Category: Other Rooms

Home Office Power and Equipment Protection

Protect against surges that put equipment and data at risk.

Photo: Flickr

Lightning Hazards
Several things affect the power that supplies our home offices. First, there’s the obvious: lightning. Those with home offices in Florida may be particularly aware of the risks. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the highest frequency of cloud-to-ground lightning in the U.S. is in Florida, between Tampa and Orlando. Other areas that see a lot of lightning are the areas in the western mountains, along the Gulf Coast and inland west to Texas, along the Atlantic coast in the Southeast, and regions along the West Coast.

In the continental 48 states, according to NOAA, at least 30 million points on the ground are struck each year in the U.S. on average. But equipment doesn’t need a direct hit to sustain damage. Even cloud-to-cloud lightning can cause problems. A spike from a nearby lightning strike may travel through power or telephone lines or enter a building and transfer through wires and plumbing, going straight into your computer, printer, or phone system.

Power Demands and Outages
Surges, brownouts, blackouts — these terms have become common in some areas of the country. Many East Coast states deal with brownouts, or drops in voltage. Other parts of the country are more familiar with blackouts, or total power cutoffs. All can wreak havoc on the equipment in your home office.

A surge, or increase in voltage, stresses the delicate components of computers and other electronic devices. Each incidence degrades the components a bit, making them more vulnerable to interference or damage. It also shortens their life expectancy and reliability.

A brownout starves computers and other equipment of the power they need. The results can be frozen keyboards, loss of work in progress, system crashes, and lost data. Brownouts also hasten the deterioration of electrical equipment.

A blackout will result in the loss of work-in-progress and may mean hard-drive crashes, destroying stored data.

Combined Power Protection
Protecting against power anomalies, from service entrance panel to point of use, is important. That protection can be accomplished with surge protectors, a battery-backup uninterruptible power supply (UPS), and a hard-wired protector next to the circuit breaker.

The first line of defense is the hard-wired protector. The Surgebreaker Plus from Square D, a brand of Schneider Electric, is one example. According to the company, the equipment, which must be installed by a qualified electrician, protects the AC power line, four telephone lines, and two coaxial cables by diverting surges to a ground. Hard wired next to the load center, this one-size-fits-all device can protect against power surges from utility disturbances and nearby lightning strikes. It cannot, however, protect a home from a direct lightning hit. In homes where the telephone and coaxial cable TV lines cannot be routed to the load center, a hard-wired secondary surge arrester is recommended to protect them.

Attacks on office equipment don’t end there, but continue inside the house. Any time that appliances, such as hair dryers, power tools, and vacuum cleaners, are switched on and off, they generate power spikes. Those spikes then travel through the in-house electrical system like shock waves and stress all connected equipment.

Bill Grande, director of safety products for Leviton, a leading North American producer of electrical and electronic products, says protection must cover all conductors. Surge protection is needed not only for the receptacles into which your equipment is plugged but also for high-speed data lines, whether they are cable or telephone. Those with a structured wiring module also should consider a network approach to protect both the electrical and low-voltage (cable/satellite/TV and phone/networking) system and electronics.

When choosing surge protectors, read the specifications to make sure that they are rated for an effective level. The National Lightning Safety Institute, for one, offers suggestions on its website for finding devices that will perform satisfactorily under abnormal power-quality conditions. There have been reports of devices that deteriorate over time or fail because of excess demand, according to a University of Washington report.

Backup Power During a Blackout
Backup power is also a key part of home office protection, says Vlad Konopelko, senior product manager for American Power Conversion (APC), a global leader in power availability solutions. When a blackout occurs, an important phone call may be dropped, an open document lost, or hard-drive data ruined. UPS backup can guard against these unacceptable consequences by providing you with enough time to close down work-in-progress and the computer.

Because a home office often involves communicating over the Internet, it’s important to have UPS backup for a modem and/or router to be able to send email or place VoIP (voice over Internet protocol) calls, says Konopelko. It’s also a good idea to back up a phone system that requires AC power to run, such as a phone with a loud speaker, as it may be critical or at least very important for your home office to be able to place or receive calls despite a blackout.

Leviton’s Grande says a UPS should be used for critical items, such as a modem, router, and computer, not for devices with heavy electric demands, such as printers. UPS devices are available at almost any computer center, starting at about $50. Some devices even come with software to shut down your system in an orderly fashion if you aren’t there to do so.

Those with mission-critical work will want to look into larger UPS devices and may even want generators as backups. Larger UPS devices, which can range up to $500, will provide more power or a longer time period of coverage, depending on how much power is drawn. Determine your need for backup power by looking at the specification paperwork for your office equipment.

