Top 10 Most Iconic Electric Guitars of All Time, Part 2

Friday May 18, 2012
Posted at 08:20

Most Famous Electric GuitarsIf you checked out part one of our list of the 10 most iconic electric guitars of all time, then you know how our dedicated music fans at Spark Energy feel about the music-changing instrument. Simply put, we love it and we couldn’t imagine how different music over the past 60 years would be without it. That’s why we decided to gather around a table, put on a pot of coffee and hammer out a list of what we think are the top electric guitars of all time.

Still, there was some disagreement about where the guitars on this list should rank. Make sure to take our poll at the bottom to vote on how you would have ranked these 10 guitars and let us know about any sweet six strings you think we missed.

6. Gibson Flying V

Apparently, 1958 was a good year for guitars. That’s when Jimi Hendrix rocked the Isle of Wight with the original Gibson Flying V, a unique “V”-shaped guitar that looks like an arrow shot from a bow. With an inspired look matched only by the uniqueness of its sound, there is, simply put, nothing else like it in the world of electric guitars.

Year introduced: 1958

Key players: Marc Bolan, Dave Davies, Billy Gibbons, Steve Jones, Kirk Hammett, Jimi Hendrix, Joe Perry, Keith Richards, Michael Schenker, Paul Stanley, Eddie Van Halen

7. Gibson ES-335

The distinctive double f-holes and plummy yet cutting tone of the Gibson ES-335 has made it a favorite electric guitar of blues players everywhere. Of course, BB King may have had something to do with that. His 335, “Lucille,” may be one of the most recognizable guitars in the world.

Year introduced: 1958

Key players: Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown, Larry Carlton, Eric Clapton, Sheryl Crow, The Edge, Eric Johnson, BB King, Bobby Krieger, Alex Lifeson, Roy Orbison, Joe Perry, Eddie Van Halen, T-Bone Walker

8. B.C. Rich Mockingbird

The B.C. Rich Mockingbird is one axe that actually looks like an axe. Its sharp, angular lines, a signature feature of most B.C. Rich guitar designs, are both distinctive and polarizing; you either love it or you hate it. But regardless of how you feel about its looks, the Mockingbird has some serious shred pedigree. And it also has the equivalent of a lifetime achievement award from Guitar World, which ranked the Mockingbird as “the coolest guitar of all time,” ahead of rock luminaries like the Gibson Les Paul Standard and the Fender Stratocaster.

Year introduced: 1976

Key players: Craig Chaquico, Paul Crook, Lita Ford, Steve Hunter, Neil Gilrado, Kerry King, John Moyer, Dave Mustaine, Joe Perry, Slash, Dick Wagner

9. Gibson Explorer

Another iconic electric guitar that debuted in 1958 (what was it with that year?), the Gibson Explorer bears the dubious distinction of being somewhat of a flop. However, in the wildly-styled guitar’s defense — too wildly-styled for its day, perhaps — its initial production run is estimated at less than 50. But with its famous drooping headstock and aggressive, asymmetrical design, it roared into reissue in 1976 and would go on to gain cult status, thanks to a fuzzy version wielded by ZZ Top’s Bill Gibbons.

Year introduced: 1958–59 (reissued 1976)

Key players: Eric Clapton, Allen Collins, The Edge, Billy Gibbons, Dave Grohl, James Hatfield, Matthais Jabs, Gary Moore, Bill Spooner, Paul Stanley

10. Danelectro DC

The Danelectro DC holds the distinction of having possibly the most humble beginnings of any electric guitar on this list. Danelectro made its electric guitars for U.S. department store Sears, but the DC looked way cooler than its pedigree because its design, including chromed “lipstick” pickups, was borrowed from 1950s automakers.

Year introduced: 1959

Key players: Syd Barrett, Beck, Eric Clapton, Jerry Garcia, Mark Knopfler, Jimmy Page, Billy Squire

Sources

25 Most Iconic Guitars Ever,” Stuff, Sept. 16, 2010.

Wikipedia, “B.C. Rich Mockingbird.”

