Enerlites HOSS: an occupancy sensor switch without ground

The Enerlites Top Greener HOSS is an occupancy sensor switch without ground wire requirements, and it’s pretty cheap too, at $12. A Lutron switch costs almost twice as much.

But the HOSS does come with some compromises. The HOSS does require a neutral (white) wire. But most switch boxes will have the whites in there and accessible, so that’s not a big deal. It’s also a bit trickier to wire than a Lutron, and it doesn’t look as nice.

That said, it’s nice to have an option for older houses that may not have a ground connection available. People in older houses need energy savings too. Read more

How to cut your water bill

I’ve talked a lot about how to cut your electric bill and how I successfully cut mine 19 percent, but I haven’t talked much about water bills. Part of it is because water is cheap in St. Louis–the two largest rivers in North America converge here–but in some parts of the country, water usage is at critical levels, so cutting your water bill could mean saving real money.

I’ll never forget a commercial I heard when I was in third grade. “Did you know that every time you flush your toilet, you use 5-7 gallons of water?” a guy said with a drawl, before urging people to flush less. Being very juvenile, I thought it was funny.

But if your house is older, your toilet may very well be trickling water all the time, literally nickel and diming your water bill continuously. You can fix that for less than $10. Read more

CFL bulbs burn out quickly? Here’s what to do.

CFL bulbs burn out quickly? Here’s what to do.

I’ve been hearing a lot of complaints about CFL bulbs lately. I’ve written about how to address premature CFL burnout before, but I guess it bears repeating. It’s a five-minute fix, usually, to get the bulbs to last a while. So here’s what to do if your CFL bulbs burn out quickly.

CFL bulbs do seem to be more sensitive to minor electrical problems than older bulbs. Fixing the tab in your light socket or replacing your light switch is often enough to make the bulbs last as long as the package said they would.

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Clean your air conditioner at home

Last week I had to get an air conditioner serviced. The air conditioner was cooling fairly well, but struggling to keep up on hot days when it had kept up just fine last year. So I bit the bullet and paid $79 for a cleaning and health check. In the process I learned it’s possible to clean your air conditioner at home. And save a bundle.

I also learned is that a cleaning can make the difference between running all day and being able to maintain a comfortable temperature while cycling. So cleaning the air conditioner makes it more comfortable and more efficient, saving you money. I also learned that the most important part of the cleaning is something you can do yourself, very easily. If your air conditioner isn’t under warranty anymore, you can save the $79, which adds up.

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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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Change a stubborn lawn mower blade safely and easily

Change a stubborn lawn mower blade safely and easily

I needed to change a stubborn lawn mower blade this weekend. The bolt on the old one was frozen hard. That proved to be a challenge, but not an insurmountable one. I learned the secret of changing a blade without hurting myself, and without an impact wrench, even when the stubborn bolt doesn’t want to turn.

To remove and replace a lawn mower blade safely and easily, you need a length of 2×4 board long enough to stand on, a small plastic pan, the biggest socket wrench you can find, and a socket that matches the stuck bolt on your mower. If you don’t have a socket wrench or torque wrench, you can use a regular crescent wrench, but you want the biggest one you can find. Longer wrenches give more leverage, and you need lots of leverage to free a stuck bolt. Read more

Replace a microwave over the range

It’s not hard to replace a microwave over the range.

When I bought this house 10 ½ years ago, it had an undercabinet microwave in the kitchen. I don’t know if the previous owners told me how old it was or not. It was an Ewave, which is a brand Magic Chef uses when they don’t want to put the Magic Chef brand on it. So it was a budget manufacturer’s lowest-tier microwave. It was a little temperamental but mostly worked, so I can’t complain about it all that much.

But it got worse over the last couple of months. The right keypresses registered about half the time when you used the keypad. We decided to replace it just as soon as we could. Finances have been tight this year, but fortunately we got a sale right around the time we were able to afford to get one. We picked up a low-end Whirlpool microwave on special for $50 below retail, which essentially meant we got a Whirlpool for the price of a Magic Chef. It’s bigger than our Magic Chef was, and gets better reviews than the current Magic Chef appliances. I recommend basic appliances from reputable makers. Microwaves are no different, but I’d rather buy a new one on sale than a used microwave.

Installation is the hardest part, but it’s easier than it first appears. Read more

How to clean paint from outlet and switch covers

Earlier this year, I did some cosmetic fix-up of a house that, among other things, had a lot of painted-over outlet covers. Preventing that is easy–it takes a couple of minutes to unscrew the cover and put tape over the outlet–but if someone didn’t do that, the cleanup is cheap and easy too. And all you need are common household items to clean paint from outlet and switch covers.

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