Your field guide to corporate renewables buyers’ groups

field_guide2

FlickrVernon Swanepoel
Get to know the typology of the major NGOs helping companies buy renewable energy.

Buying renewable energy is hard. Often it requires a lot of upfront capital, and the contracts are too complex or far-removed from core business functions for commercial and industrial companies to complete. Moreover, local electricity policy in many US markets makes buying renewable energy inaccessible to businesses.

Despite these difficulties, more companies than ever are voluntarily jumping on to the renewable train. In 2015 alone at least 3.23 GW of new renewable power capacity was added by corporate buyers; enough to power the lights of more than 2.5 million homes. This trend is due in no small part to the help of the non-governmental organizations that provide clarity to this landscape.

The supply side of companies having access to renewable energy projects in the U.S. is not what is holding companies back. “Frankly, I think the market is oversupplied, if anything,” said Managing Director of the Business Renewables Center Hervé Touati. And, as explained in the GreenBiz run-down “The business guide to green power: 12 ways to invest in renewable energy,” there are plenty creative ways for companies to buy renewable energy.

But even as the benefits of going renewable are becoming rapidly clearer and clearer, as the pool of companies that can produce renewable energy becomes saturated and as a proliferation of methods of buying renewable energy are developed, the process of getting deals done remains murky.

In the past two years in particular, a slew of non-profit groups has rushed in to remove the obstacles on the demand end. Many groups focus on merely getting companies on board and to the table by encouraging corporate commitments to renewable use goals. Others provide education around financing or risk allocation, or even lessons that may resemble Electricity 101. And others still facilitate meet-ups where buyers, suppliers and distributors can all be in the same room.

[Want to know more about corporate renewable buying for the mainstream? Don’t miss VERGE 16, Sept. 19-22 in Santa Clara, California.]

But as well intentioned as these NGOs are, the sheer influx of the groups, and the accompanying barrage of acronyms, can obscure the landscape, especially considering that the NGOs often partner with one another on initiatives. Furthermore, at first glance, it can seem like there may be a duplication of services between the organizations.

Here is a field guide to some of the most influential groups out there — each one’s particular purpose, area of expertise, affiliations and membership — to make the pursuit of renewables that much easier.

RE100

Full name: Renewable Energy 100

Service provided to corporate members: Signal commitment

Associated groups: The Climate Group, CDP, We Mean Business

Established: September 2014

RE100

The RE100 a coalition of international companies publicly pledges to procure 100 percent of their electricity from renewable sources of energy by a specified year, though the deadline differs per company. Joining the RE100 is a way for a company to draw a line in the sand, allowing it to clearly signal to the world its commitment, join the ranks of other ambitious companies and the privilege of bandying the RE100 logo.

The RE100 is one of nine initiatives in the We Mean Business campaign. We Mean Business was created by The Climate Group in partnership with CDP (formerly the Carbon Disclosure Project), with the intention of creating “a low-carbon revolution.” Of the 432 companies that have signed onto at least one of the We Mean Business’ 9 initiatives, 69 of those companies have joined RE100.

Fine print: Companies cannot fulfill the RE100 promise with carbon offsets since the stipulations are strictly about electricity use. And although a company can buy (unbundled) RECs to fulfill their claims — ie. buying credits from a renewable energy supplier without actually using the electricity produced themselves — companies are encouraged to procure their own energy through either onsite installations, PPAs or virtual PPAs in order to enable new projects to get off the ground.

This encouragement acts both as a motivation for companies to leave their utilities, and practically means that only companies that can take on the financial risk of procuring their own energy can practically sign onto the RE100.

Corporate Renewable Buyers’ Principles

Service provided to members: Signal commitment

Associated groups: World Resources Institute, World Wildlife Foundation

Established: July 2014

Buyers Principles

The Corporate Renewable Buyers’ Principles is a manifesto that explicitly articulates the desires regarding renewable energy buying of the companies that have signed on. It was written in a collaborative effort by WRI and WWF and is currently adopted by 58 of some of the world’s biggest companies.

The set of six principles include asks such as a greater choice of procurement options in the market, long-term and fixed price contracts, increased access to third-party financing for PPAs and more standardized and simplified processes, contracts and financing for renewable energy projects.

Notably, the Buyers’ Principles extends a proverbial hand out to utilities. For example, the principles address utilities directly in order to signal that there is significant buyer demand to start providing their customers with renewable energy in the form of green tariffs.

The signatories of the principles have set their own internal renewable energy commitments that collectively add up to buying at least 44 million MWh of renewable energy annually in the US by 2020. This boost in the visibility of buyer demand gives the document teeth by encouraging the regulatory changes necessary for utilities to take advantage of this market demand.

From a company’s perspective, The Corporate Renewable Buyer’s Principles are similar to the RE100 in that it signals the commitment to renewable energy use, but it is easier to sign onto since the company doesn’t have to achieve a very aggressive — and very public — goal. Rather, it is a tool to get companies on the path to setting their own renewable energy targets.

BRC

Full name: Business Renewables Center

Service provided to corporate members: Education and facilitation

Associated groups: Rocky Mountain Institute

Established: February 2015

BRC

Business Renewables Center is a program of the Rocky Mountain Institute that convenes corporate buyers, service providers (brokers, law firms, software support, financial institutions, etc.) and project developers. With 131 members to date, this large network functions as a go-to place for large companies to get in touch with the organizations and companies that will be advance the transaction process.

The BRC develops tools that are generalized so that can be used by all their members. Some of these include the BRC Online Marketplace where project developers can post projects that are ready to be sold to buyers. The BRC also provides price comparisons between wind and solar projects against the wholesale market by location. On a more personal note, they host two conferences a year (one of which is REBA). Mostly recently, the BRC has begun to organize boot camps in Aspen, CO for buyers that do not have deals yet in order to train them on how to do a transaction step-by-step.