Wikipedia, “List of Danelectro Players.”

Wikipedia, “List of Gibson Players.”

Wikipedia, “Gibson Explorer.”


Nest’s Smart Thermostat Gets Cooler 2.0 Update

In terms of gadgets that can reduce your energy use and help you save money on monthly utility bills, the Nest Learning Thermostat is one of the coolest. And it just got cooler.

Nest Labs announced the release of what is essentially version 2.0 of its wireless smart thermostat’s software, which can be accessed by an Internet-connected Web browser or by apps on mobile devices using Apple’s iOS operating system or Google’s Android operating system.

The Nest thermostat uses a person’s temperature settings to “learn” about heating and cooling habits and preferences so it can “auto-program” itself. The software upgrade enables the thermostat to present history data over 10 days, generate monthly reports, communicate when heating and cooling systems are turned on and show if setting changes were cause by the weather, a manual adjustment or an auto-away setting.

According to Nest Labs, the software upgrade will help thermostat users better understand how changes to temperature settings affect energy use. One cool feature of the upgrade, called Airwave, keeps an air conditioner fan running, instead of both the fan and the compressor, to keep cool air circulating and reduce energy use. According to Nest Labs, the feature can reduce electricity use by 30 percent for people in dry climates.

An EPA study found that while programmable thermostats can result in energy savings of 20 percent to 30 percent, the study found that only about 10 percent of people who have programmable thermostats program them. In a Nest Labs survey, however, the company found that almost all users of its learning thermostat use its automatic setback feature. The company says that’s because the thermostat only has to be used manually for a few days before beginning to program its own setback based on user preferences.

Do you use a programmable thermostat? If so, do you program it? If not, why?

Sources

Nest's Smart Thermostat Chills Out With New A/C Feature,” CNET, April 5, 2012.

Juicebox Helps Recharge Your Cell Phone When You’re Nowhere Near Your Charger

Thursday May 3, 2012
Posted at 08:52

Cell phone battery low

Imagine this scenario: You’re out and about around town when suddenly your cell phone beeps or vibrates in your pocket. Thinking you’ve got a call or a text, you grab your phone only to realize that it isn’t a friend trying to contact you. It’s your phone. Letting you know that its battery is running out of juice. You realize you’re not going to be anywhere near a charger anytime soon, and it becomes clear that your fate is sealed. Your phone is going to die. And there’s nothing you can do to stop it.

While such a bleak scenario may seem like a nightmare to you, it’s the stuff of dreams for a pair of Manhattan entrepreneurs. The duo invented Juicebox, a simple, public credit-card-operated phone charging station that could forever put an end to the dangers of hitting the town without a fully-charged phone.

For a flat fee of $2, you can charge your phone for an unlimited time in one of these cool-looking boxes, which are incredibly easy to use. Just swipe a credit card and one of several locked compartments pops open. Inside are various charging connections that are compatible with all major phone manufacturers. Plug your phone in, close the door, and your phone happily charges away, safe in its own little compartment, which stays locked until you come back and swipe your card again. Then the compartment pops back open and you grab your phone, empowered with a full bevy of social mobility that only a fully-charged battery can provide.

Juiceboxes can be installed anywhere: restaurants, movie theaters, malls, bowling alleys, you name it. To encourage venue owners to adopt the devices, the company behind Juicebox designed them to look more like good-looking pieces of furniture than out-of-place kiosks. The company also decided it would install them for free. Since no ultra-modern electronic device comes without its own ability to communicate, Juiceboxes are also equipped with 4G connections that alert headquarters when they need maintenance.

We can’t wait to see Juiceboxes start popping up at our favorite places. In our hyper-connected and always-on world, a couple of bucks seems like a small price to pay to stay up and running when your phone’s battery starts running out.

Sources

Juicebox Wants to Be Your Phone Charger Away From Home,” Mashable, Jan. 27, 2012.

