Christmas Lights and Electrical Safety

November 30, 2018

The U.S. Fire Administration (USFA), estimates  240 home fires involving Christmas trees and another 150 home fires involving holiday lights and other decorative lighting occur each year. Together, these fires result in 21 deaths and $25.2 million in direct property damage.

For some reason, I am believed to be a Scrooge when it comes to decorating for Christmas. Normally, I let my family deal with all the  details including unpacking all the decorations, placing ornaments on the tree, getting the doggie Christmas collars out, etc. But I do serve as the pack mule in unloading the attic to get it downstairs out of the attic,  but a Scrooge I’m not!!… Ok, maybe curmudgeon.

Point One: Christmas lights in all their glory are a huge waste of energy. Four strings of C9 (old school) regular Christmas lights can consume 1800 watts of power or 1.8 kwh. On an individual house basis, it may not seem like much but add it to about 25% of all households and it works out to be a lot electricity. Not to mention, the selected idiots that adorn their house to the point that you can no longer recognize it. Ok, so you kind of get me at this point, so lets move on.

I have officially changed my tune!!!!!!!!Believe it or not, I bought Christmas C7 lights (on sale) to hang outside. We’re talking outline the house type lights… This is a big step for me. So with all this lead-in, where am I headed you ask. Dont forget, this is a blog about home maintenance anyway!!

Before we go to far, let it be known what amount of lights I have installed.

  • 3 – Strings of 200 count C7 outdoor LED lights
  • Total bulbs= 600
  • Wattage per string 19.2W
  • Total waste of energy 57.6Wh
  • About the equivalent of one 60W light bulb, most of us waste that much energy on any given day

I will contain my excitement to exterior decorations and electrical load, but lets remember what the NEC code says about connected devices:

NEC 210-23  15 and 20 Amp branch circuits: …The rating of any one cord and plug connected utilization equipment shall not exceed 80% of the branch circuit rating. Furthermore… the total rating of equipment fastened in place shall not exceed 50% of the branch-circuit. In short, no one plug should exceed more than 80% of the circuit rating and that any stationary equipment (i.e. dishwashers, waste disposer) that constantly draws power should not exceed 50% of the rated circuit. Typical residential branch circuits (outlets, wall switches and fixtures) may be rated at 15 or 20 Amps.

So, we have a circuit budget of roughly 1100 watts for a standard plugged outlet ((15A*120V*.8pf)*80%).

Choosing the Lights: If you dont already own exterior lights, go for  the LED versions (C7 or C9). By far, they will last the longest and cost the least to run. C7 and C9 are bigger bulbs and are easier to manage. If you take care of them, they could last a life time. Additionally, the prices have continued to fall over the last few years.

The following chart is a general guideline is fairly conservative. Most Christmas lights will provide the limitations and wattage. As mentioned in my calculation above, at 80% you have a budget of 1100 watts, at 50% your budget would be 720 watts.

C7 or C9 Lamp Wattage Lamps per Outlet Lamps per 15 Amp Circuit Lamps per 20 Amp Circuit
.6 Watts (LED) 250 Lamps(bulbs dim the farther
your runs are from main power source)
2400 Lamps 3200 Lamps
1 Watt (LED) 250 Lamps(bulbs dim the farther
your runs are from main power source)
1440 Lamps 1920 Lamps
2.5 Watts 300 Lamps 576 Lamps 768 Lamps
3.7 Watts 250 Lamps 389 Lamps 519 Lamps
5 Watts 175 Lamps 288 Lamps 384 Lamps
7 Watts 125 Lamps 205 Lamps 274 Lamps

Key Points to Christmas Light Installations:

  1. Stay within the wattage limitations mentioned; 1000W at 80% and 720W at 50%. The light packaging should provide you to total wattage. Just subtract it from your total wattage budget as you organize your lighting plan.
  2. Attempt to either use a dedicated electrical circuit  or one that does not have a lot of static or dedicated load.
  3.  Limit the string to string connection to no more than 3 or what is provided as the manufacturers recommendations.
  4. Limit the per outlet load to no more than 50% of the per circuit limitation. 80% rule: 500W. 50% rule: 360W
  5. Use timers or remote control switches to turn the lights on and off to limit the energy usage.
  6. Dont fall off the roof
  7. Merry Christmas… BOB
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Internet TV Options Part 5 – Cutting the Cord

