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Green Your Home with Tech: Part 1

Green Your Home with Tech: Part 1
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A new fixture in our old farmhouse.A new fixture in our old farmhouse.Our 70-year-old, two-story farmhouse recently underwent a complete rewiring of its electrical system. The outdated wiring and old-fashioned fixtures were not only at an increased risk of starting an electrical fire, but they were a drain on my finances, as utility bills became difficult to manage. 

Once the decision was made to start fresh, there were opportunities to improve upon the usual process of putting a home back together. As I looked into the options, I became skeptical of all the companies touting earth-friendlier options to the standard fixtures and systems. Could the addition of a few “green” gadgets to my home (and the removal of outdated technologies) keep electrical bills low? I realized that those environmental and cost savings could be wiped out if the products were a pain to purchase, install, and use every day.

We took a look at some of the newest electricity and lighting gizmos on the market. Some were designed to cut electric usage right away, while others required some planning and changes in our daily lifestyle to take advantage of. Here are the technologies we are sticking with and how they can work for you, too.

An old lighting fixture outside our farmhouse.An old lighting fixture outside our farmhouse.Return to Tom's Guide later this month for the next part in our "Green Your Home with Tech" series, which will feature energy-efficient technologies for home heating and coolinguseful for homes in regions where weather conditions fluctuate wildly during February, March, and April.

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  • 0 Hide
    nukemaster , February 11, 2009 3:35 PM
    Does the LED bulb loose lighting in some fixtures since half of the bulb is covered?

    I have seen so many color temperatures of CFL bulbs that you "should" find something to match your tastes.

    Outdoor in the cold does remain a real issue for CFL bulbs that are not left on for extended time(Motion lights) since there is a warm-up time.
  • 0 Hide
    Fadamor , February 11, 2009 4:31 PM
    I'm amazed at the math some people like to use. $39.95 @ Amazon.com translates into "it might very well be worth the $30 to start switching out bulbs on a conservative schedule."

    Of course, in an article on a Green Earth-dedicated site a year ago reviewing the Pharox bulb, the price was quoted as $60.00. So maybe our intrepid columnist was thinking about costs in the future.
  • 1 Hide
    Tomsguiderachel , February 11, 2009 5:54 PM
    Fadamor, the Amazon.com link is not to the cheapest place to buy a Pharox bulb on the Web. It is simply to a reputable place. We are confident you can find it for cheaper elsewhere.

    Thanks,

    Rachel Rosmarin
    Editor of Tom's Guide
  • -1 Hide
    A Stoner , February 11, 2009 6:30 PM
    How much of the cost of these things are actually in energy consumption to manufacture. I can guess that the material cost for these is more than for a typical incandescent, but probably not by a factor, more likely double. The rest of the cost then has to be in energy used in production. I can buy (4) 75 watt light bulbs for about $1.29 if I do not care what brand I get, or I can buy (4) 100 watt light bulbs for as much as $6.95 if I want a high quality name brand. I can also buy some that are simply $5.95 each if I want 6500k 100 watt name brand. If you say the reason for the cost is simply more expensive materials to make them, why is the material so expensive? Is it because there is very limited available anywhere, or is it because it takes alot of energy to get it out of the environment and turned into a production ready substance? In the end, you can almost always trace the cost of an item back to the total energy required to produce it. While 50,000 hours is a long time, many times these things will be replaced long before they give out. From the time I was a child until I left for military my family probably turned in 5 TVs to salvation army in still working order. People upgrade, and at the rate that things change in todays society it is much more frequently. In the future it will probably be even more so. So while this light is nice today, and if you keep it for your lifetime it makes sense, but I say it is more likely it is like a computer, while you could probably spend $10,000 and have the fastest thing in crysis around, next year you will likely be dumping your old machine and upgrading to the next $10,000 machine that has new features. For lightbulbs the features could be light output, light color, dimmable, new fixtures specifically made for LED lighting, a higher efficiency solar panel or what ever. The likely hood of someone keeping these particular lights installed for decades is probably very minimal.
  • 0 Hide
    Tomsguiderachel , February 11, 2009 9:34 PM
    Stoner,

    I can see that you are trying to make a good point. But the truth is, you have no more information than we do. Of course, we don't know how much more energy a Pharox Bulb costs to manufacture than a standard or a CFL. Over a period of 10 years, I would guess that you'd be saving both energy AND money AND natural resources to use the Pharox instead. I'd wager the same is true for every product on this list (and the item they would replace). If anyone has evidence to the contrary, we are very eager for it!