The Future of Powering and Charging Electronic Devices Will Be Wireless

Tuesday May 1, 2012
Posted at 08:38

If one company’s vision of the future comes to pass, all of the electronic devices we use in our lives — from cell phones to computers to televisions to electric cars — will be powered or charged without having to use a single wire, power cord or plug.

What’s cooler than that, you ask? Well, you know those wireless cell phone chargers that simply have you rest your phone on top of them to transfer electricity? How about the ability to power and charge electronic devices without having to make any physical contact at all?

That’s the goal shared by the folks at WiTricity, a Massachusetts–based startup that has developed a pretty cutting edge way of transmitting electricity from a power source to an electronic device over short distances. The technology uses magnetic fields to transfer electricity between two points in a process called resonance. While you can’t use WiTricity’s technology to transfer electricity over long distances, electricity can be transferred from far enough away to do away with wires, cords and plugs.

The technology is so promising that WiTricity has already reached agreements with two significant companies, MediaTek and Mitsubishi Motors Corporation, to jointly develop power and charging technologies for wireless communications, digital multimedia and electric vehicles.

We really like the idea of being able to park electric vehicles in normal-looking parking spaces and recharge them from a device hidden under the ground; not having to worry about big, anaconda-like vehicle recharging cords is definitely a plus. According to Mitsubishi, WiTricity’s magnetic resonance wireless charging system can already deliver up to 3.3 kilowatts of charging power over 20 centimeters, or about eight inches, with an efficiency of more than 90 percent. While that’s actually a pretty impressive first step, we can only imagine where this technology might be after a few years of development in collaboration with major tech players.

We also really like the idea of being able to hang our widescreen LCD TV in the middle of our wall without having to drill a lot of holes or run power cords down the wall like some sort of robotic vine forest. What’s the next step? Being able to dump all our audio and video cables and cords when somebody develops streaming capabilities for all of our audio, video and data. Now that would be wireless.

Sources

MediaTek Inc. Signs Technology Transfer and License Agreement with WiTricity Corp. for Wireless Charging,” MediaTek press release, July 11, 2011.

WiTricity Corporation, IHI Corporation, and Mitsubishi Motors Corporation Combine to Develop Easily Deployable Wireless Charging Systems for Electric Vehicles,” Mitsubishi Motors Corporation press release, Sept. 27, 2011.

WiTricity, “WiTricity Technology: The Basics.”

How Much Electricity Does it Take to Watch a Movie at Home?

Electricity Usage of Watching TV

Ever since we wrote a post about our dream home theater system, we’ve been wondering exactly how much electricity our mind-blowing mega-theater would consume to show a movie and how much that electricity might actually cost us. That got us curious about how much electricity the modest home theater of one of our staff writers uses when he watches a movie and how much he might actually be spending on electricity to indulge his inner movie lover.

In order to run this little experiment, we examined the electricity consumption of our movie-buff staff writer’s 65-inch Samsung flat-panel TV, Sony home theater in a box (HTIB) and XBOX 360 game console, since that’s what he uses to play DVDs. Then we compared his setup to the absurdly-awesome dream home theater we recently explored, which included a Ronco 103” plasma TV, Goldman Blu-ray player, and separate Anthem preamp and amplifier.

To compare the two systems, we made a few assumptions, including the number of movies our staff writer watches on average each week (which turns out to be about three), the average length of a movie (two hours) and the price of electricity (which we set at 10 cents/kWh for the sake of easy math). Just in case you’re wondering, our staff writer’s setup cost about $2,200, while our dream home theater’s price tag is a little north of $160,000.

