In this age of intelligent devices, smart homes, and technology that moves at lightning speed, a number of advancements are also making homes more environmentally friendly.
Many “smart” products are already well known. Smart thermostats help you use less electricity and save on your energy bill, and now they’re so prevalent they’re becoming the standard in both older homes and new construction. Smart plugs and energy-efficient appliances follow a similar blueprint.
Of course, there are plenty of home technology upgrades that go well beyond your basic gadgets and appliances. Much of the best tech is also great for the environment. Whether it's from less energy or water use, the green materials or methods used in manufacturing and installation, or a combination of all of the above, modern tech is also green tech.
From small and simple upgrades to major system installs, here are eight eco-friendly tech updates your home needs.
LED Light Bulbs
We've already noted the prevalence of smart gadgets and energy-efficient appliances in homes across the country. But one of the easiest and cheapest methods for adding eco-friendly tech to your home is with LED light bulbs.
Replacing the long-standing incandescent and fluorescent light bulbs of yesteryear, LED lighting is equal parts efficient and flexible. LEDs are ultra-durable and last far longer than standard light bulbs. In many cases, the life of an LED bulb is measured in years instead of months, like its predecessors. They also use far less energy than any bulb that's come before.
LED lighting is also just plain cool. Highly customizable and available in an endless array of hues, LEDs make a huge impression and add a lot of personality to any home. Philips Hue is the undisputed industry leader in innovative LED lighting.
Environmentally Conscious Windows and Doors
When you think of home improvements that are both eco-friendly and high-tech, windows may not be the first thing that comes to mind. There's little doubt about their energy-saving bonafides, and double-pane windows are a popular choice for controlling a home’s interior climate in the summer and winter.
However, today's windows are constructed with sustainable materials using sustainable methods, adding considerable cred to their greenness. The tech has come a long way too. High-end windows feature built-in sensors that let you know when a window (or door) is open or unlocked.
Window treatments add to the intelligence of the window with programmable blinds, tint, or curtains you can schedule to open when the sun rises and close when it sets, or to cast a little shade at the hottest part of the day. Andersen Windows features multiple lines of energy-efficient windows, and Lutron is a go-to for home automation, including shading solutions.
Solar Panels and Roofing
Speaking of the hottest part of the day, adding solar panels to the roof of your house harnesses the sun's energy and turns it into power for your home. Once a fringe residential technology, roof solar panels have gained traction across the country. Drive through any mid to high-end neighborhood, and you're sure to find at least one or two homes with tastefully installed panels producing clean energy.
One drawback to the tech is its considerable upfront capital expense. In addition to the panels, you'll need an inverter, meters, and the gear to make it all work. Long-term benefits include the financial return you’ll receive by selling excess energy back to the grid.
The tech itself has come a long from the bulky panels and includes whole solutions that include solar shingles. For a sampling of what the future holds for this tech, check out the offerings from Tesla, which sells a fully shingled solar roof and solar-powered generator.
Solar Hot Water Heater
Following the same concept as the solar roof, a solar water heating system is designed to save you money on heating your water while at the same time utilizing a clean energy source. It's effectively using an old tech source—the sun—to heat your home's water for your baths, laundry, and dishes.
Two skins of solar heating systems are available. Active solar water heating systems feature pumps that directly circulate water through solar collectors. Passive solar water heating systems, which operate without the pumps, rely on gravity to circulate the water.
Heating your water via the sun has been shown to drop water heating bills by as much as 50 to 80%. While they do cost more upfront than a standard water heater, the solar version will pay off for you and the environment in the long term. You can find several solutions through Rheem.
Tankless Water Heaters
Another eco-friendly, money-saving measure for heating your home's water is the tankless water heater. Thanks to a combination of sustainable manufacturing processes, longer life, and a more efficient, energy-saving method for heating your water, tankless water heaters are becoming increasingly popular.
Instead of keeping a tank of water heated at all times, which eventually runs out, the tankless version circulates water through piping heated by gas or electricity. Effectively, the tankless version delivers a steady stream of hot water on demand.
Not only will you use less energy when you need heated water, but tankless water heaters tank up considerably less space than traditional water heaters and have a lifespan twice as long. Not to mention you'll never run the risk of getting caught in a cold shower again. Rheem offers several tankless options, as does Rinnai.
Let's stay with the water theme and dive into our next eco-friendly tech upgrade: green toilets. Granted, toilets don't exactly conjure up images of high-tech innovation. Nor are they often top of the list on how to make your house greener. One thing is certain: they once used a ton of water.
Twenty years ago, toilets used roughly five gallons of water per flush, regardless of whether that flush was for number one or two. Current standards have those same flushes measuring less than two gallons per flush. Unfortunately, many homeowners have not upgraded their water-wasters in years.
Low-flow toilets, which max out at 1.6 gallons per flush, and dual-flush toilets, which use 1.6 for major flushes and half that for minor ones, are the easiest way to go green when you have to go. For those who are tech-savvy, higher-end toilets—some of which include Bluetooth capabilities, seat heaters, and bidets—will also alert you to overflows, leaks and automatically determine how much water is required for a flush. Few companies offer a better lineup of efficiency than Kohler. They bring plenty of tech too.
Smart Irrigation Systems
We'll close out the water section of our list by addressing what can be one of the biggest water wasters in modern homes: irrigation systems. While irrigation is often designed to make the best use of your water while keeping your lawn healthy and green, leaks, use during rainy days, and general overwatering mean it’s not so environmentally friendly.
Needless residential lawn watering makes up approximately one-third of residential water use. Intelligent irrigation systems dramatically decrease the waste but automate the watering schedule. The most advanced systems will also detect leaks, account for forecasts and current weather conditions, and adjust water needs based on the season.
You can further enhance your green credentials by incorporating a landscape that requires less water. Drought-resistant grasses or plants require less overall watering, and employing xeriscaping will reduce the need to keep it hydrated throughout the year. Orbit, Rachio, and Rain Bird all feature great options.
When it comes to green flooring, there's not a lot of tech to discuss unless you account for the advanced methods used to create floors from recycled materials. That's good enough to make our list because eco-friendly flooring is worth considering when it comes time to replace your home's floors.
The most crucial part is choosing a floor made from sustainable materials. Bamboo has proven popular in recent years thanks to its durability, ease of installation, and maintenance. Its natural source takes anywhere from three to five years to mature, versus upward of 15 to 20 for trees.
Other sustainable options include cork, which is a fire retardant, helps limit allergens, can last far longer than standard flooring, and doesn't require killing the plant from which it's harvested. Carpet options include highly sustainable wool, PET polyester (made from recycled plastic), and Smartstrand carpet, which is made from corn sugar and is highly durable. Any local flooring vendor will feature multiple options for each flooring type.
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