Matt Springer has been giving presentations around San Francisco about home earthquake preparedness since 2008 (for more information about the presentation, go to his earthquake preparedness website). This Quaketips blog is devoted to posts ranging from technical "how-to" articles to more philosophical "should-you" topics. New articles will be posted at most about once a month, so people who subscribe won't be subjected to lots of e-mail.

Saturday, September 7, 2019

A novel solution: bracing floor lamps with plants

In 2016, I posted an article in which I asked “Can you seismically brace floor lamps and house plants? Should you?”.  I was addressing the challenges specific to torchiere-style floor lamps, which can be difficult to brace to prevent them from falling over and causing damage or injury with their axe—I mean bowl—on top unless they are the type with plastic bowls; and various challenges with houseplants caused by the drainage saucer that they frequently include.

Well, one company got in touch with me and let me know about a really innovative solution to both of those problems: combine them!  No, I’m not talking about glowing plants or Christmas trees, I’m referring to their SmartFit Planter that is a floor plant pot that wraps around the pole of a floor lamp and weighs it down to the floor (see for details and very clear explanations and images about how it works).  They asked my opinion about the concept, and I looked into it and sent them my thoughts, and then realized that my reply to them looked an awful lot like a Quaketips article.

So this is not officially a product review per se, but I do think it’s worthwhile letting you know about this inventive concept and its pros and cons.

The planter is essentially a plant pot that wraps around a central hole, through which the light post sticks up.  So it’s really a solution to the torchiere problems that uses a plant; not as much a solution to the plant problem unless you want to put all of your plants into these planters.  The plant pot has a self-watering mechanism that uses a wick to keep drawing in more water from a 1.5 liter reservoir as the soil dries.  This wicking approach keeps the water away from the lamp power cord.

I would say that with regard to the goal of preventing floor lamps from falling over without attaching them to walls or floors, this is a great solution.  This concept really is ingenious; it looks like it not only adds weight to the base but also increases its footprint, both of which minimize the likelihood of it toppling.  And the self-watering wick/tank concept is really neat.  Coming in 5 colors is a nice feature.

As a plant pot, I did have one reservation [note added in proof, no, I’m not a plant pot]: I had someone at a garden center tell me once about the importance of letting water drain out of plants rather than just evaporating because of waste products that build up in the soil and need to be occasionally removed.  He was suggesting that rather than trying to water sparingly enough to limit water draining into the little drainage moat around the base of the pot, I should be ensuring that a reasonable amount of water comes through; appropriate fertilization would replenish lost nutrients but waste products would be removed.  So there's one disadvantage in a system like this, although I imagine this is more important for some plants than for others, and it would probably just reduce the effective lifespan of the plant rather than killing it outright.

A potential solution to that problem is an interesting variation on the self-watering wick, which is that just as it moves water from a reservoir to drier soil, it can also reverse-wick and remove water from saturated soil if the other end is just hung over an empty pot.  I guess if the build-up of waste products is a concern, one can occasionally water heavily and remove the excess water (and waste products) by reverse-wicking.  Repotting frequently enough is another option.  When I asked the folks at the company about using their reverse wicking strategy for this purpose, they answered, “Yes, this may work, but we haven’t tested whether all the unwanted salts are removed by wicking.  Using salt tolerant plants and repotting every few years is recommended for non-draining planters.  After we accidentally stained a carpet by over-watering a draining planter decades ago, we have used non-draining planters exclusively for a wide range of house plants varieties, with good results.”

One potential problem is price.  For the bracing of a $40 torchiere and even housing a $100 houseplant, the price tag of $257 for the SmartFit Planter is going to limit the inclination of people to get a bunch of them unless they are really doing a major investment.  For example, I have 11 torchiere-style floor lamps in my home, so this moves out of the inexpensive why-not consumer solutions range into the major interior seismic bracing project range; which in itself is not a deal-breaker but certainly changes the equation!  On the other hand, it’s hard to put a price on the ability to sleep at night without worrying about a lamp falling on your dog.

I imagine that even if someone did not want to put a plant in that spot where the lamp is (perhaps there is no natural light, or just for personal preference) the planter could be filled with some stones or even (gasp) artificial plants.  The company folks commented on that piece of feedback and warned about children getting the stones and ingesting them or scattering them; basically, earthquake safety does not get one off the hook from the non-seismic safety concerns when it comes to kids.

One additional consideration is that it changes the aesthetically sleek and minimalistic look of a torchiere into something potentially more visually obtrusive; which would not always be a problem but could be for some people.  The folks at SmartFit Planter replied to that concern by pointing out that the bulkier look is also protective against kids, pets, or clumsy adults, yes indeed!  Also, since the center of the pot is reserved for the lamp pole, you can't use this pot for a central stem set-up as you might want with a small tree; it works better with shorter bushy plants as you can see in the photos at their website.

By the way, there is a super cool animation on that website showing how to assemble the system and how it works.

I might summarize my impressions by saying that this may not be an ideal solution for ALL of someone's floor lamps, but if there are a couple that are in particularly dangerous situations where falling over could be a big problem, it might be worth investing in this as a solution.

Let me just conclude by saying that I haven’t received any kind of compensation for mentioning this product and writing about it, and it’s not an advertisement, but this is the kind of innovative solution that I think deserves being mentioned!  I kind of reminds me of the classic commercials for Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups: “Hey, you got a lamp in my plant!”  “Well you got plants all over my lamp!”  “Hey, looks great!”… while preventing scenarios more reminiscent of the also-classic “Shake ‘N Bake.”

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