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Posts about Home Security

Choosing a 60-watt lightbulb for a quarter, $1.50 or $40

Posted by: John Ewoldt Updated: September 20, 2011 - 9:20 AM

A lot of people still get crabby about the switch from incandescent to spiral CFLs and the newer LEDs. FYI, as many as 22 incandescent bulbs, including 40 watt appliance lights and 3-ways, will still be sold after the ban. Consumers can still use their incandescents and stores can still them, but manufacturers can't make the most inefficient ones.

Lightbulbs used to be an easy purchase--choose brand name or the store brand. Either way it was cheap and the products were all basically the same regardless of brand. The main difference was that some burned out more quickly. Then the spiral CFLs came along and the color, brightness, warm-up time and longevity were practically an unknown unless you spent a lot of time reading labels and staring at retail light displays.

Now the new LED bulbs cost $20 to $60 for a single bulb and they suffer from some of the same unknowns. That's why Consumer Reports has to compare and contrast even the ordinary lightbulb.

Here are some of its findings from the October issue.

If you want a cheap 60 watt CFL rated highly for brightness, rapid on, short warm up, and good light distribution, try the EcoSmart 60 watt soft white (423-599 ESSM8144) available at Home Depot and other stores for $1.50 each. It can be placed in an enclosed fixture inside or outside but it cannot be dimmed or used in a timer or motion detector. If you want one that works in an electronic timer or motion detector, try the Feit Electric EcoBulb Plus 60W ESL13T/5/ECO for about $2 a bulb. Menards usually carries Feit.


If you're willing to spend a lot on the new LED bulbs, try one of the Philips Ambient LED 60 watt bulbs from Home Depot for $40. I bought one about a year ago and really like it. Consumer Reports gave it its highest rating in the 36 bulbs tested. Most of the LEDs I've tried take a second to light but there is no warm-up. They are at maximum brightness immediately. If you want to experiment with one LED bulb, this is the one. It's dimmable and can be used in an outdoor fixture that is covered but not fully enclosed. Because it creates a little heat, putting it in an enclosed fixture will shorten its life. (By the way, LEDs contain no mercury.)


The Philips Ambient is supposed to last 25,000 hours. That means they will take four to 10 years to pay for themselves, but LEDs save $65 to $400 in energy use over the 18-46 year life span of an LED compared to an incandescent, said Consumer Reports.

If you're looking for highly rated floods, refectors or post lights, the article reviews some of them too. I was happy to learn that today's CFL bulbs now contain 60 to 75 percent less mercury than in 2008, according to Consumer Reports.

Any other early adopters who want to comment on LEDs?

Smartphone owner unhappy w/ identity theft advice. Get real, he says.

Posted by: John Ewoldt Updated: July 22, 2011 - 10:01 AM



In my recent article about guarding against identity theft, experts say to protect your smartphone with a password. Also, avoid storing account numbers on a smartphone in case it's stolen. 


Sounds good in theory, according to reader Michael M., but not if you have two personal checking accounts, four business checking accounts, and more than 250 passwords. What is a person to do, he asks?

First, make sure your phone is password protected, said Brian McGinley, senior vice-president of data management at Identity Theft 911 in Providence, Rhode Island. "If you feel you need to store account numbers, make sure that your smartphone encrypts the numbers. Apple and Android offer that," said McKinley.

If you have so many passwords that you need to store them in a phone, don't put them in a directory called "passwords." Choose something more distracting. 

There is now an app on smartphones in which the owner can remotely destroy all data on the phone in case it is stolen or lost said Dianne Cutter, CEO of Asurency Protection in Chaska. 

The one number to never store on  a cell phone is a social security number, said Cutter.

No air conditioning? TC hotel rooms for tonight are going fast.

Posted by: John Ewoldt Updated: July 20, 2011 - 9:34 AM

A colleague tried to find a hotel room for a friend without air conditioning last night. The brutal heat and humidity makes it nearly impossible to sleep. She called 18 to 20 hotels in the Edina, Eden Prairie, St. Louis Park and Mall of America Bloomington areas and found no rooms available. 


In my own search Wednesday morning, I found a few rooms available at higher-priced downtown hotels such asthe Graves 601 ($479), Hotel Minneapolis ($359) and the Westin Minneapolis ($359), but I found a few cheaper rooms at the Holiday inn Crown Plaza ($149). All of the prices are without discounts or tax. Check with a reservationist for AAA, senior or other discounts. Making matters worse, these hotels will also charge a pretty penny for parking, unless you can find a spot that is free from 6 p.m. to 8 a.m.


If you're need cool but cheap, try Motel 6. The Roseville location has rooms available for $49, and the Brooklyn Center and Richfield locations are $56 for a queen bed or two double beds. Reservations are filling up quickly for tonight, said the reservationist. 


