here for PDF version of this news letter
Back on Your Electric Bill
electricity becomes more scarce and expensive, you can help yourself,
the environment and the economy by taking some simple steps to conserve
power. As is evident in California, utilities can’t do much in the
short term to add capacity. The best bet is for consumers to reduce
consumption, especially at peak times.
Dimmers add ambiance to your home while saving
to surveys of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA),
lighting accounts for 20 to 25 percent of all electricity sold
in the United States. That’s why the Leviton Institute
recommends that you install energy-efficient lighting devices.
They can have a big impact by significantly reducing electric
Here are four tips from the Leviton Institute that can take the
effort out of saving dollars on your electric bill.
1. Install dimmer switches.
By dimming the lights in a room you use less electricity.
For example, a light bulb at 50 per cent brightness uses approximately
40 per cent less electricity. A dimmer switch also extends the life of
your bulbs. A bulb at 50 per cent brightness will last approximately
20 times longer.
2. Install occupancy sensors.
An occupancy sensor automatically turns lights on when
someone enters a room, and then turns them off after the person leaves
the area. They’re ideal for closets, hallways, the laundry room and
garages—all the places where lights may needlessly be left on for
hours, or even days. Wall-switch models are designed to replace
standard wall switches, so they’re easy to install.
3. Install motion detectors outside.
Many homeowners know that good outdoor lighting makes their home less
appealing to a burglar. But keeping outdoor floodlights on all night
can be expensive. Instead, install a motion detector to control your
outdoor security lights. Motion detectors are programmed to react to
body heat. When they detect the presence of a person, they
automatically turn on the outside lights. They also turn the lights
off when they no longer detect the presence of body heat.
4. Install digital timers.
If anyone in your family has left a bathroom exhaust fan or a heat
lamp on all day, you’ll appreciate the convenience of timers—and
the fact that they can reduce energy consumption. The latest digital
timers are installed right in the wall, wherever you would put a
standard wall switch. Many versions come from the factory with preset
time intervals, and others offer programmable time settings. To use a
timer with a preset interval, simply push the button for the length of
time you want the fan or lamp to be on. The timer will turn it off
automatically. You can use digital timers with longer time intervals
to control your outdoor landscape lighting.
So, instead of telling your family to turn off the lights when they
leave a room, which seldom produces the desired results, consider
installing one or more of these new electrical devices. They take the
effort out of saving electricity and they’ll pay for themselves
quickly with the amount of electricity they save.
is No Friend of Home Electronics
|If you live in an
area of the country prone to lighting, you probably know how
to protect yourself when thunderstorms are overhead. And you
also know how important a lightning arrestor is to protect
your home from a direct lighting strike. But how much
protection have you given to the expensive electronic
equipment inside your home?
TVs, home theaters, computers
and other types of equipment are vulnerable to electrical
surges generated by lightning—even if the lightning is miles
away. If you have a large investment in home electronics, the
Leviton Institute recommends that you consider installing
whole-house surge protective devices to safeguard your
sensitive electronic equipment.
Facts About Lightning:
- Discharges between 35,000 to
40,000 amperes of current
- Packs up to 100 million volts of
- Has a force comparable to a
small nuclear reactor
- Can generate temperatures as
high as 50,000° C.
- Can, and does, strike the same
- Travels as far as 40 miles
Lightning Protection Institute.
TVs, home theaters, computers
and other home office equipment are vulnerable to the
powerful electrical surges generated by lightning. If you
live in an area of the country that has a high incidence of
lightning, the Leviton Institute recommends that you install
whole-house surge protective devices.
Source: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
power-strip surge protectors that plug into a wall receptacle
are primarily designed to protect equipment from low energy
power surges generated within your home. To protect equipment
against lightning that enters your home through the electric
lines, you need devices that can handle much larger power
This protection is especially important if you live in an
area of the country where lightning is prevalent. The reason:
Repeated high energy surges caused by lightning strikes will
eventually destroy the surge-suppressor components in a power
The Leviton Institute
advises consumers to match their investment in home electronic
equipment with the appropriate level of surge protective
devices. To find out more about these devices, call your local
Offices are Fertile Ground for Electrical Hazards
|You’ve just brought home a
new piece of equipment for your home office. You’re ready to set it up
and turn it on, but you run into one small problem. There’s no place
to plug it in. What do you do?
If you’re like millions of people who have converted a room or area
of their home into an office, you’d probably use an extension cord to
reach the nearest unused outlet. Or you might add another power strip to
the same outlet being used for your other equipment.
||Although that solves
your immediate problem, it may also be creating another—an
overloaded circuit. If too many pieces of equipment are
plugged into the same outlet and they’re all on at the same
time, more current may be running through the outlet than it
can handle. When that happens, the wiring or the outlet will
overheat and this could potentially create an electrical fire.
