Greening Your Tech
Going green doesn’t have to mean throwing away all of your tech toys and living "off the grid." From big changes, like making the switch to solar energy, to smaller ones, like checking for the Energy Star logo before making new purchases, there are many things you can do to lessen your impact on the environment.
Heating and cooling your home costs a lot, both in energy consumption and actual money. One way to save on both is to make the switch to a smart thermostat. Smart thermostats can be programmed to automatically raise and lower the temperature of your home based on when you’re away and offer features like remote operation via your smartphone and real-time monitoring of your energy consumption. Popular options include the Nest Learning Thermostat, Ecobee’s Smart Thermostat and the Honeywell Prestige 2.0 Comfort System.
Vampires are real -- but they’re after electricity, not your blood. “Vampire” appliances consume energy even when they’re in standby mode or appear to be switched off. The first step to eradicating them is finding out exactly what devices in your home use the most energy, and that’s where power meter plugs come in handy. Devices like the MeterPlug and iMeter Solo measure how much power your electronics or appliances are using and allow you to track and analyze your energy consumption on your smartphone or computer.
Energy-Saving Surge Protectors
Once you’ve identified your energy vampires, manage them with a power strip that keeps them turned off when not in use. Surge protectors like the Smart Strip and Tripp Lite’s EcoSurge line automatically cut the power to peripheral devices when you’re not using them.
Standard incandescent bulbs, although initially cheaper, are the least energy efficient and cost the most overall, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. LED or compact fluorescent bulbs, both of which use about a quarter of the energy of incandescent bulbs. LED bulbs are the most expensive of the three but offer perks beyond simply lighting up a room. They’re cool to the touch and dimmable, and some -- such as the Philips Hue Personal Wireless Light -- can even be controlled wirelessly from your tablet or smartphone.
Solar energy is an excellent alternative to fossil fuels, but the cost of outfitting your house with solar panels can put a serious dent in your pocketbook. Fortunately, in many states you’re now able to lease solar panels, reducing or eliminating upfront costs. Companies that lease solar panels, such as SolarCity, SunRun and Sungevity, charge you a small installation cost and a monthly fee for the electricity you generate. The leasing company handles all the required permits and maintenance, making it a worry-free alternative to owning the panels.
Eco-Friendly Printing Practices
Going entirely paperless may not be feasible, but can certainly reduce your printer’s environmental impact. Reduce waste by choosing recycled ink cartridges and paper -- and don’t forget to recycle your own when you’re done. Another option is to make the switch to soy-based inks, an eco-friendly alternative to traditional petroleum-based ink.
Look for the Label
When you’re ready to purchase new appliances and electronics, don’t forget to check for the ENERGY STAR® logo, a designation backed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. For a product to earn this label, it must meet the EPA’s standards for energy efficiency, one of which is that the product must deliver the expected features and performance along with increased energy savings.
Earth-Friendly Hard Drives
Most PCs are already Energy Star-compliant, but you can make them even more energy efficient by choosing “green” hard drives for your storage needs. Green drives are quieter, cooler and use less power than standard drives, but often run at a slower speed -- 5400 RPM versus 7200 RPM -- as a result. Solid-state drives are another alternative for the energy-conscious consumer. They consume less power than both green and standard hard drives without sacrificing speed, but the cost is considerably higher.
You may not be ready to fully make the transition to solar energy, but you can still harness the power of the sun to charge your everyday devices. Solar chargers like the Solio Xcellerator and the Accessory Power Revive Solar Restore XL soak up the sun and convert it into energy that you can use to charge most USB-powered devices, such as smartphones, tablets, e-readers and digital cameras.
Forget to turn off the lights or TV when you left the house this morning? No problem -- a quick tap on your smartphone and you can control the power in your house from anywhere. That’s the convenience offered by home automation systems like Belkin’s WeMo, which connects to your home’s Wi-Fi to enable remote operation via your iOS or Android device. Some systems also offer a motion detection option that turns off your lights and devices if no activity is sensed within a certain period of time.
- U.S. Department of Energy: No Garlic Necessary: Protect Your Home From Energy Vampires
- U.S. Department of Energy: Guide to Energy-Efficient Lighting (PDF)
- The Wall Street Journal: How Homeowners Are Getting Solar Panels Without a Lot of Upfront Cash
- Energy Star: How a Product Earns the ENERGY STAR Label
- Ars Technica: Ask Ars: Are “Green” Hard Drives Really All That Green?