Keep space heaters out of the way of children

I recently got a space heater for my drafty bedroom at the encouragement of my mother. But before I purchased my portable electric heater, my mom made sure I was aware of all of the proper safety protocols involving these appliances.

While they come in handy for drafty rooms such as mine, space heaters are responsible for starting many house fires every year. I took care to make sure that the heater I bought had a backup safety off switch, and that I placed it in my room at least 3 feet from any textiles or furniture, just as Consumer Reports suggests.

However, a few days ago, my Aunt Jennifer called me and asked if I could watch my baby cousin Matthew for the weekend. Of course I said yes, since it's not every weekend that I get to spend time with an adorable baby.

But as soon as I finished emphatically agreeing to watch my 2-year-old cousin on the phone with my Aunt, I realized that my single-person's apartment is anything but baby-proof.

I did a search online, and found out that space heaters should never be in the same room as children. In addition to other childproofing, I unplugged my electric heater and stowed it safely in the closet.

It's important to remember that machines such as these shouldn't be in the reach of children or pets, who may mistakenly burn themselves by touching them. I'm glad that I thought to look that up before Matthew arrived at my house. With the proper safety precautions taken care of ahead of time, we had a great weekend!

Preparing your air conditioner for the offseason

A few weeks ago, I enlisted the help of my roommate Laura to uninstall my window air conditioner for the winter. Though this was a very successful effort, I was unsure of how to store my AC at the time, so it spent several days on the floor under my window.

Finally, last week, I got tired of the way that this looked. My bedroom had become an uninviting place with an unused air conditioner on the floor, and since it's not that big to begin with, I needed the space. I looked online for directions on how to properly put one of these units away.

It turns out that storing a window air conditioner is a fairly easy process. First, take this opportunity to make sure that your unit is clean. Since you're going to have to take it out again in the spring, do yourself a favor and don't put it away dirty.

Beyond that, if you have your original box, go ahead and store your air conditioner in this. I failed to plan ahead when I moved last, and accidentally threw mine away along with the moving boxes. Luckily, air conditioner covers are an inexpensive option that will protect the appliance from damage or dust during the offseason. I purchased mine at a home decor store nearby, and it looked good.

Then it's just a matter of finding a spot to keep it that is out of the way. My house has a few utility closets, so I decided to put my air conditioner in one that's across the hallway from my room. So I can rest easy for the entirety of the winter, knowing that my air conditioner is safely out of the way, ready for next summer.

Increase the flow of fresh air with an electric fan

My friend Kevin recently got a promotion at his job, which allowed him to move into a new high rise building in downtown Boston. He packed up all of his possessions and happily headed to his new apartment, thrilled about the prospect of not having to share space with roommates, and his great views of the city skyline.

While he was unpacking his things though, Kevin noticed a problem. The electric fan that he has always kept in his window doesn't work in his new modern space, because the windows kick out to open, rather than going straight up, as a safety precaution.

For a few days, Kevin lived without his fan, but he told me that it is harder to fall asleep without the cooling air from this device. When he told me about this problem, initially I wasn't that sympathetic. After all, his luxury apartment had only one defect, and here he was, whining to me about it. But then, I thought of a solution.

While a window fan is not an option in a space where the windows don't open properly, regular fans can still be used to increase the fresh air in the room. I told Kevin to buy a pedistal fan and position it toward an open window. While this seems like it wouldn't do anything, it actually increases the amount of fresh air that flows into the room.

After I told him about this trick, Kevin tried it, and said that it works really well. He sleeps better now in his high rise luxury apartment than he ever did in his last place, thanks in part to the fan he has pointed at his window.

The right thermostat can increase workplace productivity

My friend Rose had a dinner party on Sunday night. We had a delicious fall harvest dinner of stew and biscuits, all of which were wonderful. Soon, however, the conversation turned to work, and Rose said that her office had already turned the heat on for the year.

We all looked at her, somewhat surprised that an office building would turn the heat on before most homes do. But Rose said that her office goes out of their way to make sure that employees are comfortable throughout the year.

It all started, Rose said, when the company switched to an automatic thermostat that was controlled by the calendar. At a certain point in the spring, the heat was automatically switched off in favor of air conditioning, and it changed back at a preset date in the fall. The problem with this, of course, was that the weather doesn't always accurately reflect the time of year.

