Energy Saving Products
We saw a number of companies exhibiting their green wares at the GreenBuild show in Boston and the International Builders' Show in Las Vegas. Here are a few of the standouts.
The housing industry is cooling off, but energy-saving products and technologies are hot. We saw a number of companies exhibiting their green wares at the GreenBuild show in Boston and the gargantuan International Builders' Show in Las Vegas. Here are a few of the standouts.
For all their benefits—ultralow power consumption, 50,000-hour lifetime, and no toxic ingredients—the sickly light emitted by most LEDs is hardly appealing in today's homes. To overcome that issue, Cree developed the LR6, a light that uses a combination of yellow and red LEDs to create that warm incandescent look without the wasted electricity. The LR6 consumes just 12 watts of electricity while producing 650 lumens of light, the equivalent of a 75-watt incandescent. This dimmable light also actively manages the output of the LEDs, so the color and light intensity remain consistent during its expected 25-year lifetime. Don't forget to factor in their longevity when you see how much they cost:
About $100 each; Cree
With less than 3 percent of the Earth's water available for human consumption, why would you ever wash your car or water your lawn with scarce drinking water? Consider using rainwater runoff from your roof that's collected in an above-ground cistern like the Slimline from Bushman, a company in drought-plagued Australia. You can set up a system complete with connectors, filters, and even a pressure pump without digging up the yard. Made from a single piece of roto-molded polyethylene, Bushman offers slim- and low-profile round-tank designs in sizes from 130 gallons to 2,825 gallons.
Starting price: About $500; Bushman
Navien's line of tankless water heaters relies on super-efficient condensing gas burners to create an endless supply of domestic hot water. Because condensing burners extract 98 percent of the heat from the gas flame, operating costs are less than one-half of an average tankless water heater and one-third of traditional tank heaters. And the exhaust is so cool, heaters can be vented with plastic pipe. The Model A shown has a miniature buffer tank to keep the hot water coming even when the flow is reduced to a trickle. The largest models have maximum flow rates of 11 gallons per minute in warm climates, 6 gpm in cold climates.
About $1,300 to $2,000; Navien
Each year, the average household sends 17,000 gallons of clean water down the drain while waiting for hot water to travel from the water heater to a faucet or showerhead. Laing's Ecocirc E-series pump eliminates that wait time because there's no cold water in your pipes; hot water is constantly circulating and always available. The pump consumes only 12 watts per hour, about as much as a night-light. Laing uses a permanent-magnet motor with a shaftless impeller that spins on a ceramic bearing, and the impeller is the only moving part. With this pump, neither water nor electricity goes to waste.
Starts at about $300; Laing
Heat pumps are a highly efficient way to heat (and cool) homes because they scavenge and concentrate heat from the surrounding air; for every unit of electrical input, a heat pump produces three units of heat. The AirTap heat pump from AirGenerate channels those same efficiencies into heating water. The device, which can be retrofitted to new or existing heater tanks, draws about 6 amps, nearly 2.5 times less energy than a standard electric water heater. (AirTap's efficiency goes up as the air temperature rises.) And while it takes longer for AirTap to bring cold water up to temperature than a gas or electric heater, all that cool, dry air it produces is a welcome side benefit in summer. In winter, just vent that air outside.
About $700; AirGenerate
Polyiso foam board is one of the best performing insulation products on the market. Eco-Max, the newest foil-faced foam board from RMax, is at least 8 percent agricultural oil, reducing the amount of nonrenewable resources used in the manufacturing process. Eco-Max also uses real aluminum-foil facings, not Mylar, for maximum heat-blocking performance. This board has an R-value of 5.4 per inch.
About $750 for a 2,000-square-foot house; RMax
Heating water with the sun offers the biggest bang for your dollar and can save you up to 90 percent on water heating costs. One solar thermal package that caught our attention this year was Caleffi, which offers complete, easy-to-install turnkey kits with panels, tubing, pump, and insulated storage tank.
Starting at about $9,000 installed; Caleffi
The solar cells that generate electricity from sunlight have been made of either expensive (and efficient) crystalline silicon cells or cheap (and less efficient) amorphous silicon, the kind used in calculators. Sanyo combines these two silicons in their HIT Power Panels in a way that makes them lighter, more efficient, and more affordable than cells from competing manufacturers. At higher temperatures, Sanyo's cells are 10 percent more efficient than conventional crystalline silicon panels.
About $7-8 per watt installed; Sanyo
Most of the talk about insulating walls is focused on filling the openings between the studs. But lots of heat is lost through conduction, also known as thermal bridging, in which studs transfer heat from the inside out in the winter and vice versa in the summer. The problem is particularly pronounced with steel studs, but conduction also occurs with wooden ones. Thermablok virtually eliminates conduction. The simple peel-and-stick strips of fibrous material are filled with Aerogel, a high-tech material developed by NASA that is 95 percent air and has the highest R-value of any known building material. Stick the strips to the inside edges of exposed wood or steel studs before the drywall goes up, and they can increase the wall's R-value by about 40 percent.
The strips are sold in 4-foot lengths for about $4 each; Thermablok
Polyurethane spray foams are highly efficient insulators, but they're made from petroleum. Some companies have turned to soybean oil as a substitute for nonrenewable fossil fuel. But Icynene has turned to a different seed to make their new, more sustainable LD-R-50 open-cell polyurethane: the castor bean. Castor-oil plants are easy on the environment—they require no irrigation, pesticides, or fungicides—and yield 23 percent more oil by weight than soybean plants. Yet the foam made from it is virtually indistinguishable in appearance and performance from Icnyene's other foams.
About 42 cents per cubic inch installed; Icynene, Inc.
The Freewatt in-home system produces heat with a generous helping of electricity on the side. When a house needs heat, a natural-gas-powered Honda engine produces up to 12,000 Btus and feeds them to an Energy Star–rated furnace or boiler. At the same time, the engine spins a generator that produces 1,200 watts of electricity. You end up buying less power off the grid or, in some cases, selling it to the utility. At about 48 decibels, it's reportedly quieter than a refrigerator.
Estimated cost with installation: About $20,000; Freewatt
For every CFL you install, you'll save around $30 in electricity costs over the bulb's lifetime. But the bulky ballast, which sits between the threaded end and the glass, prevents the bulb from being used in common fixtures such as recessed lighting and desk lamps. GE miniaturized the electronics in the ballast, so the bulb looks more like the lightbulb we're used to and fits almost anywhere an incandescent can go. The new 15-watt bulbs, with light output equivalent to a 60-watt incandescent, should last 8,000 hours.
About $6–$8; General Electric