Four Devices That May Change Energy Use Around Homes

by Kacey Larsen

Homeowners tend to cast their vote with their dollars — and in the case of green products, their support for more efficient, environmentally-friendly devices is virtually unanimous. A study by Nielsen found that 66 percent of consumers prefer brands and products that are environmentally-conscious, but they may not always know what new appliances are out there when it comes to reducing energy use around their home.

Staying informed and presenting your business as environment-forward is definitely a way to win customers, but sustainability benefits alone are not always enough to sell your clients on these products. When running through your customers’ options, it’s a great idea to frame new technology using the benefits that matter most to them — namely, how much money they can save on their energy bills by using green devices. Here’s a rundown of some of those appliances, and how much they can help homeowners cut back on their electricity bills and heating and cooling costs.

Solar water heaters

Solar water heaters — also known as solar thermal collectors — are a greener alternative to traditional electric or gas water heaters. There are several different models that employ different techniques to heat and move water through the system. In the U.S., the most popular type is the indirect system, where a pump pushes cold water to an insulated box, called a solar collector, so it can warm, then pushes the heated water back to a storage tank. These models usually include a backup system that relies on a nonrenewable energy source in case sunlight isn’t available on cloudy days, for instance. Be aware, however: Many states have interconnection standards for solar water heaters that dictate how heaters must be installed, as well as who can do them. At a minimum, you’ll want to have some experience with roofing — roof-based solar collectors can do real damage to them if not installed properly. To guarantee your proficiency, consider getting certified as a solar heating installer through the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners.

How much they can save homeowners: Individual savings, of course, vary according to the size and type of heater the homeowner selects as well as the household’s hot water consumption, but the US Department of Energy estimates they could save residents over $20 per month. That’s before you factor in state and local rebates, as well. Even states without renewable standards usually offer incentives for solar water heaters — they may even have loan programs to help homeowners mitigate purchase costs.

Evaporative coolers

In areas with low humidity, evaporative or “swamp” coolers as they’re also called, offer another option to central air systems. Despite the swampy nickname, evaporative coolers actually keep homes quite pleasant by cooling using the natural process of evaporation. A blower in the device passes outdoor air from a nearby window over water-saturated pads, which cools and humidifies the interior within. They usually also include a vent-only option, allowing residents to use the device as a fan in less extreme temperatures. Most remodelers should be able to handle this job — it’s only a little bit more complicated than installing a window AC unit.

How much they can save homeowners: In warmer climates, cooling costs can represent 70 percent of the average residential electricity bill, and all that energy adds up — Americans use about 183 kilowatts for cooling annually. Evaporative coolers only consume about a quarter of the energy of central air systems, so they could potentially save billions.

Radiant floor heating

On the flip side, heating comprises a massive chunk of household energy expenses, as well. Radiant floor heating, while somewhat costly to install, is one way for residents to save on those heating bills — and it offers relief from common allergens like dust, too. Heat here is supplied by electric wires or tubes of hot water located below the floor’s surface, so installing it does require replacing the flooring throughout the home. In the more popular hydronic systems, water is warmed by a boiler or hot water heater, where it’s then circulated through the floor, invisibly. After the tubing is in place, homeowners can have almost any floor material they like installed over it — with the possible exception of carpeting which doesn’t allow the heat to seep up through the floor. Generally, most contractors with flooring experience should be able to install radiant heating without too much trouble; however, some installations are easier than others. So-called “wet” installations — where the tubing is laid directly into poured slab concrete — are much more difficult than “dry” installations — where plates of prebuilt tubing are connected and laid on top of subfloor — and may require calling in additional resources or contractors.

How much they can save homeowners: As opposed to traditional HVAC, radiant floor heating can be controlled room-to-room, directing heat just to those areas where it’s needed, which uses much less energy.

Solar space heaters

Solar water heaters and PV systems can be pretty costly — the average solar panel installation runs homeowners around $25,000, for instance — and that high price point is enough to make it prohibitive for many customers on a budget. A solar thermal heater, however, is one way to reap some of the benefits of solar power without spending thousands. The most common system is installed in a window where it collects infrared heat and fans it back into the room. While not designed to entirely replace a home’s HVAC system, it can definitely supplement traditional heating in cold spots or garages. Again, solar heating systems are often regulated by interconnection guidelines, so it’s best to familiarize yourself with your state’s contractor requirements and get some training before proceeding.

How much they can save homeowners: It depends on the size of the model, but a system currently being sold at Home Depot boasts that it compares to a 150 to 500 watt electric heater, and every little bit counts when it comes to reducing energy use.


Blog written by Erin Vaughan.Vaughan is a blogger, gardener and aspiring homeowner, whose work can be read on She lives in Austin, Texas, where she writes full time.

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