The driving objective of the BRC is to add 60 GW of wind and solar capacity to the U.S. grid by 2030.

Compared to the other groups named here, the BRC has a more specific energy procurement focus since it only facilitates corporate purchasing of off-site, large-scale wind and solar energy projects in organized wholesale markets. This means that the BRC helps companies sign PPAs for wind or solar projects in areas where a company can do so without conflict with their utility (as opposed to being forced to defect from the utility for such a project, as is the case in vertically integrated utility systems.)

Despite this focus — or perhaps due to it — the BRC boasts that 91 percent of renewable energy deals in the year 2015 involved a BRC company.

REBA

Full name: Renewable Energy Buyers Alliance

Services provided to members: Inter-group coordination

Associated groups: Rocky Mountain Institute, World Resources Institute, World Wildlife Foundation, Business for Social Responsibility

Established: May 2016

REBA

Get ready to go one deeper with REBA. It is anassociation of other corporate buyers’ associations: Namely, the BRC, the signatories of WWF’s and WRI’s Corporate Renewable Buyer’s Principles and a group of companies that rely on data centers that are committed to using 100 percent renewable energy under BSR’s initiative Future of Internet Power.

The buyers’ associations convene their multinational corporate members during the yearly REBA summit in order for the groups to work in a coordinated manner, to minimize the chance of service redundancy and to develop a game plan for the U.S energy landscape as a whole. WWF and WRI focus on the vertically integrated utility territories while RMI’s BRC focuses on organized wholesale energy markets.

Who are the members of these groups?

In the chart below, I’ve listed the companies that belong to each of the groups described above. I’ve also included the 154 companies that made pledges to the Obama Administration’sAmerican Business Act on Climate — representing more than $4.2 trillion in annual revenue — that effectively voiced support for the COP21 Paris agreement, and most of whom have set renewable energy targets.

I’ve shaded the companies that appear in 3 or more groups; one color per company. (Click on the image to see the full chart.)

energy buyer's groups

Click to see full chart. Companies represented more than three times are colored for the purpose of illustration only.

As is evident from how colorful the sheet is, many of the same companies are members of these groups.

On the one hand, this may be evidence of how the NGOs are making an effort to work in congress to galvanize member support for renewable energy buying. A company can set a goal with one group and then get advice on how to achieve it with another, or vice versa.

But on the other hand, though some of the world’s largest company’s are represented in the chart above, the repetition of names may indicate that the conversations still only circulate among a certain set of companies. Renewable contracts have yet to become the norm, and it remains a question whether these groups are providing resources that can service the more mainstream — Fortune 500-1000 — companies, which is where the bulk of energy use it found.

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Basic Home Theater AV Set Up Guide – Hooking It All Up

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How to Set Up A Home Theater

How to Set Up A Home Theater

So, you bought a home theater system? Great! Watching a movie on a properly set up surround sound system, or listening to your music through a new set of speakers can be an amazing experience. But, the key to a great home theater isn’t just spending a lot of money. Setting up the system correctly is just as important as what you buy. This guide, very simply, walks through the basics of speaker placement, how to hook everything up, and how to change a few settings to really make your system shine. Throughout this article are links to other articles that go into more depth on each topic. Be sure to also check out our related YouTube video discussions linked below for further insights.

Where Do I Place My Speakers?

In most rooms you won’t be able to place your speakers in the perfect spots. It would be great if every room was designed with surround sound in mind, but alas, it isn’t. Still, there are some good rules to go by. The diagram below shows the ideal placement for speakers in a 7.1 system. Notice how the speakers are perfectly set up for one seating location, the elusive “sweet spot”. Because most people are not hermits watching movies in solitude, you will probably have a variety of seating locations. When placing your speakers, you will need to decide if you want to optimize your system for one location or, as we prefer, place speakers so that individuals in a variety of positions can experience good quality surround sound. Choosing to setup your system for multiple seating locations may also affect your decision to go with a 5.1 or 7.1 system, but more on that later.

Check out the Speaker Layout of the Audioholics Showcase Theater Room

7.1 surround

Dolby Suggested Speaker Layout

Let’s go over each speaker location and what the considerations should be for each.

Center Channel Speaker: The center speaker should be located directly above or below the display. The majority of the dialogue in a movie comes through the center speaker, so it is important to think carefully about the placement. Try to place the center speaker as close to the television as possible being careful to angle the speaker towards your ears.

Front Left/Right Speakers: The front, or main, speakers provide off-screen effects and carry all the stereo soundtrack information as well as the background environments. Placing these too close together will create a small sound stage, and you will lose out on separation between the front 3 speakers (center, front left, front right). If they are too far apart, you will have a gap in the sound stage between the front 3 speakers. Again, place these speakers as close to ear level as possible, paying particular attention to getting the tweeters as close to ear level as possible. Finally, please do yourself a favor, and do not mount these in the corners of your room.

Surround Speakers: The placement of surround speakers is typically where people go wrong. The most common mistake is putting them behind you. Surround speakers, as seen in the diagram above, are supposed to go directly to your left and right. Unlike the front 3 speakers, surround speakers should be placed anywhere from a couple inches above ear level to 2 feet above ear level, when seated.

