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I wouldn’t touch – yawn – energy efficiency if it weren’t such a darn good way to save money. So to spice up this list of 12 frugal home efficiency improvements, I tossed in new gadgets and technologies that companies are developing to make slashing energy easier and hopefully, more fun.
1. Recycle heat. A new super efficient clothes dryer available in Europe consumes half the heat of a traditional model by recycling heat, says Norman L. Dean, President of TopTen USA, which ranks the top ten most efficient home products. Instead of venting steam, the dryer runs the hot exhaust over a series of coils that absorbs the heat and puts it back into dryer. It’s called a heat pump close dryer and could be on the market in a couple of years.
2. Dodge the draft. Buy or make simple door draft dodgers, cloth strips filled with rice or batting that snuggle up against the bottom of your door. They come in various lengths and patterns and also muffle noises. Look for them at your local hardware store, Bed Bath & Beyond, or pick up material to make one at a fabric store.
3. Get smart. With your sockets, that is. Smart sockets look like surge protectors and can detect when you power down one gadget, like your laptop. This gadget jumps to action and shuts off additional devices, like your printer and monitor. New models are coming out that will shut off power if you’ve been out of the room for a set period of time.
4. Double your doorway. Energy Star fiberglass doors are five times as insulating as standard wooden doors, according to Home Depot. A so-called storm door weatherproofs, insulates, and can be fitted to your existing doorway. Get step by step directions to . If you have storm windows, check that they are closed.
5. See past CFLs. Solid state diode lamps. Researchers are working to make these light sources, including LEDs, bright enough for everyday use and widely available. “We’re convinced there will be a lot of high quality LED light bulbs for consumers,” said Dean of Top Ten USA. When? Within five years.
6. Let sun in. Open the shades on your south facing windows during the day to soak up as much sunlight and warmth as possible. Keeps shades closed the rest of the time to avoid chills.
7. Nix the sports bar setting on your TV, which is brighter than it needs to be for home use and sucks up 20 percent more power, Dean said. Dim the lights when you watch and you can lower the brightness setting even more, saving more. If your TV has an auto brightness control, it will do the work for you. Controlling brightness is key because that is where most of the power goes. If you have a 3-D TV, you are out of luck! These sets have to be much brighter than traditional TVs because watchers wear shutter glasses, reducing the amount of light that gets to your eyes.
8. Cool food on the counter. Hot food wastes energy by making your fridge work extra hard. Instead, let your food cool on the counter for an hour or so until it gets close to room temperature (while making sure edibles do not expire). Then refrigerate. On the flip side, let frozen items do the work for the refrigerator by thawing them inside, instead of on the counter.
9. Flip the switch. Turn on the “power saver” or “energy saver” switch near the temperature controls and leave it on unless you get condensation. The switch turns off a heater that reduces condensation on the outside of the fridge. Buy an inexpensive thermometer and make sure your fridge is at the right temperature, which is 36-38 Fahrenheit. The freezer should be between 0-5 Fahrenheit. Check that the seal around your fridge door is not leaking cool air by slipping a dollar bill between the door and the body of the fridge. Close it and if you can easily pull the bill out, you need a new seal. Grime can loosen the seal, so cleaning might put off replacement.
10. If new windows are out of budget, pick up a plastic window kit to provide an extra layer of insulation. They cost $10-$15 bucks and all you need is a hairdryer to tighten a thin layer of plastic sheeting, which you secure with double sided tape. Caulking leaks is another step that is cheaper than replacing windows.
11. Heat water with air. A new type of hot water heater sucks heat from the air. These hybrid water heaters works the same way a heat pump pulls heat out of the ground. I wouldn’t want one in the heated areas of my home, but they are good for a garage, basement, or laundry annex. They are now moving into the marketplace. GE claims its new saves $320 a year. Buy one and get a $300 federal tax credit. Rheem also makes one.
12. Get audited. Doesn’t sound fun, but hiring a reputable energy auditor (some utilities will send an inspector to your home for free) to bring in high tech sensors that will tell you where you are losing the most energy means you can attack the biggest energy wasters first.