Archive for December, 2011

Tips For Safe Driving These Holidays

Whether it is for Christmas holidays, a family vacation or just a trip to see your  parents’ (or grandparents’) house for the holidays, safe driving tips Tips For Safe Drivinginclude making sure that your car is ready to go and in good shape for the trip. Maybe you are making that trip to that ski resort with your friends? Or perhaps taking the family down south to warmer climate for the holidays. Either way if you are driving it is a good idea to make sure that you have a car that is ready and also safe to drive. Here are a few Tips For Safe Driving.

You may have had all the plans done, the reservations, the packing ready and the family is just waiting for that day to arrive. However, have you ever checked if your car is ready to go?  If not, then perhaps it would be time to do a thorough check or have your mechanic do it for you.

Tips For Safe Driving – Tire Tips

The following is a list of tips and things to check on your car if you are planning to head off on a family vacation driving trip:

  • Tire air pressure
  • Tire balance
  • Tire tread
  • Fluids
    • Engine oil
    • Brake fluid level
    • Power steering fluid
    • Cooling fluid
    • Windshield washer fluid
  • Lights
    • Headlights
    • parking lights
    • Brake lights
    • Turn signal lights
    • Emergency lights
  • Brakes
  • Muffler system
  • Engine air filter
  • Any unusual noises should be checked out

Doing all of these checks will take less than half an hour, or you can arrange for your mechanic to perform all of these checks for you. You can leave on your trip with the confidence of knowing that all systems have been checked on your car and it is ready. Of course there can be break downs while you are traveling, however at least you have done all you can to be sure you will have a safe trip with your car.

Tips For Safe Driving

Tires are among the most important element of your cars systems. If the tread on your tires is getting low, you may need to invest in a new set of tires. Also take into account were you are driving. Snow conditions really require snow tires, while even heavy rain situations require tread that will move the water away from the tire and avoid the tires skimming along on the road and losing traction all together.

None of these things are really that expensive unless you have been neglecting your car. Tires can run $500 to $600 and if you need a full set of brakes, you may need to spend a lot more. Better to be safe than sorry!

Leave a comment and add your tips for safe holiday driving.

 


Analyzing Daily Hydro Consumption

This will be our final post about conserving energy use in the form of electricity. We wanted to show the usage for the past week and show the relative power consumed during on-peak, mid-peak and off-peak hours. We have saved over $400 on our annual bill for electricity this past year and we are very happy about this.  We could probably save more, but there is a certain quality of life that Analyzing Daily Hydro Consumptionwe look for in terms of comfort and lifestyle. Some consumers will not know what the word hydro means. It is a term that describes the generation of electricity by using dams with water driving the electrical generators instead of nuclear power or coal or gas fired plants.

But first our chart. This is for a week in August , 2011 when we are running Air Conditioning and a pool pump as well as the usual stuff that you would have in a house. My wife also runs a fan at night in our home in our bedroom as well to move the air around more.

Analyzing Daily Hydro Consumption

We reduced our consumption significantly by following these steps listed below :

  • Running the pool pump in off normal hours
  • Same with the AC and most lights
  • Drying clothes at night or on the weekends
  • For more information, refer to our previous post.
  • Convert incandescent lights to florescent lights 100%

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Heating with Electric Ceramic Space Heaters

Electric Ceramic Space HeatersThis post may be interesting to people living in colder climates and are trying to save money on their heating bill without being cold all of the time in their homes. If your home is heated by natural gas or oil and you have a central furnace, then your entire house is kept at the same temperature throughout. Why heat the entire house when you need to only heat the rooms you spend the most time in? By heating only the rooms you actually spend time in can reduce your heating cost.

This year we are trying to keep the house cooler during the day and the evening and using a combination of a gas fireplace and small electric ceramic space heaters to keep the rooms warm were we spend a lot of time. For example our furnace temperature is set to 19C or 66F, which is pretty cool for many people.

Our family room and kitchen is an open concept and we use the gas fireplace in the family room to heat this are of the home and bring the temperature of this area up to 22C or 71F!  The rest of the house stays cool and we save on the natural gas consumption since we are not heating the rest of the home. At night we turn off the gas fireplace and we allow the temperature in our home go down to 16C or 61F! Pretty cool!

Electric Ceramic Space Heaters – Temperature

Now some people might consider this to be really cold, however we have a space heater in our bedroom which brings the temperature up to a comfortable level. It has a time and automatically heats the room for us before we go to bed. We can set the temperature at whatever we wish so that we are comfortable through the night.