    Thanks,
    Rachel Rosmarin
    Editor of Tom's Guide
  • 2 Hide
    Dekasav , February 12, 2009 2:21 AM
    With new technology, though, it's not always about making money on the product, but returning on the investment of developing the technology. Think of the Pharox bulbs like a prescription drug, it costs little to manufacture but lots to make the first one. After research and development costs are recouped, the price will likely settle closer to the materials and energy used to make it (the physical bulb).
  • 1 Hide
    Area51 , February 12, 2009 2:56 AM
    Rachel,
    It is one of the best postings I have seen in a long time from Toms... Great job, and I hope to see further postings like this.
    Thanks again
  • 0 Hide
    Tomsguiderachel , February 12, 2009 5:27 AM
    Thanks Area, You will see more stories like this--we're going to be running a 3 part series on making homes greener through technology. Stay tuned!
  • 0 Hide
    tank , February 12, 2009 11:23 AM
    Great technology article. From a homer owner's standpoint I must ask why should I switch? Can you maybe show some stats of how this technology saved you money? Give some conclusive evidence showing the benefits to switch and use some of these gadgets. Again great article.
  • 0 Hide
    A Stoner , February 12, 2009 12:29 PM
    I am not trying to say that over ten years you would not save money. The thing I am noticing about many of the items is that they last 25, 30, 50 years. The question then must become whether a person will keep them in use for those 30 years to get the advantages offered. It could be two years down the road better items come out and these things get replaced with those new items and these items end up in storage or the dump. I just want to make sure that people look at the upgrade from every perspective available. While the light bulb is state of the art today, there is no reason to beleive that they will be state of the art in two years. Light quality and intensity would be the two factors I would think would be most likely to cause a person to change these bulbs. Some people care about the color and brightness of their lights, I know other people who are just as happy with a 40 watt yellow tint bulb as a 60 watt soft white. If a person is in this group, chances are slim they would change out these bulbs in a lifetime. Other people, like me look for specific brightness, color and would be very likely to toss these in the storage closet as soon as closer to my ideal light came out. I would replace those as soon as the next better light came out and so forth.
  • 0 Hide
    lordfisch , February 12, 2009 1:30 PM
    I've been reading Tom's for nearly 7 years, and this article prompted me to finally register and respond. Wonderful article, and I hope this marks an upswing from some of the unfortunate events that have happened around the various Tom's sites recently. Thanks and keep up the good work.
  • 0 Hide
    A Stoner , February 12, 2009 2:24 PM
    lordfischand I hope this marks an upswing from some of the unfortunate events that have happened around the various Tom's sites recently.


    Did I miss something around here?
  • 0 Hide
    Tomsguiderachel , February 12, 2009 2:59 PM
    tankGreat technology article. From a homer owner's standpoint I must ask why should I switch? Can you maybe show some stats of how this technology saved you money? Give some conclusive evidence showing the benefits to switch and use some of these gadgets. Again great article.