Surround Back (7.1) Speakers: In some rooms, adding two more surround speakers, often called “rear” or “surround back” speakers, can be quite beneficial. However, it will depend a lot on your room size and where you have your seating. For example, surround back speakers are particularly helpful when there are multiple rows of seating, where it isn’t possible for everyone to fully experience surround effects in a 5.1 system. Before you get caught up in assigning money and resources to a 7.1 system, be sure to take a look at your room (and budget) before just buying surround back speakers. If you do decide to purchase surround back speakers, they can be configured in a variety of ways, depending upon your A/V receiver and whether or not you are using a standard 7.1 mode (Dolby Pro Logic IIx, for example) or one of the various THX modes which are available.

Subwoofer(s): In a 5.1 or 7.1 system, the .1 is the subwoofer. So, if you had two subwoofers, you would have a 5.2 or 7.2 system. In my experience, many salespeople underplay the importance of a subwoofer. A cheap, inadequate, or poorly placed sub has the ability to ruin an otherwise great system. Many people may advise you to just place the subwoofer in the corner, which makes many industry professionals cringe. There is no “best” place for a subwoofer; the best thing to do is experiment with different places around the room. If you have tiny satellite speakers with a crossover set to >80Hz it is a good idea to keep the subwoofer somewhere in the front of the room. More on this topic, and information on what a crossover (X-over) is, will be discussed later in this article. Below are links to additional articles on speaker and subwoofer setup:

Connecting the Speakers and Subwoofer(s)

Once you have put your speakers in place, it is time to plug them into the receiver. This should be simple enough, but I have seen many good installers make careless mistakes here, which will have a major impact on sound quality.

First, you need to make sure you don’t mix up the positive (typically red, or marked with a + mark) and negative (typically black, or with no markings) ends of your speaker wire. The black and red labeling is simply for convenience, the wires are the same. You simply need to make sure that whatever wire you attach to the positive terminal on the speaker; you attach the same wire to the positive terminal on the receiver. The same goes with the negative wire. Don’t worry too much if there is no way to tell the difference between the + and – wires, you can check for it later, but it is much easier to hook it up correctly the first time.

You will need something the strip the wire back, typically a wire stripper, dykes, or utility knife will work. Be careful first to not cut yourself, and second to not cut off the copper strands inside the wire jacket. You only need to strip back enough so the bare wire can go into the back of the receiver and speakers. If you strip off too much, the wires may touch and short out; somewhere between 1/4″ and 1/2″ works well.

If you want a really clean look, or think you will be moving your speakers or equipment anytime soon, installing banana plugs or spade plugs on the ends of your speaker wire is extremely helpful. Banana and/or spade plugs are simply metal/gold ends that attach to the bare copper strands. They make connecting and disconnecting equipment easier, quicker, and reduce the chance of wires touching and shorting out. With that said, it is up to you if you would like to use them or not, it is more of a preference than anything else, though after hooking up tons of A/V receivers, we wouldn’t be caught dead without them.

Your subwoofer will hook up with a single RCA cable. You will see some RCA cables marketed as “subwoofer” cables. If you purchased one that is fine, but if you have a high quality RCA cable lying around, you could use that too, and it’s likely that there’s little difference. There is a plug on the back of every modern AV receiver labeled, “sub out” or “sub preout.” Just connect that to the input on your subwoofer. Some subs will have multiple RCA inputs on them; you will want to use the one labeled “LFE in”. If your subwoofer doesn’t have that label, connect the RCA to the left input or use a Y-splitter to send signal to both inputs. Some subwoofers will also have speaker connections on the back, however these should only be used if you have an older receiver that doesn’t have an RCA subwoofer output. You may also notice a “phase” switch or dial, along with “gain/volume” and “low pass filter”. For now, don’t touch the phase adjustment, put the gain/volume a little under 1/2, and turn up the low pass filter all the way (probably around 120Hz) or set it to “disable” or “off”.

Selecting the Right Cables and Connections – What’s the Difference?

Modern A/V receivers have a number of input options, and finding the best way to hook up everything can be hard to do. The typical manual doesn’t do much more than confuse the average consumer. I cannot tell you how many clients I have talked to who have spent hours pouring over manuals only to end up more confused than when they started. This section of the article should make sense of all of the inputs, outputs, knobs, and wires that create our home theater systems. First I will explain some basic concepts, then go through a common scenario of hooking up equipment. This article does not discuss hooking up equipment with receivers that don’t support HDMI; however, the principles in this article will also help connect older equipment.

First, we need to look at the types of connections you will encounter.

Cable Comparison

In most systems, you will only use HDMI

  • Composite video is the lowest quality and oldest of the connections discussed here. It does not support HD. It should only be used if absolutely necessary, for example a VCR may use composite video
  • Component video uses 3 RCA cables. It does support HD; although, most devices limit it to a 1080i resolution.
  • HDMI is the newest connection, and the one that you will most likely use. An HDMI cable handles both video and audio. It is the highest quality connection available, in most new system this will be the only cable you need.
  • Stereo audio uses two RCA cables and supports 2 channels of audio. This connection does not support 5.1 surround sound or digital audio.
  • Digital coax uses an RCA cable to pass 5.1 surround sound signal. Digital coax is typically colored orange or black. It is available on many DVD and Blu-ray players, but it does not support the highest quality sound available on Blu-ray discs. It is far better than stereo RCA audio, however.
  • Optical cables use light to pass a 5.1 surround sound signal. It is available on many DVD and Blu-ray players, but it does not support the highest quality sound available on Blu-ray discs.

If all of your equipment supports HDMI, connection should be a breeze. In some cases your equipment won’t have an HDMI output. Maybe you are hooking up a Wii which only supports composite video (a yellow RCA cable), or component video (red, green, blue). In that case, you will have to run either composite or component cable(s) for your video signal, and a separate cable for sound. With a Wii, your only option for sound is stereo audio.

