Clog Hog

I have a home that has a septic system. Living in MN, this winter was very cold. The pipe from the house to the septic tank froze and water backed up into the house. The plumber wanted $200 just to come out (I am in the middle of nowhere), plus he didn’t guarantee that he wouldn’t have to dig up the yard. My wife found the Clog Hog. It only cost $130. (less than the plumber’s trip.) Compared to the cost of a plumber, I had nothing to lose. The Clog Hog connects to your power washer and uses water to cut through ice and other clogs in pipes. It took me about an hour to get through about 6 ft of ice in the pipes. It didn’t damage the pipes and worked fast. All I needed was patience.

-- Jim Sauber  

[This requires a pressure washer to use (not included). -- Mark Frauenfelder]

Clog Hog
$99 – $149 depending on hose length and type of pressure washer you have

Manufactured by Clog Hog.



Lutron AuroRa Wireless Lighting Control System

I recently moved to a very rural area, and my garage and house are under heavy tree cover. At night, even with a moon, it’s pitch-black, and when I shut off the car headlights it’s completely dark and I frequently have to shuffle slowly through the darkness to the porch, trying to avoid various obstacles. Leaving spotlights on is an expensive solution, even with LEDs, and I actually like the darkness of the forest as long as I’m not walking through it trying to avoid hitting my shins on a rototiller. I wanted a system to turn on the spotlights before I got out of the car, and then easily turn them off after I got into the house. Making this additionally difficult is that the garage and house are on separate switching systems, so I needed something that was wireless and had good range.

I did some digging around on various websites, and found many expensive solutions: $75+ per switch, with much higher prices for a central control system, and more for remote controls. What attracted me to the Lutron system was first the price, and then the simplicity of the setup: you get 5 switches, 1 master controller, 1 switch control panel, and one visor remote as a full kit. Their documentation online was clear, and I could quickly understand how I needed to implement the system. After about 20 minutes, I had replaced three switches and had the system working — it was almost too easy, and I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop. So far, it’s been working like a charm and the 3 year old in me laughs when I drive up the dark driveway, press the button, and see everything light up.

The switches are officially dimmers, and there is a slider beside each pushbutton switch. I just have the sliders cranked up to 100% — I never use the dimming function, but they seem to work well. Even with the slider set to a dimming level, the remote control can override that and put the lights at 100% if you press any of the “All On” buttons on the remotes. I’ve been using it for a week or so, and it was one of those projects that I’m surprised was so easy and has had such a big return — I didn’t realize how much time and aggravation the lack of lighting was costing me.

Upsides: Cheap! $100 for five switches, controller, and remote is a no-brainer. Easy installation: it’s simple, well-documented, and standardized. The switches support screw-type connections as well as stripped-wire press-in type connections. Extensible: if you want to go with more bells and whistles, there seem to be quite a few ways you can interface Lutron components with other stuff. Distance: I am using the remote at distances of at least 100 feet outdoors with the receiver just inside a metal-sided wall.

Downsides: I discovered that each switch needs at least 50 watts of draw to work correctly. I put a single 20 watt LED spotlight on a switch, and it just flashed instead of working correctly. I solved that problem by swapping out to an incandescent bulb – those lights aren’t on much, anyway. The system only has five switches, though you can put 10 switches in a local configuration — I’ve already purchased another set. They can’t be used with fluorescent fixtures or any other non-dimmable load, though I imagine if you keep the dimmer at 100% they’d work (though don’t quote me on that.) I don’t think these components will work with the newer “RadioRA 2″ devices that Lutron is selling, which may be why these are so cheap. I’ve only seen “Light Almond” or “Ivory” models for sale — the white ones seem to be hard to find.

Extensions: I purchased a RAMC-MFE “Entry Master Control” which has some simple switch-activated input and output ports for remote control — I’m going to link those to my security camera system, which already has remotely-accessible switch capability so I can control my lights from a web browser. I’m sure there is a way to do this via a direct web interface with Lutron components, but that moves into the areas where they seemingly obfuscate the solution in order to divert me to “VAR” resellers who make a living by explaining unnecessary complexity, so I gave up. I bought an extra wireless controller for my other car — RA-VCTX-WH is the model.

-- John Todd  

Lutron AuroRa Wireless Switch/Dimmer Remote Control System (AR-ENT-1)
$99

Available from Amazon

Available at Walmart for $99



Portable LED Light Flute

I stumbled across this handy LED light when looking for a light to put into a gun safe. Safes and cabinets for long guns are quite dark on the inside. Being able to discreetly access a safe and see what is inside, without breaking out a flashlight, is important in a home defense situation or an early morning departure for a hunting trip. This light fits the bill perfectly, but has the potential to be incredibly useful in other situations.

