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10 Tips for Protecting Your Home While You’re Away

by Lori Cunningham

Is Your Home Safe While You're on Vacation?When preparing for a vacation, there is a lot of excitement about the destination, planned activities, and thoughts of planting wonderful family memories.  My family and I took a great family vacation this Summer to Disney World and Harry Potter’s new theme park ( a part of Universal’s Islands of Adventure).

We showed the kids the fun rides we would be riding on YouTube ahead of time to really build up the excitement and anticipation.  But in addition to all of the airplane travel, hotel booking, securing theme park passes, and packing, I began to worry about our home safety.  Our neighborhood is the target often of teenage burglaries and I wanted to ensure things were well locked down before trooping off to Orlando.  Here are some tips I follow and new ones I researched to help secure your home before leaving on vacation:

1. Stop your mail and have it delivered when you arrive back home. I love the convenience of stopping my mail online at USPS.com.  You can stop your mail anywhere from 3-30 days.

Is Your Home Safe?

2.  Turn off your home computers to protect against unwarranted attacks.  Turning off your computers saves energy too.

3. Keep your dog at home to protect the house – ask a trusted neighbor to check on, walk, and feed your dog daily.

4. Ask the same neighbor to keep watch on the house and pick up any advertisements/flyer’s. Sometimes advertisements can build quickly at your door, a sure-tale sign you’re not home.

Ensure no keys are hidden outside

5. Remove all “hidden” outside keys (1.) If someone notices that your home looks deserted, they may start looking for hidden keys.  Installing a digital lock like Kwikset’s SmartCode electronic deadbolts allows you to grant access to trusted neighbors and not worry if they lose the key.  This happened to me once when I was a teenager, I lost the key to the neighbors’ house I was watching over and couldn’t feed the dog!!!  Yikes!  Fortunately, they left one of their windows unlocked and I was able to climb through to feed the poor pooch.

6. Lock your windows! Double check to ensure every window is locked.  Believe it or not, windows are often overlooked by vacation-goers (like the family’s house  I was watching!)  Buglers will try doors and windows first.

7. Don’t mention anything on Facebook, Twitter, or other social sites/games (FarmTown, Farmville, etc.) that you’ll be gone on vacation.  Ask a friend to tend to your online gardens so they don’t wither!

8. Park a car in your driveway, but ask your trusted neighbor to move it for you every other day or so, giving the appearance that someone is home.

Your local police can assist you by patrolling your neighborhood

9. Give your trusted neighbor your contact number and tell them where you will be. I often tell a couple of neighbors we’ll be out of town, but it makes sense to write down the info. as to where we are and when we’ll return.

10. Tell your local police department the dates of your vacation, if you’ll be gone for a week or more.  As time is available, they will make extra patrols of your neighborhood. (1.)

Fortunately, our home was safe and sound when we returned from Orlando.  We had an awesome vacation and I didn’t even worry once about our home.  Oh, and for those of you wondering if the Harry Potter park is worth going to…the answer is YES!

Have some great tips to add about protecting your home?  Leave a comment to share.  Thanks!


images provided by: Microsoft Office.

I am a member of the Kwikset-sponsored SmartSquad and occasionally receive incentives to discuss issues related to home safety and security.

Five Tips to Stop Home Burglaries

Ahhh, you made it to work on time.  Now all you have to worry about is the stresses of work deadlines, meetings, and e-mail’s, right?  Well, not exactly.  With the downturn in the economy, it is no surprise that there is a rise in home burglaries.  Is your home safe?

With the recent outbreak of burglaries in my own neighborhood, I decided to investigate when most break-in’s occur and how.  And more importantly, how to protect your home from uninvited intruders.

Be In The Know

Did you know that the average burglar is a teenage male that lives less than a mile away from the houses he burglarizes?  Here are some more startling facts:

  • Home burglaries account for 70.3% of all burglaries.
  • Burglaries accounted for $4.6 billion in lost property in 2008.
  • The average residence burglary loss is $2,079.
  • 61.2% of burglaries were the result of forcible entry…32.3% occurred without force!  (Don’t forget to lock those doors!)
  • 34% of burglars enter through the front door! *
  • 23% enter through a window on the first floor.*
  • 22% enter through a back door. *
  • You’re three times likely to be robbed if you don’t have an alarm.
  • Nonetheless, many alarmed houses are broken into because owners didn’t set their alarm.

What Can You Do?

  1. Lock Your Doors and Windows.  OK, we all know this.  But inevitably, one door will get overlooked.  Train your kids when they are young to always lock the door when they are done using it.  It just needs to become a habit.  I am pleased to report my kids (ages 5 and 8) are quite good at locking the door.  My husband on the other hand, uggghh, not as good.  So obviously, there is a hole in our home protection armor.

TIPS:       o Windows:  place metal or strong wood bars in the tracks of all downstairs windows and sliding doors.

o  Doors: consider purchasing SmartCode Deadbolts with Home Connect**.  Amongst its many features, you can program the lock to automatically lock a door 30 seconds after it has been opened.  Aha!  That will teach my husband!  Because the locks include a keypad, he can easily enter the code to re-enter.  Ensure every outside door should have a deadbolt.

2. Set Your Alarm. Again, another easy one.  For those of you with alarms, don’t forget to use them!  For most people, remembering to set the alarm every time they leave the house is either 1.) a hassle or 2.) something they forget to do.  Your chances of deterring a potential thief dramatically decrease if the alarm is not set.

TIPS:      o  put a few hooks for your family’s home keys right next to the alarm system.  Yes, the keys might be out of the way, but they will remind you to set the alarm when you leave the house.

o  call your alarm security company to see if they now offer additional ways to help ensure your alarm is turned on when you leave the house without you having to remember.

3.  Consider purchasing a surveillance camera(s). I have been amazed

flikr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/51378359@N02/5083508708/sizes/s/in/photostream/

at how prices have declined for surveillance cameras.  Considering the front

door and back door are the biggest targets, a camera positioned in these areas will give you the likeliest view of your potential intruder.

TIPS:         o  if you own a home alarm, check with your current alarm provider to see if they provide this surveillance features.

o  you can also buy wireless or wired cameras that can connect to your computer for monitoring.  Some surveillance software packages, like Logitech Alert, even allow you to observe your cameras from your smartphone.