    We might update at some point when we've collected enough "data" from the utility companies. Hard to gauge exactly how much you've saved without a series of electric bills, know what I mean?
  • 0 Hide
    Tomsguiderachel , February 12, 2009 3:03 PM
    A StonerI am not trying to say that over ten years you would not save money. The thing I am noticing about many of the items is that they last 25, 30, 50 years. The question then must become whether a person will keep them in use for those 30 years to get the advantages offered. It could be two years down the road better items come out and these things get replaced with those new items and these items end up in storage or the dump. I just want to make sure that people look at the upgrade from every perspective available. While the light bulb is state of the art today, there is no reason to beleive that they will be state of the art in two years. Light quality and intensity would be the two factors I would think would be most likely to cause a person to change these bulbs. Some people care about the color and brightness of their lights, I know other people who are just as happy with a 40 watt yellow tint bulb as a 60 watt soft white. If a person is in this group, chances are slim they would change out these bulbs in a lifetime. Other people, like me look for specific brightness, color and would be very likely to toss these in the storage closet as soon as closer to my ideal light came out. I would replace those as soon as the next better light came out and so forth.

    For a certain subset of consumers, this is definitely true--but I can't imagine it is true for the whole. I imagine that when it comes to lightbulb consumption, most people have been sticking to the same brand/brightness if they've lived in their residence for a certain about of time. Most people haven't even considered switching to CFL yet, and that technology has been around for a long time. I think we're actually a real "tipping point" right now with bulb technology in that we're looking for a mainstream bulb that everyone will stick to for a while (just like we did with incandescents).
  • 1 Hide
    Anonymous , February 12, 2009 3:43 PM
    Great article. Looking forward to reading the next one. Am planning to buy a new house, and coming up a with an overall investment plan to reduce costs over time. Would love to see maybe an article focusing on high tech usage for water use (solar water heater, monitoring), latest power generation for a house (small windmills, solar panels), etc.. As well, my tip for reducing electricity in the house - just like in office building, washroom mainly - is to put motion censors instead of light switched in as many rooms as you can depending on usage. No only you don't have to worry about forgetting to turn off the lights, it's actually easier when you walk into a room and lights turn on automatically! Cheers.
  • 1 Hide
    knutjb , February 12, 2009 9:58 PM
    Good article, I look forward to future installment on this subject. My Dad had fluorescents in the house since the late 60’s. Didn’t like the color but understood the rationale, saving money. I’m not a ecofreak but I like saving money (a significant flaw with the environmental movement they should promote saving money in lieu of the guilt trip). I have been using CFLs for 14-15 years. The color problem has improved tremendously but varies by manufacturer. LEDs have a way to go before colors are consistent and reliable for a reasonable price. Long life natural white light LEDs are expensive and vary in color output over time. They are getting better but are way too spendy for the output.
    I would like to see how much power is lost converting solar panel dc-ac, I have heard it’s around 35% and that is substantial loss of electrons.
    I hope TG can show products that provide real savings, could be extra money for new computer parts or other toys.
  • 1 Hide
    Anonymous , February 13, 2009 11:31 AM
    Regarding the cost of the bulbs:

    I belive its the manufacturing process that's partly to blame for the cost. With standard bulbs we've been making them for 100 years. The process is now 100% automated. The standard bulb you buy in a store has not been touched by a human since it was a raw material and the box placed on the shelf.

    With LED lights there isn't the market sharet yet to justify large scale investment in automation. With that said, I think we are turning that corner now. Just last week I bought a three pack of LED bulbs from my local Costco. When warehouse stores start to sell these things in bulk I think we'll see the price fall quick as it opens up this alternative for all the folks still not convinced to shop online.
  • 1 Hide
    waffle911 , February 13, 2009 2:43 PM
    Maybe, if people only end up using these for a few years before better ones come out, there will be a market for used bulbs. That would be interesting, and it would help bring energy efficiency to households that otherwise could not afford to upgrade.
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , February 13, 2009 8:24 PM
    Awesome article! keep these green / energy efficient stories coming. I just bought a new house and would like to remodel it while also making it much more energy efficient.
  • 0 Hide
    zodiacfml , February 17, 2009 1:08 AM
    I still think LED lighting is for 24 hour use and minimum maintenance. it is not a good investment if you plan using it only for night time.
    for dimming and using the light for less than 1 hour a night, incandescent still is, while fluorescent is for more hours than that and desire for white/bluish light.

    so, it is the knowing well the purpose and performance to achieve efficiency.
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