Category: Security

Lamp and Appliance Timer

09/04/10 | by theprofessor [mail] | Categories: Hot Buys, Lighting, Electrical, Security


Mechanical Electrical Timer
Item: Lamp and Appliance Timer
Item number: 40148
Retail price: $5.99
Frequent sale price: $3.99
Target price: $3.99
Item link

We love this small 120VAC timer for its cost and simplicity. It has dual 120VAC outlets with a manual override switch. The on/off times are easily set in 15-minute intervals using push-down tabs. It's reliable and suitable for use with fluorescent lights including CFLs. This latter feature is especially important because electronic timers without mechanical relays cannot be used with fluorescent lights, except for the more expensive dimmable CFLs. The heavy-duty switch mechanism can handle up to 15 amps or 2,000 watts which is quite a bit of power for this small package.

We almost feel guilty setting our target price so low at $3.99. We actually thought that the normal retail price of $5.99 was fair, but hey, Harbor Freight sets the best-buy prices and we simply exploit the opportunities. :)

We use several of these timers for controlling fluorescent and LED plant lights. We also use these for back-up security lights, although most of our house lights used for security purposes are controlled by X10 circuitry which better emulates the 'lived in' look while away. At our target price of $3.99 these lamp and appliance timers are practically a giveaway.

Bottom line: A great little timer as cheap as you can find and not expect the plastic components to meltdown. Buy several at our target price and save money at Harbor Freight.

Click here for great prices on energy-saving compact compact fluorescent light bulbs.


Motion-Activated, Solar-Powered, Quartz Security Light

08/12/10 | by theprofessor [mail] | Categories: The Junk, Lighting, Security, Solar Power


Solar-Powered Security Light
Item: Motion-Activated, Solar-Powered, Quartz Security Light
Item number: 93661
Retail price: $49.99
Frequent sale price: $34.99
Best price: $29.99
Target price: purchase not recommended
Item Link

This item takes us into new territory at Harbor Freight Reviews: we are advising against purchasing this product. Yes, in the past we have concluded that some other items were bad buys and we added them to our list of The Junk. But this item comes with a stronger "do not purchase" advisory. Other items on The Junk list are poorly constructed, but they may have limited usefulness for some people. This product sets precedence in that it fails in its only possible application and therefore merits a special "do not buy" rating.

We were initially very pleased with this item; well, very pleased after we suffered through the poor design that makes installation a real headache. The primary mounting bracket must be removed to install the light to the building or other support and the placement of the mounting bracket back onto the main lamp body is very difficult, requiring very agile (and small) fingers. They must have had munchkins assembling this light in the factory. Other online reviewers have pretty uniformly complained about this as well. Once mounted, the light is secure and easy enough to position for our application, although some people have complained about this as well.

The performance through the first half of our Buffalo Winter Test was excellent. The solar cell charged the battery pack adequately to give us 20 to 40 30-second bursts of light each time it detected motion. The quartz lamp provided amble illumination which was relatively bright by solar standards (we generally don't expect solar-powered lights to produce the illumination level of other lights; by their nature solar-powered lights are usually low power so that they can be adequately charged by correspondingly small solar panels). On a busy night preceded by an overcast day, the solar light would run out of power before the night was over. On less busy nights preceded by bright days, the solar light would perform well throughout the night and into the morning hours. (We thank Sasha with her frequent trips outside throughout the night for her assistance in conducting these tests.)

The light's electronic controls are well designed. Its has controls for motion sensitivity, light duration, and ambient-light levels determining whether the light will activate (no point in having it flash on during the daytime). The fatal flaws come in its housing design and its manufacture. The light appears to leak water into the battery housing and/or electronic control circuit and the unit fails within a year or two.

We have tested two of these lights purchased about 6 months apart. One outside light failed within the first year; it had severe corrosion at the jack which connects the solar panel to the main light body. The second light failed after remaining inside for about 1 1/2 years! We have not yet determined the cause of this failure, but the second light was not even subjected to outside moisture or temperature extremes.

Harbor Freight's track record with solar products is dismal in our evaluations. We have tested 7 of their solar products to date and have posted reviews for several of them. Out of the 7 products tested, 5 failed within two or three years' use and some failed within the first year. One out of the two products that has performed well so far (i.e., Harbor Freight's 45-watt solar panels) is still being evaluated and we are awaiting the outcome of our first Buffalo Winter Test. Too bad there are so many problems with these solar products because several of them appear solid in their design and features, and Harbor Freight's sale prices have been great.