Overloading is even more of a problem with extension cords.
To prevent this and other
electrical hazards in your home office, the Leviton Institute
offers the following recommendations.
overloaded outlet can overheat and potentially create an
Potential Hazard: Overloaded
circuits can cause an electrical fire.
What To Look For: Outlet
or wall is warm to the touch; outlet is discolored; circuit
breakers frequently trip or fuses frequently blow; a burnt
smell of insulation is noticeable.
Remedy: Have an
electrician run a dedicated circuit to your home office and
install additional outlets in the room.
Overloaded extension cord can cause an electrical fire.
What To Look For:
Extension cord is warm to the touch.
Remedy: (1) Use an
extension cord with the same or larger wire size as the cord
being extended. (2) Since extension cords are designed for
temporary use, have an electrician install additional outlets
in the room so you don’t need to use extension cords at all.
Ungrounded outlets that will not protect you from an
electrical shock in the event of a short circuit.
What To Look For:
Equipment cord has a three-prong plug, but the nearest outlet
has only two slots for the plug.
Remedy: (1) Inspect wiring
at the outlet to see if there is a ground wire. If there is a
ground wire, replace the existing outlet with one that accepts
a three-prong plug, and connect the ground wire to the outlet.
(2) In older homes, where there may not be a grounding wire,
have an electrician run a new circuit with ground to your home
office and install new outlets.
Improper placement of extension cords can cause a fire or
cause someone to trip.
What To Look For:
Extensions cords running through walls, under rugs or
furniture, across doorways, or draped over heaters or
Remedy: Try rearranging office furniture; or better
yet, add more outlets in the room.
Nearly one third of American households now have a home
office. It may be located in a spare bedroom, a den, or part
of another room. In most cases, these areas of the home were
never wired for the amount of electronic equipment used in the
typical home office. What’s more, the same electrical
circuit sending power to the outlets in your home office may
also be powering outlets in other rooms. That’s why the
Leviton Institute recommends that you inspect your outlets,
cords, and home wiring before adding more equipment to your
the Final Touches When Redecorating a Room
|What’s the one item people
neglect when they’re redecorating or remodeling a room in their house?
Here’s a hint. Sometimes it gets painted over. Sometimes wallpaper
goes over it. Most often, it’s removed from the wall and then put
back, just as it is.
Even though it’s seldom on the redecorating to-do list, this one
item occupies a prominent place in every room of your house. It’s the
wallplate that goes over a light switch or an electrical outlet.
of neglecting that old wallplate, why not replace it with a
new one that matches or coordinates with the new color scheme
in your room? Decorator wallplates come in a variety of colors
and finishes, are readily available at hardware stores and
home centers, and are relatively inexpensive.
Here’s another idea from the Leviton Institute: When
redecorating, consider upgrading your switches and outlets
with modern, stylish electrical devices. The latest devices
will let you add a decorator’s touch to every room in your
house. And they won’t break the bank.
are many new electrical devices that can spice up your house.
Here are just a few examples:
a digital timer in the bathroom and you’ll never have to
worry about leaving a heat lamp or the exhaust fan on longer
Dimmer switches can make a big difference throughout the house. In the
kitchen, turn the lights on high when cooking or cleaning up. For other
times of the day or night, turn the lights lower. This saves electricity
and creates a warm and cozy atmosphere.
Dimming the lights in the family room will create a more
relaxing environment for watching TV or listening to music. For
entertaining, dimmer switches let you quickly change the light level to
match the occasion. Dimmers are also perfect for controlling the lights
in bedrooms and bathrooms.
Wall-switch occupancy sensors can take the place of light switches. For
the very young, and the very old, these new devices are ideal. As soon
as you walk into a room or hallway, the occupancy sensor detects your
presence and automatically turns the lights on. Once you leave that
area, the device turns the lights off. Occupancy sensors can also be
used in closets, basements, attics and laundry rooms.
Digital Timers: To
avoid forgetting to turn off a bathroom exhaust fan or heat lamp,
consider installing a digital timer. These new devices replace
conventional switches and come with factory pre-set time intervals. In a
bathroom, a timer with 5, 10, 15 and 20 minute intervals is a good
choice. To control your outside lights, you can use a digital timer that
has longer time intervals.
GFCI Outlets: An
electrical device you should have in your kitchen is a special outlet
called a Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter, commonly called a GFCI. The
National Electrical Code requires that all homes built since the
mid-1970s have GFCIs installed wherever an electrical outlet is within
six feet of a water source.
If you live in an older home, you may not have GFCI
outlets in your kitchen. Since these devices are designed to protect you
from potentially fatal electrical shocks, the Leviton Institute urges
you to have GFCIs installed in your kitchen and bathrooms, and to
replace regular outdoor receptacles with GFCIs.
