Product Review Eton FR150 Radio/Flashlight

January 30, 2010

radiolightcharger

On average, electrical consumers experience 120 minutes of power outage per year.

 If you read my post on Power Outages you already know about dealing with short power outages. I mentioned the Eton FR150 Microlink combination Radio/Flashlight cell phone charger device. I decided to invest the $30 to have something dedicated to emergencies only. If you follow the policies of the American Red Cross, you need more than a radio as they recommend assembling a kit of supplies to be stored for such emergencies. The FR150 was my first step. I purchased mine from REI, but have seen them at Electronics stores as well as various on-line sources for about the same money. 

I liked what I read about the unit and figured it should meet most of my needs. The FR150 will  provide you a AM/FM/Weather-Band radio, LED flashlight, a generic plug-in for a cell phone adapter and solar charging cell on the top of the unit.  In concept, I like the fact that it uses a long life  NiMH (Nickel Metal Hydride)  battery that can be charged in 3 different ways; 1) A USB plug, 2) solar cell, or 3) hand crank. The NiMH batteries are used to hold the charge.

Fit, Finish & Look: The product comes in several colors (Redcross red, black, yellow and green). The FR150 has a fresh look and a bit techy. In green and yellow it is translucent allowing you to see some of the electronics beneath the cover.

Size: The product was a bit smaller than I expected and later found this to be a disadvantage.  I took this picture by a soda can so you can get perspective. The good news is that it can be easily stored. I keep mine in a drawer next to my PC, where I leave it plugged in to the USB port for constant charging. Even though the PC is not on all the time, it should keep it100_0417 well charged. The dial and labels are easy to read with light but nearly impossible to see in the dark. I found the knobs (tuning and volume) slightly small and it may be difficult to tune in a weak station as the frequency dial to knob-turn-ratio is a bit quick causing you to pass through the frequencies even while turning the knob slow. 

Battery Characteristics:NiMH batteries are rechargeable and are typically known for their quick recharge time, ability to hold a charge and expected life cycle.  It should last for at least 3 years assuming you keep the unit in-doors in conditioned space (air-conditioned). If you keep it in a garage, attic or the glove box of your car, expect the battery to go bad twice as fast. If you live in colder climates, they could last longer. TIP: Most battery technologies baseline performance expectations using  77F.  In other-words, if a battery product claims a life expectancy of 1 year from date of purchase, its all based on the battery remaining  (on average) at 77F.

Performance: The manual recommend the unit to be initially charged for 8 hours. 

  • Radio & Flashlight: I ran the radio with the volume at level 5, after 8 hours the reception became scratchy, I turned the radio off and the flashlight on and found it continuously usable for 11 more hours for a total of 19 hours of continued use without any additional charging.  Since the flashlight uses LED bulbs, it consumes very little electricity. During  a recent outage I got to use it in a real life situation. Even thought it wasnt totally dark, I found it difficult to distinguish the volume from the turner. So without thinking I could change the station in lieu of adjusting the volume.
  • Flashlight Only: With the LED bulbs, the flashlight will produce usable light for over 20 hours before needing a charge. But remember, you can easily wind the charger and regain the light strength. I could easily see using the light for some limited room illumination by reflecting off the ceiling, however, with the charge connectors and a less than flat surface on the back, it doesn’t really want to sit flat with the light aimed at the ceiling.  It was still usable in that position, but a little movement or bumping it could cause it to fall over.
  • Cell Phone Charger: I did not test this feature

After an event, plug it in or set it in the sun to regain the full charge.

Accessories: Not really, but I didn’t know what else to call them.

  • The FR150 includes a wrist strap that allows you to carry the unit much like a hand held camera.
  • USB outlet. You will need to supply the cord. USB on one end with digital camera plug on the other. I had an extra one, so I just keep the cord/FR150 plugged in all the time.  
  • The unit includes a patch cord that provides a generic power plug for a cell phone charging adaptor. Eton provides you a mail-in card to order, at no charge, for you to order one connector. This is a pain in the butt. I got lucky as I uncovered a cheap little AA battery cell charger I picked up at a trade show that had every adapter known to man as part of the package. If you are like the rest of us, within your household you probably have multiple different charger needs. If I were you, I would hold out until you run across a similar opportunity or find something at a dollar store for adapters otherwise additional adaptors may cost you about $10 each.