Our Staff Writer’s System:

Samsung UN65D6000 65-inch LCD TV: 160 W

Sony STR-K850P HTIB: 330 W

Microsoft XBOX 360: 126 W

Total: 616 W

The Math:

(616 W x 2 hours) ÷ 1,000 = 1.232 kWh

1.232 kWh x 10 cents/kWh = 12.32 cents per movie

12.32 cents x 3 movies per week = $19.20 per year

Our Dream System:

Runco PlasmaWall XP-103DHD 103-inch Plasma TV: 1,500 W

Goldmund Eidos 20BD Blu-ray Player: 35 W

Anthem AVM 50v Preamp: 150 W

Anthem MCA 50 Amplifier: 530 W

Total: 2,215 W

The Math:

(2,215 W x 2 hours) ÷ 1,000 = 4.43 kWh

4.43 kWh x 10 cents/kWh = 44.3 cents per movie

44.3 cents x 3 movies per week = $69.10 per year

Our Conclusion

Watching movies at home requires little in the way of electricity expense, but we had no idea exactly how cheap it was until we crunched the numbers. Even watching a movie on the Ferrari of home theater systems still costs less than a trip to the local Redbox.

Sources

Anthem, “AVM 50v.”

Anthem, “MCA 50.”

Goldmund, “Eidos 20BD.”

Hardcoreware, “Power Usage in Movies.”

Runco, “Runco PlasmaWall XP-103DHD Display.”

U.S. Department of Energy, Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy, “Estimating Appliance and Home Electronic Energy Use.”

Top 10 Most Iconic Electric Guitars of All Time, Part 1

Tuesday April 10, 2012
Posted at 08:45

Most famous guitars in history

Electric guitars have been a staple of the music world for over 60 years. To many people, including a group of dedicated music fans at Spark Energy, the electric guitar is the defining instrument in contemporary music ensembles. So we decided to sit down and rate what we think are the 10 most iconic electric guitars of all time. The discussion was opinionated, to say the least, and the final list of 10 guitars was easier to agree upon than their individual rankings.

So, without further ado, here’s part one of our list of the 10 most iconic electric guitars of all time. Make sure to check out part two for the rest of the best, to vote on how you would have ranked these 10 guitars and to set us straight about any electric guitars you would have put on the list instead.

1. Fender Stratocaster

Outside of the Gibson Les Paul Standard, no electric guitar says rock-and-roll like the dual-horned Fender Stratocaster. It could be the most easily-recognized and widely-played electric guitar in the world, by pros and amateurs alike. Exactly how iconic is this axe? Well, Jimi Hendrix set fire to it, Eric Clapton bought six at once, Stevie Ray Vaughn singlehandedly resurrected blues with it, and Pink Floyd’s David Gilmour owns serial number #0001.

Year introduced: 1954

Key players: Randy Bachman, Jeff Beck, Adrian Belew, Eric Clapton, The Edge, John Frusciante, David Gilmour, Buddy Guy, George Harrison, Jimi Hendrix, Buddy Holly, Eric Johnson, Mark Knopfler, John Lennon, Alex Lifeson, John Mayer, Pete Townshend, Robin Trower, Ritchie Valens, Stevie Ray Vaughan

2. Gibson Les Paul Standard

One of two of the most recognized electric guitars in the world along with Fender’s Stratocaster, the Gibson Les Paul Standard has been THE electric guitar for generations of rock-and-rollers. There’s nothing quite like the universal appeal of the Standard’s beautiful, simple design and smooth lines. After all, it’s not called the Standard for nothing.

Year introduced: 1958

Key players: Duane Allman, Billie Joe Armstrong, Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton, Ace Frehley, Billy Gibbons, Steve Jones, Mark Knopfler, Bob Marley, Paul McCartney, Jimmy Page, Joe Perry, Randy Rhoads, Slash, Zakk Wylde

3. Gibson SG Standard

The best-selling Gibson guitar of all time, the SG (officially renamed the SG Standard in 1963) was originally intended as a redesign of the Les Paul Standard. When the SG hit in 1961, it sold more than three times the number of Les Paul Standards sold in the guitar’s entire three-year run from 1958–60. Maybe that’s because the SG looks as hard as it rocks.

