• U.S.

Living: Gizmos To Save Energy

5 minute read

Wood stoves are not the only energy-and money-saving gadgets for the home. From Casablanca-style ceiling fans to recently developed vent dampers and superefficient furnaces, Americans are turning to technologies old and new to scrimp and save on precious energy.

Proper house insulation is the first prerequisite for the effective use of any energy-saving device. The newly designed $1,400 Blueray furnace, for example, captures as much as 90% of the energy that is locked in a gallon of heating oil, vs. the 70% recovered by a conventional furnace. But it makes no sense to install highly efficient equipment in the basement if all the additional heat generated escapes through leaky baseboards, wall sockets, attics, exhaust fans and chimneys, where up to 85% of a home’s heat loss occurs.

Once they have buttoned up their dwellings against the cold, more and more conservation-minded homeowners are turning their attention to what would otherwise be the frills and extras of the energy saver’s world. Energy-saving gadgets are appearing on hardware-store shelves and in department-store mailers in proliferation. A wholly new type of retailing outlet, the energy boutique. has been spawned. One such shop for the thermally trendy, Windsun & Woods of Middletown, Conn., offers everything from quiltmaking kits to electricity-saving quartz space heaters and residential windmills for generating power.

Worthwhile energy gizmos are by and large both simple and durable. Also they save enough energy so that the homeowner can recover, or amortize, the initial expenditure—which can amount to several hundred dollars—within a reasonable time. Herewith a sampler of five of the best and most cost-effective devices now available to individual homeowners:

Vent dampers. Before a furnace or boiler can heat a house, it first must heat itself. Only after the inside temperature climbs to about 130° F does the furnace begin transferring warmth. Yet whenever the system shuts off, much of the accumulated heat within the furnace escapes up the flue. The vent damper is an electrically operated plate that blocks the flue during an oil-or gas-burning furnace’s off cycle, thus retaining the heat. The plate then rotates to an open position when the unit trips on again. Department of Energy studies show that dampers can cut fuel consumption by an average 19% annually. Several manufacturers produce the device; one is the Flair Manufacturing Corp., whose product costs from $200 to $400 installed.

Ceiling fans. There is little point to heating a house if most of the warmth wafts overhead: in a well-insulated room the air near the ceiling can be anywhere from 10° to 25° warmer than at ankle level. Ceiling fans can reduce heating costs sharply, from 25% to 35%, simply by swishing the over-head reservoir of warm air down to where the people are. Designs range from units with plain wooden blades to brass and even iron-scrollwork extravaganzas that recall the decor of turn-of-the-century ice cream parlors. Top-of-the-line ceiling fans are made by the Hunter Fan Co. retail for $200 and up.

Timer clocks. After the furnace, the biggest energy user in the home is the hot-water heater. Most hot-water tanks retain heat for at least eight to ten hours; with electrically operated heaters it is possible to save substantially on hot-water bills by rewarming the water during nighttime or the early morning hours when utility companies offer reduced rates for so-called off-peak usage. Several firms manufacture industrial-grade timer clocks for that purpose. The Tork Corp.’s clock retails for $30 to $40 and is easily wired up by a licensed electrician. Sales of such timers have jumped by 300% over the past two years.

Shower reducers. A shower is a more energy-efficient way to wash than a bath: the cheapest shower is the one that uses the least hot water. At an averageresidential water pressure of 60 lbs. per sq. in., a conventional shower nozzle sprays out 35 gal. of water every five minutes. For $22.95, Teledyne Water Pik offers a nozzle that cuts water usage to 15 gal. during a five-minute shower without loss of pressure. A less expensive model, made by the Con-Serv Corp., retails for $13.95 and cuts water flow to only 10.5 gal. Cheapest of all: a plastic “water-miser” insert that costs less than 1¢ and was mailed this autumn by the Department of Energy free of charge to 4.5 million homeowners throughout the oil-hungry Northeast.

Electricity monitors. Even if a homeowner has reduced electricity consumption to a minimum, there is always an other watt or two that can be saved. That is the theory behind electricity monitors, which use microchip technology and digital display to calculate the dollars-and-cents value of the electricity being used in a house at any given moment. The idea is that once a homeowner sees what he is actually spending for electricity, he will become far more conscientious about turning off lights and, in the case of electric heat, lowering the thermostat. According to tests by the University of Colorado, monitors can bring down electricity consumption in the home by some 12% per year. The most sophisticated device being sold is the Fitch Energy Monitor, which retails for $89.50.

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