The dangers of exhaust fan neglect

Earlier this year, I talked about an issue I had with my bathroom exhaust fan, and how the problems it caused were ultimately mitigated by the purchase of a temporary electric fan. Since then, I've been rethinking exhaust fans – which are typically found in bathrooms or above stoves – as they can pose big problems for households that are trying to maximize their energy savings and pose a safety concern, as evidenced by a recent story.

For example, it's hard to tell whether or not these home fixtures are functioning at their maximum capacity – keeping cold air out in the winter and the hot breezes out in the summer. The best I've come up with is the tissue paper test that aims to determine if the proper airflow is being maintained (I'm certainly open to suggestions).

However, a recent release from the City of Las Vegas should serve as a reminder for individuals to check their exhaust fans, even if they use electric fans to mitigate their use. On December 8, a family of five was rescued from their burning home by firefighters. After starting in the ceiling, the fire was able to spread to other rooms of the house through the exhaust pipe (which is connected to the fan), causing an estimated $250,000 worth of damage.

According to Firehouse.com, one of the news sources that reported the story, exhaust fans should be vacuumed regularly. This build up could cause the motor to run hot and pose a fire risk, as this component could overheat.

But, regardless of your feelings on the exhaust fans, electric fans can be a valuable asset when used correctly, increasing airflow and helping homeowners get the most from their existing products, and they may be a safer, less expensive option.

Taking advantage of post-holiday deals

This holiday season, as many of you are enjoying your new high-tech gadgets, classic toys and holiday gear, others will doubtless be thinking of the many ways they can spend their newly acquired cash.

One of the best ways to spend money, however, is to invest in household products, whether it's replacing old items that need repair or buying a new device that can improve your quality of life while providing a greater return. As such, I'd like to advise readers to think about how their extra holiday cash could be used wisely on electric fans, heaters or air conditioners, especially since post-holiday deals can be among the most attractive consumers see all year.

For example, in addition to shipping discounts and even pricing markdowns, some home improvement stores are offering alternative financing offers that could allow more homeowners to acquire a top-notch new unit.

Some offers I've seen online go so far as to say that consumers won't rack up any interest on these new purchases, provided they make the payment within a certain amount of time and spend over a certain amount. However, I would recommend that consumers use caution when considering this type of option.

After all, simply because interest payments are out of the picture, doesn't mean that consumers should spend outside their previously determined price range. The best option consumers may have is to pursue low-cost items that have been marked down even further.

Those looking to replace an older, broken humidifier, for instance, may be wise to purchase a two-gallon unit if these machines are discounted. In turn, the savings can allow buyers to invest this money in accessories that would have been out of their price range.

Analyzing return policies for home improvement products

In my past few posts, I've been doing a lot of talking about products that have helped me in the past, so now that the holidays are over, I wanted to talk about everyone's favorite subject, taking advantage of deals for themselves. It's with a big of regret that I realized I haven't quite talked about one of the most important features of any electric heater, manual thermostat or home improvement product – its return policy, as this can really help you make a buying decision.

For starters, it's a good idea to look at your chosen company's privacy policy. While many companies offer price-matching incentives, some come with cumbersome time restrictions. (I recommend going with a provider that allows at least 30 days worth of time for you to make a comparison). After all, companies tend to offer their most attractive deals after the holidays, and as such, a big price differential could easily be spotted if you remember to look.

Order cancellation policies are also important. For example, I once accidentally got the same birthday present for my son as his niece. (She was up in arms, saying she didn't know what else to get him.) But, luckily for me, I had a cancellation policy and was able to get a refund on the order. (Note, restocking fees are pretty common, even if the item is in its original packaging.)

Lastly, the return policy may be the most important thing to pay attention to. As much as we'd like to think that our gifts to ourselves will be just what we want, the fact of the matter is that sometimes we're picky customers. While you may not want to choose a product completely off its return policy, this can be a helpful benefit. After all, you don't want to get stuck with a product you can't use and can't return.

Capturing a child’s imagination with wooden door magnets

If your looking for last-minute shopping items, let's face it, an electric heater or dehumidifier isn't going to be a great choice this late in the game. Even with expedited shipping, with two days before Christmas, this purchase might be best saved for the recipient's next birthday. However, if you're looking for gifts for a little family member that you won't likely see until after the holidays, there's still time to get a great toy.

For example, I bought Melissa and Doug Wooden Dinosaur Magnets today for a grandnephew of mine. I know it sounds silly, but with so much going on, I almost left the little tyke off the list. But, Santa saved the day, providing me with inspiration when I was searching online.