Hooking Up Our Example System

Because there are so many different types of connections, it would be impossible to cover how to hook up each type of device, so I have chosen to use a few popular devices to use as examples. Let’s start with the following equipment: a Blu-ray player, a Wii, an HD Satellite box, and a 7.1 AV Receiver. Below is a picture of the receiver, and a diagram of how everything should be hooked up.

connection guide

Home Theater Connection Diagram

  • Blu-ray – One HDMI cable goes from the Blu-ray player to an HDMI input on the receiver.
  • Satellite/Cable Set-top Box – One HDMI cable goes from the Satellite/Cable Set-top receiver to an HDMI input on the receiver.
  • Wii – A component video cable (must be purchased separately, does not come with the Wii) goes from the Wii to a component video input on the receiver. The receiver in this example will take the component input and convert it into HDMI so a component video cable does not need to be ran to the TV. Most new receiver over $500 will do this conversion (see Editor’s note below).
  • TV – Only one HDMI cable goes to the TV, from the “monitor out” on the receiver (see Editor’s Note below for the exception to this rule). One mistake a lot of people make here is purchasing an HDMI cable that is too short. I would recommend a 6′ or 8′ HDMI cable when hooking up any TV over 46″, assuming your gear is located just below. The common lengths of 2′ to 4′ are best suited for connecting your source equipment to the receiver.
  • Receiver – You can plug your sources (Wii, Blu-ray, Satellite/Cable set-top box) into the HDMI and Component inputs on the receiver. On the back of the receiver the input will typically be labeled, just remember which input everything is plugged into. Most new receivers over $500 will convert component or composite video to HDMI. S-video inputs and outputs should never be used. Ever.

Editor’s Note: If you have an older HDMI receiver, or one that doesn’t provide HDMI upconversion, be sure to connect composite and component video outputs to your television as well if you utilized those inputs. You’ll also have to change inputs on your TV when you change sources on your A/V receiver. Realize this when you consider buying the entry-level model, so you’re aware of the extra steps involved.

YouTube Video Discussion: 10 Tips to Improve your Home Theater Experience

Basic Settings and Tweaks

Too many people purchase great home theater equipment, and take the time to plug it in properly, only to forget a couple settings that can make or break their entire experience. For most audiophiles, this is the fun part. Spending some time testing your system can make the difference between a good system and a greatsystem. Below is a list of common devices and what settings you should make sure to check on each one.

THX1TV: The first thing to understand about TVs is that the Color or Picture Mode settings out of the box (which affect brightness, tint, hue, saturation, etc…) are not set to give you the most accurate picture. There are many articles about calibrating TVs, so I will just give some basic suggestions. First, set your TV picture to “movie” or “cinema” mode. If it has a “THX” mode, use that. For daytime viewing, you may want to go with one of the other modes, but at night, be sure to reconfigure so you get closer to accurate color. The easiest and cheapest way get your TV looking good is to use a test disc. A test disc will have various patterns that show you how to adjust settings. Most THX certified Blu-ray discs and DVDs have a free THX optimizer that will guide you through adjusting brightness, contrast, tint, and sharpness. So, go rummaging through your DVD or Blu-ray collection and find one with the THX logo. Pop it in, dig through the disc menu till you find the THX optimizer, and go to town. Note that without a blue filter you will not be able to adjust tint with this disc (unless you have a Samsung TV which has a Blue-only mode you can engage). If you want to take the calibration one step further, purchase an actual test disc. Disney’s WOW disc is great for beginners, and only costs around $35. Finally, decide whether or not you like the 120/240/480Hz mode which goes by an endless myriad of names, including “MotionFlow”, “ClearScan”, “Auto Motion Plus”, “SPS”, “TruMotion”, etc… If you notice some programs look too smooth, or like a soap opera, the 120/240/480Hz settings are to blame.

Satellite or Cable box: With a Satellite or Cable box, there are only a few settings to check. You need to see if the box has an adjustment for “Dolby Digital”, if so, set it to “on”. Some cable boxes don’t have that option, in that case it should be enabled automatically. Also, on Satellite boxes make sure “1080p” and “16×9” is selected. Most cable boxes will not offer 1080p, in that case make sure “1080i” is selected.

Blu-ray: Surprisingly enough, many Blu-ray players do not send out an uncompressed surround sound signal by default. If you are using a receiver that supports Dolby TrueHD and Dolby Master Audio (if it is less than 3 years old, and is hooked up with HDMI you should be good), go into the settings on your Blu-ray and set audio output to “bitstream uncompressed” or “pass-through”. Every Blu-ray player is different, so you may want to consult the manual to see what setting will work with Dolby TrueHD and Dolby Master Audio, and then choose that setting. I would also recommend turning off any dynamic range control options. As for video, set the resolution to “1080p” (assuming you have a 1080p-compatible flat-panel).

Xbox 360: The Xbox is pretty easy to setup. Turn on Dolby Digital in the Settings menu and set the resolution to 1080p. Newer Xbox 360s have an HDMI output, but older ones will need to use and optional Component video (red/green/blue) and a TOSlink optical digital cable for 5.1 surround sound.

PS3: The PS3 has automatic resolution and audio settings, but I would still recommend checking them. Go to the settings and run through the auto setup for audio, and the auto setup for video. For video, verify 1080p is selected. For audio on the PS3 slim, verify Dolby TrueHD and Dolby Master Audio are selected. If they aren’t, make sure your receiver supports them and turn them on manually.

Wii: If you are using component video cables, set the resolution to 480p. Also, go into the sound settings and turn on surround sound. This will send Dolby (mono) Surround audio to your receiver that can be decoded into a pseudo 5.1 experience using Pro Logic II DSP.