March 10, 2016

BirdsAntennaIf you read the previous 4 parts of this series, you will remember my quest to cut the cord (disconnect traditional cable TV). The plan was to imulate as closes as possible a solution that included a 1) broadcast antenna for local service, 2) Streaming services such as Netflix, Amazon and Hulu (currently the big players in this space) and 3) Simular to #2, in that it includes streaming video, but from sources such as You Tube, and other individual content providers such as CMT, CNBC, MSNBC and 4) some sort of DVR to allow for time shifted viewing (something the cable companies got us to like). So here we are, over 4 years later and I still hadn’t done it cause  I  just wasn’t happy with my solution as well as it didn’t pass the wife test. Until now!!!  I had tried one brand of OTA DVR, but it just didn’t have the response, nor did it have a good 14 day schedule. So after much deliberation, I purchased the TiVo Bolt. For three reasons, 1) it had all the time tested feature sets that TiVo has refined over many years, 2) the Bolt will be their premiere product as they phase out the Roamio, so all their development will go toward their newest product and 3) it had enhanced feature that recognize streaming video sources  more than the Roamio:

So lets look at how TiVo Bolt answered my questions/problems identified in my previous post. 

  1. Broadcast Antenna: vs.  UVerse. Hands down, assuming you have good OTA (over the air) reception, the broadcast antenna provides a superior picture quality. With the Bolt connected to my antenna, I can not see any service degradation between the straight antenna connection vs going through the Bolt box.  After watching this for a couple of days, I keep thinking I bought a new TV. If you have CATV, satellite or a fiber based service provider, it will probably not be that noticeable, but if you have a provider such as AT&T that originally provided their content over copper, the difference is quite noticeable. Note: In the recent months AT&T has announced with the purchase of DirecTV, they will be moving their customer base from UVerse to DirecTV (copper vs. satellite based solution).
  2. Antenna Reception: As noted in my earlier entries, having a good antenna and good broadcast antenna service will be paramount to support your OTA TiVo receiver. This is the core of your off cable, non streaming service. If you have poor reception, pixeling, or blocking you will get quite frustrated with the service. If your antenna service is marginal on a good day, it will be poor on a bad day. Wind, rain, tree’s with large leaves in the summer will all negatively impact the reception. If you are old enough to remember, depending on a TV antenna for all of your broadcast television, you will remember fuzzy, scratchy and intermittent service. Its still the same but different. Even though having an antenna on a 10 ft. mast may work for many urban dwellers, antenna masts of greater proportion may be required. In my case, I have struggled with getting adequate reception of the NBC affiliate (and I live in the city).  I have continued to tweak my arrangement and after several months of refinement, I have it to a manageable level. In bad weather it is usually the first station to start acting up. 
  3. No or limited on-screen TV Guide for Broadcast TV:  So far, the Bolt has got this covered. The user programing for identifying shows, show series, and movies from both traditional OTA providers but also non-traditional services such as Amazon and Hulu, create an almost seamless transition from CATV type solutions. Setting down with my non-tech wife (aka; NTW) to provide some training, showed me how smooth the transition would go, as she picked up on it very quickly. The Bolt remote is very intuitive to most all the activities we all have come accustom to with other remotes.
  4. DVR: To bring OTA  broadcast TV up to speed with CATV, a DVR is nearly a must. The folks at TiVo understand that time-shift viewing is taking over traditional viewing habits and have simplified the process quite well. Whether you want to record a series or just some specific events, the recording process is very simple. The Bolt comes with 500g but you can easily add an outboard larger hard drive storage.
  5. Netflix:  Over the last 4 years Netflix has become the elephant in the room by embracing our new viewing habits. Add in Amazon Prime and Hulu (just to name a few), and you can fill in many of the blanks left by leaving CATV. Call it ala carte or pay per view, TiVo has integrated these services into the box as just another part of the viewing spectrum.
  6. Roku Box: I was probably an early adopter to this service and it kind of reminded me of when we first got FM radio. Needing a special tuner to get there. Whether it be Smart TV’s, DVD players, game boxes, or TiVo receivers. Gaining access to streaming services has come mainstream. The Roku served me well, but I really don’t need it since the streaming services are now nearly everywhere on most all connected devices.
  7. Multiple TV’s: Again, TiVo has this covered as well. With the TiVo Mini, you can watch the same TV programs  that show up on your primary TV.
  8. Sports: There is still a hole here and if they had a good fix for it, we would already have it. Typically Sports are viewed in real time, not recorded (as much). And the most acceptable way to watch live sports is through a CATV provider as they have access to all locally broadcast events. If you just want local sports, you can probably make it work, but if you live in a far away place from your favorite, you still have a problem.. However, there are some establishments that will broadcast far away game for you at their business. Granted, it might cost you the price of a couple of beers, but hey; its an option.  For me, its not a deal breaker as I really don’t watch sports.