Commonly Asked Questions About Older Home Electrical Wiring
|Unlike fine wine, house wiring
and outlets and switches don’t get better with age. In fact, the older
the wiring, the more chances there are for potentially serious
electrical hazards. Wires with broken or brittle insulation and outlets
worn out from years of use are frequently cited as the cause of house
If your home was built more than 60 years ago, the Leviton Institute
recommends that you call a licensed electrical contractor to inspect
your home’s wiring and wiring devices. This inspection is particularly
important if you’ve added appliances that use a lot of electricity,
such as a clothes dryer, air conditioner, space heater or dishwasher.
Here are the most frequently asked questions homeowners have about
older house wiring:
1. What are the signs of potential
electrical hazards in the home?
Some things to look for: Room lights dim when the
refrigerator or air conditioner kicks on; the television screen
shrinks; circuit breakers frequently trip or fuses frequently blow;
outlets or dimmer switches seem hot to the touch. These conditions
indicate that the electrical wiring in your house is overloaded.
2. Is an old-fashioned fuse box a hazard?
The short answer is no, because fuses provide the same
protection against overloaded wiring as circuit breakers. However,
when fuse boxes were in widespread use, most homes had only 30 or
Today’s homes need at least 150 to 200 ampere service to safely
supply power for major appliances. If you have a fuse box and you’ve
added any large appliances over the years, the Leviton Institute
recommends that you have an electrical contractor inspect your home
wiring to make sure it’s still safe.
3. How can I tell when an electrical
outlet isn’t safe?
There are three indicators of an unsafe outlet. If an
outlet can no longer hold a plug snugly; if any parts of the outlet
are broken; or if the outlet feels hot to the touch. If any of these
conditions exist, the outlet should be replaced.
4. Can I add more outlets in the kitchen?
Most likely, yes. And don’t forget to install GFCI
outlets in the kitchen. You should also check your homeowners
insurance policy and local laws, since you may be required to have a
licensed electrician do this type of work rather than a handyman.
5. How long does electrical wiring last?
That’s a hard question to answer, since it depends on the
type of use and abuse the system has experienced over the years. If
you have any doubts about your wiring, or notice some frayed or broken
insulation, have a complete inspection of your home’s electrical
6. How long do outlets and switches last?
It depends on use. Electricians will tell you they see
outlets more than 50 years old that still work fine, and others that
are worn out after only a few years.
The Leviton Institute is the educational arm of the Leviton
Manufacturing Company. Its mission is to educate consumers, specifiers
and others about the benefits of today’s electrical wiring devices and
systems, and to promote the safe
use of electrical devices in the
Extension Cord Can Damage Your Power Tools
|Every year, motors in
thousands of power tools burn out for one simple reason: the tool was
plugged into an extension cord not suited for the job. To help you keep
your power tools running properly, here’s some information from the
Leviton Institute about choosing extension cords.
Whether you’re using a very long outdoor extension cord to run an
electric lawn mower, or a short one to power up a tool for a backyard
project, the wrong extension cord can damage, and eventually ruin, the
motor in your tools. The reason is simple: If the extension cord isn’t
delivering enough power to the motor, the motor will begin to overheat.
In the worst case, the motor will completely burn out from the excessive
Think of that extension cord as though it were a garden hose carrying
water. A large diameter hose can carry more water than a smaller
diameter hose. The same is true with extension cords. Larger diameter
wires can carry more power than wires with smaller diameters. And the
bigger the motor in your power tool, the more power it needs.
How do you determine the size of the wire in an extension cord? The
easiest way is to check the markings on the outer jacket of the
extension cord. You’ll be looking for a number followed by the letters
AWG printed right on the cord. The typical outdoor extension cords
you’ll find in a hardware store or home center are 16 AWG, 14 AWG, or
But there’s a twist to wire numbers: The smaller the number, the
bigger the wire size. The 12 AWG wire can carry much more power than a
16 AWG wire. That’s why you would use a 12 AWG extension cord to run
the big motor on a table saw, for example.
Match Extension Cords To Electric
Step 1. Find out the amperage rating of the tool
which you’ll find on the tool, and in the owner’s manual.
Here are the most common motor ratings for some typical
outdoor electric tools
Step 2. Use the table below to match the tool to
the proper gauge and length cord having 2 current carrying
conductors and using a standard plug rated 15 Amps (two flat
blades plus ground pin).*
same extension cord to power two tools at the same time is
A second factor in your choice of an
extension cord is its length, because this too affects the amount of
power getting to the tool. Here’s why. As electricity travels down the
extension cord and farther from the outlet, its energy diminishes. So if
you need to use a long extension cord for garden chores, choose one that
has larger-diameter wires, such as 14 AWG. It’s also a good idea to
uncoil a long extension cord before you use it to prevent heat from
building up in the cord itself.