AV Receiver: The AV Receiver is the heart of your system. Each receiver will have a varying level of control, and some seem to have endless pages of customization while others only have a few basic settings. Most new receivers come with an auto-setup mic. These mics vary in accuracy and thoroughness. Some mics take measurements from multiple positions. Other, less expensive mics only take measurements at one position. I always recommend running the mic because some features on your receiver will not work without running the initial setup. Just realize that even the best mic can, and probably will, make mistakes.

system setupIf you decide to run the Auto Setup function, make sure you go into the bass management menus after the calibration is completed to check the crossover settings for your speakers and subwoofer.  Most Setup systems either don’t set a crossover setting, or they do it non ideally for your speaker system.  This is why we recommend manual setup of your bass management.   Navigate to that option on your receiver. You will have a global crossover setting, or you will see a list of each speaker with a frequency next to it. You’ll also be able to set each speaker to “Large” (i.e. “don’t use the crossover”) or “Small” (i.e. “use the crossover”). A crossover frequency will set how low of frequency signals are sent to your speakers. Every speaker is different, so there is no absolute answer, but 80Hz is a good guess in most situations. You can also look up the speaker’s user manual and the manufacturer will typically (unless they are Bose) tell you how low the speaker will play. For example, a small satellite speaker with a 3-inch “full-range” driver might only play down to 120Hz. In general, and I am making a big generalization, set all of your speakers to “Small” unless they have a powered subwoofer in them. If you have floorstanding or bookshelf speakers, start by setting your crossover frequency to 80Hz. If you have smaller, satellite style speakers, set the crossover between 100Hz-120Hz. Many auto setup systems will incorrectly identify a surround speaker as large simply because its placed close to a wall where it gets a little bass boost.  It is a better option to set the speaker to “small” because it will take the strain off the smaller speaker by not allowing it to produce the deep bass frequencies while redirecting the bass to the speaker that is designed to do this – the subwoofer.  Most of the time having multiple crossover settings per channel group simply isn’t needed so if your receiver offers this option, just set all your speakers to “small’ and their corresponding crossover settings to 80Hz. If you do set the subwoofers crossover frequency higher than 80Hz, we again recommend placing the subwoofer towards the front of the room to make it less localizable.  In order to keep this article from being too terribly long, I will stop there. Below is a link to a more thorough article about crossover frequencies. If you really want to get into home theater, I crossover frequencies is something you will want to learn more about.

When using the included microphone, don’t just throw it on the couch and hit start. Blankets, pillows, barking dogs and cushy chairs can all skew the results. Position the mic as close as possible to your ear level when seated – and, ideally, you’ll place it on a tripod. Then, step out of the listening area, make sure everything is quiet, and start the test. Follow through with each listening position, if the mic takes measurements at more than one location. Once the setup is done, you will want to go into the menu on the receiver. Typically this is done by hitting the “menu” button on the receiver remote (some remotes need to be put in “receiver” or “amp” mode first). The on-screen display will then show up on the TV. You should find a setting in the receiver menu to manually adjust the speakers.

Auto Setup vs. Manual Setup

SPL MeterMost of the time the automatic setup systems get speaker identification and channel level spot on. If you ran auto setup in the last step, the setup mic should have already figured out if you have a 5.1 or 7.1 surround sound system and set the speaker type and levels as well as crossover if that is part of the included configuration process. If you want to manually double check everything, however, you can do so with an SPL meter. An SPL meter is used to measure how loud a sound is and can be purchased from radio shack for about $50. You simply point the SPL meter up at the ceiling, ear height, at the primary listening position and set it to “C-weighted” and “slow response”.

There will be a setting for “test tones” where you can adjust channel levels up or down in your receiver’s menu system (typically under Manual Setup).  You want to set each channel so they measure roughly the same on your SPL meter.  75dB is usually a good reference point.  Feel free to bump the subwoofer channel up a few dB however, as most people prefer a little bass boost.   Don’t be surprised if your levels are different on your left and right channels if, for example, your Surround Left speaker is farther away from the listening position than your Surround Right speaker, or if one speaker is nearer to a wall than the other.

If you notice that your subwoofer level is turned down as far as possible, you should turn down the volume knob on the back of the subwoofer a little bit, and run the setup mic again.

Testing It All Out – Listening!

You are done!! Speakers are placed and hooked up, all your equipment is plugged in, and a few important settings changed. Now, put in our favorite CD, DVD, or Blu-ray and start listening. This is where most people quit; however, the true audioholic is never done with their system. Play around with speaker and subwoofer placement. Run the THX optimizer audio tests, maybe get a full calibration on your TV. From this point on,learn more about home theater and have fun.

Confused about what AV Gear to buy or how to set it up? Join our Exclusive Audioholics E-Book Membership Program!

 

Is the McMansion era over?

by Lloyd Alter 

McMansions have been the butt of jokes for years; there even is a great website, McMansion Hell, that dissects their design better than TreeHugger ever did. (We tried). It has seemed that everything built post the Great Recession was a McMansion, butaccording to Patrick Clark in Bloomberg, the bloom is off the McMansion rose. He picks up on McMansion Hell:

Lately, these homes have been the subject of fresh scorn, thanks to an anonymously authored blog that breaks down the genre’s design flaws in excruciating detail. Posts lambasted builders for erecting garages bigger than the homes they’re attached to, dropping giant houses on tiny lots, plus shoddy construction and a mishmash of contrasting styles. (Gothic Tudor, anyone?)

There were many reasons for the McMansion boom. After the recession the banks tightened up lending so that only the rich with huge downpayments could get a mortgage; increases in income inequality meant that there were a lot fewer people able to by cheaper, smaller houses; there were millions of them on the market, left over from the crash.