In my office, I also have a small ceramic heater, which heats the room to a comfortable temperature while the rest of the home is kept cool. This seems to work well for us and we save on our natural gas usage, as well as electricity since the furnace is running less and not consuming electricity when the fan is running. Of course we are consuming electricity by using these small heaters, however this is much less than what would be used normally.

In theory this should all work and we should save money on our overall consumption of natural gas and electricity. However it really does depend on the rates you pay for electricity and natural gas.  It is really tough to figure out unless you have all of the facts.

You will definitely save energy and probably money as well by following this approach and enduring the cold in your home and the complaints from your family, however is it all worth it  from a dollars and cents perspective?

The facts I have are as follows:

  • Furnace is 85% efficient
  • DC motor which uses less electricity
  • Our home is 2500 square feet
  • Gas costs about .09 per CCF
  • Electricity costs about .06 per KW at night and .11 during the day
  • The ceramic heaters use 1.5kw’s per hour

Approximate your Savings

Now it is pretty hard to figure out what you are going to save based on consumption etc, so we will make  some approximations which will get us close to the number.  For example if you annual heating bill was $1800 and you kept the temperature at 72F all of the time and then reduce the average temp in all of the house to 64, the percentage decrease is  18%. Apply this against your annual cost and you should save around $330 per year.

Now as we mentioned your family might disown you if this was the temperature throughout the house all of the time, so adding electric space heaters in the most used rooms can make it more comfortable. We have seen oil filled heaters for around $80 and they take about 1.5kw per hour to run. Using our rates for the day time, this is going to cost you approximately $50 over the year to heat one room. Same thing with heating your bedroom at night. So you are probably looking at a cost $160 for two heaters and increased electricity cost of $100 for both heaters or a total of $260.

Of course your furnace will be running less, however we have not factored this into the equation. Based on this crude approximation you are going to be saving roughly $70 the first year and then $230 every year after that based on current rates.

Not a huge savings, however every dollar counts and it is better in your pocket than someone else’s. It does get better over time. You can use this approach to figure out what the savings might be for you depending on your homes size and current energy usage.

Sources of Electrical Power

If you are concerned about the environment, you also have to take into account how your energy is produced. When you burn natural gas, you are burning a fossil fuel and depleting the earth’s resources.  The same goes for electricity generated by coal or oil  fired plants . However if your electricity is produced by nuclear power plants that brings up an entire other issue in terms of the overall safety of these plants. You may not want to encourage investment in more of these plants by using this type of electricity. Electricity produced by dams is far better and does not pollute the environment, although there are 1000’s of acres that are now under water . You have to decide which one you are going to support.

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Burglar Deterrent Fencing

Home Security ChecklistThere is a huge variety of fencing to choose from and let’s face it most people select a fence based on the way it will look around your yard and not for security.  Cost is also a big factor since the cost of the materials as well as labor has gone up in recent years. Security that fencing is usually pretty far down the list. This particular fence will not stop thieves, but will make it uncomfortable to climb over. Most are looking for an easy score, so the more difficult you make it for them the less likely they will pick your place.

However anything that makes it difficult for a would be burglar to gain access to your property is a deterrent and if he goes elsewhere because of the fence then it has done it’s job.

Fences that are difficult to jump over because they are high or have spikes at the top are often better than short fences. Let’s face it if someone really wants to get into your yard over your fence, there are multiple ways to do that. Still most burglars are really opportunists and will choose a fence that is easy to get through or over vs. one that is difficult. They will also try the gate first and if they can get in that way vs. going over the fence they will. See our comments about gates later in this post.

This is one of the biggest deterrents you can have as part of your overall security program for your home. When building a fence that looks good, also build a burglar deterrent fence that will persuade burglars to go else where. You can achieve both pretty easily and without spending a fortune as well.

Low Fencing as Burglar Deterrent Fencing

The picture on the left is an example of a low fence that as you can see would be relatively easy to jump over and gain access to your yard. It might keep dogs out and small children, but will not keep anyone out who really wants to get in.

In fact it is pretty easy. This fence looks nice and might create the right decorative atmosphere that you are looking for, but will not deter burglars. It is a basic residential fence that you see around many back yards in homes all across North America.

High Fencing as a Burglar Deterrent

High fencing on the other hand is much more difficult to get over. It has standard five foot boards with a one foot lattice on the top. This makes it at least 6 feet above the ground.

Can someone pull themselves over the fence? Yes they can but it is much more difficult compared to the first picture we showed you.