Next time we will look at the costs and payback

Image courtesy of [Vlado] at FreeDigitalPhotos.net


HDMI Switchers and Cables – Internet TV Options

April 11, 2014

 After starting the series on disconnecting from cable TV “Cutting the Cord” , I realized it was a never-ending story. There are so many branches to the story, I decided to just consider it another category and write about it anytime I felt like it.. Granted, this is a little outside of the “prime objective” (Protecting Your Home Through Preventative Maintenance), but what the heck… its my site and I get lots of hits on Internet TV Options :).

The HDMI connector on the rear of your TV is currently the best way to get the highest quality reception from the source (DVD, DVR, Cable Box) to the TV screen. The quality of reception is no better than the cable that carries it. Typically TV’s have 2 maybe 3 HDMI connections. Optimally, for peak performance having a cable from each device to the TV will provide the best performance. However, for many people (me) it might not be practical, especially if your equipment is located in another room (like me). For this reason the best solution may be one good cable and a HDMI splitter (aka switch). By adding this device near your equipment you can connect all the source equipment using short cables, then you only require one cable between the TV and the HDMI splitter.

How do I choose a HDMI splitter? You can spend as little as  10 bucks to as much as several hundred. I looked throughout the  available devices and found the Monoprice products to be moderately priced and include the necessary features. Whether you go with Monoprice or not, here are the important features to include within your selection process.

  • Number of ports: Select a device with at least one maybe two or more ports than you need. For only a couple of bucks extra, you can accommodate a future game console or DVR. I would suggest a splitter with at least 4 ports.
  • LED indicators: A power-on lamp as well as a source indicator
  • IR Remote: If you equipment is located in another room, remotely switching from one source to another will be important. Granted, you now have ANOTHER remote to keep up with. Make sure and read my recent article on remotes.
  • HDMI Compliance: Make sure the device you purchase meets the current HDMI standards known as “HDMI 1.3a”. This is an industry standard rating that defines a level of performance. The features associated with HDMI 1.3 or better will provide higher speed and deeper color. It will also support 1080P. If a 3D TV is in your future, change that to HDMI 1.4.
  • Supports 1080P:  This will ensure, the device will not limit the broadcast ability of the source equipment. Devices compliant with HDMI 1.0 or better will cover this item.

What do I pick for an HDMI cable? There are lots of choices. It can be very easy to get caught up in the hype of all the flim flam marketing mumbo jumbo.. Most retailers jack the prices of most interconnect cables to recoup the lousy margin they had to take of the DVR they just sold you. (See PM cable comparison)  So if you can wait a couple of days, just buy it over the internet.. You will save BOO KOOS of money, especially if you have to buy a long one (like me). Many times, too much information just helps in making the decision difficult. (Some times when I try to explain some techy things to my wife, she reminds me that she really just wants to know what  time it is, and not how to know how to build a watch.) The basics are important: Larger wire size for longer distances. The smaller the number = bigger wire size. Here is the simple rules.