The light comes in two parts, the light “flute” and the base. The light flute is a metal tube that houses the batteries (3 AAAs), the on/off switch, and four bright, directional LEDs. The flute is about the thickness of a AA battery, and is 8.5″ long. The base is plastic, but contains a relatively strong magnet for mounting (the package also includes a double sided sticky foam pad for mounting the base). The flute “snaps” into the base either along the length of the flute, or can be stood up vertically in the base, and can be rotated axially to shine light where it is needed. One end cap of the flute is a soft, rubberized button to turn the light on and off. Most importantly, the light flute operates independent of the base, so it acts as a flashlight / work light as needed. It is a portable light when you need it to be, but stationary when you don’t.

What attracted me to this light was its versatility and price. I mounted the base on the ceiling of my safe using the integrated magnet, and I use the “flute” as a light bar, but I can also grab the flute and shine it into the nooks and crannies to look for items. Lights specifically for gun safes/cabinets cost significantly more money for inferior functionality, and lack the versatility of a portable light. Furthermore, I haven’t found any other battery operated lights like this that are as aesthetically pleasing or well designed. I plan to buy several more to mount in kitchen cabinets, under the kitchen sink, in tool cabinets, and inside of an under-stair closet that wasn’t wired for a light. I think this would make a great “extra” light for a workstation, or even a reading light. Keep in mind that in such a small package, this light sacrifices coverage for intensity. The light beam is directional, so it isn’t suitable for under cabinet “accent” lighting, where diffuse light is preferred.

-- Ryan Gwaltney  

Portable LED Light Flute
$14

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Sylvania



Wago Lever Nuts

Wire nuts are terrible. They are unreliable, inelegant, and difficult to use correctly.

Last year I discovered Wago Lever Nuts and I will never go back. These wire connectors are amazing. They can be used for all of your home and industrial wiring in lieu of wire nuts, and are also useful for many other hobby wiring projects. They are of course properly certified for in-wall AC wiring.

You can mix and match different gauges of wire from 28 AWG up to 12AWG, and you can individually lock and unlock each wire into the nut by closing or opening a lever. You can also mix-and-match solid copper and stranded copper wire in the same nut. They hold up extremely well under vibration, so they would be good for automotive use as well. No other wire connector is this versatile.

Best of all, unlike so many modular European industrial electrical items, this one does not break the bank. They are competitively priced to other connector solutions and the 2 and 3 circuit nuts are around $0.25 each in small volumes, and around $0.50 for the 5 circuit version.

One of the only problems is that they are not readily available at big-box hardware stores. Plan ahead and get a bunch now – you will be glad to have them when you need them.

1-2-3

-- Dev Kumar  

Wago 222-412 Lever Nuts
2 Conductor Compact Connectors
$12 / 25 PK

Available from Amazon



Intermatic EI400 In-Wall Timer Switch

When we would leave the house before dark and return after, it was always a game of “not it” to determine who got stuck opening the front door in the dark. Worse yet was vacation time. We set up lights on timers throughout the house, only to choose whether the porch light was left on or off the whole time.

We haven’t switched the outside light for three+ years since installing this wonderful gadget. I replaced the standard flip switch with the in-wall timer switch. It’s set to keep track of dusk and dawn for our time zone and switch the light accordingly. We occasionally have to true up the time, but it’s maintenance free for the most part.

It’s a relief to know that anytime we pull up, the front light will be on. And we never have to start the guessing game of “did you leave the light on”.

-- Steve Simpson  

Intermatic El400 In-Wall Timer
$35

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Intermatic



Murphy Bed

We moved to a much smaller house recently in an effort to downsize. We found, however, that no matter how carefully we shopped we were not going to find a house in our price range with all the rooms we needed. Then an idea struck me. What about a Murphy Bed? My memories of them consist of people being trapped in them in TV comedies. You know, the ditzy one, sits on the end of the bed and up it goes into the wall taking him or her with it.

But, oh my, how they have changed. Murphy Beds are still in use, more than ever, and they have some beautiful and ingenious models. What was more important to us, however, was that by using a Murphy bed we got another room. The room that will be my library will, now, also be the guest room. By having a bed that folds inconspicuously into the wall and is then fronted with bookcases our guest room serves as 2 rooms. What a bonus.

The fronts of these beds come in any configuration and serve as many purposes as you can imagine. They start at about $2000 and can go quite high from there depending on what you want. But when you consider you are adding a room to your house for that price it is a true bargain.