Worried about your pet in these conditions? Some hotels allow pets (with some limitations).Here's a link to Twin Cities hotels allowing pets. If your dog is too large or you have multiple pets, consider boarding them if you can't bring more than one along to the hotel.

 The good news? The heat and humidity are supposed to break by tomorrow. But if you want a room for tonight, don't delay or you'll be sleeping in a pool (of sweat).



Have you pulled your pre-teen's credit report lately? You should.

Posted by: John Ewoldt Updated: July 14, 2011 - 4:11 PM

In today's column about new ways to protect yourslef against identity thieves, I wrote that shredding sensitive docs is still important but just a start as you try to protect yourself. All of the tips are for adults, but parents of children under 16 need to protect their children's social security numbers.


Here's the problem: A growing numbers of identity thieves are steal the SSN of a minor and create a new identity in applications for credit, cell phone service and auto loans. Since the thief doesn't use your child's address for correspondence, you and your child are unaware of what's happening under her or his SSN.


I don't want to be an alarmist on this because the incidence is not significant yet. In a survey by ID Analytics of more than 172,000 children from April 2010 to March 2011, 600 cases of possible child identity fraud were identified.

You as a parent can do one simple, free thing to make sure you and your child don't have a mess on your hands when the child applies for his or her first job or auto insurance policy. Request a free credit report each year by calling 1-877-322-8228 or go to the annual credit report site.

So parents, have you ordered your child's free credit report  yet? C'mon, aren't you just a little bit curious to know if your 8 year old has more credit cards than you do?

I'm kidding, but save you and your kid a big hassle by ordering the free report soon.


Do the Gold Guys pay the most for sterling silver?

Posted by: John Ewoldt Updated: March 21, 2011 - 9:07 AM

In Sunday's article about who pays the most for silver, I gathered six phone quotes from local  gold/silver buyers (reprinted below). But I didn't include the precious metals buyer that Twin Cities consumers are most familiar with--The Gold Guys in Mall of America and Maple Grove.



That's because the Gold Guys, like a few others, will not quote prices by phone. Part of the reason for that is that prices fluctuate a bit during the day, but some places such as Grove Coin will honor phone quotes for the remainder of the day. From my consumer perspective, any place that refuses quote by phone is reluctant to do so because, in my opinion, they're probably on the low end of prices paid.

I went to the Gold Guys at Mall of America on Friday afternoon and asked what they were paying per troy ounce of sterling silver. An employee told me they were paying $18 per troy ounce, which is on the low end of others I checked with. Enviro-Chem and Grove Coin are paying 30 percent more. 

So how do you get the Gold Guys to pay the "highest prices guaranteed"? The best way is to get a written price quote from a competitor, but I wouldn't jump through those hoops. Instead, call around and make a note of whom you spoke to and the price quoted. One advantage of going to the trouble of getting a competitive bid is that the Gold Guys say they will pay up to five or 10 percent more than competitors.

If the Gold Guys won't accept a quote that you received by phone, please let me know for a possible follow-up.  All of the prices I've quoted here assume that you have sterling silver. If you have silverplate, the price paid will plummet to next to nothing.  

Sunday's article:

I mentioned recently that sterling silver has become so valuable that families and antique dealers are cashing in less desirable pieces for scrap. For example, eight-place settings of sterling flatware weighing 3 to 5 pounds can sell for $1,500 to $2,500. Many readers called or wrote wondering where they can sell their sterling.

I called six buyers (two scrap buyers, two pawnshops and two jewelry/coin retailers) last week and asked what they were paying for a small amount of sterling silver to be scrapped. (Silver-plate pieces are generally worth much less than sterling.)

Here's a list of the buyers, from highest to lowest paid.

Enviro-Chem (Rogers, 763-428-4002): 91 cents a gram, or $28.30 a troy ounce.

Grove Coin (Maple Grove and Woodbury, 651-738-8352): 90 cents a gram, or $27.92 a troy ounce.

Wixon Jewelers (Bloomington, 952-881-8862): 77 cents a gram, or $24 a troy ounce.

W.E. Mowrey (St. Paul, 651-646-1895): 73 cents a gram, or $22.70 a troy ounce.

Uptown Pawn(Mpls., 612-823-3001): 58 cents a gram, or $18 a troy ounce.

Excel Pawn (Shakopee, 952-445-1876): 35 cents a gram, or $10.89 a troy ounce.

Sellers bring in old sterling flatware, platters, tea sets and coins, too. Pre-1964 silver coins, except nickels, are 90 percent silver. Enviro-Chem is paying $22 each for silver dollars. Most of the places buying silver sell it as scrap to be melted down. Check with a coin or antique dealer if you think your pieces might have additional value. To get the most for your silver, bring it to more than one place to verify the weight.

If you've found a place that pays more than Enviro-Chem, please let me know. There are a lot of silver and gold buyers in the Twin Cities, but none have paid more than Enviro-Chem, in my experience. Thanks to the reader who sent in that tip.



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