Saturday, January 22, 2011

Garage Heaters: Electric Versus Gas

Which is the Best?
If you're looking for a great way to heat your garage and lower your overall energy bills, garage heaters are a great way to go. If your garage is properly insulated, a garage heater can take some of the strain off of your homes heating system. Many homes have heating vents that try to heat the garage, but due to the construction of the garage (large metal or wood door, concrete floor, direct open access to attic) most of the heat is lost. But then there's the question of which kind of heater to go with for the garage. There are many models that produce different types of heat in different amounts, but it boils down to one difference: gas or electric.

Electric garage heaters have their pros and cons. They consist of electric coil heating elements and a fan. The coils heat up without any noise and the fan, located behind the coils, moves air across the coils to heat the room. They are easy to install because they just need an electrical output. They run off of a minimal amount of electricity and generally pay for themselves because they take some of the weight off of your house's energy. Now, that being said, electricity cost more than gas. If you compare the price of heating a typical two-car garage with electricity with using gas to heat it, it takes roughly 20% more energy to properly perform the job. If you're thinking about getting an electric space heater to do the job, don't. Most of those space heaters only put out about 1.5kw of power, and in order to heat a typical garage you need at least 5kw. The most popular garage heaters put out anywhere from 7.5kw to 10kw of energy. If you spend your money on a smaller heater, you're just throwing it away to keep a small portion of the garage relatively warm. However, electric garage heaters usually cost less to install than gas heaters because gas heaters require a gas line to run out to the garage.

Gas garage heaters are very similar to small furnaces. They use a flame to combust gas to heat air which is then moved out by a fan. Most people don't want to deal with the mess of installing one of these because, in the past, you would have to install a vent in the garage to remove all of the smoke and carbon monoxide. However, great advances have been made in this area and vent-less gas garage heaters are now available. They use natural gas and propane to burn cleanly and don't require a vent of any kind, thus, "vent-less" gas heaters. However, the cost of installation is still relatively higher because most garages don't have a gas line readily wired into them. Another downside to gas heaters is that there is concern that they deplete oxygen levels in a room and increase humidity. Increased humidity could lead to mildew and mold build up. However, most of these systems come with oxygen depletion sensors and walls can be treated for mold and mildew.

Gas heaters also bring the danger of unwanted combustion. Most people store paint and other chemicals in their garages. Since gas heaters use flame to heat the air, there is always the chance of combustion and fire. If you decide to go with a gas heater, it is important to always store these chemicals away from the heating unit.

Similar to most things today, there are a variety of different options to choose from with either gas or electric garage heaters. There are many models with different special features and some can even be integrated as part of the room.

As with anything else having to do with your garage, you can always contact your local garage door and garage service provider to help you decide which option would make sense to your home and your budget. But realize, that no matter how much you heat your garage, if it is not properly insulated you will lose whatever heat you produce. Garage door service providers can also help you figure out which route would be best in the insulation of your garage to make sure that you get the most bang for your buck out of your garage heater.

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Monday, January 17, 2011

How To Install A New Electrical Outlet Step by Step

Installing a new electrical outlet is easy to do as long as you take the necessary precautions.

First make sure you find the circuit breaker that feeds the old outlet. Go to the electrical service box in your home. See if the circuit breakers are marked as to where they are located. If they aren't marked then you will have to shut each circuit breaker off one at a time and test the outlet you are replacing. Most outlets run off of a 15 amp breaker so stick those switches. You can plug a light into the outlet and leave it on to see if it goes out when you flip the breaker off.

If the outlet isn't working properly then you may need to get a simple circuit tester and check the wires to the outlet to make sure the electricity is off. You could also short against the black and white wire with an insulated screwdriver to trip the breaker, but not necessarily a safe way to find out which one it is.

Once you have the electricity shut off you can remove the front cover plate, if you haven't already. Unscrew the old outlet and pull it out of the box. You will have at least two wires connected to the outlet, three if it is a grounded circuit to the main service box. You should have one white and one black wire with the ground being copper. If you have a very old house and the wiring hasn't been changed over then most likely you only have two wires and the colors may vary. The most common are white and black.

