Friday, September 28, 2007

Save Money with Alternative Heating & Cooling Options

Unfortunately, when compared to the rest of the world, Americans use twice as much energy as necessary to heat and cool their homes, which accounts for a lot of wasted energy. In order to conserve energy, consumers can either replace non-renewable resources with renewable energy or try alternative heating and cooling sources. Listed below are a few examples of such alternative sources:

Swamp Coolers
A swamp cooler or “evaporative cooler” functions similarly to a conventional air conditioner, but at a fraction of the price. Swamp coolers operate on less than a quarter of the electricity of a regular air conditioning system and cool the air by blowing air through wet pads. Because these appliances blow slightly humidified air into the home, these are only suitable for climates that are relatively dry.

Wood has been used as a heating fuel since antiquity, and there are a variety of wood-burning fireplaces and stoves on the market today. Although wood can be used as a primary heat source, wood is best used as a supplement to existing central heating systems. If you have access to inexpensive or free wood, installing a wood-burning stove can dramatically reduce your energy bill.

Burning wood in an older fireplace is not practical, as the wood burns uncontrollably and inefficiently, with 90% of the heat energy produced going up the flue and producing copious amounts of smoke. In addition, heat that is generated through a fireplace leaks through windows and allows for drafts.

Standalone Wood Furnaces
The popularity of exterior wood furnaces continues to increase. These units consist of a small building that sits outside of a house that contains a wood-burning stove. This stove heats water that is then pumped into the house through underground pipes, with the pipes then traveling to a conventional air handler. These systems are advantageous because they use logs that do not require cutting or splitting, and they need to be fueled only once or twice a day.

Corn Stoves
Corn stoves are popular alternatives in areas where field corn is abundant and inexpensive. Corn stoves have a hopper on top or on the side into which bags or bushels of corn are deposited. An auger controlled by a thermostat then shuffles the corn into a firebox, where an intense fire combusts the corn and turns it into heat that is moved around the room by a small fan.

Masonry Heaters
Masonry heaters burn wood in an enclosed firebox and the combustion gases travel through a maze of masonry passages where they release their heat. While many of these heaters are ornate and can be considered works of art, these are often large and expensive, and a room or an entire area in a home is usually designed around a masonry heater.

While these cooling and heating methods require an initial investment, they can still help keep your energy costs down and provide comfort for you and your family.

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Wednesday, September 26, 2007

How to Deal with Pet Allergies

Millions of American pet owners suffer from pet allergies, but the benefits of owning a pet oftentimes outweigh the drawbacks of experiencing hay fever symptoms, coughing, wheezing, and itchy, watery eyes. Studies have shown that 15 percent of the American population is allergic to dogs or cats, and one third of Americans who are allergic to cats live with at least one cat in their household.

To people who are allergic to animals, all dogs and cats are considered allergenic. Contrary to popular belief, pet allergies are not always caused by an animal’s fur. Rather, the glands in an animal’s skin secrete tiny allergy-triggering proteins that both linger in the fur and float in the air. Allergens can also be present in an animal’s urine or saliva, which may become airborne when dried. Also, more people are allergic to cats due to the cat glycoprotein Fel d 1, a substance excreted a cat’s sebaceous glands and most commonly found in a cat’s saliva and skin. This substances is oftentimes more prevalent because cats constantly lick themselves to stay clean.

In order to live comfortably with your best friend, follow these few simple suggestions:

Create an “allergy-free” zone in a specific area or room in the house where the pet is not permitted to roam.

Use a HEPA air cleaner throughout the rest of the home and avoid dander-catching furnishings such as curtains and carpeted floors.

Bath your pet on a weekly basis to help reduce the allergens in the fur by as much as 84 percent. Cats can even be bathed this often after they slowly become accustomed to regularly baths.

Look into immunotherapy shots which desensitizes one’s immune system to allergies (though they cannot eliminate them completely).

Prevent excessive shedding in your pet by regular brushings, feeding nutritionally-rich food, and by the addition of supplements containing fish oil with Omega-3 fatty acids which help moisturize the coat.

Although suffering from allergies and keeping a pet may not be easy, through the adherence to the above guidelines, you can experience the joy of keeping a pet without exacerbating your allergy symptoms.

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Friday, September 21, 2007

Toxic Mold Found in College Dorm

Last week, students attending Washington College in Chestertown, Maryland were forced to evacuate their living spaces after toxic mold was found growing in a dormitory bathroom.

Promptly after returning to campus for the fall semester, several students living in the Charles B. House (a housing unit on campus) started to complain of cold and flu-like symptoms such as sore throats and stuffy noses. Other occupants of adjacent dorms then began developing similar symptoms within the following weeks, and several students were admitted to the Chester River Hospital due to worsening symptoms.

After closer inspection of the students’ living quarters, a foot long patch of mold was found growing behind a toilet due to a leaky pipe that was supposed to be repaired six months prior. The students’ suites also had mold coming out of the vent in the bathroom and was seeping into the bedrooms. Increased humidity and dirty air conditioning units were also considered possible culprits of the students’ health problems.

Shortly after the mold growth was discovered, Washington College promptly hired an environmental company to perform both indoor and outdoor air tests. The results from these tests are still unknown, but the students have since been evacuated and relocated to different housing. In the interim, the school plans to replace the affected walls in the bathrooms, and to sanitize all of the surfaces in the dormitory suites, including the ceilings.

Upon moving out of his old dormitory, Austin Murphy, a junior at Washington College, remarked, “Now that I’m out of that environment I’m starting to feel better.”

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Friday, September 14, 2007

A Sharp Downturn for Sharper Image

According to a recent article in Forbes, Sharper Image may be heading into some financial trouble. Less than one month ago, Sharper Image shares plummeted 31.2% as a result of a news report which stated that the company may go bankrupt.

For the past two years, the company has seen sales steadily decline due to an onslaught of bad publicity, lawsuits, and a sub par range of merchandise. In 2005, Consumer Reports published an expose criticizing Sharper Image’s Ionic Breeze air purifier, and in response, Sharper Image retaliated with a libel suit against the magazine’s publisher. Unfortunately, they lost.

Since 1999, Sharper Image has sold an astounding 3.2 million units of the Ionic Breeze, and this product once made up almost 40% of the company’s total revenue. However, in 2005, a class action lawsuit was then filed by consumers who claimed Shaper Image misled them into purchasing the high-tech air purifier. Consumers felt that the Ionic Breeze did not perform up to the company’s claims that these air purifiers would clean the air of airborne contaminants such as allergens, pollutants, and indoor odors.

Finally, in January of this year, Sharper Image agreed to issue a $19 dollar merchandise credit to the 3.2 million customers who have purchased the Ionic Breeze since 1999, as well as an “Ozone Guard” attachment for floor models of the Ionic Breeze. However, Michael Tein, an attorney representing about 2 million customers in a separate lawsuit in California, argues that these customers should instead be compensated in cash, instead of having to spend more money at the high-tech gadgets retailer.

It is speculated that Sharper Image may go bankrupt as a result of this separate lawsuit which will end up costing them $900 million. Nevertheless, in response, Sharper Image issued a statement saying that this was “speculative,” and that such a settlement would not force their company into bankruptcy. Until then, consumers will just have to wait, as at this point in time, U.S. District Judge Cecilia Altonaga will have to decide whether the already agreed-upon settlement will be sufficient.


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