  • The lower the number, the larger the wire size (20 gauge (ga.) wire is larger than 26 ga.)
  • Use the shortest cable length between the connection points, don’t buy extra long ones and just coil them up.
  • Cable lengths of 15 feet or less = 24 ga
  • Cable lengths of 20 feet or less = 22 ga
  • Cable lengths of 45 feet or less = 22 ga (cable lengths over 45 feet will require an amplifier to provide you a quality signal).
  • Meets HDMI Standards 1.4
  • If you plan to run the cables through the walls, technically they should meet UL Class 2  to meet the fire rating.

As for a cable source,  I have used both Monoprice and Cablestogo with positive results. If you need a booster for lengths over 45 feet, look at Monoprice as well.

Good luck, BOB


Cutting the Cord Part IV:II Seamless Intergration

August 28, 2011

As a refresher;  this is my trek to recreate a non cable, alternative TV solution to replace the $100 a month cable habit. Admittedly, I take a bit longer than your average media reviewer to make a decision or evaluate something.  As I mentioned back in Part IV.I, one of the hooks with the Cable TV option is the (relatively)  seamless use of cable box provided remote control and access to programing. As mentioned, the solution I have been creating is a bit more complex. To achieve a similar viewing experience, you need an antenna, an internet connection, a separate DVR, and maybe a DVD player.  While building this solution, I have been collecting additional remote controls and as of this moment I am up to 7 for one TV.

Houston We Have a Problem: Even for a techno geek, 7 remotes is over the top. Here are the devices in my solution requiring a remote:

  1. Cable Box, yes its still hooked up
  2. TV remote; used to shift from one source to another
  3. DVD;  to pause and play  those redbox rentals
  4. ROKU Box; Once you are in ROKU mode, you have to surf around through the selection menus
  5. HDMI Switch; Since all my equipment is remote from the TV, I use one HDMI cable from the A/V closet to the TV, so the switcher allows me to redirect the source from the cable box, DVR or ROKU box
  6. A/V receiver; I use this device when I want to use the surround sound speakers to watch movies
  7. CD Player; not really part of the TV solution, but a remote that is used to turn on the CD player

So needless to say, it was time to consider my options. Here are my concerns:

  • My current solution is fairly complex. It may require 2 to 3 different remotes to switch between the various sources.
  • If my solution is too complex or takes to many hands and remotes, its way too inconvenient. Two or three remotes might work, but 7 is way over the limit
  • If my wife wont accept the procedures required to get to the various sources, she will push back.

Universal Remotes: These all in one controllers  have been around nearly as long as multiple remotes. I have to admit, being cheap, I never considered any of them good enough to justify the expense. However, it was worth some research to see where the technology currently is.

The good news is, there have been dramatic strides in this category of electronic devices and by most sources, the Logitech brand is viewed as the bench mark product by many professional equipment reviewers.

Looking at the Logitech family of remotes  (at least 3 to choose from), they all function the same way but the 650 model only supports 5 devices and the 900 supports 15. In the middle is the Harmony One. The major differences with the more expensive 900 is the RF control. The Harmony One is very similar to the Model 600, but will control 15 vs. 5 remotes. Do you need the RF version? What is RF vs IR. IR (InferRed Light) devices require  line-of-sight to see all the devices vs. RF (radio frequency) that can transmit through walls. So, if you have all your equipment in a cabinet or closet, the RF device will project through the wall (granted you will still require a device to convert the RF to IR to talk to all the equipment since IR is the most common communications path for residential grade AV equipment. The Harmony One appeared to be the best choice for me since I already had an IR pipe to my equipment closet and I needed to control more than 5 devices.

Here is what makes the Logitech standout:

  • The tactical buttons to move around the devices (DVR, DVD, Cable Box) are pretty common. Such as; forward, back, up down, fast forward etc. So, no mater what device you are using, those common command buttons remain the same.
  • Device specific command are through a touch screen that allows you to access specific buttons  to further customize your request. (i.e. choose a CD track or access specific segments of a DVD). These commands are not near as regularly used as the ones mentioned above.
  • Activity based commands: This is the icing on the cake. With programing, you set one button to perform multiple functions on multiple devices. For instance; to watch a DVD with my system this is what happens: TV=On, TV=Video 1, DVD=On, DVD=Play, A/V Reciever=On,  A/V receiver= Video 1.  That is 6 commands over 3 different components  with ONE BUTTON. This is AWESOME… MY WIFE CAN DO THIS!!!!!! SHE DID THIS BEFORE I SHOWED HER HOW!!!!!!
  • The downside: I got excited in the last bullet point, so as you can imagine there is a “But”. You must use your PC to program the remote. Actually I see this as a plus. I found the program fairly easy to negotiate.  With installed programing, it walks you through the various components to perform the set ups… Yes, it will take the better part of a day to complete this function, but it is TOTALLY worth it. With Logitech library of  remotes, the program remains updated so, if you buy a new DVD in 2 years, they will probably have the code set , so all you have to do is upload the new instructions.