When comparison shopping at some of my favorite websites, I found these big wooden dinosaur cutouts and thought they'd make a great gift. With 20 magnets in bright colors, they can enrich his imagination, and maybe inspire him to learn more about dinosaurs. After all, a classic toy should pique the curiosity of the child, and give him the frame of mind to seek out excitement in other areas.

When I was 5 years old, I remember I got a wooden pirate ship complete with figurines. I'm sure my Mom wasn't happy, as I talked about nothing but swashbuckling for the next few months. Sure, I read "Treasure Island", dressed up as a pirate for Halloween, had a pirate name, but it was all in good fun. (Though, I'm sure my Mom is glad I didn't turn into a pirate.)

Either way, this brings back fond memories of how the right toy can really spur the imagination and make a difference. I may not be a pirate, but my lake boat might not be here without this initial whiff of the high seas.

Classic hand puppets make great holiday gifts

With my husband tackling some particularly troublesome home repairs today, I thought I'd take some more time to talk about our holiday shopping list. Tops on the list are classic toys, as I've mentioned in earlier posts that our goal for this holiday season is to provide our grandkids with some toys that remind us of our childhood. (I think we've already mentioned how great the dollhouse and rocking horse are going to be.)

While this may make you think I'm old fashioned, who doesn't like puppets? (And after the reaction they had when told me about seeing "The Muppets" in theaters I got the hint that they were fascinated by the talking, laughing, joking creatures on screen.) Hopefully, these great classic toys enough to inspire my little darlings to use their imagination to the best of their abilities. (Who knows? One might just be the next Jim Henson.)

That's why I chose to buy some of the puppets available for sale from Melissa and Doug, a duo of toy makers that have a knack for making some of my favorite creations. Since last year, one of the girls received a puppet theater, these new additions will go great with that piece, along with what I'm sure is going to be their renewed interest in the toy.

After much deliberation I chose the Melissa and Doug Chef Puppet, Firefighter Puppet, Cowgirl Puppet and Police Officer Puppet. (I also provided this list to family and friends in case they wanted to add to the list). I figured between the cops and the cowboy games they'll dream up, they'll spend hours with the puppets. (As long as their dog Milo can be kept out of reach.)

Catching year-end sales on dehumidifiers

It's tough to plan ahead (see my notepad for stories to post on this blog). What do I mean by that? Well, for example, it's the holiday season, and if you're out shopping for a friend or relative you're more likely to get them a home improvement gift that would be useful immediately. (We're humans, we love instant gratification, and we want to hear praise about our gift quickly as well).

That said, electric heaters, manual thermostats and the like can be more expensive around the holidays even when they're being offered at a discount. That's because, after all, retailers know that we need these devices in the winter more than ever. As such, buying a dehumidifier now may be the best way to save money while getting something truly useful for family and friends.

Dehumidifiers are useful during the winter – for example when there's a snow thaw or a leaky pipe in the house, moisture levels can quickly escalate. Still, they get most of their use in the summer, when temperatures tend to be hot, and humidity levels can really make a difference.

Now, I'm not suggesting that you buy a dehumidifier for everyone on your list, but they could make a useful gift for someone you know who struggles with the high costs of energy in the summer and winter. In addition, at under $200 for most 30-pint models, high-quality products can be purchased for a relatively low cost.

By shopping online, you could also save. For instance, some internet retailers are offering free shipping, more than 10 percent discounts and other offers that you may not want to turn down for yourself or others.

Electric heaters can mitigate bathroom drafts

While my bathroom isn't the room my wife and I frequent the most, it's never good to be uncomfortable in this area, especially if you have tile floors. That's why we were forced to consider some alternative heating solutions last year around this time when we found that our bathroom wasn't holding in heat very well. (We later found out that this was due to a draft in the room's ventilation fan, but that's another story.)

In the meantime, we were forced to pursue temporary solutions to this larger problem. I was reminded of this scenario by a reader who is experiencing similar issues, and would like to pass on the advice that I gleaned during this difficult time. As such, I want to sing the praises of the Seabreeze SF12ST ThermaFlo Bathroom Electric Heater.

We purchased this small unit off the internet and had it within a couple business days. What I like about this model is that it's conscious of the limited space many people have in their bathrooms. (We tried to put some of our larger space heaters in the bathroom, which was often more of a hassle than it was worth). For example, this heater plugs into an outlet and automatically turns off when temperature changes occur. (This means you aren't spending more money heating the room when taking a hot shower.)

