan qualifies, but the furnace does not?
Water Heaters Gas, Oil, Propane Water Heater Energy Factor >= 0.82
or a thermal efficiency of at least 90%.
30% of cost, up to $1,5001 FAQ on Water Heaters.
Electric Heat Pump Water Heater Same criteria as ENERGY STAR: Energy Factor >= 2.0 30% of cost, up to $1,5001
Biomass Stove Biomass Stove Stove which burns biomass fuel to heat a home or heat water.

Thermal efficiency rating of at least 75% as measured using a lower heating value.

30% of cost, up to $1,5001 FAQ on Biomass Stoves.
Geo-Thermal Heat Pump Geo-Thermal Heat Pump Same criteria as ENERGY STAR:

Closed Loop:
EER >= 14.1, COP >= 3.3

Open Loop:
EER >= 16.2, COP >= 3.6

Direct Expansion:
EER >= 15, COP >= 3.5

30% of the cost All ENERGY STAR geo-thermal heat pumps qualify for the tax credit.

What about water-to-water geothermal heat pumps?

Must be “placed into service” before December 31, 2016.

Solar Energy Systems Solar Water Heating At least half of the energy generated by the “qualifying property” must come from the sun. Homeowners may only claim spending on the solar water heating system property, not the entire water heating system of the household.

The credit is not available for expenses for swimming pools or hot tubs.

The water must be used in the dwelling.

The system must be certified by the Solar Rating and Certification Corporation (SRCC).

30% of cost All ENERGY STAR solar water heaters qualify for the tax credit.

Must be placed in service before December 31, 2016.

Photovoltaic Systems Photovoltaic systems must provide electricity for the residence, and must meet applicable fire and electrical code requirement. 30% of cost Must be placed in service before December 31, 2016.
Small Wind Energy Systems Residential Small Wind Turbines Has nameplate capacity of not more than 100 kilowatts. 30% of cost Must be placed in service before December 31, 2016.
Fuel Cells Residential Fuel Cell and microturbine system Efficiency of at least 30% and must have a capacity of at least 0.5 kW. 30% of the cost, up to $500 per .5 kW of power capacity Must be placed in service before December 31, 2016.
Cars Hybrid gasoline-electric, diesel, battery-electric, alternative fuel, and fuel cell vehicles Based on a formula determined by vehicle weight, technology, and fuel economy compared to base year models There is a 60,000 vehicle limit per manufacturer before a phase-out period begins. Toyota and Honda have already been phased out. Credit is still available for Ford, GM and Nissan.

For more information visit: Exit ENERGY STAR

Use IRS Form 8910 PDF Exit ENERGY STAR for hybrid vehicles purchased for personal use.

Use IRS Form 3800 PDF Exit ENERGY STAR for hybrid vehicles purchased for business purposes.

Plug-in hybrid electric vehicles $2,500–$7,500 The first 250,000 vehicles sold get the full tax credit (then it phases out like the hybrid vehicle tax credits).

Effective January 1, 2009.

1Subject to a $1,500 maximum per homeowner for all improvements combined.

Efficient Cars

Starting January 1, 2009, there is a new tax credit for Plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, starting at $2,500 and capped at $7,500 for cars and trucks (the credit is based on the capacity of the battery system). The first 250,000 vehicles sold get the full tax credit (then it phases out like the hybrid vehicle tax credits).

Tax credits are available to buyers of hybrid gasoline-electric, diesel, battery-electric, alternative fuel, and fuel cell vehicles. The tax credit amount is based on a formula determined by vehicle weight, technology, and fuel economy compared to base year models. These credits are available for vehicles placed in service starting January 1, 2006. For hybrid and diesel vehicles made by each manufacturer, the credit will be phased out over 15 months starting after that manufacturer has sold 60,000 eligible vehicles. For vehicles made by manufacturers that have not reached the end of the phase-out, the credits will end for vehicles placed in service after December 31, 2010. See the IRS Website for updated information Exit ENERGY STAR.

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How do you keep your digital files safe?

September 25th, 2009 No comments

As an electrical contractor we run into a lot of bad situations.  One of the worst is when a client loses all of their digital files, data, and media due to a fire / flood / or not having a back-up drive.  We strongly recommend the ioSafe for just this application, built like a tank and very affordable.  Check out the review of this thing on MacWorld.

ioSafe Solo

Hard drive that’s tough enough for fire and floods

by Chris Holt,

Imagine confronting a disaster in your home. A house fire. A flood. Or even something as common as a leaky roof. When surveying the damage, you notice your external hard drive. Normally, a hard drive would be ruined by fire or water. No matter the encryption or how shock-resistant the drive, a typical hard drive is not designed to withstand that kind of abuse.

