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Winter Safety Tips

January 9th, 2013 Posted in DIY, home design Tags: , ,

There are many great things about winter.  There’s the…. and of course you can’t forget….and, uh…. what about….

Okay, so maybe there aren’t so many great things about winter.  At least not if you’re like me and despise the cold weather.  (This is what happens when you spend your formative years shoveling feet of snow off your sidewalk.)

However there is one thing that happens every winter that I love: setting the clocks back an hour.  (I know, I know, it technically happens in the fall, but we have to cut winter some slack somewhere!)

And while I love getting to sleep in that extra hour, it does mean it gets darker earlier.  Which means walking up and down the stairs can become more dangerous.  This is especially true in my home, where the only access to the overhead light is at the bottom of the stairs.  (100-year-old house design for the win!)

While the idea of falling down the stairs might be appealing to some – I much prefer to see where I am going.

That’s what I love about motion sensor lights.  You can install them on the side of your steps without the worry of on/off switches or running new electric lines to power them.

You can check out a variety of models from Amazon.

The Character of an Old House

August 7th, 2012 Posted in home design Tags: , ,

My wife an I bought an old house.  It is about 100 years old, and for the most part we love it.  We love the character old houses have.  We love the fact that it doesn’t look like every house on the street.  And we love the thick plaster walls that keep the sound of the streets outside.  (We don’t love how difficult it is to hang things on plaster walls though!)

Don’t misunderstand me, I’m not saying new houses are bad.  In fact, as my wife and I have started a family, we totally understand why floor-plans have changed.  There are few things more frustrating than trying to find closet space in an old home for all the things a 9 month old infant needs.

But one thing old houses have in spades is exterior character.  Sure the closets might be small, and the bedrooms not as spacious, but old houses look great from the outside.  You simply don’t get that kind of character, and architectural detail in most modern buildings.

Of course the satellite dish is standard issue on all 161 year old homes.

image credit: Sibcy Cline Realtors


Star Trek Electronic Door Chime

July 3rd, 2012 Posted in Neat Features, home design Tags: , ,

I grew up watching Star Trek with my parents.  I have fond memories sitting around the TV having just finished dinner waiting to find out what would happen to Captain Kirk (hint: he’d get in a fight, kiss a girl, save the day.)  Looking back Star Trek is probably the reason I love technology, and in it’s own way, the reason I write Neat Features.

Star Trek has had an obvious impact on culture and technology over the last 45-ish years.  Everything from the cell phone to the iPad is a direct rip-off of a Star Trek concept.  But what’s clearly been lacking is this awesome door chime.

If I owned one of these, I would consider my life to be a success.

Of course I have to convince my wife first…

photo credit: Think Geek

Wall-Mounted Pet Organizer

May 16th, 2012 Posted in Neat Features, Storage, home design Tags: ,

I never thought I’d be using the words “pet” and “neat” in the same sentence.  Yet here I am looking at a Wall-mounted Pet Organizer, thinking that it’s definitely one Neat Feature.  One that I might try and find a way to adapt to cats as opposed to dogs.

I don’t know about anyone else, but it seems to me that the moment I walk into my house I lose stuff.  And while my current theory involves black holes (or possibly garden gnomes), there’s a very small chance it’s because I don’t put things away when I’m done using them.

This is especially the case for things that don’t have a “landing zone” of their own.  So how about it?  Would you use a pet organizer?

image from This Old House

Improving Water With Plants

March 27th, 2012 Posted in Neat Features, Outdoors, home design Tags: , ,

Sometimes the Neat Features don’t have to be inside your home – they can be on the outside.  Or maybe even on the curb.  That’s what it is with today’s Neat Feature: plants.

One of the great things about modern city living is how effective the roads are at draining off rain water so we don’t get standing pools of water on the road – or worse – around the foundations of our homes.

The problem is that all of this rushing water can carry with it quite a few toxic chemicals.  Everything from that cleaner you spilled on your deck to the pesticide you used in your yard, become fair game for rainwater to pick up.

In small quantities these aren’t much of an issue.  But the more the rain water gathers in one spot, the higher the concentrations become.  That’s why some homes, and now some cities, are taking steps to use plants along the curb to “clean” the toxic chemicals by absorbing a lot of the rain water before it hits the city’s sewage system.  (As you can see in the picture above.)

image from This Old House

Plugs that Switch Off

I am forever turning off power strips.  This drives my wife nuts.  But I can’t help it.  I’m one of those people who hates wasting electricity.  Not because of the environmental impact, although if you can do something nice for the environment, why not?  But because I just hate paying for things I’m not using.  And thanks to Phantom Power (the electricity our TV’s and Xbox’s use when turned “off”) it pays to pull the plug.