The white wire is the neutral wire and also referred to as the ground. The black wire is the feed or hot wire that supplies electricity. Before you remove any wires take note of where they are on the old outlet so you can replace them onto the new one. Many new outlets have two options of connecting the wiring. You can either connect to the screws on each side or slide the wires into the back of the outlet in their correct slots - they are usually marked for the color of the wire or say hot for the hot side.

Once you get the wires connected make sure they are tight and then slide the outlet back into it's box and tighten down with the new screws. Replace the cover plate and then go back to the service box and flip on the circuit breaker. If the circuit breaker trips back off quickly then you have somehow shorted out the wires or mis-wired the outlet. Recheck the outlet and make adjustments. Try the breaker again and make sure it doesn't trip. If all is well then plug in your electrical appliance and make sure everything works.

Electricity is definitely nothing to play around with, if you don't feel confident in replacing an outlet play it safe and have an electrician take care of it. It is pretty cool to be able to do it yourself as long as you take the necessary precautions.

Good luck and stay safe!

The author Mike Webb was an automotive technician at a Chrysler Dealership for 15 years and an agricultural technician for 5 years. He won the prestigious Toptech award from Chrysler in 1996 and is an ASE certified Master Technician. He currently owns and operates the Okinawan School of Karate with 2 locations. To learn more about Mike Webb you can go to his website:

The above article may be published freely as long as no content is changed and all links are included. Copyright Mike Webb 2007

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Saturday, January 15, 2011

Wire Cutters - What Are They?

One of the handiest tools to have around the home or work place is the wire cutters. These tools are classified as hand-tools used to cut wires made from silver, copper or gold-filled. The type of cutter depends on the blade configuration so there are flush cutters, bevel cutters, end cutters and diagonal cutters. The wire cutter can also be categorized according to its use like the cable or bolt cutters.

Wire cutters are mostly used in jewelry making and those who are doing crafts using wires. There is no better tool than a wire cutter to do precision cutting without damaging what one is doing as well as reach small crevices. In jewelry making, this tool is used to cut specific lengths to make various designs or to trim excess wire. Flush wire cutters are needed when trimming is made as close to whatever piece is worked on. This makes the wire as flat as possible rather than pinched or pointed at the end. Bezel cutters leave a larger pinch on the end of the wire and have its own purpose. End cutters cut off the end of a wire closely but they can only trim wire that is fairly short.

Below are some guidelines when selecting a wire cutter:

o The best type is the flush wire cutters. Though more expensive than the other types, it can be more useful for jewelry making and other hobbyists.
o A wire cutter with spring handle will help lessen hand fatigue.
o It would be good to have different types of wire cutters. Flush-cut pair for smaller diameters and a pair that can handle thicker wires.
o Quality is important for jewelry making thus it is important to have a wire cutter that is reliable and suited for the particular task.

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Thursday, January 13, 2011

Electrical Safety Training - Work Practices

Electrical safety training is paramount to a safe and productive workplace. Because electricity is a part of every aspect of a workplace it is imperative that everyone in that workplace understands its safety and use. Just a single electrical accident can be catastrophic. OSHA has made the training mandatory and divides it into three categories - hazard recognition, proper work practices and hazards specific to different work environments.

Work practices start with understanding the most common electrical dangers - shocks, burns and fires - and how to avoid them. Here are some of the major reasons for these dangers and how to avoid them.

Faulty wiring causes many electrical accidents. Never pick up a tool by its power cord. It will damage the wire by pulling it away from the tool causing cracks and other defects. Any damages in the cord should be addressed immediately by putting the tool out of service and scheduled for repair.

Never run too many pieces of equipment on the same circuit. This causes overheating and increases the risk of fire.

Extension cords are designed for temporary use only and NEVER should be used as a permanent solution. Make sure you always check the extension cord for its rating.

3-pronged cords should never be fitted into 2-pronged outlets. This keeps the grounding wire from operating and makes you vulnerable to stray electricity.

Using "double insulated" tools will provide you extra protection when working with electricity. These types of tools should be mandatory in the workplace as they conduct electricity away from you increasing worker safety exponentially.