Not only were employees uncomfortable a lot of the time, but the managers noticed that work was actually suffering. After just one year of this, they switched to a different type of automatic thermostat. Rather than going by the time of the year, this one is based on the temperature outside, and works to keep the office at a comfortable 70 degrees. 

After making the change, productivity in Rose's office increased. Rose said that she can always count on the same temperature in her office, which simplifies getting dressed for work in the morning, and makes for a very predictable environment.

I wish that more offices implemented this system. It certainly would make it more comfortable to go to work every day, and it might increase worker productivity too.

Electric heaters can keep dogs comfortable

My sister Shannon has an adorable dog named Daisy. She's a short-haired breed with a ton of energy. Daisy has been known to get herself wedged into strange corners of the house as she becomes curious about just about everything she can't see completely.

Because Daisy is so adventurous, she's not allowed full run of the house. When she's not kept in a crate, Daisy has been known to cause the kind of disasters that only a dog could create. One time, my sister returned home to find that Daisy had pulled the contents out of every tissue box in the house, leaving the entire floor sprinkled with tissues.

But Shannon feels bad leaving Daisy in her crate for a whole day. Even though she makes sure that she gets home early enough, Daisy doesn't have room to spread out or play in there. In the summer, Daisy has a dog house in the backyard where she spends the day. But the cold weather of the winter means that this isn't a year-round option.

Just a few weeks ago, Shannon found out that she can buy an electric heater for Daisy's dog house, making the space usable for the dog for almost the whole year.

She found out that she needed a safe indoor/ outdoor option, and that certain types of ceramic heaters are safe for pets. Shannon ordered a heater for Daisy's dog house immediately, and installed it right away.

Now Shannon doesn't have to feel guilty about keeping her dog in the yard when it's cold out. Both Shannon and Daisy are happy about he new setup, because the dog gets to play and be comfortable, and Shannon's house gets to stay in good shape.

Electric fans that are safe for children

My friends Karen and Todd recently celebrated the arrival of a baby daughter named Tess, and while I adore teaching her games when I see her and picking out fun gifts for her, they say one of the most rewarding parts of parenting is watching their little one learn. Karen told me that her daughter picks things up so quickly, and that it's great to see how many common things baffle her entirely.

But since they live in Southern California, Karen and Todd's house is warm year-round. They used to like to sleep with an electric fan circulating the air around their bedroom, but they removed it when they baby-proofed the house.

Karen said that she wasn't sure if she was supposed to do this, but since she is a new parent, she wants to make sure that everything in her house is as safe as it can be for baby Tess. And while she's happy that Tess's little fingers are not at risk, she really misses the breeze from her electric fan.

I did a little research and found out that most baby-proofing advice says to keep electric fans out of the reach of children. Free standing fans meant to sit on the floor or on top of a table are a bad idea, since they can come within the reach of a child. But fans that babies can't reach are perfectly safe. I recommended that Karen replace her current fan, which sits on the floor, with a window model. Since the windows in Karen's house are fairly high off of the ground, they are out of baby Tess's reach.

I told her that it is equally important to keep the electric cords out of Tess's reach, since babies are very curious and pulling on these can be extremely dangerous. Karen was so happy when I told her that she can still use a fan, as long as it's the right type. She and Todd now sleep comfortably, knowing that baby Tess is safe.

Keeping a home gym well-ventilated

My friend Gabe is really into working out. He recently moved into a bigger place and decided that he would save money by setting up a home gym in a spare bedroom. Since he likes to run outside, Gabe only had to buy a set of weights and a pull-up bar.

I went over to tour his new apartment a few days ago, and asked how he liked everything. Gabe told me that he really loves the new space, but that he has trouble exercising in such a small room, because they're isn't very much ventilation.

He said that he has cut his last several workouts short because he gets too hot in the small space. He said that he might have to join the gym again because he didn't seem to be using his home gym enough at all. Then I suggested that he try to control the temperature.

Even though the room is small, it does have one window that's big enough to get some air moving. I told Gabe that he should open the window and turn an electric fan in its direction to help pull in air from the outside. Then I said he should use an oscillating fan to help ventilate the room.