Year introduced: 1961

Key players: Eric Clapton, Elliot Easton, Jerry Garcia, Jimi Hendrix, Tony Iommi, Robby Krieger, Pete Townshend, Thom Yorke, Angus Young, Frank Zappa

4. Fender Telecaster

Originally introduced as the Broadcaster, the Telecaster, or Tele, hasn’t evolved much over the years, and with good reason. After all, when you’re the revolutionary model that finally put solid-body electric guitars on the map and started the rock-and-roll lead guitar phenomenon, what exactly do you need to improve on? The original’s simple design and fluid lines have been retained throughout the Tele’s production, which has gone uninterrupted since its debut over 60 years ago.

Year introduced: 1950

Key Players: Syd Barrett, Jeff Beck, Frank Black, Jeff Buckley, Bob Dylan, David Gilmour, Jonny Greenwood, Merle Haggard, Chrissie Hynde, George Harrison, PJ Harvey, Waylon Jennings, Alex Lifeson, Mike Oldfield, Jimmy Page, Keith Richards, Robbie Robertson, Bruce Springsteen, Pete Townshend, Muddy Waters

5. Rickenbacker 300 Series

The Rickenbacker 300 Series is instantly recognizable by its single, straight-cut modern f-hole and oversized headstock. The “Ricky” was wildly popular during the 1960s and served as the backbone of pop music during the decade, most notably as the main axes of The Beatles. It was also among the first electric guitar models to get a 12-string edition, called the 360/12.

Year introduced: 1958

Key players: Peter Banks, Peter Buck, The Edge, Noel Gallagher, George Harrison, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Jimmy Page, Tom Petty, Pete Townshend, Hilton Valentine, Thom Yorke

Sources

25 Most Iconic Guitars Ever,” Stuff, Sept. 16, 2010.

Gibson, “15 Iconic Les Paul Players.”

Gibson, “15 Iconic SG Players.”

Gibson, “The Best-Selling Gibson of All Time: The SG Standard.”

Wikipedia, “Fender Telecaster.”

Wikipedia, “List of Gibson Players.”

Wikipedia, “List of Rickenbacker Players.”

Wikipedia, “List of Stratocaster Players.”

Wikipedia, “List of Telecaster Players.”

Wikipedia, “Rickenbacker 330.”

A Dream Come True: The Absolute Ultimate Home Theater Setup

Monday April 9, 2012
Posted at 11:00

Ultimate home theater system

We love movies. But we hate going to movie theaters, with all the talking and texting and sticky floors. Like many other movie lovers, our 21st century sanctuary is the modern home theater, with its moderately-priced flat-panel TVs, surround-sound receivers and satellite speakers. For many film snobs, our budgets play a huge role in what we’re able to piece together. And for the most part, we’re able to live with the results.

But what if money wasn’t an issue? What if you could build the home theater of your dreams? This, then, just might be the result: the most mind-blowing high-end home theater system that money can buy.

Out of the (Gilded) Gate: This is Stupid Expensive!

Yes, the ultimate high-end home theater system is undeniably and ridiculously expensive, almost embarrassingly so. You’ll need to make room for several zeros after the number you scribble in your checkbook, but it’s a necessary expense for the equipment, consultants, furniture and remodeling that you’re going to need to pay for to achieve this kind of awe-inspiring system.

The TV

Front projector or flat-screen HDTV? Well, that depends on how much space you have. If you have the room and don’t need to tear down a wall in your spacious, beautifully-designed home, you can get the Runco VideoExtreme VX-33 three-DLP-chip front-projection system ($49,995). The VX-33 can give you a whole lot more 1080p visual real estate than even the largest flat-panel HDTVs. The list of features is hard to wrap your mind around. All you need is a screen to project it on.

If, however, you don’t have the space for your own personal theater, a big-screen flat-panel HDTV is still the way to go. Runco’s PlasmaWall XP-103DHD (about $45,000) is a 103-inch monster of a 1080p HDTV that is, according to the company, the world’s largest plasma display. You want a plasma technology for your flat-screen, not LCD. That way you can get a truer black and avoid annoying artifacts that pop up in action scenes caused by the refresh rate of pixels in LCD panels.