4. Get a Dog. Believe it or not, there are open online forums you can read about “pro” thieves giving tips to want-

to-be robbers.  I know, I’ve read them!  If you can wade through all the bad language, you can really pick up some useful insight.  Thieves don’t like dogs because 1.) they’re noisy and 2.) their teeth are scary.

TIPS:       o  put a mean dog sign up on the front of your fence.

o  have a dog to back up the sign.

o  if you can, allow your dog to be inside while your gone.  If not, make sure he has full access to the side yard where your gate is as well as the backyard.

o  want to learn more about robbery strategies from the horse’s mouth?  Just Google “best ways to break into a house.”

5.  Answer the Door. The easiest way for a burglar to see if you’re home or not is to ring the doorbell. If you don’t answer, they figure there’s no one home.  I know what you’re wondering…”but what happens if I am home, will they force their way in?”  Most likely no.  They will be hiding somewhere in the neighborhood to see if you open the door.

TIPS:        o  If you answer your door and there’s no one there, close the door and cautiously look out a window from your upper floor or non-obvious window on the ground floor.  Most likely, the burglar will strike again at a neighbor’s house.  Report any activity you see to the police as soon as possible.

o  Park a car in front of your house to give the impression that someone is home.

With the rise in home burglaries, it’s best to take some time to ensure your house and family is safe.  You can’t count on your neighbors to be home and catch suspicious activity for you.  Most likely, they are at work too.  In the “best ways to break into a

house” forum I visited online, I was surprised by the fact that most thief’s don’t care as much about the noise of breaking glass anymore. Thieves commented that breaking glass doesn’t seem to be an alarming sound.  They recommended skipping the step of taping glass (so it doesn’t make much noise when it breaks) because it’s no longer necessary and it takes extra time.  They also suggested wearing everyday clothes or even an electrician’s work clothes if possible.

These times are a changin’.  But with making proactive changes in your home and with your family’s habits, you’re less likely to be the next victim.

** I am a member of the Kwikset-sponsored SmartSquad and occasionally receive incentives to discuss issues related to home safety and security.

* According to a survey conducted in Pennsylvania:  As reported by Alarm.org: http://www.alarm.org/indinfo/quickfacts/index.html


FBI: http://www2.fbi.gov/ucr/cius2009/data/table_07.html



Future Home Technology for the Kitchen

by Lori Cunningham  

As I mentioned in my last article, Smart Appliances from CES 2011, one of the highlights of my trip to CES was my scheduled booth tour with Fulton Innovations.  Fulton Innovations has been busy recreating the way we will utilize power in our homes. They have developed some very innovative ways to make consumer packaging and our kitchens more enhanced and efficient.  During my interview with Josh with Fulton Innovations I learned more about their plans for Innovative Consumer Packaging and the Changing Wireless Kitchen.  I’ve outlined both concepts below.  Be sure not to miss the video at the end of this article to see these things working! 

Innovative Consumer Packaging  


Ready for some cool stuff?    Although it’s hard to tell from this picture, the Trix and Cheerios logos are glowing along with other elements on their packages.  Fulton Innovations, the main innovator behind eCoupled wireless power technology, has combined wireless power with printed conductive inks to create printed electronics.  This new ink, which costs no more than an extra layer of ink and is compatible with most printing presses, can be utilized by product manufacturers to call attention to their products on the shelf.  Have a shopping list on your smartphone while in the store?  This printed electronic technology can communicate with your cellphone to let you know the Trix on your list is in the aisle you’re standing in.  Fulton believes this type of technology will also allow the consumer to comparison shop through their smartphone as well.      

The Changing Wireless Kitchen 

All I can say is…Wow!  The innovation of printed electronics doesn’t stop at the store.  With eCoupled enabled sensors in your kitchen cabinets and refrigerator, not only will you be able to keep inventory of the products you have on-hand and their expiration dates, but you will also have access to view online how much of that product you have left.  Pretty slick.    

In the picture to the right, Josh is showcasing some kitchen cabinets with the eCoupled wireless power built-in.  Product inventory and content consumption can be viewed on your smartphone or Internet-enabled device.       

This picture depicts a “typical” kitchen counter in future.  Today’s electrical outlets and  cooktop are replaced with eCoupled inducers that can provide electricity to a blender, food processor, smart pan, and even to a package of soup!  No wires involved.   Josh gave a demonstration on how water in the smart pan can boil within no time.  When he removed the pan I touched the inductor and the pan and they were not hot!  What’s more, you can actually control the smart pan from your smartphone.  So if you’re outside during a party and realize it’s time to simmer your sauce, you can turn down the heat without leaving your backyard.    

Josh then showed how a package of soup, taken right out of the cupboard, could be placed on an inductor and cooked…right in it’s own packaging!  The heating of the soup can be adjusted on the package to get the soup inside just at the  right temperature.  When removed from the heat, only the soup inside was hot…not the packaging.   To make this concept environmentally friendly, the plastic packaging can be recycled as well as the metal disc (used for heating) inside the packaging.      

Sounds pretty futuristic, huh?  Nonetheless, all of these technologies are available today.  Fulton has been working with their numerous partners to begin bringing these  technologies to the marketplace. 

Want to see more?  Check out the video footage I took during Josh’s demo of the Fulton booth:


A Homeowners Perspective

Although this technology is available today, much work needs to be done in incorporating it into products.  Though, it’s only a matter of time before we see them in the marketplace. 

So should you wait on that kitchen remodel?  No.  But definitely keep abreast on new technology changes in the home.  I have been amazed how quickly these technologies are being created, bringing a great array of new products never imagined by homeowners.  Furthermore many of these new technologies are simplified enough for hhomeowners to install themselves.  The times are a changing.  Be sure to subscribe to theWellConnectedHome.com to learn more of what’s possible for less for your home. 


Are you a big fan of home technology?  Are you a DIY’rTheWellConnectedHome.com is looking for contributing writers to join the team.  Please contact lori@thewellconnectedhome.com for more details.   

