As the winners of our “Power Your Life” contest, Susan and Bill Decherd of Barrington, Illinois, won a 22kW Generac Guardian standby generator for their home! To bring their 65-year-old house into the 21st Century and make it more energy efficient, we also added smart lighting and a programmable thermostat.
We replaced their old manual thermostat with a Carrier Côr thermostat, which saves an average of 20% on heating and cooling costs.
To make it easy for the Decherds to control their lights and other small appliances, we installed a Z-Wave wireless hub, wireless LED light bulbs, and smart electrical outlets from NuTone.
We replaced the old ceiling fan with a new fan that was equipped with a remote control. To improve efficiency, we installed a downrod to lower the fan several feet from the high ceiling.
And, to improve the Decherds’ over-the-air TV reception, we installed a new Channel Master antenna in the attic.
Read the episode article to find out more.
Danny Lipford: This week, we’re making some great additions to an Illinois couple’s home that’ll improve their comfort, convenience and safety.
Susan Decherd: Maybe it’s time for us to move into the 21st century.
Bill Decherd: Yeah.
Danny Lipford: Bill and Susan Decherd live in this 65-year-old home in Barrington, Illinois, just outside of Chicago. Recently, they entered the Generac “Power Your Life” Contest on our website.
Bill Decherd: We had been thinking very seriously about getting a backup generator regardless. And then, a guy named Danny Lipford calls, and he says that we’re the Grand Prize Winner.
Danny Lipford: The grand prize for this contest is the installation of an automatic standby generator for their home.
Bill Decherd: Well, Sue has always wanted to live in Barrington. We wanted a ranch…
Susan Decherd: It’s a very interesting house…
Bill Decherd: We wanted a ranch so we wouldn’t be climbing stairs all the time.
Susan Decherd: Yeah.
Bill Decherd: One of the big issues is the reason we entered this contest. Any time the power goes out, we cannot flush the toilets. Now, the reason we can’t flush the toilets is that everything drains into an ejector pit. And an ejector pumps it out to the, septic tank. Goes into the…
Susan Decherd: And we can’t run the pump anyway.
Bill Decherd: So we can’t get water. We can’t get water either.
Susan Decherd: We pretty much shut down.
Bill Decherd: Yeah, we pretty much shut down. And we go out to, McDonald’s or something to go to the bathroom and the like.
Susan Decherd: And you never know if it’s 20 minutes or a few hours or it will be, you know, 36 hours…
Bill Decherd: Yeah.
Susan Decherd: And we have to start making plans. Every time the weather forecast is kind of iffy, there’s that feeling that comes over us, “Is this going to be the one?”
Danny Lipford: So Paul Thomas, with Penco Electric, the local Generac dealer, checks out the house with Bill and Susan to determine what they need.
Paul Thomas: Seeing as you guys are interested in the entire house, you do have air conditioning, you have multiple pumps, that’s going to bring you to about a 22 kW. There’s a device called a mobile link. So, it’s essentially a cell phone for your generator. So, it mounts right on the side. And then, you can see here, through your cell phone, your computer, your tablet, whatever. You can monitor the status of that generator. Well, if you want, we can take a look around the house…
Bill Decherd: Okay.
Paul Thomas: Kind of lay everything out and I can show you where the pipes will be run and where the transfer switch is installed and where we can put the generator.
Bill Decherd: What I was thinking is putting it right here at the corner.
Paul Thomas: Not a problem, as long as, like you say, we’re five feet from the window for exhaust purposes
Bill Decherd: We are, yes.
Paul Thomas: Generac requires us to be 18 inches off the house.
Bill Decherd: Yeah, that…
Paul Thomas: Okay. And that’s going to put us right next to the transfer switch by the electric meter.
Bill Decherd: Absolutely.
Paul Thomas: And then, our gas pipe, we can run just situated right below the siding there.
Danny Lipford: This generator will give the Decherds peace of mind, but it also inspired them to think about what other innovations might improve the function of their home.
Bill Decherd: It is especially attractive for us to be able to control some stuff from off-site. One of the reasons we have not done a lot of travel over the last 13 years is because we didn’t have backup. This generator is going to give us peace of mind whether we’re here or away. That is a big thing.