Regulated Brownouts
The best solution for the ongoing equipment insults of brownouts is a UPS with a trim-and-boost automatic voltage regulator (AVR), says Konopelko. The AVR is a transformer that will trim the power if it is higher than 120 volts and boost the power if it is less than 120 volts.

“Transformers can boost or trim only so much so, when the power fluctuations are not within the transformer’s margins, the AVR-featured UPS will switch to the battery, thus ensuring that devices connected to the UPS do not suffer from the power fluctuation,” Konopelko says. “This combination of AVR and battery provides the best solution for poor power environments because it ensures that battery power is used only when needed, prolonging the battery life and ensuring that the battery stays charged.”

Creating Your Home Office Plan

A few simple steps can improve the organization and efficiency of your home office.

Home Office Design

Photo: Flickr

Evaluate Your Home Office Needs
The first step in creating a home office plan that works is to evaluate what you plan to do in the space.

Say, for example, your work requires you to prepare client packages or corporate gift baskets. First, think about how you work. Break down your work day into the individual tasks you do and the spaces in which you do them. Each one of these spaces will be known as a work zone.

Your home office work may be at a computer on a desk with a stack of CDs and reference materials close at hand. This is Zone 1.

Assembling package materials or collating information packets requires horizontal layout space. Necessary inventory items and business samples can be kept in nearby bins. This is Zone 2.

Your work may have you meet with clients in your home office. That meeting space, with its couch, two comfortable chairs, a table and floor lamps, is Zone 3. You may find you have other zones. Detail each one and prioritize it according to how necessary it is to the work you must accomplish.

Thoroughly and honestly evaluate your work. As Frank Isaacson, architect and owner of Techline in Appleton, WI, an independent studio providing commercial and professional home office solutions, says: “Being honest with your space needs can even take in how many dogs you have. In other words, it’s all very personal.” Will you need a zone for the kids to use? A zone for reading and review? It all depends on what’s going to go on in your office.

Do the Math
Now take out your tape measure, pencil, and paper and get to work. Measure the length, width, and height of the equipment and furniture in each of your work zones, including tables and floor lamps, the stereo, and TV, if you use them in your home office. Write down the access space needed for your printer and your scanner. Getting the numbers on paper now will add to the success of your home office design project.

In your layout and collating space, take the time to lay out sample materials and place them as you would when you work on them. Actually place those 8-1/2×11 sheets of paper, those rolls of colorful wrapping cellophane, whatever you use, exactly as you would in a real work situation. Then measure how much room those materials take.

When you’ve got all your numbers together, it’s time to add—zone by zone. Zone 1 might need 12 square feet for a desk, 4 square feet for a chair, 3 square feet for a file cabinet, and 1.5 square feet for a computer tower. Zone 2 might call for 16 square feet for a table and 2 square feet for bins.

Zone 3, your meeting space, will probably need some additional space included. Besides the couch, chairs, table, and lamps, you will need that comfort factor for potential clients. Call in some friends or family members to act as models and to provide some real distance checks. How far apart should the chairs be? Is there sufficient leg room? You want to build a comfort zone into this area and not have clients literally meeting you nose to nose. Figure in those factors and Zone 3 could have a space need of 48 square feet.

These three hypothetical zones would require an office space of about 57 square feet. In addition, you’ll probably need a bit of leg room to get up and move about.

Design a Home Office Plan
You know what space you need and you know what space you’ve got. You’ve prioritized your work zones and have considered the options. Now you need to create a plan for your home office.

Try creating a simple small-scale two-dimensional model of your office space. Cut out paper squares and rectangles and label them to represent the items in your office. Create a same-scale layout of your intended office space on a sheet of paper. Move the labeled items around in their appropriate predetermined zones to find the best fit for your work.

If you want the benefit of experience, contact a professional home office designer through your local office furniture store. There are many products available to help save and maximize space. Computer equipment can stack vertically in specialized towers. Extended work tables can fold up and roll away. Client meeting tables can take added leaves to make extended work space. With the information that you now have in hand, a designer should be able to devise a home office plan to meet your comfort, productivity, and safety needs.

Taxes:  “Office at Home” or “Home Office”?
When deciding on your home office, consider possible tax deductions. While you should be able to deduct expenses from your home office used exclusively for your home-based business, you also may be able to deduct some expenses if you meet certain IRS requirements. Those requirements include working at home for the convenience of your employer and storage of supplies.

To qualify to claim expenses for business use, the IRS (Internal Revenue Service) generally requires that a home office be for exclusive and regular use as a place of business or to meet or deal with clients or customers. The area can be a room or a separately identified space within a room.