Smart Appliances from CES2011

by Lori Cunningham

Earlier this month I spent a week at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Vegas to see the latest home tech products and learn about the trends for mobile, home tech, connected appliances,…the list goes on.

I was excited this year for the new section on “smart appliances” as I was gravely disappointed at CES 2010 to not see any appliance companies at the show.  Although I believe smart appliances still have a ways to go to be worth the extra money, this year’s new smart appliances are on the right track.  As a result, I listed smart appliances as one of the top trends in my article, Top 6 Tech Product Trends of CES 2011.

At CES 2011, most of the big appliance companies had smart appliance prototypes running at the show…LG, Whirlpool, GE, Kenmore, Samsung, etc.  Most expect their smart appliances to be ready by mid-to-late 2011.  Smart appliances include refrigerators, ovens, and washers & dryers.  Most smart appliances will connect to the Smart Grid and text owners about relevant matters.  A number of manufacturers have also planned for Internet-assisted troubleshooting when the appliances are having issues.  Although the features differ from company to company, here are some of the “smart” features touted by various manufacturers:

  • Refrigerators– pretty much all of them have a LCD touchscreen – from 2inches to 7 inches. Various features include WiFi access, alerting homeowners when the door is left ajar, keep tabs on the number of times the door is opened, reports on electricity consumption, access to your Google calendar, ability to play YouTube videos and Pandora radio stations, writing notes for family members, checking the weather or latest news, connection to the Smart Grid,etc.
  • Ovens– some offer touchscreens with thousands of recipes and basic cooking instructions (how to roast, how to use a meat thermometer, etc.).  Smart ovens offer great convenience…you can schedule the oven to turn on at a certain temperature and for a certain time to bake!  Want to be alerted when your lasagna is done?  Ovens can now text you to alert you when cooking times have finished. 
  • Washing Machines – some washers can now communicate with the dryer to help the dryer better anticipate the drying cycle of its clothes.  Smart appliances connected to the Smart Grid can delay the start of the wash until a less cost consuming time is available.  Some companies will offer “upgrades” electronically and automatically such as advanced wash cycles.

 According to Pike Research in Boulder, CO, the market for smart appliances could add up to $6.2 billion by 2015.  Whirlpool is the largest appliance maker with 41.5% of the market.   Samsung has only 1% of the market but is making marked progress with its innovative appliances.   LG holds 8.7% of the market, according to research IBISWorld based in Santa Monica, CA. (1)

With regards to refrigerators, one of the  features people ask for most is inventory management.  It would be handy to know when the salad dressing or hamburger meat will expire.  Although LG has been promoting its new inventory management in it’s smart refrigerator, it is preliminary and a bit crude as in many cases, the consumer needs to speak the inventory dates of the products into an app on the refrigerator.

Not to worry Fulton Innovation is working on some very innovative technologies that will make product inventory at home a snap as well as change the way you heat products and utilize your small appliances.  This upcoming article entitled “Future Home Technology for the Kitchen” you won’t want to miss!  Be sure to subscribe!

Five Top Trends in the Future of TV


skyrock image:  http://derniers-inventions.skyrock.com/2318324277-future-3D-t-V.html

I recently had the opportunity to attend IMS Research’s 2-day TV 3.0 Conference in Los Angeles.   The conference was designed for industry movers and shakers and the theme was Innovations in TV and Content Delivery.

The old faithful TV has been changing over the years.  Back in the old days, you’d have to get up from your seat to turn the channels.  Remote controls didn’t exist.  Today, you can change the TV channels with your TV remote, universal remote, even your phone!  What was once an incredibly bulky and heavy piece of furniture is now slim, lighter in weight, richer in color and a wall hanging!

We live in exciting times.  With today’s technologies, our lives are more connected than anytime in history.  So what is on the horizon for TV’s?

A number of major trends for TV are evident:

  1. TV/Web Integration – gives consumers what they want – the best of broadcast TV along with their favorite content from the Internet.  Google TV is doing this now by providing shows/movies available online as well as through cable/satellite when a consumer searches for a show.
  2.  TV Everywhere – let’s face it, we are a people “on the go.”  Having to sit down in one room to watch your DVR recorded shows is not always easy.  If you’re watching a show in the family room and want to see it where you left on in the bedroom, wouldn’t that be great.  This is possible today.  But what about continuing to watch that same show while waiting at the dentist office, or watching it while you’re waiting for your car to be washed?  This will be possible in the near future through the use of your tablets, laptops, and cellphones.
  3. Personalization – with the expansion of available content and shows through cable/satellite and the Internet, it’s getting incredibly harder to find precisely the show you’re looking for.  A number of companies are working to make it easier for consumers to search for their fave shows by showing them when the show is scheduled through broadcast and if the show is available on the spot through services like Blockbuster and Netflix.
  4. Social Network’s Role in the Future of TV  Today you can get Facebook and Twitter on Internet-enabled TV’s, but the features are limited in what you can do with it.  How would you like to see if other Facebook Friends are watching the same show as you and communicate to them in real time?  How would you like to participate with brands during a show to play a relevant interactive game or try to win a contest?  These features are coming.
  5. 3D TV is here to stay  I have been one of the skeptics of 3D TV since I saw it introduced at the Consumer Electronic Show earlier this year.   After all, who wants to pay the extra cost for the TV or wear the glasses?  And how many movies/TV shows have actually already been developed in 3D to watch?  Due to ESPN’s adoption of 3D TV, consumers are seeing the beauty of having their favorite sports heroes “pop” out of the screen.  In a study conducted by CBS Vision and Nielson, they found that of consumers exposed to 3D TV, 48% were interested in having a 3D set in their home.   As price points continue to decline and more innovative 3D shows are prevalent, it appears likely that 3D TV’s will become popular.  The next biggest hurdle is the glasses – consumers don’t enjoy wearing them.  But even today, a couple of manufacturers have figured a way to create a 3D TV without the need of glasses.

Just bought a new TV and worried that you won’t be able to take advantage of these TV advances?  Not to worry.  Many of these new advances will take place on set top boxes and other devices that will connect to your TV.