Susan Decherd: Yeah, that’s a real big…
Bill Decherd: But also the ability to control things. “Oh, did you shut off the, ” Yeah, okay, yeah. We can just do it here. I used to think of myself as a gadget guy. I just loved gadgets. Now that I’m older, you know, I’ve pretty much have learned to live with what I got. But I have investigated smart home stuff over the years, and I’ve just never gotten around to using them.
Susan Decherd: Maybe it’s time for us to move into the 21st Century.
Bill Decherd: Yeah, that’s a good idea.
Susan Decherd: We’ve been clinging to the past one.
Danny Lipford: Now, it’s time to visit the house. See if we can put them to work.
Bill Decherd: Okay, what we’ve got, Danny, is a ceiling fan. You know, it’s a fine ceiling fan. It works. But the only way to turn it on and off is the pull chain.
Danny Lipford: Oh, no switch anywhere?
Bill Decherd: There’s no switch. Also, it’s kind of high for Sue to, reach.
Danny Lipford: We could put a little decorative string on it or something like that.
Bill Decherd: But the other issue is… You’ll notice this is a fairly dark room.
Danny Lipford: Right.
Bill Decherd: We would love to have a fan with a nice light.
Danny Lipford: I gotcha, sure, sure. It also is pretty close to the ceiling. To bring that down a little bit more probably would allow it to work a little more efficiently, too.
Bill Decherd: Could be, yeah.
Danny Lipford: I’m thinking a fan and light kit with cordless remote control would be a big help. Meanwhile, Susan says they also have issues with their thermostat. So we’re talking about upgrading them to one with Wi-Fi connectivity so they can control it from anywhere.
Susan Decherd: When we go out, we always mean to turn the temperature up in the summer,
Danny Lipford: Right.
Susan Decherd: And down in the winter, and half the time we forget. So, it would be nice to be able to do that.
Danny Lipford: Oh, we can fix that for you.
Joe Truini: Every kitchen used to have a breadbox, but not so much anymore. Well, we found a way to bring back the breadbox by converting it into a convenient charging garage.
Here I took the breadbox, and I started by drilling two holes in the back—they’re both one and a half inches diameter. One near the bottom for the plug that goes to the power strip, and the second hole is to let air out, hot air vent out of the back of the box.
Then I used Velcro strip—a long Velcro strip—to adhere the power strip to the bottom of the box. That’s just to keep the power strip from shifting around.
And now you have a convenient place to plug in all of your devices—phones, rechargeable batteries for telephones and cameras, also for tablets—anything you can fit in here, you can charge up, you just plug directly into the power strip.
And the really nice thing about this is once the devices are in there, that whole tangled mess can be hidden away by simply closing the door.
Danny Lipford: Bill and Susan Decherd are having a new automatic standby generator installed, as the grand prize for winning our “Power Your Life” Contest. Now, these two aren’t big on letting go of old things, or change for its own sake.
Bill Decherd: The smartest homes thing we got right now, is the timer for our, for one of our lights.
Danny Lipford: Their excited about the idea of adding smart amenities to their 65-year-old home, so Susan and I are replacing the old thermostat with a new thermostat from Carrier called the Cor.
The installation is so easy that the mounting place includes a built in level. It’s a very sensitive level. Gets its feelings hurt real easy. With the power to heating and cooling system turned off, you simply plug the control wires into the slots of corresponding color, and the Côr is ready to go. Okay, we’re ready. All right, pretty cool, huh?
Susan Decherd: Yeah!
Danny Lipford: Because this unit connects wirelessly to your home’s Wi-Fi router, it can be controlled remotely and communicate with you wherever you are.
So, see, you’ll be able to do a lot of different things. You can touch that and you’ll be able to get the weather forecast once that’s set up. The schedule. Plan to vacation, as to how much time you want to have the air conditioning on or when your servicing is needed.
The Côr even generates monthly energy reports that show how to maximize energy savings. Plus, its smart features allow it to intelligently adapt beyond manual programming, for even greater efficiency.
