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Current Obsessions: By Hand

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Reinventing the Electric Service Panel

Within the next few months, Vermont’s largest electric utility will begin replacing conventional electric service panels in 100 carefully selected homes with a reinvented version that gives customers unprecedented control over their use of electricity. Green Mountain Power thinks the recently announced pilot program—one of the first of its kind in the U.S.—holds promise not only for the customers who get the devices but also for the utility as it steers itself toward a fully clean-power future and a modernized grid. A standard service panel controls the flow of electricity with a number of individual breakers that are either on…


Ifo Electrical: Classic Lighting from a Century-Old Swedish Maker

We’re always on the lookout for utilitarian lighting fixtures from heritage companies, so we were happy to discover Ifo Electrical, a Swedish company that has been making reasonably priced ceramic components for almost a century. Here’s a look at some of their offerings (for pricing and stockists, go to Ifo): Above: Designed by Sigvard Bernadotte in the 1960s, the Bernadotte lamps for Ifo have been in continuous production ever since. Above: The Ifö Basic collection “has been around since the 1960s; it’s available in both straight and slanting models (15 degrees).” Above: “The Classic Globe series is available with white…


What’s Behind Soaring Lumber Prices?

Like many other parts of the U.S. economy, the lumber industry saw prices fall in the spring of 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic took the country by the throat. Sawmill prices for framing lumber started to fall in the second week of March, and a month later had dropped to their lowest level since the previous summer. Then something weird started to happen. Despite ongoing business closures and rising unemployment, lumber prices began to climb. The widely watched Framing Lumber Composite Price index published by Random Lengths bottomed out at $348 on April 10, 2020, and other than an eight-week…


EPA Kicks Off HFC Phasedown

The EPA has just proposed regulations to phase down hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), the super climate pollutants covered by the newly-enacted American Innovation and Manufacturing Act (AIM Act). The rule, which must be finalized by September, is the first and most important of a series of regulations that will bring down production and import of HFCs by 85% over the next 15 years, in line with the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol. This fast start on implementing the AIM Act comes hot on the heels of President Biden’s climate summit last month, where the president committed to a strong new climate…


Phthalates and Children’s Health

You may not realize it, but you likely encounter phthalates every day. These chemicals are found in many plastics, including food packaging, and they can migrate into food products during processing. They’re in personal care products like shampoos, soaps and laundry detergents, and in the vinyl flooring in many homes. They’re also in the news again after an editorial by scientists in the American Journal of Public Health included an urgent call for better federal regulation of the chemicals. In particular, scientists are urging state and federal agencies to eliminate phthalates (pronounced THAL-ates) from products used by pregnant women and…

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