Some people extreme coupon.  I extreme power save.

Or at least that’s what I tell myself.

But admittedly there’s a problem with that strategy.  Every time I turn off the power strip to the TV, it means the cable box, VCR (yes I still have one of those) and several other things all lose their programming.  It’s a pain to have to let modern cable boxes boot up.  And it’s annoying to have to reset the flashing 12:00 on the VCR.

Enter the plug that has its own switch.

Now I can turn off the individual device (like at TV or a lamp) and let everything else stay on.  No more reprogramming for me!  Although since this is only a proof of concept device, I may have to continue turning off the power strips, and hope my wife forgives me!

(Of course I could just buy separate power strips, but if I do that, it kind of defeats the purpose of saving money through unplugging.  It takes a lot of phantom power to pay for a $50 power strip!)

Re-imagining Your Stairs

February 9th, 2012 Posted in home design Tags: , ,

They lurk, in unassuming innocence.  They seem peaceful and tranquil until, when you least expect it, they attack!

What are these hidden menaces?

Stairs, of course.

But then you probably figured that out from the giant picture of stairs right next to this post.

It seems that everything gets a chance to be “re-imagined.”  If it’s not the A-team, or GI Joe, it’s Rapunzel or Planet of the Apes or Hawaii 5-O.  Well stairs are no different.

Now I’ll admit, I’m not really the target audience when it comes to “modern” architecture or design.  So I’m not the target market for stairs like these (made by HSH architects).

But they do bring up two immediate questions.

1.  What happens if you miss a step?

2. Do they give you vertigo when you’re looking at them?

Okay, they also make me want to ask a 3rd question: am I the only one who wants to play Q*bert after looking at these stairs?  Yeah.  I went there.

So what say you?  Are these the type of stairs you’d want in your home?  Do they intimidate you?

image from, stairs designed by HSH architects

Can You Live in a 4 Foot Wide House?

I don’t consider myself claustrophobic.  Around my own home I’ve squeezed myself into some pretty nasty and pretty small spaces.  (Hello basement crawl space!)

But this house, located in Warsaw Poland, is only 4 feet wide.  I’m not even sure a 4 foot wide house would hold my DVD collection, let alone allow me to stretch in the morning after rolling (wedging?) myself out of bed.

For comparison here are a few things that are wider than this house: your car, a broom, your desk at work, a 10 year old boy (if laying down).

Certainly it takes a special type of person to be able to live in such a confined space.  What do you think?  Do you have what it takes?

image provided by flickr user chefranden

Buildings That Withstand Earthquakes

Watching the news it’s easy to get the impression that the weather has turned against humanity.  Whether it’s tornadoes, earthquakes, or floods, it seems there’s some major disaster in the news on a weekly basis.

This brings up the question of whether you can build structures to withstand these forces of nature.

Fortunately, when designed properly, buildings can withstand even a 9.0 earthquake like the one Japan experienced a few months ago.  Despite the fact that its exterior is made almost entirely of glass, the Mediatheque in Sendai, Japan, was able to do just that.

And because we’re in the internet age, you can even experience what it was like to be inside that building as an earthquake struck.

Personally I can’t imagine what that would have been like.  If you’re interested in learning more about the Mediatheque or earthquake construction, the Wall Street Journal has a great article exploring that topic.

The House on the Hill

There’s a great story on the internet called “the Dionaea House.”  It’s a story about a house that is alive, and well, acts more like a venus fly trap than a place you’d want to vacation.

When I read that story a few years ago it really captured my imagination.  (Which, the story says, is the first sign that the house is hunting you.)  So while I might eventually be eaten by a house, it has really given me an appreciation for great “monster” houses.

And that was the first thing I thought when I saw this house.  What an great building to film a movie!  Or stage an Agatha Christie mystery dinner.  Or even just an awesome place to trick or treat.

Now obviously this house isn’t haunted.  But in an age where housing architecture can be so cookie cutter, it’s thrilling to just see something different.  It’s fun to let your imagination run wild.  (Or if you’re not a fan of monster movies, just picture Jane Eyre or Sherlock Holmes.  It gives the same effect.)

So if anyone has a spare $1.5 million laying around, let me know, because I’m totally going to buy this house.  And I’ll invite you over for Trick or Treat.