During our search for shining stars of green technology for the home (see Part One for our first in the series), it became clear that heating and cooling is the number-one drain on both natural resources and our utility bills. With a climate that is usually brutally cold (-20 degrees Fahrenheit wind chill temperatures) or unbearably hot (a heat index of 120 degrees Fahrenheit or more), the Nebraska home we are using as our testbed could definitely use some upgrades.
There are high-quality whole-home systems on the market designed to decrease reliance on electricity and fossil fuels. But we focused on appliances that could be used in the "zone heating/cooling" method and could be moved from room to room. This turned out to be not only a very effective way to keep temperatures in the acceptable range at any time of the year, it also proved to be much more affordable in initial investment costs.
How did these small appliances qualify as “green” options? In addition to the lowered energy consumption that almost always followed their implementation, many of them also helped to bring a better awareness about the efficiency of the home as a whole. When heating just one area of a home, a drafty window or door in the immediate area will be more noticeable and adjustments can be made right away. If whole-home heating and cooling units are utilized, an inefficient area of the home may not always be apparent, which would waste more money and fuel. For the ultimate in energy-efficiency, it is best to try to find suitable solutions that are also Energy-Star compliant (or at least reduce energy usage by a significant amount).
Here are the most promising of the products that we tested.