We will disassemble and attempt to correct the problems with these lights. After we've determined the cause of the failures and have assessed whether simple user modifications can render them operational, we will revise this review. Meanwhile, we have a strong advisory against purchasing this item for any use, including interior use. Indeed, this advisory is stronger than what we have issued for ANY product to date inasmuch as this item suffers catastrophic failure that renders it useless for any application.

The items that make our list of The Junk often have limited usefulness but are still suitable for some applications. For example, their 36" pickup and reach tool does not stand up well to regular use meeting my handicapped wife's needs but remains useful for my occasional use picking-up litter in the yard. So although it made our list of The Junk, one of the three test items remains in service for very limited use (fortunately, we don't have much litter in our yard, and I'm very patient with the tool's unresponsive, sticky mechanism). In contrast, this solar-powered security light seems to self-destruct leaving it simply trash.

Bottom line: Expect to replace this unit after about a year of outside use and expect to have difficulty with its installation if you decide to purchase it. We recommend that you leave this product in the store despite its attractive appearance and low sale price.


Black and White Security System with Two Cameras & Monitor

08/03/10 | by theprofessor [mail] | Categories: Hot Buys, Security


Black and White Security System
Item: Black and White Security System with Two Cameras & Monitor
Item number: 66556
Retail price: $89.99
Target price: $54.99 (with coupon)
Best price: $49.99
Item Link

It's difficult to find a good deal on a surveillance camera from a brick-and-mortar store with Amazon, eBay, and other online retailers keeping the prices so very low, but Harbor Freight has come up with a good basic package which is a great buy when purchased at our target price. This simple, two-camera system is complete with a monitor and power supply. It's black and white, but it does have infrared sensitivity and camera illumination which claims to provide night vision up to about 20' from each camera. (FYI: Infrared IS black and white as are most low-light level cameras; some cameras switch from color in normal light to black and white in low-light conditions.)

We find the actual useful range of the night-vision feature (use in near total darkness) to be around 5 or 6 feet for facial recognition and about 10 feet for other small objects. It might provide some faint illumination up to 20 feet (e.g., detect movement in the background), but that's pushing it. However, even low-wattage yard lamps provide adequate lighting for this system to see well into the night. You might also consider supplemental infrared lighting that's available on eBay in a various sized LED arrays.

This is a good, basic surveillance system that can be used for security or other monitoring of two different areas. You can have it automatically alternative between the two cameras at a programmable rate or you can manually select either camera. There is no split screen option for monitoring both cameras simultaneously, but with the small, low-resolution monitor the images wouldn't be very clear.

Other online reviewers have noted that this system works best inside or outside under low-light conditions -- it tends to washout the images in bright sunlight. Each camera has a 58' cable which means that the two cameras can be around 100' apart. The 58' cable includes the power for the camera so no 120VAC outlet is necessary at the camera's location. The RCA output can be used with other monitors and most televisions with RCA inputs. The camera housings are stainless steel and should be suitable for outdoor use, but we haven't yet subjected it to our Buffalo winter test so we can't comment more on this feature.

Be advised that the power-supply output voltage is 18 volts not the 12 volts stated on the monitor's power input jack and in Harbor Freight's description. You would need a voltage adapter to use this system for automotive applications at 12 volts.

This system provides an inexpensive solution to most basic surveillance and monitoring applications. The hard-wired system has advantages over wireless systems in reliability and in providing the camera's power-supply through the hard-wired connection back to the monitor. For those who haven't yet installed video cameras, consider the convenience of being able to monitor what's happening in the shop or at the front door beyond its obvious security applications. Once you become accustomed to using a monitoring system, you'll realize its value and never want to go back to being 'blind' again.

Bottom line: A good basic security system at a great price. Simple plug-n-play operation right out of the box gets you immediately up and running.

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This review and discussion forum was created for those of us who love Harbor Freight(tm). It's well known to those who frequent the store that the prices are always cycling up and down, and most of us usually accept it as a personal challenge to get the lowest price possible. It's also well appreciated that some products at Harbor Freight are good, even very good, but that many others are also substandard, yes, even junk. This review and discussion forum is dedicated to the savvy Harbor Freight shopper and is intended to provide some guidance to the best and the worse buys. Similar products from other retailers will also be reviewed from time-to-time. Please be advised that everyone's experience is unique, and what works well (or doesn't work at all) for the reviewers here may or may not suit your personal needs. With this caveat and with notification that Harbor Freight Reviews assumes no liability for the accuracy of information provided here for educational purposes, enjoy the forum and good 'sa(i)ling' at Harbor Freight!


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