Overall Impression:I found the product to deliver as promised as a good product for use in emergencies and non-powered applications, such as camping or hiking. I liked the styling and choice of colors. The radio performance is about like the little pocket radios we used as kids, so beyond an emergency, I will stick with an Ipod for music. However, the flashlight performance was great. This is primarily due to the LED bulbs and its ability to be recharged without a plug. Just for that fact alone, having one in your car as well might not be a bad idea either.  The biggest disappointment was recognized during a power failure. All the radio features were difficult to distinguish in the dark. Since the flashlight and the radio is in the same unit, you just have to feel your way through it. So on a simple 1-10 scale, I’ll give it a 5.  If I were buy another one today, I would look for a  unit with large control knobs and possibly  illuminated dials.

Take a look at my recent article on Power Outages Part II for additional hints and tips.

Advertisements

How Long Will They Last? Household Materials and Appliances

January 23, 2010

 Ever wondered how long household appliance should last? How about that fiberglass tub you are thinking about buying instead of a cast iron one?

With proper maintenance and inspection these items should provide adequate service to you and your household.

This list is courtesy of the U.S Dept of Housing and Urban Development. Printed in 2000.

Life Expectancy of Household Components
Appliances Life in years
Compactors 10
Dishwashers 10
Dryers 14
Disposal 10
Freezers, compact 12
Freezers, standard 16
Microwave ovens 11
Electric ranges 17
Gas ranges 19
Gas ovens 14
Refrigerators, compact 14
Refrigerators, standard 17
Washers, automatic and compact 13
Exhaust fans 20
Source: Appliance Statistical Review, April 1990
Bathrooms Life in years
Cast iron bathtubs 50
Fiberglass bathtub and showers 10-15
Shower doors, average quality 25
Toilets 50
Sources: Neil Kelly Designers, Thompson House of Kitchens and Bath
Cabinetry Life in years
Kitchen cabinets 15-20
Medicine cabinets and bath vanities 20
Sources: Kitchen Cabinet Manufacturers Association, Neil Kelly Designers
Closet systems Life in years
Closet shelves Lifetime
Countertops Life in years
Laminate 10-15
Ceramic tile, high-grade installation Lifetime
Wood/butcher block 20+
Granite 20+
Sources: AFPAssociates of Western Plastics, Ceramic Tile Institute of America
Doors Life in years
Screen 25-50
Interior, hollow core Less than 30
Interior, solid core 30-lifetime
Exterior, protected overhang 80-100
Exterior, unprotected and exposed 25-30
Folding 30-lifetime
Garage doors 20-50
Garage door opener 10
Sources: Wayne Dalton Corporation, National Wood Window and Door Association, Raynor Garage Doors
Electrical Life in years
Copper wiring, copper plated, copper clad aluminum, and bare copper 100+
Armored cable (BX) Lifetime
Conduit Lifetime
Source: Jesse Aronstein, Engineering Consultant
Finishes used for waterproofing Life in years
Paint, plaster, and stucco 3-5
Sealer, silicone, and waxes 1-5
Source: Brick Institute of America Floors
Floors Life in years
Oak or pine Lifetime
Slate flagstone Lifetime
Vinyl sheet or tile 20-30
Terrazzo Lifetime
Carpeting (depends on installation, amount of traffic, and quality of carpet) 11
Marble (depends on installation, thickness of marble, and amount of traffic) Lifetime+
Sources: Carpet and Rug Institute, Congoleum Corporation, Hardwood Plywood Manufacturers Association, Marble Institute, National Terrazzo and Mosaic Association, National Wood Flooring Association, Resilient Floor Covering Institute
Footings and foundation Life in years
Poured footings and foundations 200
Concrete block 100
Cement 50
Waterproofing, bituminous coating 10
Termite proofing (may have shorter life in damp climates) 5
Source: WR Grace and Company
Heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) Life in years
Central air conditioning unit (newer units should last longer) 15
Window unit 10
Air conditioner compressor 15
Humidifier 8
Electric water heater 14
Gas water heater (depends on type of water heater lining and quality of water) 11-13
Forced air furnaces, heat pump 15
Rooftop air conditioners 15