We purchased our Murphy Bed, called the Library, from more SPACE place in Salem, NH and I cannot say enough about the quality of the product and the service this company provided. The cost of the bed includes delivery and installation and they did this quickly and professionally. I would suggest you start your search here to get an idea of what a good bed costs and branch out from there. My bet is you’ll be back here. We found that they were superior to their competitors in price, variety, durability and service. What else is there.

The best thing of all is that the bed is really comfortable.

-- George Christin  

Jefferson Library Bed
$2,000

Available from more SPACE place

Manufactured by Murphy Bed



E-Z Foldz Step Stool

I have two of these nifty folding stools, one for my garden shed, and one that (mostly) lives in the kitchen. They’ve been kicking around my house for 2-3 years now, and I’m incredibly impressed with their sturdiness. The cool thing about these step stools is that they fold to a flat package only 2-1/4 inches thick. It will support up to 300 pounds, and you can tuck it between the fridge and the wall or under the sink or in a broom closet.  Folding them involves pushing in the hinged short ends and pushing the wider sides together. It’s a fantastic option for small spaces, where storage is at a premium.

The step stool in the kitchen lives under the sink, where it takes up remarkably little room.  They’re sturdy enough to kick around like a soccer ball, which I do pretty regularly. If it gets dirty, you can take it outside and hose it down. The plastic is soft enough to be non-marring to floors, and the top surface is roughened to prevent slips. It has a clever carrying handle in the top which works really well when folded and nearly as well when opened up.  It comes in 2 heights, 9″ and 12″. I have the 12″ high stool, and the top is nice and roomy,  It costs between $10-$20, depending on where you find it. I picked ours up at a local hardware store. A quick web check shows that this is a pretty widely available item.

-- Amy Thomson  

[Note: We first reviewed the E-Z Foldz Step Stool back in 2008.--OH]

E-Z Foldz Step Stool
$11

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by B&R Industries



Nest Learning Thermostat

Last year I replaced my old-looking but perfectly functional programmable thermostat with a better looking, WiFi-equipped model. The remote aspect of it was good. We could set “away” temps, and restore normal temps on our way back home. And the programmable part was always good – cool at night, not working so hard when we’re at work, etc.

But even though the thing was from a “major name”, it was a true PITA. While it worked most of the time, any time we wanted to tweak things, ugh. It was miserable. Then Nest came out with their Learning Thermostat.

I  recently put one in and it’s well beyond what I was hoping the other might be. Superbly easy installation and activation, beautiful to look at, and as user-friendly as anything can be. It’s still in learning mode which basically means it is figuring out our daily schedules. But so far they’ve thought of everything, and this has given me complete confidence in its long term purpose.

Nest also provides apps that allow you to control your thermostat from your iOS or Android phone or tablet. You can also track energy usage history, etc. At $249 it’s a lot more than other thermostats, and so maybe not suited for everyone’s budget. But I’ll say it’s more than suitable for any home. It’s a beautifully designed and exceptionally functional thermostat that continues to do its job very well.

-- Wayne Ruffner  

Nest Learning Thermostat
$179

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Nest



Mommy’s Helper Electrical Outlet Covers

I began installing these outlet covers over a year ago when my twins started crawling around the house. They were fascinated by standard outlet button covers, and learned how to pry them out. These sliding outlet covers are much simpler to operate (simply place plug tines in slots and slide to the left to engage actual outlet slots), and require a level of coordination that the boys cannot defeat even at 1.5 years.

The covers also solved an existing problem I had with loose outlets. You know the sort where you plug in your vacuum and with the slightest tug on the cord it pops out of the outlet. These sliding covers act as an anchor and hold the plug in tightly.

My house was built in 1991 and has what appear to be completely average outlet plates, and every one has accepted one of these covers perfectly. They screw in neatly, have a foam gasket for insulation, and the plastic is sturdy enough not to bow at all when firmly tightened with the screw. There are several brands of similar slide-type covers, but I can’t vouch for their fitting capability.

-- Sarah Brown  

Mommys Helper Safe-Plate Electrical Outlet Covers
$2.75

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Mommy's Helper



Tapi Drinking Fountain

tapi.jpeg

I bought this gadget about a month ago. I have it attached to the tap in my bathroom, and I love it! It allows me to turn the bathroom tap into a cool, bubbly drinking fountain with the flick of a finger. To fit it on the tap I had to take the aerator off the end of the faucet, but I find I like the water better (both for washing and drinking) when it hasn’t passed through the aerator.
tapi-squeeze-drink-fountain.jpeg
I have arthritis and my hands are weak, so instead of pinching the tapi to create the fountain I just fold the end of it over, and this works very well. I think it would be easy for a child to operate. It comes in a variety of colors, and only costs around $6.

-- Lesley Robinson  

Tapi Drinking Fountain
$7

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by DreamFarm