Manufacturers of power tools and electric
garden tools also specify the proper type of extension cord to use with
their equipment. This information is typically included in the
equipment’s owner’s manual.
While choosing the right size extension cord will protect your tools,
the Leviton Institute also recommends using an extension cord with a
built-in GFCI receptacle to protect yourself from potential electric
shock. These inexpensive GFCI-protected extension cords have been on the
market for about 10 years and are available at home centers and hardware
stores. They have very short cord lengths and are meant to be plugged
into an electrical outlet. Then the longer extension cord is plugged
into the GFCI-protected cord.
to Keep Hackers Out of Your Home Computer
beware: If you have broadband high-speed Internet
access, you could be the target of a computer hacker.
We usually think of hackers as high-tech thieves who break
into the computer networks of big companies and government
agencies. But any family using an "always on"
Internet connection is just as vulnerable to attack. This type
of broadband Internet access is provided to anyone who uses a
cable modem, a DSL (Digital Subscriber Line), a T1 or ISDN
line to connect to the Internet.
And, as the Leviton Institute notes, the threats are even
greater for anyone who works from home—or from a small
office—over such connections.
The advantage of broadband high-speed Internet access is
both quick response when surfing the net and the convenience
of never having to dial up to get on the Internet. This
feature, however, makes your Internet address more attractive
and more visible to a hacker from the moment you turn your
The same threats exist for anyone who works at home and
accesses their company’s network over a VPN (Virtual Private
Network). Although your company may have ways to protect its
network from hackers, that protection does not extend into
your own home. In fact, hackers are known to break into home
computers so they can infiltrate a company’s network.
To make matters worse, hackers can now get their hands on
free, powerful software programs that make it easier to prowl
the Internet looking for vulnerable computers. A hacker who
finds your Internet address can potentially reach inside your
computer and read your files, change them, infect them, and
share your personal information with others.
There are several ways you can lock hackers out of your
computer. One method is to install a software program called a
personal firewall. A number of programs are now available, and
some can be downloaded right from the Internet. They work by
checking all the incoming and outgoing data from your
computer, only letting approved data enter your computer.
Unfortunately, hackers are finding novel ways to penetrate
through personal software-based firewalls. If you have
sensitive data in your home computer, or you’re connecting
into your company’s network through the Internet, the
Leviton Institute recommends you look into an external device
called an Internet router that offers ICSA Labs certified
The Internet router firewall sets up your first line of
defense by hiding your Internet address from the probes of
hackers. It also does a better job of blocking unauthorized
access to your computer than software-based products, because
it blocks hackers before they access your computer’s
operating system and files.
If you want to find out what
you are revealing to the world through your computer, visit
one of the Internet sites that performs free security checks
of your computer. For a basic scan of your computer’s
vulnerabilities, check out Gibson Research’s ShieldsUp at
http://grc.com/. Performing a periodic external scan of your
computer is always a good idea.
Take Chances: Look for the UL Label
many electrical wiring devices to choose from, how can you be
assured that the items you buy will provide years of safe,
When shopping for items such
as light switches, dimmers or surge protectors, the Leviton
Institute advises consumers to always look for the UL
(Underwriters Laboratory) mark. The UL mark indicates that an
electrical product satisfies the safety requirements of one of
the nation’s oldest and most trusted product testing
The UL label is also your assurance that the
manufacturer’s products are tested and re-tested often to
ensure that safety standards don’t slip. UL inspectors are
frequent visitors at most facilities that manufacture
electrical components. Typically, inspectors walk into a plant
unannounced to conduct random checks of products coming off
the assembly line.
As important as the UL listing may be, many of the larger
electrical product manufacturers subject their devices to
rigorous safety and durability checks that far exceed the
requirements of UL, or other electrical code organizations.
For these companies the safety of their products is serious
business, so they typically design and manufacture products
that exceed industry standards.
The Leviton Test Laboratory in Little Neck, New York, for
example, continually tests new products to ensure that they
meet the highest safety standards. In a typical test of a
light switch, for example, the switch will be turned on and
off 30,000 times in succession. It would take nearly a
lifetime to duplicate this frequency in a typical home.
In another test, an electrical plug is inserted and
withdrawn from a receptacle 200 times in rapid succession. The
resulting electrical arc places more stress on the receptacle
than it would experience in a typical home environment.
Electrical devices fall into one of five specification
categories that reflect the environment in which they will be
used. Typically, electrical components
are designated as residential, commercial, industrial, Federal
and hospital grade. Homeowners and new home buyers need not
look beyond residential grade to find a safe, high-quality
product, advises the Leviton Institute.
As long as a product carries the UL listing, consumers can
be assured that it has undergone a rigorous regimen of testing.