Boilers, hot water or steam (depends on quality of water) 30
Furnaces, gas- or oil-fired 18
Unit heaters, gas or electric 13
Radiant heaters, electric 10
Radiant heaters, hot water or steam 25
Baseboard systems 20
Diffusers, grilles, and registers 27
Induction and fan coil units 20
Dampers 20
Centrifugal fans 25
Axial fans 20
Ventilating roof-mounted fans 20
DX, water, and steam coils 20
Electric coils 15
Heat Exchangers, shell-and-tube 24
Molded insulation 20
Pumps, sump and well 10
Burners 21
Sources: Air Conditioning and Refrigeration Institute, Air Conditioning, Heating, and Refrigeration News, Air Movement and Control Association, American Gas Association, American Society of Gas Engineers, American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air-Conditioning Engineers, Inc., Safe Aire Incorporated
Home security appliances Life in years
Intrusion systems 14
Smoke detectors 12
Smoke/fire/intrusion systems 10
Insulation Life in years
For foundations, roofs, ceilings, walls, and floors Lifetime
Sources: Insulation Contractors Association of America, North American Insulation Manufacturers Association
Landscaping Life in years
Wooden decks 15
Brick and concrete patios 24
Tennis courts 10
Concrete walks 24
Gravel walks 4
Asphalt driveways 10
Swimming pools 18
Sprinkler systems 12
Fences 12
Sources: Associated Landscape Contractors of America, Irrigation Association
Masonry Life in years
Chimney, fireplace, and brick veneer Lifetime
Brick and stone walls 100+
Stucco Lifetime
Sources: Brick Institute of America, Architectural Components, National Association of Brick Distributors, National Stone Association
Millwork Life in years
Stairs, trim 50-100
Disappearing stairs 30-40
Paints and stains Life in years
Exterior paint on wood, brick, and aluminum 7-10
Interior wall paint (depends on the acrylic content) 5-10
Interior trim and door paint 5-10
Wallpaper 7
Sources: Finnaren and Haley, Glidden Company, The Wall Paper
Plumbing Life in years
Waste piping, cast iron 75-100
Sinks, enamel steel 5-10
Sinks, enamel cast iron 25-30
Sinks, china 25-30
Faucets, low quality 13-15
Faucets, high quality 15-20
Sources: American Concrete Pipe Association, Cast Iron Soil and Pipe Institute, Neil Kelly Designers, Thompson House of Kitchens and Baths
Roofing Life in years
Asphalt and wood shingles and shakes 15-30
Tile (depends on quality of tile and climate) 50
Slate (depends on grade) 50-100
Sheet metal (depends on gauge of metal and quality of fastening and application) 20-50+
Built-up roofing, asphalt 12-25
Built-up roofing, coal and tar 12-30
Asphalt composition shingle 15-30
Asphalt overlag 25-35
Source: National Roofing Contractors Association
Rough structure Life in years
Basement floor systems Lifetime
Framing, exterior and interior walls Lifetime
Source: NAHB Research Foundation
Shutters Life in years
Wood, interior Lifetime
Wood, exterior (depends on weather conditions) 4-5
Vinyl plastic, exterior 7-8
Aluminum, interior 35-50
Aluminum, exterior 3-5
Sources: A.C. Shutters, Inc., Alcoa Building Products, American Heritage Shutters
Siding Life in years
Gutters and downspouts 30
Siding, wood (depends on maintenance) 10-100
Siding, steel 50-Lifetime
Siding, aluminum 20-50
Siding, vinyl 50
Sources: Alcoa Building Products, Alside, Inc., Vinyl Siding Institute
Walls and window treatments Life in years
Drywall and plaster 30-70
Ceramic tile, high grade installation Lifetime
Sources: Association of Wall and Ceiling Industries International, Ceramic Tile Institute of America
Windows Life in years
Window glazing 20
Wood casement 20-50
Aluminum and vinyl casement 20-30
Screen 25-50
Sources: Best Built Products, Optimum Window Manufacturing, Safety Glazing Certification Council, Screen Manufacturers Association

Electrical-Power Outage Part II

January 16, 2010

The median length of a power outage in North America according to the IEEE is 1.36 hours per year per household.

I am not sure about the legitimacy of that statement but would believe that number is supported by the Power Utility industry and may only reflect a failure based on a given location in the grid. For me, I know I have seen numerous outages greater than 1.36 hours in my life time and will probably see quite a few more. 