Well, you know, any time you have a little new technology in your house, there’s a little bit of a learning curve. But it won’t be long before Bill and Susan are able to manage all of their cooling and heating system right on their new thermostat, or anywhere else they may be with their tablet.
Allen Lyle: Bill’s a sharp guy. He’s an electrical engineer. He knows his stuff, which means I need to be on my toes. Science has tried to make me smarter and failed. But we can make your house smarter. Bill walks out in this t-shirt with a spork dressed as Mr. Spock from Star Trek. So, Mr. Spork.
Bill Decherd: The Mr. Spork thing just spoke to me.
Allen Lyle: This guy’s not old. He’s young at heart, he’s young in the head. He’s a fantastic guy. I want the shirt! And I’ll let you plug into the router, and I’ll get power.
Bill Decherd: Okay.
Allen Lyle: Okay. We got power?
Bill Decherd: We got power.
Going to be booting up. Now all we have to do is get the app for this hub on your phone, and we’ll be ready to go.
Danny Lipford: While Allen does that, Bill steps out to check on the progress of the generator installation.
Paul Thomas: All the brains are in the generator, but the generator will tell the transfer switch, if the power is out, to switch over to generator power.
Danny Lipford: Once he’s satisfied with the progress…
Bill Decherd: Very good.
Danny Lipford: Bill rejoins Allen to continue their project inside.
Allen Lyle: All right, Bill. So here are the NuTone modules I was telling you about. We got all kinds of things here. We got something just as simple as just light bulbs, wall outlets, dimmer switch, wall switch, even appliance modules. So, what do you want to tackle first.
Bill Decherd: Let’s do the easy one.
Allen Lyle: I like the light bulb. Way to think. All right, go ahead and turn the switch on.
Bill Decherd: Okay, hold on.
Allen Lyle: You’ve got your control to turn it on and off. And this is actually a dimmable, so you can do a slider.
Bill Decherd: Oh.
Allen Lyle: And you can dim it if you want to. About there.
Bill Decherd: Oh.
Allen Lyle: You’re just screwing in a light bulb and suddenly it’s talking to your smartphone. Pull in the driveway, boom. You got your light on if you want to. Or if you’re in bed and say, “Oops, I left the light on.” Boom. Turn it off.
Bill Decherd: Okay.
Allen Lyle: It’s cool, isn’t it?
Bill Decherd: I like it. I like it.
Allen Lyle: Both of them were just flabbergasted at how easy this was, and wondering, “Why hadn’t we done this sooner?”
Danny Lipford: This system also makes modules that can be wired into electrical boxes to replace switches and outlets so you can control almost anything in your home.
Allen Lyle: See, there.
Bill Decherd: Hey!
Allen Lyle: You know what’s neat? You can actually be anywhere where you have Internet connection and operate this.
Bill Decherd: And surprise the heck out of anybody who’s in our house.
Allen Lyle: Yeah, yeah. Bill and Susan are both embracing this wholeheartedly. We’re not trying to turn them into The Jetsons. That’s not what’s happening here. We’re just showing them some conveniences that are very easy to install.
Danny Lipford: Well, Luke, it looks like you’ve got the gas line taken care of, there.
Luke ??: Yes, sir. A couple of straps hooked up to the flex line and we’re ready to go.
Danny Lipford: Perfect. Well, we’re getting close. And this is a real critical part of the installation of the generator, because the power’s off right now for the next couple of hours.
But after that couple of hours all of the electrical work will be done, gas line will be ready for us to fire this thing up. And, I’ll tell you what, it’s really going to make the home owners more comfortable knowing this thing is ready when they need it.
Jodi Marks: There is nothing more frustrating than your phone running out of power in the middle of the day when you need it most. And if you’ve had that problem, too, then I think you can appreciate this solution to that problem.
This is myCharge by Transit. And, I’ll tell you what, this is a nifty little thing to have. Now, I’ve opened one up; and you can see just how small, thin, and portable this thing is. But it packs a lot of punch.
All you have to do is plug it in inside of a wall outlet; and once it’s charged, it’s ready to go. Now, the catch on this though is that you have to have a device that you’re charging that uses a USB port. That’s your smartphones, you can actually do a computer. But once you plug it in, it can charge your phone, and give you 11 hours’ worth of charge.