I have to admit, this part of “Cutting the Cable” caught me off guard. I did not figure this into the equation. However, if you look at my original formulas (Part I)  on cost and budget, we had some room to make some adjustments. The Harmony One has been out a couple of years, so the price has dropped from its original price of approximately $239 to about $165. The model 900 is fairly new, so they are still pricy ($349). Granted if your equipment is concealed you will need either the RF version remote or an IR Repeater (Channel Vision or Smarthome both have decent solution for under $100). If your equipment is in a remote closet, the RF version will keep you from having to run wires from the TV to the remote location and there is no receptor located at the TV. For me, I had already wired for IR, so it worked out better for me to use the IR.

I am approaching to final step, so stay tuned to see if we can make the final cut.


Energy Vampires: Ways to Reduce Energy Consumption Around the House

June 17, 2011

Energy Phantoms or Vampires account for approximately 5% of the electrical energy used in every household, spread that across every home in the US and it adds ups up to 65 billion kilowatt-hours of wasted electricity each year.

As quoted from the Investigations of Leaky Electricity in the USA  paper ….. the average US house leaks constantly about 50 Watts. This is approximately five percent of the residential electricity use in the US. Leaking electricity falls into three major categories: video, audio and communication. Video equipment such as TVs, VCRs, cable boxes and satellite earth stations account for the largest share of residential leaking electricity, approximately 35%. Audio equipment accounts for 25% of standby consumption, and communication devices (answering machines, cordless phones and fax machines) are responsible for an additional 10%.

Energy vampires  can be defined as electrical devices that consume an amount of energy by doing nothing but waiting to be activated or used. This standby mode can be most recognizable in TV’s, video and audio equipment. But it really goes way beyond that.

Some of the common energy wasters in most homes are the adapters (aka: wall warts) that come with rechargeable battery-powered cordless phones, cell phones, digital cameras. You will also find them with many music players, power tools, and other electronic devices.

Conceptually, if you can just unplug all of  them when not in use, this would solve much of the problem. Easier said than done. Being the techno geek that I am, there will always be a another way.

Techno Solutions:

  1. Individual Timers: You can use traditional electrical timers or this new style like this Belkin unit. It is designed specifically for applications that only need to be on for a certain amount of time where the specific time of the day is not important. At $10 bucks, it might be a good solution for your clothes iron, electric tooth-brush or MP3 player.
  2. Group Timers: Combined with a surge protector, these devices will not only protect the equipment connected, but also shut them down to cut off the phantom load. Price wise, they are still in the same range as a regular surge protector/power strip. Additionally, many of them include a couple of priority plugs that stay energized all the time.
  3. X10 Technology:  If you read my article on X10 Technology, you may  have already figured this out. Combined with your X10 units and the software package, you can set timed events for all of these devices. Or combine one with a power strip. If its possible; try to cluster all of these type devices into groups. Plug all of them into a  power strip, then plug the power strip into the X10 timer. Schedule the timer to run only a certain amount of hours per day. Probably 3-5 hours max.  For devices like televisions, DVR’s and audio equipment; try to do the same thing. If you dont use X10 timers, any traditional timer will work as well.   (TIP: If you have a cable box, U-Verse or satellite receiver, it would be best, not to cycle this device on and off. It is very normal for the service providers to perform late night downloads to update your software, turning them off at night may be problematic and cause you to have some service interruptions or cause you to miss some updates.)
  4. Energy Star Equipment: As part of the design specification, most energy star devices do a good job in reducing the phantom loads. However, because devices like televisions, microwaves and DVR’s usually have clocks in them, they will still use a little bit of energy. If you choose to shut these devices down, just understand that the device might require you to re-set the clock every time. The only way to find out, is to try it.