The next step of course is to install a spike at the top to add another level of difficulty.

Gates need to be locked and latched and not easy to open for a burglar. There is no to spend money money on a high fence if you make it easy to open the gate. Pull though chords are helpful to you and the burglar. Make your gate so that they cannot get through the gate unless you leave it unlocked!

Of course this is our last point. If you are supposed to keep your gate locked all of the time,  make it part of your evening routine. Make sure gate is properly closed and securely locked. Do this before you retire for the evening or leave for the day or go on a trip.

Stay safe, comments welcome


How Do I Protect my Hardwood Floor

How Do I Protect my Hardwood FloorYou have just installed your brand new hardwood floor and it looks beautiful. You painted the walls, the trim and even replaced the window coverings. It is perfect, no scratches or blemishes and there is no fading from the sun or marks from cleaners or imprints from furniture and on. You might be thinking that you should just not use them, keep them pristine. Well they are going to get some marks and scratches, it cannot be helped, but you can limit the damage and get many years to of your floor before re-sanding is required. There are simple things you can do without finding it difficult or cramping your lifestyle and enjoyment of your home. It is relatively easy to do and becomes habit forming which will keep your floors looking great for many years.

How Do I Protect my Hardwood Floor – Tips

First remember that you have invested a lot of money and hardwood floors are a lifetime investment if looked after properly and they add a lot of value to your home as well. Most buyers are now looking for hardwood floor upgrades in their homes when they purchase them. Buyers are just not interested in doing their own upgrades preferring to purchase homes that are already with hardwood flooring that compliments the home. Buyers also want this floor to look pristine, shiny and great looking so that it will complement their furniture.

Hardwood floors are also better for people with allergies. You may need to vacuum more often, but at least the dust is picked up instead of sitting in the carpet to be spread into the air each time you walk across it. If you do have allergies purchase a central vacuum with the exhaust of the vacuum exiting outside into your garage area or outside the home. This will reduce the dust significantly.

If you want to keep your floors looking great for a life time,  then its very important that you keep them clean and scratch free.
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Analyzing Hourly Hydro Usage and Cost

Analyzing Hourly Hydro UsageOne of the things we have learned while doing some research on alternative energy sources is that the payback you get for your time spent and also for the money you are going to spend is greatest when you practice energy conservation. I just received our annual summary of our electrical bill and was pleasantly surprised to see a 22% drop in out total annual hydro cost, while rates went up by 6.8% over that same time period. That’s a total of 29% savings in my books! All you need to do is start analyzing hourly hydro usage and then take the necessary steps to lower the usage during peak rate times.

These are real savings and real reductions in energy costs to our household. It is easy to accomplish and the payback is almost immediate without too much impact on the family.

Analyzing Hourly Hydro Usage – How did we do that?

Well it turns out it was pretty easy.  Here is a summary of what we have done:

  • Convert all incandescent lights to fluorescent light bulbs
  • Run the AC only during non-peak hours (avoid  11am – 5pm)
  • Run the clothes dryer in off peak hours (avoid 7am -7pm)
  • Run the pool pump for 3 hours in the morning during mid-peak hours
  • Run the pool pump for 4 hours in the evening during off peak hours
  • Weekends are all off peak, so anything you can push to the weekend saves money e.g. Oven self cleaning
  • Turn off lights when you are not in the room
  • Turn off the TV if no one is watching it
  • Avoid using electricity any time you can

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Burglar Deterrent Plants

Burglar deterrent plants should be part of your crime prevention strategy. As part of our property management series we decided to write a few posts about burglar deterrents. This one is about what you can do with plants to deter burglars and importantly what you should not do with plants when you are thinking about burglars. Anyone looking for a home to break into is going to look for the easy score and stay away from anything that looks difficult. If someone wants to get in or has an objective in mind, regardless of what you do they will break in. Plants will deter the criminals who are looking for an easy way in.

There are lots of other things that consumers should focus on as well when it comes to making your home unattractive to burglars. Everything from placing signs about attack dogs, to burglar alarm signs, to actual burglar alarms and many other things can be done. All of them are designed with the thought of deterring burglars from selecting your home as a potential place to break into. However this post will focus on the role that plans around the outside of your home can play in this regard.

