Gift Ideas


Back in 2005 came the introduction of SnapAlarm, an award-winning optical smoke detector from FireInvent, and now the same Swedish company is taking fire protection a step further with its all-in-one Fire Safety Box.

The Safety Box is designed to provide complete fire protection in a single package, and it comes in six different versions tailored to different usage contexts. But the fire extinguishers, smoke detectors, fire blankets and torchlights included aren’t just ordinary versions of those items. Rather, they have been revamped for a modern, attractive look. The Safety Box Design, for example, includes fire extinguisher and Snap Alarm in black or white; black-and-white fire blanket in a modern, botanical design; plus an extra wall-mountable optical smoke detector. The Safety Box Exclusive, meanwhile, includes a chrome option for the fire extinguisher, while the Safety Box Kid includes a Snap Alarm in pink or blue and a fire blanket suitable for children. Pricing begins at $185 and versions for cars and boats are also available.

There will always be a need for functional products like fire protection devices, but there’s nothing to say they can’t be upgraded with a splash of color and design and sold at a similarly upgraded price.

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In December and earlier this month we wrote about four US companies selling what we called eco-starter kits. Like gift baskets filled with cheese and fruit, the kits contain an assortment of items, all with a ‘green’ twist: reusable water bottles and grocery bags, energy-saving light bulbs and eco-friendly cleaning products. All of the kits carry an implied message, namely that a few changes in our individual buying habits can make a significant difference in our impact on the earth. Ideally, the kits’ users will continue to buy the eco-friendly products they contain, nicely multiplying the planet-saving impact.

Now, the folks at Springwise have spotted one in the United Kingdom, too, and by a brand they’ve covered before. Back in in March 2006, they wrote about greentomatocars, an earth-friendly car service that exclusively uses fuel-miserly Toyota Prius hybrids, brightly decorated with green tomato designs. The firm’s greentomato eco-kits sell for GBP 9.99, in keeping with the founders’ philosophy that green products should be competitive in price and quality with similar products on the market.

Is greentomato building a multi-product, Virgin Group-like brand around its catchy name and eco-friendly philosophy? Perhaps!

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Back in December, we talked about a few companies that sell eco starter kits: (gift) boxes containing products like aluminium water bottles, energy-efficient light bulbs and low-flow shower heads, all aimed at helping jump-start a more environment-friendly lifestyle.

Now, Springwise has alerted us to Eco-Me, which took the concept a step further by developing kits that help consumers create their own cleaning products. Whether for health or environmental reasons, more people are switching to ‘natural’ cleaning products from brands like Ecover and Seventh Generation. Eco-Me’s founder—Robin Levine—was concerned about the (small) amounts of synthetic chemicals that are still present in most eco-cleaners, and decided to go back to basics, mixing her own products using simple recipes and ingredients that have been used for hundreds of years.

Making it easier for other consumers to follow her lead, Levine created kits that contain the necessary tools: spray bottles for mixing spray cleaner and polish, mixing jar, natural bristle scrub brush, mixer, microfibre cleaning cloth, and a bottle of Eco-Me’s Home Cleaning Essential Oil. Plus, of course, instructions on how to make various products by adding oil, vinegar, water and baking soda.

Besides kits for home cleaning, Eco-Me also sells kits for making natural body, baby and pet products—currently only in the United States and Canada. While true eco warriors get their instructions online or from friends and track down ingredients from local sources, other consumers need help taking steps to greener living. Story

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According to the folks over at Springwise, one day, many new full-sized homes may resemble the Power House. The $149.95 miniature model from science-kit distributor Thames & Kosmos comes with a working green house, solar panels, a wind mill and a desalinization system. The kit’s aim: teach children what it’s like to live off the grid, and get them (and their parents) to “consider a life without fossil fuel.” To make the experience more realistic, the user manual incorporates a storyline about high-tech pioneers inhabiting a small island who must make use of limited resources to survive. The 70 experiments and 20 building projects that form part of the kit mimic the tasks the kit’s fictional pioneers must perform.