Microsoft’s Home of the Future

by Lori Cunningham

You have already seen the changes that are happening to our homes.  We can connect to our computers or phones to see our pictures, music, videos, etc. on our TV screens.  TV’s are now “Internet enabled” so we can obtain information from our favorite websites on our TV’s.    We are using our phones to set the air conditioner temperature, check who is at the front door, control our pool settings, etc.  3D has come out of the theaters and into our homes.  Robot vacuums clean our floors so we don’t have to.

There has never been a more exciting time in history with regards to technology and the home.  With technology manufacturing costs going down, homeowners are able to afford home technology gadgets like never before.  Gadgets the Jetsons’ took for granted are now becoming more commonplace in our homes after much anticipation.

I am a Microsoft fan and I am always interested in seeing how Microsoft sees the connected home shaping up in the future.  I found this video on YouTube which shows some pretty incredible possibilities.  I’ve seen some of the technologies demonstrated in this video already – though not nearly as advanced as shown here.

Watch this video to see how kitchen counters and tables are transforming and how your teenagers room will never look the same.

Today’s Water Heaters – Should You Go Tankless?

Which water heater works best for your home?by Lori Cunningham

There has been a lot of talk surrounding water heaters in the past 5+ years.  The typical water heater most of us have in our garages or basements has been dramatically updated.  Labeled as bulky, environmentally unfriendly, and inefficient, yesterday’s water heaters have paved the road for a newer more efficient model called the tankless water heater. 

The latest rage in water heaters doesn’t even have a water tank – well, at least for the most part.  Tankless water heaters are gaining a lot of momentum due to their compact size, savings on energy costs and water, and their ability to provide enough hot water to provide heated water to several showers at once — throughout the duration of the shower.  They are hailed as “on demand” water heating and “endless” hot water due to their ability to heat up water soon after the hot water faucet is turned on. 

Traditional Water Heaters

Traditional water tank heaterWith traditional water heaters, water is stored in a 40+ gallon tank and heated and reheated continuously throught the day and night.  Once water in the tank is depleted, the house no longer has hot water until the water heater can replenish it.  Furthermore, when hot water is taken from the tank to supply a household’s needs, new cold water replaces the dispensed hot water.  This means that the cold water is co-mingling with the hot water.  The result is a lukewarm shower and lukewarm water instead of the desired hot water for “whites” in the washing machine.  Thus, because of this process of cold water combining with the hot, if you have a 50-gallon tank, you are only utilizing 35 gallons of usable hot water(1).   Once hot water runs out, it takes a considerable amount of time for the water to be heated to the desired temperature again. 

Think about the energy inefficiency as well.  Say you and your family members only shower in the morning.  Consider the energy expanded throughout the day and night to ensure you all have hot showers (assuming no one is a hot water hog!) during the morning. This is what is known as “standby loss.”  Standby loss is the term for energy wasted to keep the water in the tank at a specific temperature.  Standby loss can contribute up to 20% of a home’s annual water heating costs(2.).  And what about waiting for hot water to reach your faucet or shower?  According to Seisco,  we waste more than 10,000 gallons of water a year waiting for cold water to turn hot so we can have hot water (3).  Due to the bulky size of traditional water heaters, most water heaters are placed in the basement or garage, making them further away from the areas that need hot water the most.  This makes the availability of hot water to a faucet or shower longer. 

With regards to durability, the traditional water heaters’ lifespan averages to 12 years (4.).   Typically, water heaters break down due to minerals and sediments that can settle in the tank.  These elements can encrust the heating elements of the tank thereby causing degradation and contamination. 

Here are some of the main advantages and disadvantages of traditional water heaters:


  • Affordable cost
  • Works well for families/people with little demand for simultaneous hot water
  • Uses gas/electricity at a slow rate


  • Hot water will run out
  • Not energy efficient – constant reheating of water
  • Takes a while to heat water after heated water is depleted
  • Bulky – takes a lot of space
  • limited lifespan of 12 years
  • Potential of water damage if leak occurs
  • Pilot light always on – potential fire hazzard


Wouldn’t it be much more efficient to just heat the water as you use it? 


Enter Tankless Water Heaters

Installed tankless water heaterHow Tankless Water Heaters Work: 

Unlike traditional water heaters, most tankless water heaters do not store water.  No water is heated until a hot water faucet is turned on somewhere in the house.  Once the faucet is opened, cold water flows into the tankless water heater which then instantly heats the water using heat exhanger heating coils to reach the desired temperature.  It takes only 5 seconds for the water to heat initially. 

Most people confuse “on-demand water heating” with instant hot water. This is a misnomer.  Due to the travel path of pipes throughout the house, there will still be some lag time before a faucet’s water become hot.  However, since tankless water heaters are smaller than bulky traditional water heaters, you have the flexibility to move the tankless water heater closer to the source where hot water is desired.  In the home we are building, we placed the tankless water heater right behind the kitchen, which is close to our master bathroom too.  These are the two main areas I desire to receive faster hot water.  Because of their size and flexibility, you can place tankless heaters inside the house, in closets, on walls, or in the garage. 


  • No standby loss
  • Tankless heaters can be more energy efficient in the long run
  • Less wasted water since water is heated almost immediately
  • Hot water will not run out in the middle of a shower
  • Long lifespan at 20 years
  • Flexible – can be installed anywhere  (new home buildAn example of how one tankless water heater workss)













  • Costs more initially to purchase over standard water heater
  • Almost twice as expensive to retrofit in a home that was using a water heater
  • There are fewer plumbers with the knowledge of how to install and maintain a tankless water heater
  • Older homes may not meet building code rules for the ventilation needs of a tankless heater
  • No hot water during a power outage – if electric powered
  • Some homeowners complain of inconsistent temperature at times

Adding an Addition to Your Home? 

You might want to seriously consider using a tankless heater to cover for the extra room capacity needed for heated water.  It is very doable for the new addition to use a tankless water heater while the rest of the house uses the current water heater.  Doing so will help you to decrease further electricity costs while saving costs from needing to hook up the new pipes to run back to your current traditional water heater, which may not have the capacity to handle the extra load anyways. 

Does it Make Sense to Retrofit Your Current Water Weater with a Tankless Water Heater? 