Burglar Deterrent Plants – What not To Do

Most people know that they should not place shrubs that provide hiding places for burglars while they are breaking into your home. These include shrubs that hide the front door from the street or the neighbors as well as shrubs around windows that are easily opened for entry into your home. Think about it. On a dark night, with little lighting around your home, the perfect conditions only get better if there is a shrub or bush to hide the burglar while he quietly breaks into your home.
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5 Basic Tips When Choosing Hardwood Flooring

How Do I Protect my Hardwood FloorMore and more people are choosing hardwood flooring over carpet and other finishes. Timeless beauty, clean lines, strength and durability as well as the ease of cleaning and the classic look make hardwood flooring the perfect choice for your home. Hardwood flooring delivers another benefit as well that allergy sufferers appreciate. Lint and dust cannot build up on your hardwood floor the way it can on rugs. Install a central vac with the exhaust outside and you have the best situation for allergy sufferers.

No matter what your personal style is, there is a flooring choice for you because of the unlimited selection of colors, stains, board widths and styles available. But before you rush out shopping for your hardwood flooring, there are a number of tips to keep in mind. These are basic tips, but may save you a lot of money as well as ensure that you will be satisfied with the final installation.

Choosing Hardwood Flooring – Budget

Always set a budget for yourself. Having a wide variety of flooring to choose from is great, but the downside is that it is easy spend more and to get overwhelmed quickly. This can mean that you end up overspending past your budget if you are not careful. Remember to balance style with quality with your budget when you make your final choice. Select something that enhances the sales value of your home as well. If you are unsure about what is or is not the right choice from this perspective, enlist the help of a real estate agent.

Match the Room with Your Choice of Flooring

You will be wise to match the room with your choice of flooring, whether hardwood or otherwise. For example, do not try to put hardwood flooring in a bathroom or a kitchen, due to the high levels of moisture a bathroom receives or food being dropped on the floor in a kitchen.

Match the Type of Wood to the Room

Different areas of the house demand different types of wood. For example, wood floors that have very light or very dark finishes typically do not fare well in the kitchen. You really should not mix and match different colors of flooring, unless the rooms that are being covered with hardwood flooring are physically separated. Rooms that run into each other, should really have the same flooring.

Select Hardwoods with a Strong Finish for High Traffic Areas

Choose a hardwood flooring that has an appropriate finish to match your lifestyle and the traffic in that room. A sitting room that is seldom used will let you get away with a lighter finish. However a hallway or living room will get continual traffic and requires a choice that offers a tougher finish that can stand up to a lot of wear and tear. Alternatively placing area rugs along high traffic areas will preserve your floors and offer contrast as well.

DIY  – Do It Your Self?

Consider installation – doing it yourself to save money or having a professional installer do a high quality job  for you? Many people successfully install their own flooring, but only after they have done their homework. It is often easier to hire a professional, however the cost will more than double in many cases.  Do your due diligence when selecting a hardwood flooring installer, talk to friends, ask for references and even visit homes were the installer has performed the work. You will want to be absolutely sure that it will be installed correctly.

Avoid Fad Styles That become Unpopular

Choosing the color and style of the floor can be the fun part for you and spouse. Choose a hardwood that matches your personal taste and your lifestyle without breaking the bank. The comparatively high cost of the flooring and installation demands choosing a wood that will not go out of style quickly. After all you do not want to replace the floor in a few years.

Comments are welcome about these tips and others. For more information about hardwood floor selection, click here.

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Programmable Thermostats

Programmable ThermostatsWith all of the emphasis on reducing energy costs, it would seem that using programmable thermostats should save you money.  It turns out that programmable thermostats are just like anything else used by consumers. If used correctly they will save you some money in terms of heating or cooling costs. But in the wrong hands, a programmable thermostat can actually cost you more for heating and cooling your home!

The Right Way to Program a Thermostat

Turns out that the rule of thumb is to set the temperature for a period of 8 hours and leave it there. If you do this every day then you probably will save money. For example, when you go to bed, there is an 8 hour stretch were you can turn the heat down for heating purposes and reduce your energy costs. The same thing when you go to work. However if someone is constantly fiddling with the thermostat, and adjusting it every few hours either manually or by programming, you can end up using more energy than necessary.

A 1978 research paper (“Energy Savings through Thermostat Setbacks” by Nelson and MacArthur) confirmed basic physics. On average, if you turn the thermostat down by one degree Fahrenheit for eight hours every night, you’ll use about 1% less energy. (So, if you turn the temperature down by 10 degrees every night, you’ll use about 10% less energy.) But note that you’ll see less savings in milder climates (the bigger the difference between indoor and outdoor temperatures, the more you save by adjusting the thermostat) and with electric heat.