As environmental awareness becomes a dominant theme, it’s no surprise that green-tech learning toys such as the Power House are emerging. One popular example: in 2006, Horizon Fuel Cell Technologies, a Singapore-based maker of hydrogen fuel cells for consumer products, debuted the $115 H-racer, a fuel-cell powered toy car that comes with a solar-powered hydrogen generating station and needs only water to run. The H-racer won kudos from Time and BusinessWeek, and spawned a number of competitors. Full Story

And we’re back! Here’s our latest installment of the Trend Report for your viewing pleasure…..

(Just click on the image below to open up the file.)

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Hope you enjoy it and as always, feel free to post or email us directly with any comments or suggestions.

Thanks!

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The secret to a great tool kit? Selection. Of the thousands of tools available at your local hardware store, it only takes about a dozen to tackle most home repair jobs, and only one of them plugs in.

So, in this gift-giving season, here are the tools MSN.com’s experts suggest as absolute musts for a lifetime of home improvements and repair. The first 15 items make up the absolute basics for a serviceable tool kit to last a lifetime – all for just under $200. That said, a handyman’s life can be made much easier with a few additions. Buy or give the last half-dozen items as needed.

(All prices reflect the least expensive, good-quality products available at Lowe's home improvement stores in fall 2006.)

THE ESSENTIALS

1. Toolbox: $30
Let’s start with something to fill, shall we? A good, usable toolbox can save as much time on a job as having the right tools inside. A lot of people don’t get one and their stuff is all over the place and it takes them a half-hour of frustration to get what they need for even the simplest job. One idea? A soft canvas bag with lots of pockets that drapes over a five-gallon bucket. Rubber-bottom soft bags are a slightly heavier alternative.

2. Hammer: $15 
A steel-shaft version with a vibration-dampening rubber grip or a 16-ounce steel- or fiberglass-shaft hammer with a smooth (not checkered) head to avoid unnecessary marring work great. Choose a model with a straight or “rip” claw, not a curved claw; they’re much more useful for demolition.

TIP: Sandpaper the face of the hammer once in a while so nails don’t slip off.

3. Pry bar: $15
A 12- to 15-inch pry bar is incredibly handy. There is one made of hexagonal steel that is infinitely superior to ones that are made of spring steel, which tend to bounce when you hammer them.

4. Vise-grips: $10
Also known as locking pliers, vise-grips are the pit bull in your toolbox: Simply adjust the screw drive in the handle and clamp it on to anything that needs viselike stabilizing, typically metal or PVC pipes. When you’re done, the lever in the opposite handle releases the jaws. Channel-lock pliers are a good second choice.

5. Needle-nose pliers: $8
The long tapering forged head that gives needle-nose pliers their name is particularly useful in electrical work where spaces can get tight. Get a pair with a wire-cutting blade near the hinge.

6. Screwdrivers (mixed set): $20
You’ll save money and get the most use out of a good quality mixed set that includes 1/4- and 3/8-inch flat heads and No. 1 and No. 2 Phillips head drivers. Magnetic heads come in handy, too.

ADVICE: Steer clear of cordless electric screwdrivers; instead, use screwdriver bits with a corded electric drill, which provides more torque and never needs recharging.

7. Wire cutter/stripper: $10
This handy plierlike tool scores and strips the casing off varying gauges of wires to speed electrical jobs.

8. Tape measure (16-foot): $4
You’ll thank yourself for getting a good-quality, easy-locking, 3/4-inch-wide model. The half-inchers just don’t stay in place when extended; the one-inchers are overkill.

9. Electrical tester: $2
Forget the fancy gadgets with dials and displays: You only need the cheapie with two probes and a light to indicate that an electrical current is present.

TIP: Remember to test it in a working outlet each time before you use it to make sure it’s still working. Remember: If it’s dead, you’re dead.

10. Reversible drill with bit set: $40
This 3/8th-inch reversible drill is the only electrical tool that you absolutely, positively have to have. Although stores are filled with cordless varieties, stick with a corded model: They’re lighter, cheaper and never run out of juice.