The Blu-Ray Player

Blu-ray is dead, you say? Not so fast — especially if you want the very best movie experience possible. If you’ve ever seen the Blu-ray version of Planet Earth then you know what we mean. Image and audio quality actually vary quite a bit among high-end Blu-ray players and you may not need to spend $16,900 for Goldmund’s Eidos 20 BD Blu-ray player, even if does come with something called “AC-Curator” for Swiss-watch precision audio and visual stability. But you will. Because this is your dream system.

The Preamp/Amplifier Combo

While most of us in the real world get decent audio with a simple amplifier, which is also called a receiver, in the dream world, you’re going to want some extra muscle. That’s where the preamp comes in. Also called the processor, the preamp receives and processes audio signals before sending them to the amplifier (and video signals before sending them to a projector or HDTV). The two-stage process is normally handled by an amplifier. But you’re going to want to separate these processes because amplifiers work best when they’re cool and not overheated by doing double-duty to create the type of earth-shattering symphonic sound you’re going to be producing.

Audiophiles swear by Anthem’s AVM 50v preamp ($5,000) and its MCA 50 amplifier ($2,000), which combined provide eight HDMI inputs and 225 continuous watts per channel for all 7.1 channels.

The Speakers

Like the tires on a half-million dollar Lamborghini, your speakers are the only part of your dream home theater audio system that metaphorically touch the road. So you need them to be great. We’re talking $30,000 great from companies such as Escalante Design or Wilson Audio. But worry not, because what you’ll get are a set of seven satellite speakers — one center, two sides and four surround speakers — and a powered subwoofer that provide such high dynamic range that they’ll sound just as good on “1” as they will on “10,” just not as loud. The effect, according to Alex Brinkman of Music Lover, is “visceral.”

A Word on Room Acoustics

No dream home theater system would be complete without hiring a professional consultant to analyze and improve the acoustic performance of the actual room where you plan to set up all this top-of-the-line equipment. Acoustic tiles, sound diffusers and even rugs can be used to shape the sound of a room. A good consultant will even take into account the aesthetic qualities of the room, much like an interior designer, to make sure it helps produce the best sound possible. What’s an extra four to ten grand at this point?

So there you have it. The greatest, most mind-blowing collection of audio and video components ever gathered into one room. The total bill for the home theater system of your dreams? About $160,000. Sound a little over the top? That’s why they call it a dream system.

Sources

The Ultimate Home Theater,” PCWorld, May 27, 2010.

World’s Most Expensive Blu-ray Player 2011,” Exploredia, May 6, 2011.

Anthem, “AVM 50v.”

Anthem, “MCA 50.”

Runco, “PlasmaWall XP-103DHD.”

Runco, “VideoXtreme VX-33 Projector.”


Electric Vehicle Enthusiasts Get Cool New App for iPad, iPhone

Thursday March 29, 2012
Posted at 08:48

Charging electric car

Electric vehicle (EV) owners and enthusiasts have a cool new way to communicate with their cars, get personalized data and analyze the operation and performance of their vehicles.

GreenCharge, a new iOS app for iPads, iPhones and iPod touches, fully connects drivers with their Nissan LEAFs and Chevrolet Volts:

  • Seamlessly syncs a car’s data to a driver’s iOS devices
  • Connects driving data with local electricity pricing to give personalized feedback about the cost of operating an electric car
  • Provides environmental impact information by letting drivers know how many pounds of CO2 emissions they’ve offset by driving an electric vehicle instead of a gasoline vehicle
  • Allows drivers to see the cost savings of driving an electric vehicle instead of a gasoline vehicle
  • Provides real-time charging, battery and range information
  • Breaks down mileage and electricity price by day, week and month
  • Offers a social media outlet so that drivers can share their information via email, Facebook or Twitter

And, just in case you don’t have an EV but are thinking about getting one, there’s even a feature that lets you test out a demonstration vehicle, simulate your driving habits and generate cost information so you can make more informed comparisons.

GreenCharge looks like a pretty cool app. And at just $9.99 — or the average cost of operating an EV for a week (according to the developer behind the app, Xatori Inc.) — we’re pretty sure EV drivers will geek out over it.