It's also simple to install and features a side outlet. So, if you only have one outlet in your bathroom, you'll still have access to a power supply. (This allowed me to recharge my razor and my wife to blow dry her hair during this ordeal.)

As a result, we still keep the unit around, even though we don't see much use out of it since we invested in larger repair. Once you find something like this product that can work in a pinch, it's something you feel good about hanging on to.

Giving the gift of lower heating bills this holiday season

With the holidays fast approaching, many readers have emailed me looking for last minute recommendations on home improvement products that could help their friends and family reduce their energy bills. In particular, I received a number of questions about the current line of electric heaters from Honeywell, a company that also makes manual thermostats and other home improvement staples.

Most Honeywell models are affordable for any budget – the most expensive items on its current line top out at less than $100. Still, budget-friendly models are available for as low as just over $50. One of my favorites is the Honeywell HZ-338 Sure-Set Ceramic Heater with Oscillator, as it lies at the lower end of this price scale, yet offers versatility and surprising controls. (Not to mention that the model also looks slick in modern homes.)

With digital controls, this electric heater has an easy-to-use interface and an LCD display (which is great if you need to make some midnight heating adjustments). The heater also turns, thereby circulating warmth through the room, which provides for a more even distribution than other models.

My favorite part about this model, though, is the timer function. This allows you to leave home for up to 10 hours – or keep it on through the night – without having to worry about the heat levels changing abruptly. It also comes with a competitive five-year warranty, so even if it only provides a few years of comfort, you can rest assured that your family and friends can get a replacement without breaking the bank.

In addition, some online retailers now have big price reductions on this model. I've seen websites offering discounts if you buy two or more, meaning that you can save one for yourself as well.

The future of thermostats

With the hectic holiday season, I've had a full plate (and less than enough time to spend working on my home or those for others). As a result, I've been doing more news trolling than actual home repair work of late. But, it's always good to stay current on trends, especially as new advances in technology can only help us better protect our homes from wasted spending, drafts and other inconveniences.

A reader passed on a story from The New York Times today (it was published on December 7), and I wanted to share it with everyone. In it, Farhad Manjoo talks about the thermostats of the future, or at least the expensive ones of the present. (He starts off by saying thermostats can be annoying. I would say what's really annoying is heating your home with only fire… but, I digress.)

Manjoo does get to some good information in his piece, however. For example, he talks about how internet-equipped thermostats could soon change the industry. These models allow you to be at work or soccer practice or what-have-you and change the temperature of your home with a click of a computer button. While I'm all for convenience (see my koozie collection), what I don't feel comfortable with is no longer being able to fix any problems with my thermostat that arise.

That's why I stick to manual thermostats, and have ever since digital options came out. Not that digital options are a bad purchase, they can be very handy, I just know that I want to be able to fix my manual thermostat as quickly as possible when problems arise.

When thermostats break, home heating levels can become uncomfortable and the wasted spending from this malfunction could be great, even when not factoring in any needed service. That's why I'll be recommending manual thermostats this holiday season. Call me old fashioned, but if it ain't broke…

Electric heater safety reminder

I've written a bit about electric heater safety in the past, and I wanted to touch on it again today in time for the holidays. I know things can get pretty hectic with gift shopping and all, but this shouldn't be an excuse to let standard household chores fall by the wayside. I may be starting this piece on a bit of a dour note, but it's in response to an article I read this morning.

On December 13, in Chattanooga, Tennessee, firefighters were dispatched to a house fire. According to the report from WRCB, a local NBC affiliate, no one was home when they arrived. While the firefighters were able to control the fire to a hallway, the house suffered from smoke and water damage. Now, the owners could be on the hook for $25,000 in renovations.

The culprit for the crime wasn't a neighborhood teenager, but a faulty electrical extension cord that was supporting an electric heater. As I mentioned in a previous post, manufacturers recommend that these devices be plugged directly into the wall, as many extension cords can't provide the power they need to operate.

As a result, you may want to take some time over the next week (in between all of the baking and shopping) to ensure your appliances are all plugged in and working correctly, especially if you're hosting. There's nothing worse than needing to replace a manual thermostat, and not finding out until it's too late to repair the problem.

And for those of you who use electric heaters to reduce your energy costs, remember, while repairing an electric heater is inevitable (after all, I use mine day-in and day-out), they still need periodic care and supervision.