That’s where the ioSafe Solo comes in. The ioSafe Solo is the black box of storage options, providing disaster protection and peace of mind by surviving situations other drives can’t.

The ioSafe Solo’s security features for your data don’t involve encryption, but are of the physical variety. To withstand moisture, the drive is sealed in what the company calls a HydroSafe waterproof package that can handle up to 10 feet of water for three days. The ioSafe Solo also has a ceramic block that is part of the drive’s DataCast fireproof insulation. When reaching temperatures over 160 degrees Fahrenheit, the ceramic block releases water vapor to cool the unit.

The drive includes ioSafe’s Data Recovery Service that is activated with product registration. The service includes a telephone hotline and e-mail address to contact the ioSafe Disaster Response Team. The service also comes with a Data Extraction Guarantee of up to $20,000 and a free replacement ioSafe unit with the recovered data. The Data Recovery Service and the Disaster Response Team are available with the original warranty and can be extended for up to five years.

Trial by water and fire

The company’s press materials claim that the ioSafe Solo can withstand being submerged in ten feet of water. To simulate this, we threw the drive into a large fountain at Marathon Plaza in San Francisco.

Granted, our test did not involve true flood conditions. We submerged the iSafe solo in water for a fraction of the time that a flood would likely submit the drive to. While examining the ioSafe Solo’s water-tight bag, which covers the hard drive mechanism while inside the iSafe solo,I believed that it would withstand being submerged in water for hours, maybe even days.

In order to test the drive in our labs and confirm its waterproof abilities, we had to unscrew the exterior, remove the ceramic interior, and finally cut open the bag itself. This voided the warranty as it made the unit no longer water safe. But when we plugged the exposed Hitachi drive into a WiebeTech SATADock adapter, the drive worked.

To test the ioSafe Solo’s ability to withstand fire, we performed a few tests at The Crucible using a flame cannon. Since we performed the fire test after the water test, we taped the watertight bag closed as best we could. The bagged Hitachi drive was placed inside the ceramic enclosure and metal exterior.

The Crucible’s flame cannon did not achieve the sustained high temperatures that are associated with house fires, but it did exceed over 300 degrees, enough to melt the fan in the back of the drive as well as much of the mounting. The ceramic interior was singed and smelled something awful, but the drive mechanism, despite the compromise of its watertight bag, was intact. I removed the drive mechanism from the case, and attached it to the SATADock, and it worked on our Mac without a hitch.

The ioSafe Solo’s waterproof and fireproof abilities are exceptional, but there is always room for improvement. The ioSafe Solo is not designed to withstand more than normal drops, bruises, and kicks, though when I dropped the ioSafe several times from heights of three to four feet, and the drive mechanism continued to work. It would be nice to see the ioSafe Solo modified to withstand more disastrous rumble tests that would simulate what you might experience in an earthquake or building collapse.

The video below shows how we tested the ioSafe Solo’s waterproof and fireproof capabilities.


The ioSafe Solo is available in 500GB (tested), 1TB, and 1.5TB capacities. The drive has a Hitachi 7200 rotations-per-minute mechanism, but is sadly limited to only USB connectivity. Its USB speed is sluggish compared to drives that use FireWire or eSATA, but the drive’s USB times show that its performance is similar to other USB drives we’ve tested.

The ioSafe finished our 1GB copy test in 52 seconds, only slightly off the USB times of other desktop drives we’ve reviewed. Western Digital’s My Book Mac Edition (), our top USB-only desktop drive, finished the same test in 49 seconds.

Timed trials

Copy 1GB file to USB 2.0 0:52
Duplicate 1GB file via USB 2.0 1:20
Low-memory Photoshop: USB 2.0 1:27

Scale = Minutes: Seconds

How we tested: We ran all tests with the drive connected to a Mac Pro Quad 2.66GHz Xeon with Mac OS X 10.5 installed and 1GB of RAM. We tested the drive with each available port. We copied a folder containing 1GB of data from our Mac’s hard drive to the external hard drive to test the drive’s write speed. We then duplicated that file on the external drive to test both read and write speeds. We also used the drive as a scratch disk when running our low-memory Adobe Photoshop CS3 Suite test. This test is a set of four tasks performed on a 150MB file, with Photoshop’s memory set to 25 percent.—Macworld Lab Testing by Chris Holt

In our 1GB duplication test, the ioSafe Solo finished at a slightly slower pace that the My Book Mac Edition, completing the test in 1 minute, 20 seconds, a full 6 seconds behind the My Book Mac Edition.