Now, let’s just say you forget to charge it up, and it’s in your backpack, purse, or briefcase and you’re on the go; all you have to do now is plug it into your car charger, and it will charge it up.
So, if your phone runs out of juice as much as mine does, then you might want to get one of these, because this is a nifty little thing to get.
Danny Lipford: The installation of Bill and Susan’s stand-by generator is complete, and Paul’s team has done a great job. You know, they have everybody, they have the whole team. They’ve got the plumbers, they’ve got the electricians, then they have the guys that are specialists with the generator.
So that when it’s all said and done, you know that it’s been installed up to company standards, and will work for a long, long time.
Paul Thomas: All right, Bill, your generator is fully installed.
Bill Decherd: Oh, it’s beautiful.
Paul Thomas: We’ve already done a live test, so we shut the power down. The unit’s started, it transferred, we check that you have power in the house from the generator.
Bill Decherd: Oh, terrific.
Paul Thomas: One thing you’re going to want to know is every week that this thing runs a self-test for five minutes.
Bill Decherd: Okay, yeah.
Paul Thomas: We set it up for Tuesdays at 10 in the morning.
Bill Decherd: I am thrilled with this.
Paul Thomas: All right. Here’s your keys.
Bill Decherd: Thank you.
Danny Lipford: With the generator wrapped up, it’s time for us to finish making this house work for Bill and Susan. And sometimes, the right solutions are more low-tech than others.
This ceiling fan that Allen and Bill are putting together includes a remote control and a light kit, solving both of the problems with the old one.
Allen Lyle: The fan’s great, but he was more thrilled about the holster for the remote control.
Danny Lipford: We’re also adding a downrod to the new fan, to get it away from the ceiling, and make it more effective. The switch for this fan is operated by a remote control that talks to a receiver in the fan housing.
Bill Decherd: Installing the receiver.
Allen Lyle: So, it slides into the bracket, it looks like.
Bill Decherd: It sure does.
Danny Lipford: Beyond that, it’s pretty basic ceiling fan installation.
Allen Lyle: And I’m missing two screws, right?
Bill Decherd: You got two screws loose?
Allen Lyle: I got two screws loose.
Danny Lipford: And once the light kit is added, the work is complete.
Allen Lyle: All right, so you need to decide where the holster goes.
Bill Decherd: Yep. Right?
Allen Lyle: But, moment of truth. Did it work? I feel good now. All right.
Bill Decherd: Eureka! Okay. Well, that is terrific. Thank you very much.
Allen Lyle: He and Susan are taking, probably, it’s been about five or ten minutes now, just trying to decided where to hang the holster, to be just the right spot.
Danny Lipford: Bill had told me that he hadn’t been able to really watch very much television, and, you know, he does like to watch some TV from time to time, but he had it with the cable company.
Bill Decherd: During the most interesting part of a show, “Oh, no signal.”
Danny Lipford: The antenna that he had? Well, the thing’s about 20 years old, just not working as well, especially since Chicago is 30 or 40 miles away. So, I’m putting together a new, more directional antenna, with a one hundred mile range. We’re planning to mount this one outside, so we can give Bill back some storage space in his attic.
Allen Lyle: Elements on this antenna are tightly riveted to avoid bending the elements. While opening, grip the elements, near the rivets.
Danny Lipford: I’m gripping the elements near rivets. Hey, you got to be real careful with ’em.
Allen Lyle: Hey there.
Susan Decherd: That is a little bigger than I was expecting. First saw Danny and Allen unfolding it, how big and unwieldy it was, I did have concerns about the look of it, and also what would happen when it got real windy, ’cause it does here.
Danny Lipford: Yeah, this is quite a monstrosity here.
Susan Decherd: Does it have to be on the outside?
Danny Lipford: No, not necessarily.
Susan Decherd: We do have space in the attic, yeah.
Danny Lipford: Yeah, you got a lot of space up there.
Susan Decherd: Yeah…
Danny Lipford: Is that going to be okay with Bill and storage?
Susan Decherd: I think… Yeah, as long as that would work.