The answer is it depends.  Certainly, the cost is higher to retrofit your house with a tankless heater than to install one in a new house.  Most typical water heaters are gas generated.  So whether you prefer a gas or electric tankless water heater, it shouldn’t be a problem retrofiting your home with a tankless water heater.  However, there are two main considerations in doing so: 

First, tankless water heaters need piping to an outside vent in order to release heat and condensation.  To accomplish this, you will need a plumber to install stainless steel (for most models) or pvc (for some models) piping and venting to let out to the side of your house.  This is a moderate expense here – especially if stainless steel piping is required. 

Second, the current location of your water heater was most likely chosen to hide it from the rest of the house.  Typical locations are the garage or basement.  These locations tend to be further away from the main sources where you’d desire to have hot water faster.  Thus, you lose some of the benefit of placing a smaller tankless water heater, which could be located anywhere, in a location furtherest away from where you need it.  While it’s true you could still move the location of your water heating source, extra expense will result in hooking it up to your gas line and current plumbing. 

Video Explanation of Tankless Water Heaters

To explain the benefits of tankless water heaters versus traditional water heaters, I found a video on YouTube.com that does a great job.  Tankless water heaters can be powered by gas, electricity, or propane gas.  The makers of this video promote propane gas, but I must add that rarely are propane tankless water heaters used.  Nonetheless, this video does a great job of explaining the need for tankless water heaters. 



Saving Money with a Tankless Water Heater?

There are varying reports as to how much money can be saved with a tankless heater.  Here’s a breakdown: 

Annual Equipment Cost: 

Will you save money?    Average installation for water heater:  $625 divided by 12 year lifespan: $52/year cost 

     Average installation for tankless:  $1,200  divided by 20 year lifespan:  $60/year cost 

More than 20% of a home’s energy bill results from heating up water for showers, laundry, cooking, and washing dishes.  On an annual basis, the yearly cost can add up to $450 for a traditional storage water heater (5/).  Tankless water heaters tout that they can save 10-20% of a homeowner’s heating bill.  So the breakdown would look like this on a yearly basis: 

Annual Operation Cost: 

     Water heater fuel cost: $450 

     Tankless heater cost: $450 x 15% = $67.50.  $450-$67.50= $382.50 

Estimate Lifetime Cost: 

Based on only 12 years (for apple-to-apple comparison): 

     Water Heater:  $625*(avg. cost + installation) + (12 years x $450) = $6,025  

     Tankless Water Heater:  $1,200**(avg. cost + installation)  + (382.50 x 12 years) = $5,790

Based on 20 years (for apple-to-apple comparison): 

     Water Heater:  $625 + (12 yrs x $450) = $6,025   for 12 years plus $625 + (8 yrs x $450) = $4, 225.  The cost for 20 years:  $6,025  + $4, 225= $10,250  – not including inflation for the additonal water heater + labor.

     Tankless Water Heater:  $1,200 + (382.50 x 20 years) = $8,850 

So, using basic assumptions, using a tankless water heater saves money over time.  However, if your house needs to be retrofitted to receive a tankless water heater, your lifetime savings have been spent before they were gained. 


A Homeowner’s Perspective

As mentioned earlier, we have decided to implement a tankless water heater in the home we are building.  It’s smaller size allows us to place the tankless heater closer to the places we require faster heated water the most.  We’ll have more room in our garage since a large water heater tank will not be needed.  With two small children, our hot showers won’t tax us…yet.  But as they become teenagers, I can be secure in knowing we’ll have plenty of hot water. Love being in hot water?

I am disappointed that tankless water heaters are not the “holy grail” for our instant heated water needs.  I still would like an “instant hot” solution in our kitchen and in our master bedroom.  To handle this, our plumber installed a recirculation pump near the tankless water heater.  To decrease the costs of always heating the water so it’s readily available, he will be installing timers so that the recirculation pumps only heat water during the times we most likely will need them, then they will shut off. 

Now, I must warn you that most tankless water heater manufacturers state that their warranty is null and void if you use a recirculation pump with their heaters.  So there is some risk involved with recirculation pumps.   

Our house is currently in the stucco phase.  We have not selected our tankless water heater yet.  However, I did have the opportunity to talk to serveral manufacturers at the PCBC (Pacific Coast Builders Conference) Show.  At a later time I will go into our selection process once we have confirmed our chosen tankless heater. 

We Want to Hear from You. 

If you have strong opinions on tank vs. tankless water heaters, leave a comment.  If you have personal experience with a water heater, we’ll publish your review.  Your personal experience is needed to help other homeowners make smart decisions about their water heating needs.  Please contact us with your review. 



(1.)  http://www.e-tankless.com/tank-water-heater.php
 (2.)   http://www.toolbase.org/Technology-Inventory/Plumbing/tankless-water-heaters#benefits 
(3.)  http://www.seisco.com/pages/gas_vs_electric.html 
(4.)   http://www.e-tankless.com/tank-water-heater.php
(5.)  http://www.toolbase.org/Technology-Inventory/Plumbing/tankless-water-heaters#benefits 
*      based on average from reviewing larger water tanks at homedepot.com
**    http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/appliances/heating-cooling-and-air/water-heaters/tankless-water-heaters/overview/tankless-water-heaters-ov.htm

2010 PCBC Show: Home Technology Finds – Sound Proofing

by Lori Cunningham

This article is a part of the series I am writing about the Pacifiic Coast Builders Conference I attended a couple of months ago.  In this PCBC series, I cover different innovative home technology products.  Today I’m going to write about something that does not have any technological features.  In fact, some would consider this subject to be even boring. Before arriving to the 2010 PCBC Show, I was contacted by Roxul to meet with them about their products.  As with most non-technological home product vendors, I turned them down.  I was attending the Pacific Coast Builder’s Show to write about great technology products for the home.  Roxul makes insulation for residential and commercial walls. 

But Roxul saw it differently.  They asked me to review the Safe’n’Sound product on their website, and see how it’s designed to keep noise out of the baby’s room and greatly diminish the sounds stemming from a TV room.  I became intrigued as I know that with all of today’s great home technologies — like multi-room audio, surround sound, home theaters, the latest Xbox and Wii games, etc., knowing a little more about soundproofing a room is a valuable resource to homeowners.