Builders loved them because they were really profitable; the hard expensive stuff is the same whether the house is big or small (services, plumbing, kitchens) but they are selling a lot more air. They get a lot more profit per square foot.

They also sold for a lot more money; four years ago, the average McMansion cost 274 percent more than an average house in Fort Lauderdale. Today, the premium is down to 190 percent. In fact, the premium has dropped significantly in 85 of the 100 largest U.S. metropolitan areas. In most places, the bottom has fallen out of the McMansion market.

graph© Bloomberg

Clark lists some of the reasons, including overbuilding.

Along the same lines, builders have largely neglected the market for smaller, entry-level homes since the housing market collapsed nine years ago, said Ralph McLaughlin, chief economist at Trulia. That’s created excess demand for smaller, older abodes, leading those homes to appreciate faster. Still, there’s another possibility: McMansion owners are losing out because the market considers their homes an ugly investment, too.

I like to think that people are finally realizing that they don’t want the long commute, they demand quality over floor area, they want healthy green efficient homes, and that they care more about design these days. But that’s my fantasy.
It’s more likely just dumb builders doing what builders do, which is keep building until they run out of customers and the bank takes their truck away.

Creating a Fair Living Space for Residents with Disabilities


Most HOAs want to do the right thing, and that includes creating a fair living space for disabled residents. What this means is that the environment allows people with disabilities to have reasonable accommodations so they can get around and enjoy their homes and community amenities. But even with the best of intentions, creating a fair living space in a California HOA can be complicated.

How well do you understand the relevant laws? Some anti-discrimination laws apply to HOAs; others do not. And some only apply under certain circumstances. For example, you would be correct in believing that the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) does not apply to your HOA—most of the time. But it does apply if you allow the public to use any of your facilities, such as the pool, community room, or baseball field.

Adding to the complexities of the federal landscape are California’s own anti-discrimination laws (all of which apply to HOAs):

Beyond doing the bare minimum to comply with state and federal laws, your association may also want to provide additional features to enhance the lifestyle of disabled residents. These features can demonstrate to current homeowners and future buyers that your HOA is sensitive to the needs of disabled people.

If you are thinking about adding features to create a fair living space for disabled homeowners, here are some helpful tips.

Familiarize yourself with the law.
It’s important to understand how the law defines “reasonable accommodations,” what qualifies as “unreasonable,” and who is required to pay for any related costs. A fair living space for one person may differ from what it is for someone else. Perhaps a wheelchair-bound resident needs a ramp, or a resident on disability needs their HOA payment schedule to coincide with when they receive disability checks. But if an accommodation goes against your HOA’s aesthetic standards or creates an unwelcoming environment for most of the other residents, you may not necessarily have to heed the request. It’s a good idea to consult with your HOA attorney and your community manager (if you have one) before deciding how to proceed.

Consider how others may benefit from one resident’s accommodations.
Even if only one person requests an accommodation, it may turn out to be helpful to others. Statistics indicate that approximately 18 percent of Americans have some kind of disability. This number goes up to 72 percent for people 80 years old and above. That’s a significant portion of the population! Accommodations you make for one person may turn out to be helpful to other current or future residents.

Put yourself in others’ shoes.
Many of us take our physical capabilities and mobility for granted. Think about how you might improve the community for residents with physical disabilities like mobility issues, upper body limitations, or speech impediments. And don’t forget that some disabilities may be less obvious. Back or joint problems, as well as chronic pain, are not always evident. Neither are brain injuries, psychiatric issues, or cognitive limitations. Also consider the needs of visually or hearing impaired residents. You may not be able to address every condition, but talk to your community management company, as well as your HOA attorney, to determine if there are ways you might be able to make your community safer and more enjoyable for disabled residents.

Be aware of the unintentional ways that discrimination can happen.
Your attorney can help your board and your community understand how they may unwittingly discriminate and how to spot legal issues with regard to creating a fair living space. For example, promotional materials should not target specific groups to the exclusion of others. Language such as “an over-18 community” or “perfect for young families” can get your HOA into trouble. You also should not “steer” prospective buyers to a particular area of the property. One mistake that is sometimes made is failing to show a disabled person some of the outdoor amenities.

Make activities accessible.
Besides accommodating disabled residents throughout your common areas, remember to be inclusive when it comes to your activities and events. Will those with disabilities be able to participate? Plan ahead, and speak to your community management company when putting together your events calendar.

Your board of directors may want to spend some time discussing other ways you can create a fair living space. For more information, check out these resources: U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and California Legal Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

To learn how your community management company can help, contact FirstService Residential, California’s leading community management company.

Choosing the Best Deck Sealer

Pooled water on finished deck with wood grain

Pooled water on finished deck with wood grain

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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CHOOSING WOOD SEALERS

Contractors are always asking us to recommend a sealer for them based on our experiences. This has become a challenge for us in a way because there are more sealers available than ever before. Years ago we tried every single sealer available, but with the widespread reformulating we saw in the last several years and all the new products popping up it has been hard to keep up with every change. The complications of reformulating any product are obvious, and some sealers changed formulation several times during this short period.

Sealers are made from a number of different bases with a variety of added chemicals. Some adders make the sealer perform better (application, bonding, flow, penetration, etc). Other ingredients simply add bulk to help hold the “cost per gallon” down. For example, what purpose does adding mineral spirits to an oil sealer have? Well, it thins the product to make it easier to spread and it helps carry the sealer into the wood. The fact that mineral spirits have a very low cost also enables a manufacturer to reduce the selling price of his product just by adding more mineral spirits! Of course the EPA has forced this practice to stop, so some manufacturers are actually dropping out of making deck sealers (because they can’t compete).