Managing Other Electric Devices: Here are a few tips for keeping the energy usage in check on the non-techy type equipment:

  1. Refrigerators: This device can use as much as 20% of your total consumed AC energy.   Most new refrigerators with electronic thermostats come preprogrammed to run 0F and 40F (freezer/refrigerator). If you have an older style, use a thermometer to make the adjustment. Set the freezer between 0-3F. TIP: Energy Star rated  refrigerators will make a significant impact on your energy usage.
  2. Clothes Dryers: Use the cold or warm cycle s as much as you can. Avoid the hot cycle.
  3. Dishwasher: Always run it full. Dry them cool instead of hot. Drying cool does not impact the dishwashers ability to sanitize the dishes. However, you may have to wipe them off before you store them. Doing this will reduce the dishwasher energy used by 20%.
  4.  Water Heater Thermostats: The default setting for water heaters is 140F, 120 will work in most cases. If you live in the southern part of the US, it is easy to drop the temperature during the summer. You will never notice the difference.
  5. Set Back Thermostat: Even though this does not technically fit into this article, it is a pivotal element in energy reduction. Worth an article on its own!!
  6. Energy Star Rating: Look here first when replacing appliances. These subtle changes will make positive affect on your overall energy usage

The Gas Gauge (Geek Overload): Believe it or not; studies show that if we are able to monitor the amount of usage of a product (while in use) it will cause us to use less. There are multiple devices on the market today; such as TED, Power Cost Monitor, and Energy Monitor that will provide instant feed back on energy usage. You will be able to see all the energy vampires at any time of the day. Some of them have software with data loging history, peak demand and the list goes on. Its pretty cool (geeky) to walk around the house and start yanking plugs and watching the meter drop. (NOTE: The devices mentioned may require  installation, in some cases they only work with certain brand of meters. Read the webpages carefully before purchasing).

Google Power Meter: In their “save the world mentality” Goggle has teamed with some utilitiy and equipment providers to allow you to view your usage on line. Neat idea and its free, but has limited availability.

TOP Household Electricity Vampires (Courtesy of Lawrence Berkley Laboratory)

Appliance Saturation Watts Watts / House
TV 180% 6 10.8
Cable boxes 50% 20 10.0
VCR 80% 10 8.0
Compact audio 67% 10 6.7
Answering machines 60% 5 3.0
Alarms 19% 15 2.9
Video games 55% 5 2.8
Portable stereos 65% 3 2.0
Rechargeable vacuum 20% 5 1.0
Cordless phones 49% 2 1.0
Fax 4% 15 0.6
Satellite 5% 11 0.6
Toothbrush 13% 3 0.4
Smoke detectors 84% 0.4 0.3
TOTAL 50.0

So what is this in dollars and cents. For example; if you use 1000kW per month at .12 per kW, that works out to be about $6 bucks a month. (1000X.12)*.05=6. Unless you are prepared to take some drastic measures, you may be lucky to cut 50 to 60% of that number. So look for $3-5 per 1000kW used as a target.

Okay, this article might be a little anal, to gain back $6 bucks a month as a payback period is not worth recognizing. However; look at it like a leaky faucet. Its not a bad idea, and long term its will save you a couple of bucks and if everyone did it we would have less dependency on the grid.


Cutting the Cord IV.I

May 8, 2011

 If you have read my posts on this subject, cutting the cable cord is a growing interest.  CNET correspondent David Katzmaier revealed the reality of his journey that resulted in returning to cable. Cutting the cord can be difficult and you may/may not be a candidate for the transition. Since I am not complete with the cut over, I thought I would do a state-of-the-transition of my own, but more in a techno-nerd sort of way. Here are some things I have learned along the way as well as some concerns and considerations:

  1. Cold Turkey: As the author of the CNET article mentioned, he went cold turkey in one fail swoop and besides the immediate cable withdrawals he also struggled with antenna adjustment issues. A broadcast antenna can experience similar reception issues found with satellite services more so than cable or phone based services.
  2. Antenna Reception: As noted in my earlier entries, having a good antenna and good broadcast antenna service will be paramount. This is the core of your (off cable) service. If you have poor reception, pixeling, or blocking you will get quite frustrated with the service. If your antenna service is marginal on a good day, it will be poor on a bad day. Wind, rain, tree’s with large leaves in the summer will all negatively impact the reception. If you are old enough to remember depending on a TV antenna for all of your broadcast television, you will remember fuzzy, scratchy and intermittent service. This can also occur with the digital antenna.
  3. Limited Reception: Some channels will not show up. Obtaining ABC, CBS, NBC and FOX are the big broadcast providers. However, due to antenna placement, you may have difficulty receiving all of them. Even being relatively close you may find it difficult to get good reception. Spend the money on a good antenna, mast, coax, splitters and amplifiers to ensure high quality reception. If you are not a much of a technogeek, consider hiring a professional to establish your antenna service. As a DIYer project, its quite a trial and error process.
  4.  Antenna Placement: Even though having an antenna on a 10 ft. mast may work for many urban dwellers, antenna masts of greater proportion may be required. In my case, I have struggled with getting adequate reception of the 4 major networks off of a 10 ft. mast (and I live in the city).  I have continued to tweak my arrangement and after about 2 months. I have been monitoring the quality during some spring showers and it appears to be working pretty well.
  5. It’s Not the Same: To put it bluntly, cable TV services do a decent job to create a seamless one remote solution. Without the cable box, you will have to manage your watching habits a bit more. Using the tuner built into the TV, you will have to select different input sources that you have to move across to see what you want. For instance: the Broadcast antenna will be source one, where the Roku box will be another as well as a DVD player. Most modern TV’s have multiple input sources built into the tuner .
  6. No Online TV Schedule: With Cable, it got real convenient to channel surf the TV guide to see what else is on. Right now, an online TV schedule does not exist in my arrangement. However, as an option, TV Guide has a mobile app for Iphones and Itouch devices. You can program in your zip code to see localized TV programing. (NOTE: Once I install the Channel Master DVR, the TV guide is part of the programing, so I assume I will regain the surfing feature.)
  7. Multiple TV’s: Much like the cable boxes, if you want to watch multiple viewings through the Roku box, you will need more that one (there are other methods to use one centralized Roku box, but it will cost as much as just adding a second box). However, if you are just looking at broadcast TV on a specific set; no additional boxes are required.
  8. Sports: If you are tied to live time sports beyond your normal region or programing area; cutting the cord will be an issue. If you are still committed to making the move, you might consider looking at the online sources for real-time sports outside of your region

Cut the Cord Gradually: This would be my biggest recommendation. It’s best to wean the household off the cable instead of the flash cut.

  1. Dedicate one television to the conversion: This will allow you to gradually move toward using this solution as an acceptable viewing solution.
  2. Connect the new antenna to this TV to work out any bugs found in the reception. As I mentioned, we struggled with getting adequate antenna service to work a reliably as the Cable Service. For that reason we continued to go back to the other room. Since it appears we have cleared up the problem, we dont find it necessary to go to the other TV to watch broadcast television. This process will also help you identify what programing you are really watching. If you find you have to watch Overhauling, or the DIY network, it may be a struggle to make the final cut.
  3. Live with the solution for a month or so: Get the antenna service working well. Purchase the Roku box and use that to watch on demand movies. We got the Roku box and we have watched a few movies, but maybe 3 over the last week, which is a lot less than I thought I would be watching.
  4. The good news: Broadcast and Internet TV options continue to grow. Stay tuned for my next installment of “Cutting the Cord”.  My next step is to purchase the Channel Master DVR (recently reduced to $299 on Amazon).

Stay tuned!

BOB


Security Lights and Timers

February 14, 2011

Ask any security analysts and they will tell you that thieves and burglars are opportunists. Or, they look for the path of least resistance to achieve their intended results. So, if your house looks like the easiest house to break-in… it will be. One of the easiest ways to deter these unwanted visitors is to have adequate security lighting. With the use of sensors, motion or timed lights, you can add that extra degree of security lighting. However, poorly staged lighting can be an invitation compared to a deterrent.