If your children use the office computer or desk for their homework, you won’t meet the requirements. There’s no mixing of business and personal uses. The only exceptions would be if you use part of your home for storing inventory or product samples.

If your home office space does qualify, the IRS provides two methods to determine the business percentage of your home and its resulting deductible operating expenses. They are:

  • Divide the area (length multiplied by the width) used for business by the total area of your home.
  • If the rooms in your home are all about the same size, divide the number of rooms used for business by the total number of rooms in your home.

Talk with a tax professional to determine your individual home office situation.

Childproofing the Home Office

Create a safe environment for your family and eliminate potential home office hazards.

Photo: Flickr

Statistics show that almost 75 percent of Americans have some sort of home office. And as these dedicated work areas have become more common, so have injuries associated with them. Most adults have endured the occasional stapled finger or nasty paper cut, of course, but the dangers for children inside the home office are often overlooked.

Parents who have offices at home need to be more aware of these potential problems, since an office can be a fun place for children to try and explore, says Meri-K Appy, president of the Home Safety Council, based in Washington, DC.

“Parents and grandparents who have children around their home office really need to look at the room from the child’s level,” Appy explains. “Getting down and seeing the area from a child’s perspective can help adults better identify the potential problems in the room.”

Shredder Danger
While it sounds obvious that shredders can be extremely dangerous for children to be around, many people still don’t take proper precautions with these strong slicing machines. “Shredders really need to be off the floor and out of a child’s reach at all times or even kept in a locked bookcase when not in use,” says Claudia Romo, program manager for the injury prevention department at Children’s Medical Center in Dallas.

Keeping shredders turned off and unplugged when not in use is another step toward preventing the horrific injuries they can cause, says Appy, but she says never to underestimate a child’s determination when they want to try something. “I wouldn’t even use a shredder in front of a child,” says Appy. “They do look really cool, and an industrious child might become really determined to give it a try. I recommend only using the shredder away from children and keeping it out of their reach entirely when not in use.”

Appy says households with children should also consider investing in a shredder, like Fellowes’ “SafeSense” sensor, that allow it to determine when the sensor is being touched by a human or animal.

Careful of Cords and Wires
Wires are part of the plugged-in lifestyle: from printers, scanners and monitors and the CPU to computer essentials like speakers, a mouse, and other USB devices, a home office can quickly become a wiry mess.

“Loose cords and wires are a hazard to people of any age,” Romo says. She recommends taping or tacking down wires near the perimeter of the room whenever possible and securing the rest with wire covers like the Cable Turtle or other conduit-type covers.

Electrical Hazards
Once your cords and wires are secure, consider the timeless child appeal of electrical outlets. Just because most of the outlets in a home office area are likely to be in use doesn’t mean they don’t present a danger to children.

Children can easily unplug devices and still harm themselves with the outlets, Appy says. “Any persistent child can get those little plastic covers off, and once they’re off, they’re actually a choking hazard because of their size and shape,” she explains. She recommends outlet plate covers that are affixed to the wall like a regular cover, but that slide closed as soon as an appliance is removed. For power strips, try outlet covers that hide the plug and the strip and are tough for even the most curious little ones to crack.

Mind the Small Stuff
The big items may grab your attention first when you begin to childproof your office, but this is one place you really should sweat the small stuff. Paperclips, thumbtacks, staplers and staple removers, letter openers, and scissors can all be tragically attractive to a small child. Place these items out of reach and sight of children who might sit at your desk, says Romo. Or, even better, store them in a locked cabinet when a child is present.

Another set of small-sized items that can cause big problems are the inks and toners in most home offices. For people with color printers who store inks, the cyan, magenta, and yellow ink cases can look yummy to a toddler but contain toxic chemicals that should obviously never be ingested. Correction fluid, laser printer toner, and even permanent markers (with their noxious fumes) can be hazardous, as well. Store these items out of sight and reach of little ones. If you suspect a child has ingested any of these substances, call the poison control hotline at 1-800-222-1222.

Careful of Bookcases
Fall hazards are one of the most common, and most deadly, dangers for children inside the home. “It’s critical that parents secure tall bookcases and furniture — anything a child could climb — to the wall,” says Appy. “Too many tragedies have occurred because a child tried to climb a bookcase or dresser to reach a forbidden item.” When you’re storing so many appealing dangers out of reach in your office, consider the eventuality that your child might try to scale a bookcase or table to reach them, she says, and secure each piece of furniture accordingly.

And while you’re securing items, be sure to firmly affix any television or computer monitor to wherever it is located, be it a shelf, the wall or even a desktop. “Kids can grab onto a desktop and pull a monitor over on themselves and cause serious injury,” says Romo. “These new flat screen monitors, with their lighter weight, are easier to pull off and can still cause injury to a child.”