I’ll be the first to admit that insulation is not a product I’ve thought a great deal about.  Nonnetheless, while at the PCBC show, I met with representatives from Roxul.  In the house we are building, we were scheduled to have insulation installed within one month at the time I met with Roxul.  I have to say that I was impressed with what they had to say. 

Roxul’s”Safe’n’Sound” product is made out of stone wool instead of the typical spun fiberglass insulation.  Roxul uses basalt rock and recycled slag rock to spin a wool-like substance, similar to what you see with regular insulation, but that’s where the similarities stop. 

Roxul’s Safe’n’Sound includes these features that regular insulation cannot live up to:
  • excellent sound absorbency
  • water repellent
  • fire resistant (can withstand temperatures up to 2150 degrees F)
  • non-combustible
The density of the Roxul Safe’nSound versus regular insulation.
  • completely resistant to mold, mildew, bacteria growth, and rot
  • highly energy efficient
  • more than 40% of Safe’nSound is made from recycled content
  • GreenGuard Air Quality certified
  • easy to cut – can cut with a butter knife
  • provides a tight fit between wall studs – won’t slump or settle in your walls over time
Roxul Safe’n’Sound provides two huge benefits above normal insulation – sound proofing and fire resistance.
Safe’n’Sound has a unique fiber structure of tiny interconnected spaces which traps sounds and vibrations.  Many home and commercial theaters use Roxul to soundproof the room so you can’t hear the movie outside of the room or theater.  
Ideal rooms to soundproof would be TV rooms, bedrooms – especially the kids rooms – laundry rooms, furnace rooms, basements, and bathrooms.  Yes, with a Roxul insulated bathroom, you might not need to buy the TOTO Neorest 600 toilet with a built-in MP3 player.
Fire Proofing
In addition to sound proofing, Roxul provides for incredible protection against the spread of fire.  Watch this YouTube.com video showing an  enclosed building fire test  with stone wool versus regular insulation, the stone wool withstood the fire with minimal damage, compared to the insulation which had nearly completely burned. 
In a typical year there are 500,000 home fires reported.  The death report averages out to 3,000 deaths a year from these home fires.  A home insulated with Roxul would greatly deter the quick spread of a fire and provide for extra time to help get family members to safety.  In addition, Roxul insulation does not smoke or produce toxic fumes.

Ideal rooms, besides every room in the house, are attics, basements, kids’ rooms, kitchens, laundry rooms, etc.  Kitchens are the number one area where home fires are started.A Homeowners Perspective

If you are building a home or about to renovate your home or a room in your home, I would highly recommend you consider using Roxul for better sound and fire proofing.  It makes sense to 1.) ensure rooms that could potentially be loud – game rooms, bonus rooms, TV rooms, home theaters, and kids rooms are soundproofed so the rest of the house doesn’t have to hear the noise.  2.) Fireproofing your kids’ rooms and the kitchen just makes sense.

I arranged to review the Roxul Safe’n’Sound insulation in the home we’re building.  I installed it between our 5.1 channel TV/Xbox bonus room and our master bedroom.  To soundproof this room, our builder was going to put up normal installation and extra drywall; he was not aware of Roxul.  I have a lot of confidence in the Roxul Safe’n’Sound product and feel that this will be a better solution.  Once the house is built and we move in, I’ll give my review on how well it keeps the Rockband sounds from entering into our master bedroom.

Where to Buy
Roxul Safe’n’Sound is available at certain hardware stores.  You can also special order it through the contractors desk at your local Home Depot.  It typically takes 9 days for it to arrive.  I ordered Roxul through my local Home Depot and it cost $41.85 per bag — not including tax.  Each bag covers 60 sq. ft. and weighs 37 lbs.  Safe’n’Sound is produced for two wall stud sizes:  16 in. On Center or 24 in. On Center.  Roxul typically costs roughly 25% more than other types of common insulation, but it also provides sounder soundproofing and fireproofing that common insulation products do not provide.

If you have used Roxul, or other types of soundproofing, please leave a comment with your experience.

2010 PCBC Show: Home Technology Finds for the Bathroom

by Lori Cunningham

I attended this year’s PCBC (Pacific Coast Builder’s Conference) in May.  PCBC is a tradeshow and conference focusing on homebuilding needs for builders in the Pacific Coast.  It’s held every year in San Francisco.  It showcases everything from nail systems to solar panels to tankless water heaters to appliances.

While I was at the show, I met with several different manufacturers to learn more about their technology offerings for homeowners.  In the next several posts I’ll give a brief review of some of the interesting finds I discovered at the show.  This article will focus on how technology is making the bathroom “smarter.”

I was very interested in learning what possible technology was available in an unlikely product – toilets.  I knew that if any company had progressed in this manner, it had to be TOTO.  I can surely say that I was not disappointed.  Toilets have come a long way!

I was happy to discover that TOTO’s Neorest toilet collection include plugs that must be plugged into a wall outlet.  This can be problematic, as most of today’s bathrooms do not have a plug near the toilet.  If you’re building a new home and you have a desire to have the most talked about toilet on your block, mark your plans for a plug in the bathroom!

The Neorest Collection features many toilets from a retrofit toilet seat that can fit most toilets, called a Washlet, to a complete stand alone toilet that commands respect.  The entire Neorest toilet collection features a built-in bidet with pressure control, a heated dryer, a warmed seat, soft closing lid, and a remote control, which mounts on the wall next to the toilet.  The toilet seat includes built-in technology that learns it’s users’ habits and warms the seat according to their usage patterns.  I have to say I was very impressed with the feature set.