In Part I we looked at power outages that last 8 hours or less.  As long as you continue to be comfortable, and have got the 7 items resolved in Part I, and you want to tuff it out, here are the next set of items to consider: 

 FEMA provides  a great food and water brochure to start with. Use this as your guideline for food, water and storage. Using up all your perishable food should be first then work on the frozen food. Hopefully you can still cook food, if not, having a camp stove is a good idea. If you don’t keep much food at home you may want to consider one of these two options;  1) collect all the necessary items to package together a 3 day emergency food kit. If you are not sure what to include, check out this list from the University of Maine.  If you just want to have something, but don’t want to be real choosy,  2) look at this kit from Costco, put it in the closet and forget about it, it can be stored for 10 to 20 years. From the looks of it, I would never raid it just for convenience. It will also be well sealed in this rodent proof container. 

Besides the food issues, look at this basic disaster supply list. It’s important to remember, collect the supplies and forget they are there. You do not want to rely on them for day to day uses as they can easily disappear. TIP: LED flashlights use very little power, include at least one in your kit.

Staying in the home in lieu of going somewhere else or a hotel is a personal choice, but you must be prepared. Food, water, and staying warm or cool (in the summer) will impact your decision. To stay put for 3 days the FEMA  “Are You Ready” document mentioned above covers the basics quite well. Here are some additional considerations.

  1.  Stay aware of situation: Use your radio to keep up with weather reports and local conditions. This will help you decide when it is time to leave, if you have to.
  2. Standby Generator: If you live in an area with regular  power disruptions, you may already own an AC power generator. Adequate fuel and fuel storage is important and should be on your list, but since gasoline can go bad, it will need to be changed out regularly. If your generator is portable, a good lock and a chain is recommended.  Desperate times bring desperate actions, someone may believe their need is greater than yours and decide to borrow your generator; indefinitely. Emergency generators are typically sized to support the important items such as; minimal lighting, refrigerator, electric heat and possibly air conditioning (summer time only).
  3. Fun: If your basic needs or covered, boredom may set in. Having some games or cards in your kit will help a bit.

Having a power outage greater than 3 days can define the criticality of the situation. Hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, tornados and the like can frame the situation well beyond 3 days. At this point you may believe it is time to go to Plan B and seek out public assistance that may include food and shelter (3 hots and a cot). Officials may be directing you to leave the premises.  Before you leave the house, review this list and accomplish what you can:

  1. Turn the water off at the street
  2. Turn the natural gas off at the meter
  3. Turn off all the electricity. Turning off all the breakers at the service panel will ensure everything is off.
  4. Leave a note at the door as to where you have gone. Take caution on this one as intruders may see this as an invite. On the other hand if public officials eventually call for an evacuation and they think you may be in the house, they will break the door down to find you.
  5. Close, lock and secure the house as best as possible
  6. Take what personal item you can. Looting may be experienced during these long term outages, but hopefully you have insurance…

Good Luck


Caulking and Sealing

January 11, 2010

 The colder months make it easy to find problems associated with door and window seals. I spent the day caulking window casings and sills today (inside the house). With the temperature hovering around 25F, it was easy to find the bad spots. Lucky for me, my house is in pretty good shape. I haven’t done any window maintenance in about 4 years.

It’s  not uncommon to see shrinkage (not the George Costanza type) in building materials such as caulk, grout, wood trim and spackling (all water based products).  This is usually the time of the year you will see more cracks around your shower, bathtub, kitchen as well as windows and doors. This is a great time to do interior caulking  in all of these places. If you own a new house that is less than 5 years old, you will probably notice significant amounts of cracks related to this type of contraction. It’s is important to understand; caulking is not a one time event. The material will continue to move and you may have to continue to re-caulk over the years.

PURPOSE OF CAULK: Caulk or sealant is used to bridge the gap between two material. Typically corners, seams and edges, especially where two dis-similar material meet. Caulk is used to create a barrier for air, water, grunge and 4 legged creatures from entering the house as well as keeping  untreated materials from being exposed to those elements. Universally, caulk is used as an exterior and interior sealant to protect both you and your home. 

CAULKING AND SEALS

Window Caulking: Assuming you have functional windows, the caulking should be limited to the where the two opposing surfaces contact each other. (i.e. window frame and wall). If there are gaps and cracks, clean them and fill with a thin coat of water based acrylic latex caulk. Painting after you finish may be required, but that is your call. My trim is off white and it blends well enough to be left as is. If you find no cracks or gaps leave it alone, no need to add layers of caulk just because. I took these before and after pictures of one of my windows. Hopefully you can see this is a very thin seasonal dryout crack that I filled with caulk.