However, the ioSafe Solo had surprisingly fast times in our low memory Photoshop test. On average, the ioSafe solo finished the test in 1 minute, 27 seconds, actually besting the My Book for Mac by 4 seconds.

Obviously, the ioSafe Solo isn’t built for speed, but it’s nice to see it has competitive times for its chosen connectivity. Since USB is so universal, virtually anyone can use the ioSafe’s storage capabilities and security features.

The price of the ioSafe solo depends on both the capacity and the warranty associated with it. The 500GB model, which comes with a three-year warranty and a one-year data recovery system, will set you back $150. That works out to about $.30 per gigabyte. Two additional years of the data recovery service plan costs and additional $50, while a full five-year warranty and five years of the data recovery service will cost an additional $100.


Price per gigabyte $.30
Connectors USB 2.0 (1)
Rotational Speed 7,200rpm
Other capacities 1TB ($230 to $330), 1.5TB ($300 to $400)

Macworld’s buying advice

Like an airplane’s black box, the ioSafe solo ensures your data will be kept safe even when confronted with disastrous conditions. Perhaps more compelling still, the drive is at a price that makes it affordable to the average consumer. Just as the family safe is designed to keep important paper documents intact no matter what, a family ioSafe Solo will preserve the data you want to keep, come hellfire or high water.

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Arc Fault Circuit Breakers – they can prevent electrical fires!

September 23rd, 2009 No comments

Electrical Tip of the Day: This is a re-post of some great information / explanation of the Arc Fault Circuit breaker from Tim Carters, “Ask the Builder” blog. Arc Fault breakers have been around for about 5 years but have not been something typically enforced by local code.  Currently that is changing – and the 2008 NEC code does require their use for new construction.  We suggest their use in a lot  of older homes with questionable wiring as a quick and affordable means of fire protection and added peace of mind for the owner.

DEAR TIM: There was a house fire on our street last week. The fire investigators traced the cause to a short in an electrical wire. I am terrified that a fire can start in my own home without warning. Why didn’t the person’s circuit breaker trip as soon as the wire shorted? Is there a way to prevent fires caused by short circuits in electrical wiring? Laura M., Bellevue, PA

DEAR LAURA: Your neighbor’s fire was just one of the 115 +/- electrical fires that happen each day in the USA. These fires cause hundreds of millions of dollars in damage, injure thousands of people and are responsible for the deaths of hundreds of people each year. I can see why you are terrified. Ask any firefighter and he will tell you that electrical fires are non-discriminatory. They can strike anywhere and at any time.

The arc-fault breakers have a very important pigtail wire that gets connected to the neutral / ground bar in the panel.  The white neutral wire of the circuit actually connects to a screw on the breaker.

The arc-fault breakers have a very important pigtail wire that gets connected to the neutral / ground bar in the panel. The white neutral wire of the circuit actually connects to a screw on the breaker.

The electrical shorts that cause these fires produce arcs. These miniature fireworks create sparks and temperatures that approach 10,000 F. This intense heat can rapidly ignite plastic insulation, wood, carpeting or any other combustible material in the vicinity of the arcing wires. Arcs happen frequently in appliance electrical cords where insulation has become brittle or is cracked. Hidden wires behind walls nicked by nails or pinched by fasteners can also be sources of sinister arcing. Loose connections where wires are attached to switches and outlets are often arc hot spots.

The traditional circuit breakers in your neighbor’s house did not prevent the fire for a simple reason. They are not designed to sense arc faults. Traditional circuit breakers are actually designed to protect just the wire behind the walls and the switches and outlets that they are connected to. The circuit breakers are designed to trip when they sense a short that causes an avalanche of electricity coursing through a circuit. They also will trip when a constant massive amount of electricity passing through the circuit causes a heat buildup within the breaker. Traditional breakers are not designed to protect lightweight appliance wires and extension cords that are plugged into wall outlets.

Fire producing arcs can occur in wiring before traditional breakers react. Electrical manufacturers recognized this problem and decided to attempt to stop as many of these electrical fires as possible. The result of the hard work of many is a new arc fault circuit interrupter breaker. These devices work and act like a traditional circuit breaker except that they are smarter. Many of these new devices contain small filters and logic devices that allow them to sense an arc just as it is about to produce the sparks and intense heat. If arcing conditions are present, then the breaker trips instantaneously.

