Gadgets that help save the planet

Every year on April 22, more than one billion people around the world celebrate Earth Day. On this day, people, communities, organizations, and governments acknowledge the bountiful planet we call home and use this date to call attention to the importance of protecting its resources.

More than just a day on the calendar, though, protecting the Earth is a daily practice. And there are plenty of Earth-friendly gadgets available to help us limit our environmental footprint, reduce our reliance on electricity and save us money. Check out a few examples below.

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Age of the smart home

My house is my castle. And sometimes it feels just as cold as a castle might. But the Nest Learning Thermostat aims to change that. By monitoring energy efficiency standards, family schedules, and the performance of a home’s heating and cooling systems, Nest helps you reduce energy consumption and even diagnoses problems with your home’s energy system. Hooking right into HVAC wiring, Nest uses powerful data and intelligent algorithms to understand its owners’ habits, climate patterns and the nuances of a home, teaching itself how to behave so that it can automatically control temperature settings, remind you to conserve energy and can be remote-controlled from a smartphone, tablet or web browser. Though a little pricey, starting at $249, you’re likely to save a bundle in your home’s energy costs over time.

If you’re the type, like me, who panics after leaving the house, worried that the coffee pot might have been left on or that the oven wasn’t turned off, here’s a gadget that can put your mind at ease. Belkin’s WeMo Switch is a genius, eco-friendly device that can help save electricity, a little money, and even your sanity. Never worry about the coffee pot on again!

The Belkin WeMo Switch lets you schedule home settings, and turns devices on and off remotely. With the WeMo Motion Kit, it also gives you wireless control of your home appliances and electronics, helping you manage the devices of your choice as soon as movement is detected, from up to 10 feet away.

The WeMo kit is completely modular, allowing you to control as much of your home as you like by adding more switches to the network. Linking multiple switches allows you to increase the heat and turn on a light or a set of lights at the same time with only one sensor.

Watch for the Belkin smartphone app for any Android 4.0 and higher device this summer, making it even easier to manage your home remotely. If you can’t wait, you can sample it now with this beta app, though optimized currently only for the Samsung Galaxy SIII—so you’ll be taking some chances here until the full app rolls out.

Do you sleep soundly knowing all your devices have been shut down? Better wake up! Just because you’ve gone to sleep doesn’t mean your gadgets have. If they’re plugged in, they are slowly siphoning off power, even when turned off. With so many devices in our portfolios today, walking around our homes unplugging them would be frustrating.

With Belkin’s Conserve Switch AV Surge Protector with Remote, you can stop energy sucking with a single click. Like most surge protectors, this it protects your electronics from getting fried. It even includes sockets for “always on” devices for those that need continuous power, such as modems, routers and DVRs. The Conserve Switch AV provides coaxial protection for cable and satellite connections, and comes with a remote that lets you wirelessly turn off connected devices from up to 60 feet away. Mounted on a wall so it acts like a light switch, the remote can control up to six outlets and manage all your electronics—PC, TV, DVD player, VCR, game console and more.

A bright idea

With energy guzzling incandescent bulbs doomed to become relics from our past, brilliant, energy efficient options are getting the love. Take the Hue, a smart light bulb system developed by Philips Electronics. Connected to a wireless network, Hue gives you total control over home lighting, from power management to intensity and color themes. A smartphone app and online portal lets you remotely adjust the brightness, fine tune the color and turn the system on and off.

Though a little pricey up front ($200 for the starter kit and $6 per bulb), the kit comes with three color-changing LED bulbs and a bridge that links up to 50 bulbs to the wireless network. These 600 lumen bulbs (equivalent to about 50 watts in brightness) use 80 percent less energy than a comparable incandescent bulb.

But Hue isn’t just a bulb–it’s also a platform for lighting innovation. Developers have full access to its public API to create their own lighting apps. Ambify, a $2.99 app built by an independent developer in Stuttgart, Germany, can turn your home or office into a vibrant discotheque, syncing the Hue bulbs to a playlist, and visualizing music in real time. Totally fun!

Power Up

Speaking of light…why not make the sun work for you? Relying on the sun for gadget power is much more efficient than using electricity from a wall outlet, and a lot less expensive, too.

For quick charging on the go, try the XD Design Solar Window Charger, which can be stuck to any window to absorb energy straight from the sun. Using a USB or Mini USB connector, this portable device charger will power most small gadgets like phones, Bluetooth headsets, and small tablets, as well as give a quick boost to a dying battery in a point-and-shoot camera. With a range of pretty colors and just over a half-inch thick, you can even use it while its plugged into your device on the windowsill, speeding down the highway in your car or in the comfort of the train during your daily commute to the office. 

Going green on the other end of the plug is a smart choice, as well. A typical charger continues to zap energy if it’s connected to an outlet even if a device isn’t plugged into it—wasting energy and money. And over time, a fully charged battery that stays connected to a charger can damage a battery. This is where the Mushroom GreenZero comes in. This cute little device automatically shuts off when charging is complete, saving energy, money and the battery itself if left plugged in charging all night. Just push the green top, which is also a button, to begin charging.

Though not quite as cute, the IDAPT i1Eco is a universal charger with an interchangeable tip system that accommodates different device connectors, enabling you to charge multiple gadgets with a single power source—reducing the daily impact on the environment. Like the Mushroom GreenZero, the IDAPT also automatically shuts off when a charge is complete. As an added bonus, its made from recyclable materials, keeping it carbon neutral.

If you have kids, you have batteries—lots of them! We offered tips on recycling batteries before, but here’s another great option: the SecondWind Battery Charger. Rather than throwing out batteries by the handful, this smart little device actually recharges regular batteries, accommodating any normal, store-bought AA and AAA alkaline batteries. Charging up to four batteries in about 90 minutes, it even detects defective batteries—so you’ll always know when it’s time to really let go.

For as little as $30, these multitasking power boosters not only save you time and money, but they reduce your energy footprint, making them great investments.

What’s your favorite energy saving device?

 

*Portions of this story were first published for myHTC

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Connecting moms to the tech that makes life a little easier

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