Gabe had been so excited about his home gym before, so he was willing to try almost anything to make it a useful space. He went out the next day and bought two fans so that he could try my plan.

He called me yesterday to say that the fans have made a huge difference. Now his home gym is a comfortable spot for him to lift weights, and as a bonus, he doesn't have to pay a membership fee.

Keeping the noise down for your window air conditioner

My roommate Veronica recently acquired a window air conditioner for her bedroom. She loves it, but she's a light sleeper, and before she bought the device, she was worried that the noise would keep her awake at night. I told her that these appliances have gotten much quieter in recent years, but that I would check online to see if there is any way to reduce the noise that these machines make.

It turns out that there is a lot of information out there about this topic. Everything that I read said that the most common reason for excessive noise from an air conditioner has to do with improper installation. For example, most of the articles I read told me I should make sure that the side panels are fully extended, and that the AC fits snugly in the window. Not only will this help it run more efficiently, they indicated, but it will block out noise.

But occasionally, the rumbling noise that an air conditioner typically makes will change, and it will sound like it is dragging something along. If this happens to your model, check the fan blades. Sometimes a blade breaks, or something becomes caught in the fan, which will cause your AC to make a strange noise. Simply remove the front of the appliance and look inside to see if this is the problem.

But even when they're running great, every AC does make some noise. If you really can't stand the sounds your device is making, go to the hardware store for some soundproofing material. You can put extra insulation around the window, or pad the walls with cork tile. Anything you do can help to block out excess noise.

Veronica was extra careful in installing her air conditioner, making sure that it was properly screwed in to the window frame, and that the panels were fully extended. She happily reported to me that the noise hasn't bothered her at all so far!

The perfect solution for a warm and moist basement

A few weeks ago, my roommates and I made the move across town to a bigger, brighter apartment. Not only is this place nicer, but it takes up the first floor and the basement level. This is great, since there is more room for each of us, but it means that one my roommate's bedrooms is in the basement.

Since she suffers from allergies and was worried about having a basement bedroom, Veronica requested that my landlord install a dehumidifier in her room before we moved in, and he was happy to oblige. Not only would it keep the basement from irritating Veronica's allergies, but our landlord said that it could also help to prevent mold, and would be a good investment for the value of our apartment.

But since her bedroom is already next to the furnace, it's very warm most of the time. And like many models, the dehumidifier that my landlord bought for our apartment gives off a little bit of heat while it's running. After just a few days, Veronica complained that her bedroom is too hot when the dehumidifier is on, but the moist air irritates her when it isn't running. She thought that she simply couldn't win. But then our other roommate Laura had a great idea.

"Why don't you get a window air conditioner?" Laura suggested.

Air conditioners work to cool a room, but they also reduce moisture, which means that this could help her allergies as well. Veronica was thrilled at Laura's suggestion.

Veronica got an air conditioner that weekend, and her room is much more comfortable now. And the best part is that she can turn the dehumidifier back on when her room gets cold during the winter months.

An electric fan can help keep students interested

My sister Shannon is a school teacher. She loves working with her students on complex topics, and watching as they become successful at areas that previously baffled them. She tells me that it's amazing what small things can really affect a student's ability to learn.

We were on the phone this weekend, and she gave me the perfect example of a small change that made a huge difference in how easy it is to teach her students. Her school underwent some minor renovations to its heating system during the summer. So while Shannon's classroom looked the same when she returned to teaching in September, it suddenly felt much warmer.

As a result, Shannon's classroom went from being pleasantly crisp to uncomfortably hot. During the first few weeks of the school year, my sister told me that her students struggled to stay awake during even her most dynamic lessons, and by the end of the day, even she was exhausted because of the draining heat. Like in many schools, Shannon's classroom has safety windows that only open about four inches, so she couldn't get much fresh air.

But last Monday, Shannon decided that she would try to do something about the high temperatures that were putting all of her students to sleep. She went out and bought a couple of quiet-running oscillating electric fans for her classroom.

She told me that the difference was fantastic. Where her students were previously staring at her from low in their desks with glazed over eyes, they were now suddenly sitting up, completely engaged in her lively teaching. She told me that she even noticed that her kids got higher scores on Friday's reading quiz. Shannon said that she might not ever teach without an electric fan again.