11. 1/2-inch steel chisel: $10
One of the most ancient tools is also essential as well. When you need a chisel (and you will), there’s really no acceptable substitute. And forget the plastic- and wooden-handled varieties.

12. Utility knife: $4
Having a utility knife with replaceable blades comes in awfully handy, and again, when you need one there’s really no substitute.

13. Handsaw: $15
If you invest in a circular saw, you may find few situations in which you’ll need a handsaw. But many power-averse folks will feel more comfortable with a short handsaw. A good choice is the 12-inch FatMax by Stanley; it’s lighter and cuts straighter and faster than traditional handsaws.

14. 9-inch torpedo level: $9
These palm-size levels with the bubble that floats to center are essential to leveling everything from picture frames to kitchen cabinets. If you need to level something long, simply add a board to the level. And don’t be tempted by the various laser levels on the market.

15. Safety glasses: $6
There simply is no substitute for effective eye protection.

 

6 NICE-TO-HAVES

1. 7-1/4-inch circular saw: $80
Once your projects grow beyond a certain scale to include things like decks and fences, you won’t hesitate to invest in a circular saw, which speeds up any project involving numerous cuts. This is also one of the most dangerous tools to own. Take extra care to keep kids and pets well away from your work site when operating a circular saw, never cut on an uneven or unstable surface, use protective eyewear and ALWAYS unplug the saw when not in use.

2. Electronic stud finder: $10
Looking for the studs behind your walls to support shelves or other fixtures? This electronic device will locate them for you quickly and accurately.

3. Carpenter’s square: $6
Despite its name, a carpenter’s square isn’t square at all, but rather triangular in sort of a gun shape. It enables you to cut squarely when you use it to measure and mark a straight line at a right (90-degree) angle from any straight edge.

4. Random orbital sander: $55
At some point, you’ll likely need to remove a finish or sand smooth a large surface (table, cabinet, etc.). This is just the tool. Its random motion sands evenly from rough to smooth with optimal control.

5. Staple gun: $17
A staple gun comes in handy for a variety of home projects that require fast tacking, such as upholstering.

6. Clamps: $2-$40
Clamps are as useful as they are problematic. They all have different uses: Some of them are fast, some of them are strong, some of them are heavy, some of them are too long except when you need that length. But clamps are really handy because you can clamp something down while you work on it or glue it or fasten it. They’re also good for personal safety when you’re trying to cut something that’s wandering all over the place.

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Most of us realize there are changes we should make in our lives and in our homes to become more environmentally friendly, but overcoming inertia and actually doing it can be another matter. Now, the folks at Springwise point us to a few different companies offer starter kits to help make those changes happen.

Greensender, which just launched in October, sells green gift boxes designed to help people start embracing simple green practices. Each Greensender box contains a reusable aluminium water bottle, a reusable organic cotton grocery bag, an energy-efficient compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulb and an organic cotton T-shirt—all selected for their easy integration into people’s everyday lives, Greensender says. Prices are $49.99 for the Big Greensender Box or $39.99 for a version without the T-shirt; individual items are available separately as well. Logo-emblazoned versions can also be purchased for corporate or event purposes, and New Jersey-based Greensender donates at least one percent of its sales to 1% For The Planet.

GoGreenGift, meanwhile, packs a reusable bag with a CFL bulb; a low-flow shower head; organic fruit leather, coffee and tea; assorted herbal body care products; and its GoGreen EcoGuide. The kits are available in original and deluxe versions for $45 and $63, respectively.

Virginia-based Green-kits, which launched earlier this year, offers a variety of eco kits including basic and deluxe starter kits along with packages focused on cleaning, the kitchen, and baby care. Prices begin at $10.

A full 87 percent of Americans are “seriously concerned” about the environment, according to the 2007 GfK Roper Green Gauge study, yet only 30 percent of the population is actively ‘green’. The remainder, and the rest of the over-developed world? Nothing short of a ripe opportunity!