Lionel CW-80 vs vintage transformers

Someone asked me recently about the Lionel CW-80 and how it compares vs older transformers. That’s a fair question, and one that tends to stir up a lot of emotions on train forums. So I’ll try to present the pros and cons in a fair manner.

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How to replace a Lionel transformer power cord

When using vintage Lionel transformers, it’s important to make sure the power cord isn’t broken or frayed to avoid the risk of electric shock or starting a fire. If yours is, here’s how to replace a Lionel transformer power cord.

Replacing a power cord safely is a lot easier than most people make it sound. It’s possible to do the job safely with simple tools and a few dollars’ worth of parts from the nearest hardware store.

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How to check a train transformer for safety

In spite of what a certain O gauge magazine tells you, vintage toy train transformers aren’t inherently unsafe to use. Age can take their toll on them, so you want to give them a good safety inspection, but as long as they pass the safety inspection, they can give you a long, productive service life. Here’s how to check a train transformer for safety.

All of my train transformers are at least 50 years old, and I expect my sons to inherit them in workable condition. Read more

9 things your landlord won’t tell you: A rebuttal

My wife found an unflattering piece about landlords in the Huffington Post titled 9 things your landlord won’t tell you. This sorry excuse for an expose just makes accusations, without backing any of it up.

I’m a landlord. Here’s what I have to say about those nine things.

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Install an outlet for an above range microwave

We have a house with an above range microwave, but no nearby outlet to plug it into. The previous owners simply ran an extension cord. While I’m not 100% positive this is illegal to do in my locality, the safety is questionable and it certainly goes against the manufacturer’s recommendations. My home inspector wanted me to install an outlet. Here’s how to install an outlet for an above range microwave.

Better yet, I did it over the drywall without tearing into any walls, and spending less than $20.

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How I fixed a dead electrical outlet. Sort of.

As I was getting a property ready for inspection, I had to take care of some electrical issues. All of them were trivial, except one. In the end, I had one last dead electrical outlet to figure out.

All of the advice I found online said to call a professional. All of it. Here’s the exception, and here’s how I found it.

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How to attach trucks to Lionel train cars with screws

Frequently the trucks (the wheel/coupler assembly that sits under train cars) come unattached. Lionel trains from the 1970s and first half of the 1980s are especially prone to this, though other makes of trains aren’t immune either. And sometimes you just want to change the trucks–some Lionel and Marx O27 cars are just the right size for American Flyer S scale, for example, only the trucks are the wrong gauge.

It’s tempting to try to just re-attach them with a nut and bolt, but as the train runs in circles around the track, the nut loosens and eventually works its way out.

The key is all in the type of nut you use.

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LED night lights

With two young kids, we find ourselves fumbling around in the kitchen at night more than just occasionally. At some point, we turned to flipping the microwave’s night light on.Which was fine, except I found that one of its settings uses 30 watts, the other 60, and more often than not, that light stays lit 24/7. That’s more power than I want to leave on full time. LED night lights solve that problem neatly. Read more

Using child safety outlets to save energy

I got a new book recently about saving energy. I’ve read several of those, but this one had two tips I’ve never seen anywhere else: caulking baseboards and putting child safety covers on electrical outlets.

It didn’t explain caulking the baseboards, but I will. Frequently there’s a gap in the wallboard where it would normally meet the floor. Maybe it’s laziness—it’ll be covered by the baseboard, after all—but that gap is also a handy place to do after-the-fact wiring, reducing the need to cut into walls and then patch and repaint. The gap makes the area prone to drafts, however. So caulking where the baseboard meets the wall, and where it meets the floor if it’s not over carpet, makes rooms less prone to drafts.

Child safety outlet cover
These child safety outlet covers team up with foam gaskets (pictured below) to make a good energy-saving combo

The child safety outlets make for another interesting trick. I’ve talked before about foam electrical outlet inserts and their companion for light switches. And I’ve wondered about putting a child safety plug in. But recently I bought child-resistant outlet covers, after seeing them on This Old House. They come in varieties that twist or slide.  I like the sliding ones better, both from an insulating and usability standpoint. They’re convenient because you can just slide the cover out of place, rather than having to remove an insert. And these covers do two things: They put more material between you and the gap in the wall, and they cover the outlet plugs themselves, eliminating that last little source of drafts. And when you have small children like I do, they’re a necessity anyway.

I do insulate interior walls as well as those that face the outside. I didn’t used to bother. But this book mentioned that gaps in interior walls can cause them to act like chimneys, drawing heat out of the room. So I’ve changed my ways.

Foam electrical outlet insulatorsBoth of these are inexpensive upgrades that don’t take long to accomplish. When you buy the switch covers in bulk, it gets even cheaper.

I get ridiculed sometimes for talking about saving energy so much, but think about it. Energy isn’t getting any cheaper. My local utilities ask for rate increases just as frequently as the law allows them to, and more often than not, the state grants an increase. Not always as much as they ask for, but something.

And when we waste energy, what do we gain? If I’m going to spend money on something, I want something to show for it other than a bigger number on my monthly utility bills.