If there is any suspicion of a tool or piece of equipment not operating properly it should be reported immediately to your supervisor who can arrange for it to be locked and tagged.Lock-Out Tag-Out is an important component of electrical safety and should be trained accordingly.

Using the proper lighting is another important part of electrical safety. If you can't see what you are doing it's much easier to make a mistake and get hurt.

Avoid wearing metal jewelry, chains or any other metal objects as they can conduct electricity. All of these objects should be removed before beginning work.

All equipment should be kept in good working order and free of any debris and grease. This will help with overheating and prevent fires. When cleaning equipment avoid using liquids and metal cleaning equipment as they can conduct electricity.

Using the proper personal protective equipment is also imperative. Insulated hard hats and gloves can be the difference between life and death.

Work practices are the second category of training that OSHA requires and an integral part of electrical safety training. Make sure that your organization is up-to-date on electrical safety training. It might just save a life.

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Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Electrical Adapter - The Basics

An explanation of an electrical adapter may sound a bit simplistic, but it's important to know the difference between an adapter and a transformer, especially if you're going overseas and expect to use electricity to operate your personal devices like laptop computer, shaver or hair dryer. If you don't know the difference between an adapter and a transformer, you could ruin your electric device, and risk personal injury as well as fire.

To make matters worse, manufacturers often refer to their transformers as adapters. It's a misnomer that can cause confusion, so I hope to clear it up with this overview of the basics.

Electrical adapters are devices that change the physical configuration of your electric plug. This allows you to use your (male) plug where it normally wouldn't fit into the (female) outlet. An adapter will have both a male and female side. The female side is where you plug in your electric appliance. On the male side will be prongs, blades or studs so it can be plugged into the (female) wall outlet. Once you do that, electricity will flow from the wall outlet to your electric appliance.

Another type of adapter commonly used is one that plugs into the outlet and allows you to plug in multiple electrical appliances into that single adapter. It essentially turns a single outlet into many. Such adapters can allow you to convert the physical configuration as well - from three prong to two, or from polarized plugs (one blade taller than the other) to non-polarized plugs (both blades of equal height). Otherwise, they'll simply have the same configuration on both the male and female sides, and serve as an outlet multiplier.

There are adapters that serve as an outlet multiplier and allow you to plug in polarized or non-polarized two or three prong plugs, and plug into a polarized or non-polarized outlet. So, they can help you with a polarized plug that won't fit into an old fashioned non-polarized outlet. They can also serve as a simple outlet multiplier, and help you plug a three prong plug into a two prong wall outlet. I like these adapters the best because they allow me to do most anything, regardless of the configuration of my plug or outlet.

To remember the role of an adapter, just think of the typical adapter that allows you to plug a three pronged electrical plug into a two pronged outlet. The electrical adapter changes the physical configuration of your plug (or accepts multiple plugs) so you can use the plugs you have with the outlet that's available. Some adapters for use overseas come in sets so you can convert a range of plugs to fit a range of outlet styles.

So, now that the role of an adapter is clear, be careful not to simply hook things up to the power outlet unless you know there is a match between the electrical output and the power requirements of what you're trying to operate. You might need a transformer to convert the power to match the needs of your device.

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Sunday, January 9, 2011

Electric Light Bulb - The Origin Of Modern Technology

Unless you live in the Hurricane Belt or Tornado Alley of the United States and have experienced lengthy periods without electricity, chances are you've been taking the luxury of artificial lighting for granted.

The electric light bulb seems to be a boring subject of conversation for most people, but without its invention, a lot of the things which make our life fun and exciting would not exist today. The concept of a central electrical power plant as well as power cables, generators, switches, sockets and wiring came about as there has been a need for a source of power to illuminate the early versions of electric lighting.

Most of modern day music, cinema, video games, the internet and countless other things that entertain and give us comfort today would not be around without electrical power. As such, we owe the lowly light bulb and the brilliant minds that helped pave the way for its development a bit more appreciation.

Thomas Alva Edison, the "Wizard of Menlo Park", is credited by the general public to be the father of the modern-day electric light bulb as we know it, but he is far from being the only one responsible for its research, development and production. Englishmen Sir Humphrey Davey and Joseph Wilson Swan, Canadians Henry Woodward and Matt Evans as well as several other brilliant scientists and researchers all contributed to the emergence of the modern day tungsten-based electric light bulb.
The first forms of artificial electrically-powered illumination were known as 'arc lamps' which needed significant amounts of electrical currents to stay operational. These arc lamps were excessively bright and thus were an impractical way to illuminate individual average-sized rooms.