Danny Lipford: Okay. Well, we’ll put it right in there…
Susan Decherd: I think that it would be better than having it right…
Danny Lipford: Yeah, it’s not going to look pretty… So visible on the end It’s not going to look pretty up there, so…
Susan Decherd: Okay. That would be wonderful.
Danny Lipford: Well, we just have two screws here. You caught us at the perfect time, before we got all these wings out like this,
Susan Decherd: Good!
Danny Lipford: so we can separate it into…
Susan Decherd: Good, yeah.
Danny Lipford: Yeah, It wouldn’t go up there fully open, I’m sure. No problem… Once we fold up the new unit, we head up to the attic and disassemble the old antenna. Oh! The new one goes together easily on the existing mount, and when it’s time to line it up, we get a little extra help from Bill.
Bill Decherd: I downloaded an image of a protractor, and drew a radial, an azimuth radial, so they could line up with the ridge of the attic, and cite along the azimuth radial, where the antenna should point.
Danny Lipford: So, I’m lining this up with this ridge here. Well, yeah, that’s it.
Allen Lyle: Tighten ’em?
Danny Lipford: Yeah, go ahead and tighten ’em up. Time to test it. Allen?
Allen Lyle: Yeah.
Danny Lipford: All right, I got you on speaker phone, Bill is turning on the TV right now, so we may need to adjust that a little bit. Oh!
Bill Decherd: Okay!
Allen Lyle: That sounded like a good “okay.”
Bill Decherd: It looks good!
Danny Lipford: That was a good okay right there.
Bill Decherd: You know, as long as it lines up with the protractor, we should be in pretty good shape.
Danny Lipford: Yeah, double check… Double check this…
Allen Lyle: I’m still sitting on the antenna, it’s right on the mark.
Bill Decherd: Okay.
Danny Lipford: All right, well, lock it down, go ahead and tighten up those things, and tidy up, and then Bill and I will have a glass of tea, and wait on you.
Allen Lyle: Okay.
Danny Lipford: All right, will do it.
Danny Lipford: Recently a homeowner asked me if their ceiling fan light kit could be repaired without replacing the whole thing. If the fan still works well, it’s worth looking into the light kit.
If there are no loose wires visible, the culprit is likely a faulty pull chain switch. To check, turn off the power at the breaker box, and disconnect the wires coming from the switch to the lights. Be sure that the wires are not touching anything before you turn the power back on, and test the wires with a voltmeter.
If no voltage is present, turn the power back off, and disconnect the wires coming into the switch from the fan. Again, be sure no wires are touching anything before turning on the power to test them with the meter.
If voltage is present above the switch, but not below it, then the switch is bad. A replacement pull chain switch is only a few dollars and should screw into exactly the same location as the old one.
With the power off, connect one side of the switch to the wires coming in from the fan, and the other side to the wires feeding the lights.
Danny Lipford: Bill and Susan Decherd already love their home, but now that we’ve given it some new features, they love it even more.
Bill Decherd: We’re going to be less concerned about the weather.
Danny Lipford: Obviously, some of these improvements were bigger than others, and some are more high-tech, while others are just simple conveniences. But what all these innovations have in common is that they make life a little easier for the homeowner.
Susan Decherd: I don’t know if we’ll ever have an entirely smart house, but we’d like a few flashes of genius in various places and I think that’s what we’ve got already.
Bill Decherd: Yeah.
Danny Lipford: Well, this is certainly one windy area of the country, and very soon it’ll be cold, snowy and icy. All of those things can contribute to power outages, but Bill and Susan aren’t worried now, since they have their whole house generator in.
Congratulations to them again for winning our national contest. You know, it was fun introducing a few pieces of technology to them, so that they could be a little more comfortable in their home. And I say it all the time. Don’t be scared of technology, embrace it, and I think they’re well on their way.
Hey, I hope you enjoyed this week’s show, and hope you’ll join us next week, right here, for Today’s Homeowner. I’m Danny Lipford.
Bill Decherd: No, wait, no, no, wait.
Allen Lyle: My groomer.
Bill Decherd: Wait, wait, there’s another one. Okay.