Source

GreenCharge App for Electric Vehicle Enthusiasts Launches Today in the iOS App Store,” Xatori Inc. press release, Jan. 31, 2012.

The Inside Scoop on Electric Blanket Safety

Wednesday February 1, 2012
Posted at 01:00

When it comes to the annual winter-time struggle of trying to stay comfortable while lowering the thermostat, saving money doesn’t always win out, especially if icicles start to form on the ends of your toes while you’re trying to sleep. Thankfully, electric blankets and electric mattress pads can help bridge the gap and keep you toasty in bed while you turn down your heat for the evening.

If you decide to use an electric blanket or mattress pad to save a few bucks when it’s cold at night, you are probably familiar with some basic safety tips, like not letting the kids jump up and down on one or not sleeping on top of an electric blanket because it can malfunction or get hot enough to burn you. However, it turns out that there’s a lot more to know about electric blanket and mattress pad safety. According to the Electric Blanket Institute, people ask some pretty serious safety questions that you may never have considered. The five most common questions that the Institute hears are:

  1. Can anyone use electric blankets and electric mattress pads?
  2. Is it okay to use an electric blanket during pregnancy?
  3. Is there a concern about EMF’s (electromagnetic frequency waves) emitting by electric bedding?
  4. Can people with pacemakers use electric blankets?
  5. Why can’t people with diabetes use electric blankets?

Before you go out and buy an electric blanket or mattress pad — or before turning one on again tonight — you should make sure that using one is a good idea. Here’s what the Institute has to say about these more advanced safety concerns.

Who Should Avoid Electric Blankets and Electric Mattress Pads?

First off, the Institute is quick to point out that electric blankets and electric mattress pads are electrical appliances and, as with any electric appliance, things can occasionally go wrong. Maybe a heating control stops working properly or a blanket gets bunched up underneath the folds of your bedding, causing a heater wire to break. Situations like these can cause the blanket to overheat and maybe even burn someone. That’s why it’s important to avoid using electric bedding with infants or small children and anyone who is helpless, paralyzed, insensitive to heat or otherwise incapable of understanding and operating the controls.

Can Electric Bedding be Used During Pregnancy?

Medical websites have different opinions about using electric bedding during pregnancy. Some say “sure,” some say “never” and some say “ask your doctor.” The differing opinions are due to concerns over EMFs as well as concerns about overheating the fetus. While you could certainly ask your doctor about electric bedding safety during pregnancy, the Institute says that pregnant women should simply play it safe, err on the side of caution and avoid electric bedding. An alternative is to use an electric blanket to pre-warm your bed sheets and then turn it off prior to slipping under the covers.

What’s the Concern Over EMFs?

Electric bedding produces EMFs, or electromagnetic frequency waves from AC current, which came under scrutiny in the 1980s and 1990s from scientists and others concerned about the electrical fields produced by overhead power lines and some appliances. Some people wondered if the fields contributed to cancer or developmental problems in children. After studying over 500 peer-reviewed papers and spending $65 million on research, the U.S. Government concluded that there was no conclusive evidence to prove that residential EMFs played any role in the development of medical problems. To help mitigate customers’ concerns, Sunbeam, the only major U.S. manufacturer of electric blankets at the time, started making blankets in 1992 with much weaker EMFs.

The Institute says EMFs aren’t a problem, but if you have concerns, you can buy special blankets that convert AC current to DC current or mattress pads that pass heated water through silicone tubes in the pad and avoid electricity in the pad altogether.

Can Electric Bedding be Used with Pacemakers?

The American Heart Association and the Mayo Clinic have said that electric bedding doesn’t damage pacemakers or interfere with their function. However, the Institute recommends that people with pacemakers get the green light from their doctors and pacemaker manufacturers before using electric bedding.

Can Electric Bedding be Used by Diabetics?

The short answer is no. The problem with diabetes is that it causes people who suffer from the disease to be insensitive to heat in some ways, especially if they lose feeling in their legs or arms, and can’t feel the heat from bedding that’s becoming dangerously hot. If you’re diabetic, your best bet is to pre-heat your bed sheets with an electric blanket and then turn off and remove the blanket from the bed before turning in for the evening.