Tub and Shower Caulking: Similar to windows. Look where the tile or wall surface touches the tub it self. This is where most of the problems are. Keeping a good water tight seal at this location is critical  in keeping water from getting behind the tub; and same goes with the shower. These surfaces will require more regular inspection and recaulkng to keep them up to snuff. If you live in an older home you may find lots of caulk gunked up here. If you continue to see mold in this location even after caulking, it would be a good idea to spend the time and remove all the old caulk, let it dry and replace all the caulk. This is a very laborious job but once its done right you will not have to caulk near as often.  Inspect for recaulking every 6 months.

Caulking “Part Art Part Function“: Caulking appears to be an easy task, however it’s also very easy to make a mess of it. One of the reasons I use a latex based product as often as possible is because its very easy to start over if you mess up.  TIP: After applying the bead of caulk, moisten your finger and smooth the caulk into the corner, if you have too much caulk it will spread outside your finger, wipe it off and keep going. Use a wet rag to carefully clean it up. If needed, use your finger again. Continue to work it until you like the way it looks.  Even though most instructions will not include this tip, I learned this from a wise old painter and  it really makes a difference.

It’s estimated that up to 11 percent of the air leaks in a building are around the doors.

Door and Window Trim: This is related to the trim or molding around the windows and doors. Typically this is done prior to painting. Look for small dryout cracks at the joints and edges.  Try to force the caulk in the crack it self and wipe clean the surface. Look at these before and after pictures of this interior door trim.

Door Seals: All exterior doors should have some form of seal. It could be rubber, plastic, foam or even metal strips (usually copper).  This seal creates a barrier to keep the outside temperatures outside, and the inside temperatures inside. Inspecting this on a windy day can reveal leaks. Look at the seal(s), ensure they are in tack, and form a complete seal around the door frame. Look at the door threshold in the same way. In some cases there may be a wiper (thin rubber strip on the bottom of the door) to make contact with the threshold when the door closes. If you find problems, you may be able to fix them but most likely the complete seal may have to be replaced.  The local hardware store usually has many styles to choose from. When replacing a door seal, it is important to find the right one. Using one that is too think will make the door difficult to open and close.  Look at this site on weather-stripping for a detailed description of the various styles.

Attic Entrance: Either a hatch or attic stairs. If it’s a hatch seal it the same way as a crawl space hatch. If you have a hinged stairway you can seal the door much like the crawl space, however adding insulation over the hatch will provide additional value. Here are some examples of tents and hoods that will work. If you have room, you can make one out of insulated fiber board.

Crawl Space Entrance: If you have a basement or the house is built on a slab, this will not apply to you. Many houses with a crawl space will have a hatch in the floor. Use a small strip of  foam based weather-stripping attached to the contact surface between the hatch and floor, this will help keep the winter drafts down. TIP: It doesn’t hurt to have a patch of fiberglass insulation to fill the void in the hatch hole, it would be removed  when you need access.

For more detailed methods of caulking and sealing see the attached DOE article covers the subject of caulking, sealing weather-stripping.  Weatherizing your Home.


Seasonal Dryout Around the House

January 9, 2010

If you normally live in a humid area of the country you may experience seasonal dry-out during the winter months.  Because our heating systems dry out the air they tends to dry-out wood products, sheet rock and other building materials. Recently I have had neighbors commenting that they hear popping at night throughout the house especially in the attic. It never hurts to take a flashlight and make a pass through the attic looking for broken timbers, but more likely than not, it is nothing more than dry-out or the expansion and contraction of various building materials. Even though you would think a 50-year-old building would have already experienced all the dry-out possible, timbers continue to move and will also absorb moisture during the more humid parts of the year. In many cases the sound you hear is the movement of the timbers and temperature changes will cause them to pop (forever).

Besides the popping look for these dryout signs as well:

  1. You see hair-line cracks in your sheet rock
  2. Cracks around trim, baseboards, door molding
  3. Cracks around interior and exterior windows and doors
  4. Cracks around the tub,  shower and throughout the kitchen
  5. Nails popping out of the sheetrock

This is a great time to do some interior caulking as its fairly easy to recognize where the leaks are. Look for my next article on caulking and sealing.