Do not confuse these devices with the personal protection ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCI) that have been around for over 30 years. The GFCI circuit breakers, at the present time, do not have the capability to sense arcs.

The new arc fault circuit breakers are identified in section 210-12 of the 1999 edition of the National Electric Code. Beginning January 1, 2002, they were required to protect branch circuits that serve residential bedrooms. These areas of the house have been identified as the source of many electrical arc related fires. The state of Vermont has taken a slightly more aggressive stance. They are requiring that these new life saving circuit breakers be used in all circuits that feed residential living areas. Their regulation went into effect on January 1, 2001.

These new arc fault breakers can be purchased now in every state in the USA. These breakers are the same size as your existing traditional circuit breakers. The new arc fault breakers cost about $25 – $50 each depending upon manufacturer, but it is a very small price to pay for peace of mind. An experienced electrician can install a new arc fault breaker in a matter of minutes. It actually takes longer to remove and replace the cover to the circuit breaker panel than it does to switch out the breaker.

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What is Quality?

September 21st, 2009 No comments

Quality is never an accident; it is always the result of high intention, sincere effort, intelligent direction and skillful execution; it represents the wise choice of many alternatives, the cumulative experience of many masters of craftsmanship. Quality also marks the search for an ideal after necessity has been satisfied and mere usefulness achieved.

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Five things every homeowner should know to look for

September 21st, 2009 No comments

So, I get asked this question all the time while doing site visits, “What do you see here that I need to fix right now?”  Often times there are a lot of things to talk about, but there are some pretty constant items that come up that almost always need to be addressed… here are 5 of the most important:

1) GFCI OUTLETS: (ground fault circuit interrupters) should be installed to protect outlets within 6′ of any water source, in all unfinished spaces, and for all exterior outlets.  These are the outlets with the “push button” resets on them.

2) OPEN SPLICES: all electrical splices should be made in a UL approved junction box with a proper cover.  The importance of this is a basic one – the box and cover contain the fire in the event that a junction fails and begins throwing sparks or putting off enough heat to ignite combustible materials.  Going the extra mile here and using all metal boxes and covers is preferable.

3) PUSHMATIC BREAKERS: these are the old style of breakers that can be identified as the ones that have to be “pushed” to turn off and on.  They are widely known in the trades to be an inferior product that is at the end of it’s life span.  These breakers often fail to work correctly when overloads occur.

4) EXTENSION CORDS: extension cords are only designed for temporary use.  IF they have to be used as a long standing solution then they need to be 14 or 12 gauge cords with a ground wire (3 prong) so that the conductors in the cord are sized correctly to the breaker that protects the circuit.  Failure to do so – like using one of  those little brown 16 gauge 2 prong cords to run your toaster or microwave – could lead to the cord catching fire or failing long before the breaker that protects the circuit is designed to trip.

5) 2 PRONG ADAPTERS: in a lot of older homes that have not been updated the electrical circuits do not have a ground.  Using a 2 > 3 prong adapter – Especially for APPLIANCE LOADS – is a poor decision.   If the equipment that you are trying to plug in has 3 prongs then it needs a ground.

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Protect yourself – using the right contractor

September 18th, 2009 No comments

Check out this MSNBC special report:

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To Dim or not to Dim…

September 17th, 2009 No comments

Electrical Tip of the Day:  So as most of you know by now, compact fluorescent lamps (CFL’s) are all the rage.   There are a lot of good reasons to use these lamps for certain applications.  However, in locations where you plan to use DIMMERS they tend to be a poor choice.  Most of the products available at the home stores are not dimmable, and even those that say they are do not perform well and will have a considerably reduced lamp life as compared to not running them on a dimmer.  So, before you spend the bucks make sure you know what you are after and what specific applicaton the lamp will be used for.  More information on CFL lamps see our home page,

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Gallery Walk this Friday 9/18/09

September 17th, 2009 No comments

This Friday is the September edition of the Downtown Gallery Walk.  Hope to see some of you out.  You can find me and my family down at Willow Stained Glass Studio and Modern Art Gallery from 6 to 11ish.  Come say hi and support your downtown local business owners!

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Where there is smoke

September 15th, 2009 No comments

Electrical Tip of the Day:  Smoke detectors are an important part of any electrical system.  Ideally they should be powered by 120 volts AC, have a battery back up system, and be interlinked.   Smoke detectors should be located withing 4′ of each bedroom door, in or near stairwells, in your mechanical space, in your attic, in your garage, and in your basement / crawl space.  If you have questions about fire safety your local fire department can be consulted at no charge to do a walk thru and help you out.

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