Control Entrances and Exits
One of the most effective child safety devices in a home office isn’t actually inside the room, says Appy. “An outdoor-quality lock on the outside of the door is a great investment for a home office,” she says. “No one can possibly watch a child for every single moment of the day, but having to use a key to unbolt that door will keep children out more effectively.”

Quick Tip: Boost Child Safety at Home

Follow these simple steps and no-cost ideas to make your home safer for young children

Child Safety

Photo: Flickr

Childproofing: What Do You Need?
Most new parents know they need to take steps to protect their child from household dangers, but it seems like there’s a new childproofing gadget invented every minute. How do you know what you need? Every home is different, and every child, even from week to week, will have different abilities and interests.

See Your Home Through Your Child’s Eyes
To begin, get down on your hands and knees and tour your house from your child’s point of view. Open everything you can and look for hard corners that can bump heads as well as anything that can burn or shock, or that contain water. Look for any openings wider than two inches where a child could get stuck or fall in, like stairways, railings and operable windows.

Make a Hazard List
Take notes as you go and keep in mind that even if your child can’t quite reach it now, it’s only a matter of time until he can. Once you have your hazards list, do some online research to find the best solutions.

Don’t Forget the Whole Family
You can child-lock or shield anything, from toilets to refrigerators to electronics, but you want to find solutions the rest of the family can live with.

Childproof the Whole House
There are several ways to keep cabinets and doors closed, including magnetic locks you can’t see. Rather than the plug-in socket shields, which some children are able to remove, try more permanent sliding outlet covers. Furniture anchor straps are great for keeping TVs, dressers and shelves from being pulled over. Safety gates are essential at stair openings, but you might also want one around the wood stove or fireplace.

Get Started Today
Some child safety measures don’t cost anything. Turn your water heater’s thermostat down to 125 degrees to prevent scalding. Lock your windows. And move all toiletries and medicines out of reach. While you’re at it, remove any toxic cleaners and chemicals from the living areas of your home altogether. Replace them with non-toxic biodegradable products. These are better for your family and the environment, and you won’t have to worry nearly as much about poisoning.

Conduct Regular Check-Ups
No matter what you choose to install, do a safety check every six months to be sure you’re still covered as your child grows. And remember that no gadget protects your child better than your teaching and supervision.

Bob Vila Radio: Choosing a Mattress

If getting more sleep is one of your New Year’s resolutions, it might be time for a new mattress. Shopping for a mattress is a little like shopping for a car or a truck: Do a little research before you shop and determine what options are important to you.

New Mattress


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What’s your normal sleeping position? If you’re a back sleeper, you need a firm mattress. Front sleepers need something a little softer and side sleepers need a mattress with plenty of give for full support.

Body type is also important: heavier folks need firmer support while skinny folks generally find softer ones easier on the pressure points. Consider thermal comfort—spring coil mattresses allow more air circulation for those who get hot at night while foam mattress will help insulate chilly sleepers.

The only way to tell whether a spring coil, foam, or latex mattress is right for you is to test them all out in the store for at least 15 minutes each. Make sure you have the option to exchange the mattress if it doesn’t work out once you’ve slept on it.

Bob Vila Radio is a newly launched daily radio spot carried on more than 60 stations around the country (and growing). You can get your daily dose here, by listening to—or reading—Bob’s 60-second home improvement radio tip of the day.

For more on furniture, consider:

Bob Vila Radio: Sofa Beds
Bob Vila Radio: Buying Furniture
How To: Paint Your Furniture

Bob Vila Radio: Sunrooms

What better home improvement to consider on the darkest day of the year than a sunroom addition?



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Bob Vila Radio: Mudrooms

Experts in feng shui—that ancient Chinese art of healthy interior design—say that the most important places in the home to keep clear and ordered are the entry and exit. If yours are not, a mudroom project might improve the situation.

Mudroom Organization


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This Thanksgiving, Fit Everyone at the Dining Room Table

Space Planning Dining Room Thanksgiving


With so many dishes and serving utensils, not to mention the number of guests, Thanksgiving puts your dining room to the true test. Here are eight ways to get more out of the space, maximizing your enjoyment of the meal and the day’s family joys.

1. Clear the space. If the dining room is filled with non-essentials—in a small dining room that could mean everything but table and chairs—clear it out for the holiday. This “less is more” approach will make the room seem more spacious, and a spacious room is more comfortable. Also, removing unnecessary furniture will place emphasis on the table, which seems only right.