In any discussion of sealers, it should be understood from the beginning that there is no one perfect product. The most universal product we have ever used is Ready Seal, which we have used on everything from log cabins to docks successfully. Unfortuanetly this product is used more often by contractors than home owners and there are very few resources online it can be purchased from. Just search for ready seal deck sealer online and compart this product yourself, it’s definitely worth the time.

OIL SEALERS

Oil sealers may contain any of several kinds of oil. Oil sealers may be coatings or penetrants or some blend of both characteristics. Pure coatings sit on top of the wood. Pure penetrants sit at and below the surface of the wood. A sealer that leaves any kind of surface coat on the wood is considered a coating, whether that is minor (i.e. 10% coating, 90% penetrant) or a full (100%) coating. Any product that contains linseed oil is a film-forming product (coating) to some degree. Ready Seal is made from 100% paraffinic oil (a crude oil derivative) and is therefore a full penetrant.

Generally speaking, coatings disguise flaws in the surface or flaws in the washing job. The closer they are to being solid color stains, the more they are able to hide flaws. They may be subject to visible wear in traffic areas as well. Coatings should be stripped before applying a new layer because they will not allow new layers to penetrate into the wood and bond to it. Most coatings require careful application, because flaws like drips and runs will show in the final job. In other words, you (or your employees) must have painting skills to apply any coating in a way that it will look good when it is new and as it ages on the wood. Coatings may flake and peel over time if humidity is trapped in the wood.

Generally speaking, penetrants won’t disguise flaws in the surface such as a poor wash job or stains. Penetrants do not show any traffic pattern wear. They normally do not have to be stripped to recoat down the road, either, because the new sealer penetrates through the old coat and bonds directly to the wood. Applications of full penetrants are fully forgiving, which means that drips or lap marks will not show. In other words, less skill is required to apply a penetrating product. Fully penetrating products are not created to be tough like coatings, so they strip relatively easily when you need to remove them.

WATER-BASED SEALERS

Water-based finishes are becoming more popular as more and more homeowners attempt doing their own work. These products are sold by the big box stores with tag lines like “cleans up with soap and water” – which are very attractive words to the do-it-yourselfer. Latex and acrylic finishes make up the bulk of these alternative products. Water-based products are film-forming finishes. Water-based products and acrylics are very difficult to maintain and to work with.

THE INNER WORKINGS OF SEALERS

PERMEABILITY: Sealers are supposed to be permeable, which means that they allow the wood to “breathe”. This means that ordinary humidity can enter and leave the wood during the normal cycle of the day, but droplets like rain cannot enter the wood. The more pigment the product contains, the less permeable the sealer is. A quality permeable sealer will allow sap to exit the wood without damaging the sealer as it passes through, for example.

Paints are non-permeable, which is why painted decks crack and peel drastically after a short time.

Ever notice what happens to latex paint on a window sill? The humidity present in the wood tries to escape when the sun hits the wood and raises the temperature. Since this moisture cannot pass through paint, the only natural result is that the humidity pushes the paint off of the surface of the wood to escape. That is why paint cracks and peels. This result happens most frequently on window sills (horizontal board) rather that on vertical window trim, because the top end of a vertical board is usually not painted (allowing the humidity to escape). This is why we NEVER paint a wood deck.

VOLATILE ORGANIC COMPOUNDS: For many years, manufacturers threw out terms like “percentage of solids” as a selling point for their products. In layman’s terms, this refers to the amount of product that remains in the wood after everything that evaporates is gone. What evaporates are called “volatiles” or “VOCs”. The EPA has been tightening regulations on VOCs for years because they harm the quality of the air and the ozone layer. Many sealers have had to reformulate once (or several times) to meet these changing regulations. Every time a manufacturer reformulates, the product characteristics change.

VOCs are often simple mineral spirits or turpentine.

NOTE: “High solids” does not mean that the product is thick. Ready Seal has the highest solids of any oil sealer we know of (87) and is also one of the thinnest oils you will ever work with. It simply doesn’t contain much volume of VOCs.

Sometimes sealers contain manufacturing by-products that manufacturers want to dispose of, such as benzene. A careful examination of the MSDS will reveal a lot to you.

PIGMENT: Pigment is a finely ground, inert, colored powder that is used to create color in your sealer. In most sealers these particles are iron oxides. In sealers it is the iron oxide pigment which gives it UV protection. The UV rays of the sun are reflected away from the wood by these minute iron particles of color before they can penetrate the wood and turn it gray. Over time, the rays of the sun use up the oxide particles, and the wood begins to gray once again.

Clear sealers, in spite of many label claims, do not effectively prevent graying because they contain no pigments. If you have a customer asking for a clear stain, educate them about this. I always repeated their statement back to them but changed the word “clear” to the word “natural”. Once I got them to say the word “natural” I simply asked them if they wanted Natural Cedar or Natural Redwood color.

LIFE: Most sealers are designed to last approximately two years on the horizontal surfaces and four years on the vertical surfaces. Some claim more, some make no claims at all. Customers will usually ask about the life of the product you are suggesting, and it is important that you know that the answer to that question is “Depends…” The life depends on the sealer, the location of the deck, the condition of the wood, the local weather conditions, the use of the deck, etc. Remember that sealers are never guaranteed to ‘look good’ for any amount of time. They are only guaranteed to repel water for a period of time. Manufacturers are notorious for not standing behind their products. They simply blame a poor application by the contractor and leave you holding the bag.