Gas-powered lamps were the accepted norm during the late 1870s when the earliest attempts at incandescent lighting first surfaced. Incandescent lighting is the process of running an electrical current through a thin strip of resistant material, making it hot enough to glow and give off light without catching on fire from the excessive heat. Scientists eventually discovered that encapsulating the filament in a vacuum did away with oxygen-fueled ignition and this is how incandescent light bulbs are made today.
Platinum was the first metal that showed potential in producing light, bright enough to be used effectively as a filament. Sir Humphrey Davy and Edison himself both attempted to harness this potential but due to its high value, platinum didn't really become a practical choice for mass-produced electrical light bulbs.

In his quest for a viable medium for illumination in incandescent light bulbs, Edison tested numerous carbonized plant fibers- hickory, cedar, flax, boxwood, bamboo, even arranging the shipment of plant material from the far-off tropics. "Before I got through," says The Wizard from New Jersey in an interview, "I tested no fewer than 6,000 vegetable growths, and ransacked the world for the most suitable filament material."

The first generation of incandescent light bulbs that were deemed practical enough for widespread use had carbon-based filaments but these thinned-out too fast and blackened the insides of the bulbs thus reducing illumination. It was the General Electric Company, itself a product of the merging of Edison's companies and the Thomas-Houston Electric Company, that found a low-cost way to manufacture tungsten filaments and got the first patent for the modern-day incandescent light bulb. Tungsten filaments burn out longer and glow brighter than the carbon ones that preceded it.

From the incandescent light bulb the more cost-efficient fluorescent lighting and longer-lasting halogen lights were developed. Today these find uses in several fields of society from live entertainment, photography, medicine, industrial and home applications. Without low-wattage lighting, which has been made possible by the invention of the electrical light bulb, our working hours would be shorter and hence production would slow down by the time the sun sets.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Power Outages - Why The Lights Go Out

During major storms, you may see Ameren crews in your neighborhood that do not stop to restore your power. This happens when we are working to repair the substation supply lines or large feeder trunk lines that ultimately serve you. Feeder lines typically run for several miles and crews must repair them before they can restore your service.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Static Electricity, Electronics and Humidifiers

Rub your feet across a rug, then touch a doorknob, person or pet. The zap you feel is static electricity. Static occurs when electric charges accumulate on an object's surface. Electrons are exchanged, and one object becomes electrically positive; the other electrically negative. Static is most commonly created when two materials rub together or move apart. When you touch another object with an opposite charge, or a ground (neutral charge), electrons flow and you experience that little zap. Static shock takes place more often in the winter when the air is cold and dry.

The amount of voltage involved in static electricity can be in the 10,000-to-12,000-volt range. Static voltage isn't life threatening because its amperage is miniscule. And it's amps, not volts, which are dangerous. Static shock must be 3500 to 4000 volts before you can feel it. But for electronics, it's the voltage below that level that is common, and insidious. It's entirely possible that you never have any sensation of static, and still have zapped the electronics. That's because the integrated circuits can be damaged or destroyed by static voltages as low as 400 volts. Low-voltage static charges can also cause latent damage, destroying a few gates out of the millions in a typical integrated circuit. That damage can be almost impossible to diagnose, and may not cause problems for a long time.

Humidifiers raise the humidity level in your home therefore reducing random static shocks and static cling. The water particles in humid air break up static charge quicker. Keeping the humidity in your home between 30-50% also limits electric shocks around computers and other electronics, which can cause serious damage. A static charge can be devastating for the sensitive electronics inside a PC and other electronics. Problems increase when you open your computer's case to add RAM, upgrade your CPU or hard drive, or plug in a new sound card or graphics.

These days its almost everything containing some electronic parts, it is wise to reduce static as much as possible. Running a humidifier in winter not only makes you feel more comfortable by eliminating chapped hands, cracked lips and bloody noses, it helps protect your investment in electronics.

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