No longer do homeowners need to have a separate toilet and bidet – the Neorest toilet combines the two taking up less room and making it more convenient.  If you’re interested in getting the top-of-the-line Neorest toilet, seeking the “King of the Throne” status, the Neorest 600 is the toilet for you.  In addition to the features above, it includes

  • a dual-flush cyclone flush engine with automatic sensing
  • automatic flush and lid closing – you no longer need to remember if you flushed or not
  • cleaning mode – a flick of a switch starts the unique cyclone rim scouring motion which engages for a full minute to clean the bowl without having to flush
  • automatic toilet lid opening upon sensing homeowners approach
  • automated seat lifter with a press of a button, convenient for men
  • automated seat closer – deemed a “marriage saver” by TOTO – another convenience for men
  • built-in mp3 player to disguise unpleasant noises (speakers not included)

Japan is far more advanced than America in their toilet technologies.  TOTO, a Japanese company, is leading the way to bringing America the toilet of the 21st century.  Prices range from $500+ for the Washlet (retrofit seat) to over $5,500 for the Neorest 600.  For my first impression of the Neorest toilet, see the article I wrote for AT&T entitled, Not Your Father’s Toilet.

Shower Controls
At the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) I attended earlier this year in Vegas, I discovered Moen’s new ioDIGITAL line.  I was immediately fascinated at how Moen married water with technology.  Moen’s ioDIGITAL line includes controls for vertical spas, showers, and Roman tubs and allows homeowners to create custom presets for preferred water temperature and water flow.

The ioDIGITAL device requires electricity to run the controls.  The electronic valve which moderates the hot and cold water and requires electricity, can be installed near the shower or up to 30 feet away for retrofit flexibility.

One dial on the ioDIGITAL control manages the temperature while the other dial sets the water flow.  Once you find the right blend of the two, you can press one of four preset buttons to customize your setting.  Three other family members can do the same and have their own custom preset button.  So if you like your shower extremely hot and with full water flow, once you press your customize preset button, your shower will deliver this setting for you every time.  If your wife prefers less water flow and a warmer temperature, she can press her custom preset button before stepping into the shower.  No need to be present to adjust the water temperature for your kids any longer – they’ll know which button to press to get the right amount of heat.
Vertical Shower
The Vertical Shower comes packaged with a big 7″ rainshower showerhead, a handheld showerhead, four sprays, and the ioDIGITAL control.  The ioDIGITAL control allows a homeowner to easily set the temperature and waterflow of all the water dispersing components.  The Moen ioDIGITAL Vertical Shower retails for $2407, depending upon the finish (chrome, oil rubbed bronze, etc.).


The Shower package comes with a big 7″ rainshower showerhead and the ioDIGITAL control.  It retails for $1,067.45, depending upon finish.

Roman Tub
The Roman Tub comes with the spout and ioDIGITAL control.  The Roman Tub only has three presets.  To set your custom presets, adjust your preferred temperature and then allow the water to fill the tub.  Once the tub is filled to your preferred water level, set your preset.  Now, in the future, just press your preset button and leave.  The tub will be filled at your preferred temperature and water level, then shut off automatically.  Very cool.  It even has a water top-off feature that when pressed, pours in more hot water to warm the bath before you enter.  The Roman tub also features a childlock feature which allows you to lock the water supply to the tub.  If children try to turn on the water, nothing happens.  By pressing the two dials at once, adults can use the water again.  

I love the fact that you can easily get  the exact temperature and water flow you desire with a touch of the button.  Moen’s entire ioDIGITAL line also includes a pause button.  So you can pause your shower why you dart across the room to get your forgotten towel or talk to your toddler banging on the shower door.  Furthermore, Moen has an optional remote control that makes ioDIGITAL even more killer for us lazy ones on a cold morning.  Most of us need to wait a couple of moments before heated water starts flowing through a shower.  If your ideal is to leap from bed straight to a heated shower, then this remote control will do the trick.  Simply press your preset button on the remote control from bed, wait a couple of moments, then make a dash for the shower.  Now that’s what I call convenience!

But wait, there’s more!  If you install the Roman Tub ioDIGITAL and purchase the RF remote control ($159), you can be downstairs in the family room, press your preset button on the remote and the tub will be filled up as per your preferences. Technology can really spoil us, can’t it?

The Moen ioDIGITAL control is certainly a luxury but I have a feeling once you try it, it becomes a necessity you can’t live without.  We are installing both the Vertical Shower and the Shower ioDIGITAL controls in the house we are building.  Once the house is completed, I will be able to give you a full review.  Oh, and yes, we did get a remote control for the shower in the master bedroom!

Stay tuned for further articles on home technology finds from the 2010 PCBC Show!  If you have used TOTO Neorest toilets or the Moen ioDIGITAL line and would like to write a review, please contact us!

How to Buy a Central Vacuum System

When we first started researching central vacuum systems, we didn’t get enough information from the brochures we gathered or the websites we visited.  Talking to manufacturer reps or even home automation reps didn’t help us either.  We wanted details and comparisons of features across the different central vac brands.

Thanks to the Internet, we are better informed and feel we can make a well-educated decision as to what type of system will best suit the needs for our house.

Types of Central Vacs
There are four main types of central vacuums 0:

  1. Bag  – for homes when outside venting is not possible or desired.  Bags are typically changed 1-2 times a year.
  2. Bagless with Inverted Filter – dirt is funneled in around the filter so that it does not cling to the filter.  Needs to be emptied every 3-6 months.
  3. Filtered Cyclonic – small particles are filtered out.  Needs to empted every two months.
  4. All Cyclonic – dirt is tossed about so heavier particles fall to the bottom of the canister and smaller particles are vented outside. Needs to be empted every 3 months depending upon usage.

Central Vacuum Benefits
There are many benefits of installing a Central Vacuum:

  • better air quality in the home
  • reduced noise
  • deeper cleaning
  • no need to lug your standard vacuum cleaner all around or upstairs
  • all vacuumed pet hair, dust, debris, pollen, mites and bugs are taken outside of the house (bugs won’t crawl back out!)
  • no need to empty the canister after every vacuuming session
  • lighter in weight compared to standard vacuum
  • more variety of hoses/attachments available
  • no need to worry about vacuuming up the power cord
  • many vacs have HEPA (High Efficiency Particle Arrestor) filters – which reduce the number of contaminants in indoor air. A HEPA filter will stop 99.97% of all particles .3 microns or larger
  • perceived higher value – increases home’s value

A central vac costs more than double the average homeowner vacuum cleaner.  Yet, the average central vacuum can last up to at least 5 times longer!1

Features to Compare
Compare these features across central vacs when shopping2:

  1. CFM – cubic feet per minute – measures airflow.  Important but you need to know how much suction a vacuum has for this measure to be relevant.
  2. Suction or inches of water lift – states how high water can be lifted up the tubing.  This is an important measurement for suction, nonetheless, don’t try this at home!
  3. Air Wattsthe most essential measurement – is a calculation derived from CFM and inches of water lift.  The calculation is: Air Watts = Water lift X CFM/ 8.5.  Most central vacs companies make this number available.
  4. Canister Material- can  be either steel or plastic.  Plastic works best for moist areas like a laundry room or an outside area.