Some manufacturers sell “lifetime” or “25-Year” finishes. These are almost always water-based silicone products. Silicone is an excellent water repellant, and lasts a long time. It cannot ever be fully removed from the wood later on, so selecting one of these products is a permanent decision. The drawback to these products is the UV protection, which often fails within a few years of the initial application. Once the wood starts to turn gray, the nightmare begins. If you can’t strip the product off, how do you get down to the wood to clean it and add more UV protection? There is no answer.

CONCLUSION

Part of your choice of sealers has to include factors like packaging, manufacturer support, dealer support, availability, exclusivity, colors, etc. The two most important factors to us over the years were 1) customer satisfaction; and 2) ease of training new employees to be successful on their own using the sealer.

Ready Seal enabled us to teach proper sealing techniques and send new employees out on their own with just 2-3 weeks of working with a lead person. The training time saved and the repeat business that we generated with Ready Seal made our choice of which sealer to use pretty easy.

Consider a few other important factors when you think about choosing a sealer. Ready Seal has no temperature limitations for application, which is a huge benefit to contractors. This means that you can use it to seal decks and fences even when the temperature drops down into the 40s or lower! This characteristic alone can add a few months time to your annual cleaning and sealing “season”.

The only thing that limits the use of Ready Seal on wood is the moisture content of that wood.

You don’t have to hold off just because there is a thundershower expected later that day, either. It can rain in as little as 15 minutes after you apply Ready Seal without damaging the look or protection. That adds a lot of extra days back into your work schedule, too!

Other sealers have their benefits and may be easier to get from a local store, but Ready Seal can change your company in ways no other product we have tested could.

http://www.sunbritesupplymd.com Sun Brite Supply the only place for Power washing supplies and accessories.http://www.sunbritesupplymd.com

Article Source: http://EzineArticles.com/expert/Henry_Bockman/2923

Perfecting Your Property Management Practice

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Although it has been said that nobody is perfect, there are some who are what I call “near perfect.” After all, since practice makes perfect, why not keep practicing while striving for excellence?

In today’s economy we are at an auspicious confluence of trends that will reward good property managers like never before. The word that sums it up is “demographics, demographics, demographics.” Younger adults, especially those in the age demographic of 21 to 35, don’t have the net worth or the high credit scores needed to be a homeowner. Millions are forced to live with parents or rent. What is often overlooked is the baby-boom generation. This demographic, which still involves nearly 70 million Americans ages 54 through 70 is finding it increasingly difficult to afford the cost of ownership.

Anecdotal evidence and government surveys reveal a rising trend among this age bracket towards renting a place to live. Many are selling to unlock equity in their homes and to pay off mortgage debt. What kind of housing will the sellers in this age demographic choose? A growing number are looking for rental units that cater to the 55-and-older crowd. By some estimates this “crowd” is increasing exponentially. Not only does the government’s census estimate that nearly 10,000 baby-boomers turn 65-years old every single day, but tens of thousands more are turning ages 56 through 64 each day as well!

These factors help introduce the first step towards perfecting your property management business, which is to know the housing needs of your area better than any other property manager. It may take phone calls and visits to your city and county records department or interviewing federal census agents, but get a very accurate handle on the housing needs of these demographic groups. Consider specializing in projects and programs to help these mushrooming millions find safe and affordable rental housing. Market yourself as a property manager who cares and shares this info.

How about all the others steps needed to refine and perfect your management enterprise? The answers are likely to arise if you’re willing to take a suggestion that’s challenging for perfectionist practitioners. Take the advice of one of the most respected, talented and accomplished professionals. His name is Leonardo da Vinci, the awesome Italian architect, engineer, painter, mathematician and scientist. Nearly 500 years after his death, Leonardo is still considered one of the greatest intellects in human history. If you could consult him on the topic of this article, here’s what he would likely recommend:

“Every now and then go away and have a little relaxation. For when you return to your work, your judgment will be better and more confident. If you constantly remain at work you’ll cause yourself to lose the power of balance and sound judgment. Yes, really get as far away from your work as you possibly can. Why? It will improve your ability to see your work in perspective and to be able to see all of it, a.k.a. ‘the BIG PICTURE.’ You’ll be able to more accurately perceive what aspects of your business need improving and what action is needed to restore harmony and optimal functioning. Your outlook will improve as well!”

That’s a modern paraphrase of what this Renaissance genius actually wrote. He was telling us all to take time to relax, let go, get away from all the stress and struggle of life from time to time. See how it improves your insights about your personal and professional goals. Notice how it sharpens your perspective, lightens your load, improves your mood and contributes to your health in every way.

Don’t wait for a crisis to find a way to restore your “…power of balance and sound judgment.” Paradoxically, sometimes the less you strive for perfection, the more perfect your efforts will become.

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Brown’s affordable housing plan appears dead for year

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A plan to usher $400 million into affordable housing subsidies and give developers the right to bypass the local regulatory approvals process has stalled in the Capitol and appears to be dead for the year, the state Assembly speaker told reporters on Thursday.

“I believe it’s over,” California Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon told theAssociated Press this week.

Negotiations stopped at least two weeks ago, Rendon said. Lawmakers need to advance the legislation to the governor by the end of August under a legislative deadline.

In the 2016-17 budget, Gov. Jerry Brown and lawmakers affixed $400 million in affordable housing funding to a controversial “by right” housing plan. The deal sought to quickly increase statewide housing supply by changing local land-use law to automatically approve projects that met existing zoning requirements and included an affordable housing component.

 

But the proposal angered powerful statewide housing and union groups, including environmentalists, neighborhood and tentant activists and some labor leaders who argue that local permitting is necessary to scrutinize projects and ensure prevailing wages for construction workers.

Community and social justice groups have asked the $400 million be provided to affordable housing without the project streamlining component.