Author Archives: Jim Nash


Reviewing Redbeacon: The Contractor-Finder Market’s Newest Competitor

Redbeacon Review - Company Logo

[Ed: This post was updated with additional information from Redbeacon on 1/28/2013.]

Three-year-old startup Redbeacon is making bold claims in the contractor-finder market. That market, which in the past has been dominated by Angie’s List, connects consumers with home improvement contractors. (Visit BobVila.com’s own Find a Contractor portal.)

For many, the existence of such services is reason enough to celebrate the birth of the internet, as any progress towards easily and confidently hiring people to work on our homes can be easily appreciated.

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Bio-Blaze Ethanol Fireplaces Burn Virtually Anywhere

Ethanol Fireplace - Veniz Bio Blaze

Veniz ethanol fireplace from Bio-Blaze

Call it the PC-ification of the fireplace.

A company called Bio-Blaze is selling a line of portable, vent-free fireplaces that you can roll into a room or out onto a patio, hang on a wall, or use as a centerpiece. Many designs are available; all are based on a simple concept: the burning of corn-based ethanol.

Because it’s ethanol being burned, these units give off small, cheery, golden flames, but there’s no smoke, soot, or smell. And because the burners are small, Bio-Blaze fireplaces give off little heat.

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DesignVision: Jenn-Air’s New Augmented-Reality App

Jenn-Air DesignVision

Jenn-Air DesignVision

Augmented reality (AR)—the ability to overlay digital information over what you see through a lens—is expanding into the world of home renovation. In fact, storied appliance maker Jenn-Air has released an iPhone app that uses AR technology to help you update your kitchen.

Ask most people (most men, anyway) about augmented reality, and they will tell you about the Terminator movies. The film trio featured a cyborg character, who sees the world as an endless digital list of options for killing.

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The New Wave of Programmable Thermostats

Aside from the price of your own renewable energy, the cost of anything used to heat or cool the home is largely non-negotiable and headed in one direction only: up.

That’s why startup Nest Labs developed its elegant programmable thermostat, the Nest. It’s also why Honeywell is pushing its Prestige, a programmable, high-definition (!) touchscreen thermostat. And indeed, it’s why Lennox International has come out with the icomfort Wi-Fi touchscreen thermostat.

Lennox iComfort Home Thermostat

Lennox iComfort

The Lennox icomfort, which sells for $300 to $400 and works with Lennox Wi-Fi infrastructure, has a lengthy feature and capability list:

• Temp and humidity can be programmed for daily and seasonal schedules
• One-touch “away” setting
• Remote access via free smartphone app and website
• Five-day weather forecast
• Maintenance alerts for you and your dealer
• “Skins” you can place over the thermostat’s frame to make it blend with the room
• You can put a digital picture of your choice on the screen

Wood grain skin for Lennox comfort

A woodgrain "skin" camouflaging the Lennox icomfort

It’s easy to go overboard here (skins and photos), but there’s no argument against a penny-pinching attitude towards energy. Manufacturers cite double-digit energy savings, but it’s safe to assume that thoughtfully managing your heating and cooling will save money. Here’s a quick comparison of the icomfort to the Nest and Prestige:

- The icomfort uses programming menus, and menus are almost always tedious and confusing. Both the Nest and Prestige ask you questions, which can be less flexible.

- The icomfort stands out from the wall the way most wood picture frames do. The Prestige and Nest are like blisters, flush against the wall.

- The icomfort and Nest are programmable via smartphone, but not the Prestige, which comes with an in-house remote (one that may escape with all the other remotes you can’t find).

One word of warning regarding all remote-controlled utility services. Read the privacy policy before you buy. You might be shocked to learn what vendors consider their information when it comes to your home life. Given the mixed feature sets, it’s worth researching this trio to see which capabilities will save you the most money (as opposed to those that are like whistles on a lawnmower).

For more on HVAC, consider:

Nest Learning Themostat: Digital-Age Home Temperature Control
Winterize Your Home on a Budget
Wiring a Thermostat


Lowe’s Launches “Tile Product Selector” Web Tool

H.B. Fuller Construction Products, maker of TEC-brand tile installation tools, and Lowe’s have created a shopping-list tool designed to make buying tile materials easier.

Tile Product Selector Tool

Lowe's Tile Product Selector Tool

The Lowe’s tool is detailed, which is good. But it pulls you through many pages, each with multiple drop-down menus. You’ll get the job done—you’ll find out which and what quantity of TEC’s products you might need—but the experience could be faster and more efficient.

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3 Products for Mounting Your Tablet Device

Tablets are designed to be functional as well as beautifull, so why not display your iPad as if it were an art work, or at least mount the device on your wall for hands-free use?

Mobile-device mounts for walls, dashboards, and appliances already exist, and they can be pretty darn convenient, as phones and tablets are able to control an increasing number of conditions, electronics, and appliances around the house.

Here are some products you should know about:

iPad Mounts - PadTab

The PadTab

The PadTab by PadTab. This two-piece, clear plastic bracket fastener sells for $20. A strong adhesive holds the larger piece on the back of the tablet, while a smaller hook fixes the first piece to your wall. Reciprocal tabs interlock to hold the tablet horizontally or vertically. It’s possible to misalign the tabs, however, so be careful! This is a simple product to install and use, though many iPad owners would sooner glue a bracket to a puppy than to a tablet.
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Let There Be “Authentic” Light!

Bulbrite Nostalgic bulb

Nostalgic Tubular bulb from Bulbrite

Isn’t it counterintuitive to bring a fine old house back to its original splendor, only to then hit it with modern lighting? Energy-efficient, super bright, and evenly distributed fluorescents and LEDs leave everything in a room lit for a Hollywood movie.

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Rock the Job Site with ION’s Tailgater Bluetooth

Ion Tailgater Bluetooth

Tailgater Bluetooth from ION Audio

Truly, this is the golden age of job-site music. There are a multitude of devices, some very sophisticated, to fill the gaps between hammer reports and circular-saw screams.

As a rag-man electrician (the lowest rung of the union ladder), I noted how each trade had its own half-crushed radio tuned to a different station in its supply area. That tinny music was a relief valve and a pacesetter, but it wasn’t pleasant.

Now there’s the ION Tailgater Bluetooth music player and amp, which retails online for $140 and up. The Tailgater looks like a very small musician’s amp—black, boxy, metal front grille, aluminum bumpers on all eight corners and small control knobs.

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Solar Power On the Go from Solio

Solio Classic 2 Solar Charger

Solio Classic 2 Solar Charger

When you lose power, as many people have recently in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, the lights going out isn’t the only issue. Our reliance on mobile phones means that, when their batteries run cold, we’re really left in the dark.

Perhaps the solution is simply tapping into the power source that predates our oldest ancestors—the sun.

When topped off, the Solio Classic 2 solar charger can give you enough juice to revive a smartphone up to three times (before the charger itself needs to be recharged).

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App Review: Houzz Interior Design Ideas

Houzz Interior Design Ideas - App Screen Grabs

Houzz Interior Design Ideas

Let’s say you love Asian home design. There are plenty of places you could turn for design inspiration. But Houzz.com and its Apple iOS app Houzz Interior Design Ideas may offer you the most impressive selection of eye candy.

As of this post, the service boasted 758,561 images for you to sample in planning your home decor. You choose a style, a part of a house, or both, and the app shows you pictures that match your search.

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