Michael Kanellos Staff writer, CNET News.com (May 1, 2007)
1. Think solar panels. Consult with an installer about the costs and feasibility of outfitting your home with a solar energy system. In many cases, solar can save you money in the long run. Solar panels also are getting more attractive: solar tiles from PowerLight and others integrate their electricity-generating components into a roof, and thin-film solar panels will help hide solar-conversion equipment even more.
2. Or think solar water. If you don't want to completely outfit your house with solar panels, you can deploy solar technology on an appliance-by-appliance basis. Solar hot water heaters cost about $5,000 to $7,000 and can provide most, or at least a good portion, of the hot water used in a home or a business. They can also be used in areas that don't get much sun because, unlike systems designed to convert sunlight to electricity, these heaters are far more efficient at extracting heat from sunlight.
"Two years ago, I was getting four inquiries a day. The other day, I got 109. There is a lot of interest," said Steve Elkin, director of marketing at Apricus Solar, a solar-water specialist in Connecticut.
3. Shop around for air-conditioners. Air-conditioners are the bane of utilities and consumers everywhere. People flip them on in the afternoon, when electricity is the most expensive and demand for power is relatively high.
California's Ice Energy says it has an answer: its Ice Bear system makes ice at night when power is cheap, puts the ice in a cooler, and lets the chilly vapors cool the building in the day. (Israel's Technion cools its environmental science building the same way.) Another solar-tech specialist, SolCool One, offers a solar-powered heating and air-conditioning system.
4. Let the utility control your thermostat. It might sound creepy: a network connection to your home that lets the utility--or an energy-use specialist--automatically control your thermostat or pool heater. But these specialists point out that such monitoring-and-control systems can indeed trim your use of peak power and lead to lower bills. EnerNoc and Comverge, two leading start-ups in this area, are seeing revenues climb. Both recently applied for IPOs.
5. Move, or remodel. Making gypsum-based drywall generates a lot of carbon dioxide at the factory and consumes a lot of fuel. Serious Materials, maker of a drywall called EcoRock, is coming out this year with a version of the product that requires a lot less cooking. And if you're buying a home, companies such as Michelle Kaufman Associates are starting to build modular, relatively upscale homes made from more ecofriendly materials. The homes also try to exploit natural light and cooling through their design. Vacationers looking for a green hotel, meanwhile, might consider the Gaia Napa Valley Resort and Spa, whose construction and materials are environmentally friendly and energy-efficient.
6. Switch to ecofriendly clothes and furniture. Along with the BioBag, a biodegradeable shopping bag made of corn-based polymer components (many bags are made from petroleum-derived polyethylene), the number of products now available in this category is impressive. And their availability is no longer restricted to eco-specialty stores. Check out the options the next time you are at Target.
Buy some new clothes. It is true that garments made from organic Merino wool and "peace silk" that kills no worms remain rare, and controversy continues to rage over fabrics coming from biotech corn that may reduce pesticide use but may genetically "contaminate" nearby crops of corn intended for sale as food. But the range of products made with ecofriendly textiles is nonetheless impressive.
There is a booming market for textiles made from organic cotton, bamboo, soy, and plastic soda bottles, and demand for fair-trade clothing is on the rise. Once the purview of boutiques, green clothes are now found at Gap, H&M, Nike, and WalMart, which are hawking organic cottonwear (and implementing corporate environmental initiatives). Patagonia has for 14 years sold fleece garments made from recycled plastic, and now it even takes back patrons' old underwear for recycling.
Meanwhile, little labels such as Simple Shoes turn tired tires into sturdy soles, while Vegan Shoes serve the PETA crowd. For those on a tight budget, however, the cheapest and greenest option remains trolling for used and vintage threads at resale shops or on eBay.
Redecorating in green. What causes that new-furniture smell? The couch giving off formaldehyde and toxic flame retardants. The Greenguard database ranks furnishings unlikely to contribute to indoor air pollution, such as the Herman Miller Aeron chair. Specialty online green-furniture shops include Green Culture, Vivavi, and Branch.
7. Use green cleaning supplies. This is an important issue, but also one that's relatively easy to address. Lots of options exist to cut down on household use of volatile chemicals and toxic solvents that may end up in ground water and drinking-water supplies. Nanotechnological advances are likely to lead to stronger-scrubbing bubbles and degreasers without abrasive ecological side effects. In the pipeline: tougher dirt-dissolving enzymes and beefed-up friendly bacteria that gobble nasty germs.