Amy’s Energy Efficiency Gift Buying Guide

Between Thanksgivukkah and the unusually short three-week (shudder) shopping season between Thanksgiving and Christmas, you may just now be realizing that you have some serious work to do.  The energy efficiency industry has some great products that will fit your budget and delight the data geek in your life.

Gift-giving is a great time to buy something that the recipient will think is cool but that may not fit into the rigid calculated expectations of “payback” that we so often apply to energy efficiency.  All of these ideas will help you save energy, but I’m also focusing on cool factor.

$20 range:  The Kill A Watt meter by P3 International is a classic energy efficiency gadget.  It’s less glamorous than more expensive gadgets, but it’s incredibly useful to plug in your devices and find energy vampires in your home.  I keep buying these, lending them out and not getting them back.  If that’s not an indicator of demand, I don’t know what is.  These are also a great way for kids to learn about energy efficiency and do a little math at the same time.  They’re sold online and at big box hardware stores.  If you try to  shop local, they carry them at Ace Hardware stores.

$130 range:  The Nest Protect isn’t about energy efficiency, but I’m including it because Bear and I really want Santa to leave it under the tree for us.  Bear really hates the sound that smoke alarms make when the batteries are low or if someone burns toast.  If the battery happens to go out while his people are away, Bear huddles in the shower and freaks out until we get home.  I also hate the noise and can’t figure out why the batteries always seem to die at 3 AM.  Nest solves all these problems by sending early warnings about your battery status to your phone and giving you an early warning signal that won’t make your dog go crazy or endanger your cardiac health.  It also sends messages to your phone if it goes off while you’re away.

$250 range:  The Nest Learning Thermostat is cool like the iPhone is cool.  It’s pretty and slick and you can adjust it from your phone anywhere.  It’s super easy to use.  Anyone would want one.  I’ve said before that you have to have a pretty inefficient house to get the sort of payback on investment that the company promotes on its web site.  Many of our clients (and myself included) who live in efficient homes, might see a payback in decades.  But that’s what’s great about gift-giving.  If your loved one would enjoy being able to adjust the thermostat from their phone, go ahead and spoil them a little bit.

$500-900 range:  If your data-loving geek has been extra good this year, the eMonitor is a super cool gift.  We have one and I LOVE IT.  This device lets you monitor real-time power use on 14, 24, or 44 circuits in your home (thus the price differential).

A detailed breakdown of my home's energy use - always room for improvement!
A detailed breakdown of my home’s energy use – always room for improvement.  There’s an online interface with slick graphics that you can use to analyze the data i

eMonitor lets you anlyze your home’s energy use in a million really cool ways:  bar charts, graphs, pie charts, and more.  You can set it up to message your phone if someone leaves the refrigerator door open, and if your clothes dryer starts taking longer than usual to dry clothes it will remind you to check your lint filter.  It will estimate how much phantom power you’re using and make it super easy to see what circuit it’s on.  Their app for the iPhone is also killer.

Invest in the long term:  This time of year is also a great time for families to make the decision to invest in the long-term health of the planet and their homes.  If you’re already counting the days until spring because you’re not looking forward to several more months of living in a drafty old house, then consider improving your home’s energy performance in one of these ways:

  • Third-party audit:  Our company, Vandemusser Design, performs third party audits within a 2 hour radius of Asheville, NC.  A third-party audit is a good idea when you’re not sure whether you need a new heating and air system or whether it would be better to invest in adding insulation or air sealing.  We can help you sort it out and develop a prioritized plan for what to do first.
  • Weatherize:  If you already know that you have a problem with cold drafts and non-functional to non-existent insulation, consider calling a company like Conservation Pros to assess and fix the problems.  Make winter 2014 more comfortable in your house.
  • Go solar:  If you already have an efficient home, good for you.  The next step is to assess whether solar energy can make you a net-zero energy family, or at least reduce the power that you use from the grid.  Contact a local business like Sundance Power, Asheville Solar Company, or Thermacraft to take the next steps.  The sun will be back before you know it and the tax year is almost over.  No time like the present

Copyright 2013 Amy Musser.