Simply put, the objective is to make you house look like you are there. Sounds simple, but it can be difficult. If you think about trying to recreate your lighting habits, it could be difficult using conventional methods.

Security lighting basics: Before creating that “lived in look” lets look at general lighting  as all of it will be part of the total solution.

Landscape Lighting: Once believed to be a novelty or nicety, well placed lighting will shine near accent points but also reveal dark spots that can serve as hiding spots for intruders to lurk in prior to making their move. This light system should be on its own timer system. Dusk to dark for a couple of hours as a minimum. Early morning lighting can be beneficial as well if you have to leave early for work. Some timers allow for these additional set points. The picture in the header is a bit over the top for me. So look for a solution that is a little bit less than this.

Security Lighting: In addition to the landscape lighting, motion based lighting can be used around the sides of the house, garage, alley, gates and the  back yard to provide instant-on lighting to detect movement of intruders. Motion based lighting will save some dollars and keep the house from being over exposed, as well as keep peace with your neighbors. (too much lighting can cause the home to be over exposed).  If an intruder activates the lights and you are home, this may cause you to investigate the incident. Additionally, burglars don’t like to be noticed, so this alone can deter them from looking further.

In house lighting: For the most part, the first two solutions work well when you are home,  however, when you’re gone for several days it can be difficult to replicate the randomness of an occupied home. Standard wall timers can provide a structured lamp-on/lamp off solution, but even thief’s are getting smarter. I have used traditional timers over the years, but found them cumbersome.  About 10 years ago I discovered a technology called X-10. Over the years, the technology has continued to progress as well as broaden into similar protocols. You may also  find this  technology by the name of Insteon or UPB.  These technologies have opened up many opportunities to create timed events in unique patterns. Look at Smarthome.com for all the choices of X-10 timed event managers.  To make this simple, you may have to add some general lighting. I have placed canned accent lights, like the one pictured  in random places . This allows you to program them and forget about it (other than occasionally replacing a bulb)

Until recently, the technology was controlled with a hardwired analog device that you programmed to fire commands to various units placed throughout the house. I have used this device with reasonable success. However, recently I upgraded my system with the  X-10 Home Automation Software. The program allows you to set up various timed events, light dimming,  sunset/sun rise events based on a downloaded sun up/down calendar as well as random events. When I started, X-10 was the only solution, if you are starting from square one, take a look at Insteon as well. It is a little more expensive, but there appears to be some more specialized timers.  If you want to start out slow, pick up a couple of X-10 lamp modules and the software package ( modules= $8 each, software $69).  Check out this link for a host of various X-10 modules.  It’s really about your imagination (Sorry, I am showing my geekness). Utilizing smart controllers and software, has really changed the game. Some devices can react based on actual sundown or sun up, or in some cases can download sun exposures  associated with your zip code (still geek gushing).

So if the X-10 thing is too over-the-top, try this one instead ( or add it to you X-10 system). I found this a couple of weeks ago. Fake TV. This is a little module that produces the appearance of a TV light pattern. Place this in your bedroom with the shades pulled and it will give the outward appearance of a TV being watched. At about $35, this can cause any burglar to think twice about breaking in. Using this during extended vacations will add a new dynamic to your security lighting profile.

If you are a follower of this blog, you may have already read the series on solar powered landscape lighting. The solar timer provides multiple choices of timed events. Even though the first cost is high, it will run without the use of electricity. Give it a look.

Home automation (as it is known in the larger scope) is on the verge of busting at the seams with smart devices ranging from dishwashwers to garage door openers.  Everyday I see a new IoT (internet of things) application. Per Forbes, its estimated to be a 17.1 trillion business by 2020. For us geeksters, if you wanted to be an early adopter, you had to be willing to do some extensive wiring and testing. But today we are seeing  applications such as Nest, HomeKit, Iris, and many more. As for this blog, you can now buy smart light bulbs and download an app on your smart phone. Most of them have schedules or random sequences. At this point it still looks a bit like the VHS/Beta tape feud so choose wisely if you make the commitment. Or, you can buy all of my X10 stuff 🙂 BOB

 

Good Luck. BOB