2. Set up a buffet. Take the burden off your dining room by serving food in the kitchen on a table, countertop, or island. For second helpings, guests can simply return to the kitchen, or hosts might take a mid-meal lap around the table.

Space Planning Dining Room - Farmhouse Table

Farmhouse Dining Bench at Target for $79

3. Ride the bench. If big, bulky chairs are occupying more than their fair share of space in your dining room, consider using a bench along one side of the table to accommodate one or two additional guests. It’s a family holiday, after all; closeness is fitting. You might also think about renting chairs that are more compact than your existing furniture.

4. Extend the table. Most dining tables are made in standard sizes of 36″W x 72″L with one leaf. You can extend the width one foot and the length an extra 24 inches by simply placing a sheet of standard plywood on top. With a tablecloth draped over the surface, you won’t know the difference.

Space Planning Dining Room - Thanksgiving Centerpiece

Photo: Livewell360

5. Limit table decor. As tempting as it may be to adorn your table with an elaborate centerpiece or grouping of candles, decor can quickly become clutter if space is short. Opt for minimal ornament and make the most of your table’s total surface area.

6. Establish a kids table. It’s been done before, and usually youngsters prefer to be on their own anyway. If your guest list overwhelms your dining room’s capacity, consider creating a satellite table even for adults.

Space Planning Dining Room - Thanksgiving Dinner Outdoors


7. Take it outside. If you are fortunate enough to live in a warmer climate, why not move the feast outdoors? You can always use the dining room table as a buffet station, then enjoy the meal on a deck or patio—even by the pool.

8. Rethink the space. If your extended table is a tight fit for your dining room, brainstorm ways to position it differently. If you position the table diagonally, it might give guests on the end a little more breathing room, or even free up space for a couple more chairs.

For more on entertaining at home, consider:

10 Secrets to Successful Holiday Decorating
10 Home Movie Theater Accessories
Easy DIY Buffet Table Makeover

12 Daring Doormats

A new welcome mat may be the easiest way to spruce up your front door area and add instant curb appeal. With so many options available—and at such affordable prices—there’s no reason not to toss the boring mats aside.

Whether it’s a funny message, a neon color, or an interesting shape, make your mat as distinctive as the rest of your home. One rule of thumb: make sure your mat is as wide as your door (anything less will appear too small).

Looking for some inspiration? Start here!


Pretty Pattern

Outdoor Doormats - Wisteria


Give your front stoop a hit of global design with this Suzani motif. Suzani Doormat, $34 at



Outdoor Doormats - Flip Flops


Made from recycled scrap foam rubber (from flip flops!), this mat will not only wear well underfoot, but serve the earth as well. Flip Flop Mats, $30 at


Seasonal Switch

Outdoor Doormats - Penguins


Now that the temperature is dipping and holidays are around the corner, add something seasonally appropriate mat to your entry. Penguin Doormat, $29 at


Animal Magnetism

Outdoor Doormats - Hippo


Make a true statement with an oversized animal-shaped doormat, like this hippo design by Ed Annink. Droog Hippo Mat, $156 at


The Key

Outdoor Doormats - Keys


No need to hide it under the mat with this skeleton key-patterned design. Locksmith Welcome Mat, $34 at



Outdoor Doormats - Colorblock Marine


If it’s good enough for boats, buoys, and lobster traps, you can bet it will serve foot traffic well. Recycled Marine Rope Rug, $52 at


More Faux Bois

Outdoor Doormats - Faux Bois

Photo: Pottery Barn

To mark the transition from the great outdoors to indoors, consider a doormat with a faux bois, or “false wood”, design. Faux Bois Printed Doormat, $29 at (no longer available)


Stay in the Lines

Striped Doormat


The best thing about colored multi-stripes—they go with everything. Multistripe Door Mat, $29 at


The Doormat Says It All

Outdoor Doormats - Funny

Photo: eBay

Let your doormat say it for you. One of many amusing doormats available on, $33.32


Garden Hose

Outdoor Doormats - Hose


Make your own doormat by turning an old garden hose into a distinctive mat. You can learn how at Mark Kintzel Design.



Outdoor Doormats - Personalized


A bold chevron pattern in navy and white makes a stunning statement, particularly when personalized with a name or monogram. Personalized Door Mat, $35 at


Classic with a Twist

Outdoor Doormats - Classic


No one says the mat has to be rectangular! Consider something like this half-round design to welcome guests. Monogrammed Half-Round Door Mat,  $79,


For more on exterior decor, consider:

11 Hot House Numbers to Add Curb Appeal
10 Simple “Under 60″ Updates to Boost Curb Appeal
It’s All in the Details– House Numbers

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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