Sources

The Electric Blanket Institute, “Are Electric Blankets Safe or Dangerous?”

5 Tips on How to Shop for a New Energy-Efficient TV

Friday November 18, 2011
Posted at 13:12

energy-efficient-tv.jpg

The world of energy-efficient TV shopping can sometimes be confusing. There are LCD TVs, LED-backlit and LED-sidelit LCD TVs and plasma TVs. And, depending on the technology, a larger set might use less electricity than a smaller one. Here are five tips for understanding TV technology and energy efficiency so that you can walk out of the store with the set that’s right for you.

1. Size matters, but not as much as you might think

The simple fact is that bigger TVs use more power. But go small to try and save money off your monthly electric bill and you’ll encounter the law of diminishing returns. While a 32-inch LCD TV uses about half as much power as a 52-inch LCD TV, the 52-inch TV will give you three times the screen size. In reality, the payoff for going down in size tapers off the smaller the screen gets.

2. TV technology can make a big difference when it comes to energy consumption

Plasma screen TVs are in some ways superior to LCD TVs, especially when it comes to displaying action scenes and sports without the picture artifacts that bother enthusiasts. But plasma TVs are more expensive and they use more energy. When compared to LCD TVs, Plasma TVs use about two to three times more electricity to produce an image of the same brightness.

If you want the greatest energy efficiency, check out LED-backlit or LED-sidelit LCD TVs. Just don’t expect a windfall. Annual savings between an LCD TV and a LED LCD TV usually amount to less than $20.

3. Customize energy efficiency yourself by changing picture settings

While it’s true that the energy efficiency of TVs off the shelf can vary, keep in mind that you can further increase the energy efficiency of a TV once you get it home and get it set up.

By adjusting the contrast and brightness settings on your TV, you can significantly decrease the amount of power it uses. Most TVs have a contrast setting, also referred to as picture, and all new TVs have either a backlight setting (LCD TVs) or a cell light setting (plasma TVs). Dimming the contrast and backlight or cell light settings can cut your TV’s power use by as much as half. Just don’t overdo it or picture quality will start to suffer.

Many TVs have several energy-saving modes that will automatically adjust brightness and contrast. Some TVs can even turn on an energy saver mode and dim the brightness and contrast in response to the environment, such as when you turn off the lights to watch a movie. Some automatic or preset energy-saving modes can be distracting or can make images too dim, so be prepared to manually customize a few settings for the best results.

4. You don’t have to worry about energy vampires with a new TV

There are lots of electronic gadgets in homes these days that stay plugged in all the time — from computers to DVRs to coffee makers — and many of them continuously use electricity when they’re in standby mode waiting to receive a signal from a remote control, record a favorite show or brew a pot of coffee at a certain time.

Fortunately, you don’t have to worry about leaving new TVs plugged in all the time anymore. In general, new models consume less than 1 watt of power in standby mode, which equates to about a dollar a year on your electric bill.

5. Always read the EnergyGuide label

All new TVs manufactured after May 10, 2011 are required to display EnergyGuide labels to help give consumers more information about energy consumption. The familiar yellow labels have appeared on home appliances such as washing machines and refrigerators for a while and they’re now on TVs, too. If you shop for TVs online, websites are required to post an image of the label.

The part of the label that you should check out is the Estimated Yearly Energy Cost, which lets you know about how much the TV set will cost to operate over the course of a year and compares that cost to similar TV models.

Armed with these five tips, you should be able to better fight your way through the sometimes confusing world of TV shopping and escape with a set that is not only bigger and better but also more energy efficient than your old model. Have another idea that can help when it comes to shopping for a new TV? Let us hear it.

Sources

Starting in 2011, FTC Will Require EnergyGuide Labels for Televisions,” Federal Trade Commission press release, Oct. 27, 2010.

CNET, “The Basics of TV Power.”