Choosing a Central Vacuum System
To determine how powerful your system to be, the best formula is to take the square footage of your home and double it.  Having a more powerful system will help cover you with these power stealing situations:

  • two story house
  • a large number of wall inlets (where you plug the hose into)
  • a lot of angles in the central vac tubing
  • leakage from tubing

A larger system will also provide for any future additions to your house.  The cost to upgrade to a more powerful system is typically a couple hundred dollars and is well worth the security in knowing your central vac has strong suctioning power.  If you receive a quote from a central vac or home automation dealer, be sure to ask them the Air Watts of the vacuum and how many square feet will it cover.

We found an excellent resource, ThinkVacuums.com which compares many different features across various brands and models of central vacs.  The website compares suction power, Air Watts, Filtration, Type (bag, bagless, Cyclonic, etc.), sound (how loud it is – the lower the decibel rating, the quieter the sound), as we
ll as provides a link to find out how much each system costs.  This is an extraordinary website for anyone thinking about purchasing a central vac system.

A MUST SEE:  Click on the links below to see the BEST central vac comparisons on the web:

Smaller homes – up to 3500 sq. ft.

Medium homes – 4000-9000 sq. ft.

Large homes     – 10,000 sq. ft. +

Choosing Accessories
Most central vac manufacturers do not make their own hoses/carpet accessories.  For the most part, hoses will fit any central vac system.  However, it is best to confirm with your dealer or manufacturer to be safe. 

Hoses can be as long as 50ft – which helps in two ways.  First, you don’t need as many wall inlets (fewer inlets makes the suction more powerful) and second, you can vacuum further without having to disconnect your hose and hook it back up to another inlet.  However, a major side effect of using a long hose is having a closet or somewhere to hang your 50ft hose!

Retractable Hoses
Another option to using long hoses is to purchase a retractable hose system that keeps the hose hidden in the walls. 

There are two options:

  1. Hide-A-Hose Hide-A-Hose works by keeping the hose in the tubing.  To vacuum attach the carpet tool to the hose, can extend as long as 60 feet.  When you’re done, the hose retracts back quickly and easily into the wall tubing.
  2. Hose Magic/Hose Genie Management System.    The Hose Magic/Hose Genie is contained in a large box that will need to be cut into the drywall and patched back up.  Like the Hide-A-Hose, you attach your carpet tool; the hose extends to 45 feet long. 

We are planning on doing a review on one of these systems later in the year.

Other Types of Intakes
In addition to using a hose and powerhead to clean your floors, there are three other ingenious devices available to clean up messes:

  1. Kickplates – use a normal broom to sweep up your messes, kick the kickplate to open up the central vac suction, and sweep the debris right in.  Very useful for the kitchen, dining area, pet areas, etc..  Works with all central vac systems.  Some kickplates are automatic and begin sucking once a broom is sensed.
  2. Vroom – The Vroom is a mini vacuum that is sold either as a standalone unit (retails for $399 + installation) or it can be connected to your central vac system (retails for $199 + installation).  The Vroom is a smaller unit that hides in a cupboard and has a smaller sized hose that can extend to 24 feet.  In  addition to sweeping up the floor (with attachments), it can be used to pick up sweep up crumbs and messes on the kitchen counter, stove, refrigerator, drawers, etc.  The Vroom offers a handy way to pick up messes without having to get out the big central vac hose.  However, the Vroom for central vac is limited to VacuFlo and Dirt Devil central vacs.
  3. Spot by Vroom – a smaller version of the Vroom.  It’s hose extends to 10 feet and is useful for cleaning up ongoing messes such as entry door debris, cleaning your dryer’s filter, or picking up dog or cat food spills. It retails for $199 plus installation.

Remember, choose carefully the number of inlets you will need. Although it might be convenient to have an inlet in every room, doing so will cut down on your central vac’s suctioning power.  Thinkvacuums.com’s formula for the number of outlets is to take your home’s square footage and divide by 600 (assuming a 30ft. hose will be used).

To get a  better idea of hose coverage, get a piece of 30′ string, fasten one end down near where you anticipate an inlet will be, and tie the other end around a 3 ft. stick (to act as the cleaning wand) and pull the string around to your different rooms to get a better feel if your inlet is located in the right place 0
There are two types of wall inlets:
  1. electrical – has power in the inlet, means you use a direct connect hose.
  2. standard – has no electricity in it which means you’ll an air driven (turbine) powerhead.
Nozzle types
The two most popular central vacuum carpet nozzle types are:
  1. air driven – relies upon the suction of the hose to power itself.  Air driven nozzles are used with standard inlets. 
  2. electric
    has a motor in the carpet tool that powers the belt and forces the bush to roll.  Electric nozzles are used with electrical inlets.
For information on how to select a central  vac powerhead, see this article on eHow.

Retrofit?  Install a Central Vac in an Existing Home?
Yes.  More and more homeowners are starting to retrofit their homes with a central vac system.  The convenience and availability of kickplates are leading this trend.  According to Paul Runyan, sales manager for Beam central vacuums, 30% of the central vacuum market stems from retrofits.  Surprisingly, installing a central vac after a home has been built is not as difficult as one would think.
More information

See the great graphical charts from ThinkVacuums.com which show comparisons on air quality, noise, “lifetime,” and price as compared to typical vacuum cleaners. 

Confused about central vac terms?  See CentralVacuumStores.com’s resource.

We Want to Hear from You!

Please write us at info@wellconnectedhome.com  if you are interested in writing an article to help other homeowners or would like to add your review on central vacuums or other home technologies, send us a note.  TheWellConnectedHome.com is a website written by homeowners for homeowners.