Your lights, air conditioning, electricity, gas — it all comes at a price. Whether you've settled in as a homeowner or you're still dormin' it up, the excess energy you use and the waste you don't recycle hurts more than just the environment. It can hit your wallet pretty hard, too.
Hold on there, tiger. There's still hope. You don't need to run off and live in the woods to be green. We've got some hot tech for the household that'll keep you living in comfort while helping the world, and your expense account, stay nice and green.
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Turn your home office into a green command center.
Upgrade 1: Know how much you're using
The Wattson is your home's eco-friendly nerve center. It tells you how much electricity your household uses in a sleek, compact and colorful display. It communicates with a transmitter attached to your home's fuse box, and can remember four weeks of usage history, which you download and view on your home computer.
What it'll do: While it won't save you money simply by hooking it up, the benefit of having a power meter like the Wattson is that it makes all of your energy consumption and related expenses entirely transparent. You'll know how much energy you're using and, more importantly, what you're paying for it. You'll be able to gauge in real time what happens when you turn off lights and appliances you aren't using, and the benefits of unplugging things like surge protectors to cut down on standby power usage. It's not only better for your wallet, but for the environment, too.
Price: $300 (The Wattson is a product of the U.K., though it does display energy usage in a variety of international currencies. Still, you may need a bit of electrical know-how, or an electrician, to set it up.)
How green? Pretty green. It could do more to actively lower your usage — but that'd mean expanding the scope of the device.
Give your yard a brain.
Upgrade Two: Use only what you need
The Cyber-Rain system links all of your sprinklers together with a wireless control system that takes care of your watering schedule and keeps an eye on the weather. No more running to shut off the sprinklers when rain takes you unawares, or scratching your head at those brown spots you can't get rid of. The best part: you can keep tabs on everything from the comfort of your computer.
Put it to work: Your lawn doesn't always need the same amount of water to stay healthy. In fact, you may be surprised to learn that most homeowners really overdo it, costing them far more than it should to keep their grass green. The Cyber-Rain is able to tell your sprinklers to go easy on your lawn when it rains, or even when it's cold or humid; similarly, it'll give your grass more nourishment when it's hot or dry. A more efficient watering schedule means you pay what you should for a healthy lawn, and Mother Nature'll be happy to see you wasting less water.
How green? Green as grass. Really, a system like this should be the standard.
Never turn on your kitchen disposal again.
Upgrade Three: Reusing is mightier than recycling
A NatureMill in-door composting unit churns most of your organic scraps and leftovers into valuable, nutrient-rich compost you can use as plant fertilizer. The units are compact enough that they fit in under-the-sink compartments in your kitchen, have carbon filters to guard against odors, and have a user-friendly design we appreciate. You simply load it with leftovers whenever you have them, grind it up at the press of a button and — voilà! — your compost is ready for the garden.
The downside: There are things you won't be able to compost, such as liquids, lobster shells and peach pits, and the process often requires you to balance the mix with sawdust and baking soda to combat odors and acidity. The soft items you are able to compost, though, will save you from having to regularly buy expensive bags of fertilizer and will reduce the amount of unused waste your household produces. When good hunters kill an animal, they use as much of the animal as they can. In the same way, a responsible homeowner should reuse as much as possible.
Price: $300-$400, depending on the model.
How green? Very. Don't let that valuable organic waste remain as such.
Reclaim the room you forgot you had.
Upgrade Four: He who controls the attic controls the bills
Installing solar-powered attic fans are an easy way to keep your attic cool and improve airflow. Because they use renewable solar energy, you won't have to pay to keep them going, either — it's all entirely off the grid. Your attic shouldn't be an unlivable no-man's land, nor should it be a room that can only act as added storage.
Why it helps: Your attic can be one of the most important rooms in your house. It's often the least protected room and can get hot enough that it's like having a massive boiler attached to your house. Insulation, thermal paints and the right paneling can all do wonders to reduce your energy bills, as you won't have to pay for a ton of extra heat or air conditioning to keep its temperature regulated. One solar attic fan is good for 1,200 square feet and, even though it's got attic in the name, you could really use this for anything — your garage, workshop, shed or loft are a few examples.
How green? Not super green, as you're helping yourself out more.
Let's bring hand-washing back in style.
Upgrade Five: Every little bit helps
Using a gizmo like this nifty Pressure Handwasher for your smaller loads of laundry will cut down on how often you have to run your larger machines (or go to a laundromat). It's an airtight pod that's easy to lug, and can clean your stuff in as little as two minutes. Toss your clothes in, add some warm water and soap and close it up — the warmth will cause the trapped air particles inside to expand and generate a buildup of pressure. Rotate the drum for a few minutes, dump out your clothes and let them dry. You're done!
Think about it: Sometimes you only need to wash a handful of socks or a pair of jeans. Using a regular machine would be overkill and waiting for a full load of dirty laundry to accumulate can be a hassle. Fortunately, we live in an age where high efficiency washing machines that use less water and soap are becoming more common, but a Pressure Handwasher will save you money on water, soap and electricity if you learn how to work it into your routine. With how fast it is, and since it can hold five adult shirts at once, you may find it quickly becoming your primary way to wash small clothes.
How green? It depends, as it's up to you to make good use of it.
It's time to let go.
Upgrade Six: Get modern
General Electric is bringing out a new Hybrid Electric Water Heater that complies with the Department of Energy's EnergyStar standards, which is a grading scale of sorts for how much energy appliances use. The water heater uses ambient heat in the air around it as well as electric heating, though less of it than other machines, without sacrificing how much warmed water it delivers.
It works wonders: One of the easiest ways to save money on electricity is to modernize your household. That fridge you've had for 20 years has served you well, but it's woefully less efficient than today's machines. You'll have to eat the cost of buying a new unit, sure, but you'll see monthly gains in how much you save on your bills. The GE Hybrid Electric Water Heater works the same way, downsizing your gas bill while using electricity efficiently.
Price: Pricing will be available in May.
How green? Greener and greener with each appliance you replace.
Forgive me, Mass Effect!
Upgrade Seven: Sell your Xbox 360, get a Wii
If you're torn between your love of gaming and living green, the Nintendo Wii is the system for you. hardCOREware's Carl Nelson ran a four day test measuring the energy consumption of the Xbox 360, Playstation 3 and Nintendo Wii while playing games and media, and saw how much standby energy the consoles use when turned off.
Break it down: When playing games, the Wii uses an average of 18 watts — which looks especially miniscule next to the PlayStation 3's average of around 190 watts, and the Xbox's 185. The Wii can't play DVDs like its two counterparts, but consider this: A standard DVD player was used in its stead, averaging 13 watts during a movie, while the Xbox and PlayStation 3 used a whopping 125 and 175 watts, respectively. So, if you're going green, you shouldn't be using the consoles for the DVD playback any. The consoles were only equal when turned off, all using less than 3 watts of energy (although a Wii can use up to 10 if you have the Connect24 service running).
It's estimated that 41% of U.S. homes now have gaming consoles in them, and some of those own several units. If all of those units were Nintendo Wiis, we'd be using a fraction of the energy on gaming we do today.
Price: $250 (If you can find one.)
How green? More than you'd guess — we often don't weigh amusements like consoles by environmental rating.