Solar electric systems. The sun gives off an incredible amount of energy, so why don't more of us use it? Solar-powered heating technologies allow us to harness that energy and, once installed, gain practically free electricity, heat, or heated water. When the sun is shining, your solar system generates electricity, which means you will purchase less electricity from the local utility.
To tap into the solar energy stream, residents usually install a residential photovoltaic electric system on the roof. Photovoltaic cells convert solar energy into electricity (DC voltage) with efficiencies that range from eight to 12 percent. They are mounted in groups, typically in large, flat panels several feet wide. Connecting cables tie the panels to an inverter, a device that converts the DC current into AC, which is what is used by residential appliances and lights. The inverter ties into the circuit box, and when the sun is shining, some or even all of a home's electrical needs can be met by the PV system.
The California Energy Commission and state legislature have set a goal to create 3,000 megawatts of new, solar-produced electricity by 2017. The San Francisco Solar Task Force is encouraging homeowners to install solar energy systems to make the installation easier and more cost-efficient. To help initiate more solar power installations, the state is providing property rebates of $5,000 to $6,000.
Kitchen exhaust. Installing a new kitchen exhaust for energy efficiency might be considered an oxymoron, considering that some heating contractors say that a majority of a home's heat in the winter can be sucked through the vent in just an hour. In the summer, however, efficient kitchen exhausts can help expel heat and humidity while cooking, thereby reducing the need for extra fans or air conditioning. Kitchen range hoods directly over the range should be at least the same width as the cooking surface and mounted 18 to 30 inches above the burners.
Broan-NuTone recently introduced a 'Best by Broan' range hood, designed by F.A. Porsche, which incorporates technology that senses when too much heat is building up, and adjusts blower speeds accordingly, to help prevent fires. Retailing for $2,027, the WM24 hood features efficient HVI-certified (Home Ventilating Institute) internal or quiet external blower options; stainless-steel, dishwasher-safe filters; two-level halogen lighting that provides ample lighting for the workspace; four-speed, electronic pushbutton control with a delay-off switch; and a telescopic flue for ceilings over eight feet tall.
Energy Star refrigerator. The energy efficiency of refrigerators and freezers has greatly improved over the past 30 years. Typical new refrigerators with automatic defrost and a top-mounted freezer uses less than 500 kWh per year, whereas typical models sold in 1973 used over 1,800 kWh per year.
Federal efficiency standards first took effect in 1993, requiring new refrigerators and freezers to be more efficient, and a new set of stricter standards took effect in July 2001. As of 2004, full-size refrigerators that exceed the federal standard by 15 percent or more qualify for the Energy Star label.
Bosch recently introduced the Integra refrigeration system, which are Energy Star-qualified refrigerator, freezer, and wine units. This eco-friendly refrigerator has different modes for better energy savings. For example, the Sabbath Mode uses no energy, Economy Mode runs extra efficient, and Vacation Mode adjusts the temperature and disables water and lighting. Prices for the system start at $2,799.
When purchasing a new refrigerator, consider getting rid of your existing one rather than moving it to the garage for extra storage. By sending the older unit for recycling, you will reap all the savings without adding to your bottom line.
Tankless water heater. With all the showers, dishwashers, and laundry going on at home, having enough hot water can often be a challenge in older California residences. New technology in water heaters can help solve that problem. "Today's on-demand water heaters allow for an endless supply of hot water—and a smart gas valve only turns on when needed, which can save resources in the long run," says Mike LaChance of LaChance Radiant Heating.