The Real Answer About Programmable Thermostats

If you are motivated to reduce your heating and cooling costs then you are going to be setting your thermostat lower to be gin with when heating and higher when cooling and you are going to leave the setting alone. You do not need a programmable thermostat to do this. Rather it is all about what you as an individual and your family want the temperature in your home to be.

A programmable thermostat will help you manage the temperature better, but it alone will not save you money. If people in your family are constantly adjusting the temperature then you are going to pay more for energy. It is just that simple and no thermostat is going to change this unless you put it under lock and key. You might end up with a revolt in your family if you actually try this.

There were a number of studies that have been conducted that proved this point and we included an excerpt here for readers . See below.

If your motivation is to reduce your energy costs and save money, consider a programmable thermostat as a tool to help you accomplish your goals. By itself they will not save money. You need to program these thermostats to adjust the temperature in the same manner that you would have manually adjust the temperature on a manual thermostat. Set the temperature once for an 8 hour period and leave it there.

Turning down the temperature for 8 hour periods will definitely save you money , only if you leave it and do not play with it.

Where’s the savings?

In 2007, RLW Analytics prepared a report for GasNetworks, a New England-based energy company. “Validating the Impact of Programmable Thermostats” found that using an Energy Star-certified programmable thermostat produced an average savings of about “6.2% of total household annual natural gas consumption”. Those who installed programmable thermostats into older heating systems (in other words, those who didn’t install a new heating system at the same time) saved an average of 6.8%.

Note: The New England study also found that people who micromanage their manual thermostats use more energy than those who just leave them at predefined points for longer periods of time.

 

 

 


What Tire Supplier Should You Choose

What Tire Supplier Should You ChooseThe last post that we added to our blog was all about the criteria and information you needed to have in order to select a set of tires for your vehicle. It was aimed at the average consumer planning on buying a set of tires for their car.

We had recently bought tires for our own car and wanted to share the experience and also what we learned. Every ones criteria will be different, so it is important to give some thought about what you want, what is important to you or high priority and who you need to talk to about tires for your car. The title of our previous post is “How To Select New Tires for Your Car” and you may want to spend a few minutes reading this post as well. Buying tires does not have to be complicated if you have all of the facts.

Our High Priority Criteria for Tire Supplier

For us we wanted a good quality tire at a reasonable price with a high mileage warranty that would give us stable and safe driving characteristics. We also wanted the following key features :

  • TPMS compatible
  • Nitrogen filled
  • Lifetime Balance and tire rotation included
  • Canada / US Warranty support

Most tire shops carry all of the big name tire brands and most will price match, so after doing a little homework to determine what price I should expect to pay for a set of four tires, it pretty much came down to the above 4 categories that would determine who I would go with.

Tire Supplier – America’s Tire

Very few Canadian company’s operate in the US or have affiliates that you can go to if you have tire problems. The same is true for US companies. We really like Americas Tire, They have given us really good service in the past and we would like to use them. However they do not have a relationship with any Canadian company and cannot provide warranty service in Canada. They do have shops all over the US and within 100 miles of our home in Canada, but there are companies that are closer with Canada – US coverage.

Tire Supplier – Wal-Mart

That pretty much left Wal-Mart and Costco as the two places that we could turn to that provided the coverage we were looking for. Wal-Mart had two negatives that caused them to fall by the wayside. Their price certainly was competitive, however they do not have the facilities to provide nitrogen filled tires, or at least the location I visited. Also their shop did not inspire confidence when I went in to get a price for the tires. The person helping me really did not know that much about tires and I just was not satisfied with the service they provided.

Tire Supplier – Costco

Costco was just so much more professional in quoting a price for tires plus they met all of our requirements. They provided Nitrogen filled tires at no extra cost, they were able to show me the tires they recommended. The tires were on sale at the time , they could install the tires within an hour of purchase, they supported TPMS and they provide a lifetime balancing and tire rotation service.

They are actually international, however being only concerned about Canada and the US , they have lots of stores throughout both countries and they fully support their warranty at all locations. In terms of TPMS, they had skilled technicians that knew enough to not damage the TPMS devices when installing the new tires.

So all in all, it was the right decision to go with COSTCO in this case for tires. The price and the service were excellent and they met all of our criteria for new tires for my car.

For the record we chose Michelin X-Radials DT with an 80,000 mile  warranty, nitrogen filled, lifetime balancing and tire rotation at any of their locations across North America.  Everything included the price came to $539 including taxes!


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