We're a nation seeking comfort and easy living. We want our homes to be a relaxing retreat from the stresses and strains of the work-a-day world. And more often than not, we turn to technology to help provide that sanctuary.
Three up and coming technologies promise to make our homes more energy efficient, more comfy and healthier. While not new, they are not commonplace here in the Northwest: LEDs, heat pump advances for space and water heating and also heat pump technology for drying clothes. Because of cost or general acceptance, they just haven't become widespread enough to have a big impact, yet.
• LED lighting advances.
LED (light-emitting diode) bulbs are still considerably more expensive than other light bulb options, but they can last as long as 50,000 hours and run cooler than any other type of bulb. "To put that in perspective, a compact fluorescent bulb lasts around 10,000 hours and a traditional incandescent bulb will generally last close to 1,000 hours," said DuWayne Dunham, energy counselor at Clark Public Utilities. "LEDs have a lot more life in them than anything that's ever been available for home lighting before."
LEDs operate well in cold and wet environments, making them well-suited for outdoor use. LEDs also turn on instantly so they're ideal for places needing instantaneous lighting, such as sensor-activated security lights or in bathrooms. The instant-on feature also makes them a good fit for closets or for dimmer-controlled fixtures.
It's been found that LEDs are also better for our health. They don't flicker and do emit full-spectrum white light similar to the sun. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, flickering lights can cause headaches, eye strain and general eye discomfort.
• Heat pump advances.
In many ways, a heat pump tied to a remotely controlled thermostat is becoming the command center for controlling total home comfort. Historically heat pump technology has only been available in whole-house central systems but with the introduction of the ductless heat pump, homes with zonal heat can now enjoy the comfort and efficiency of a heat pump.
Ductless heat pumps come in two parts: one outside the house and another inside to provide the benefit of zonal heating. In addition to heating air, emerging technology is integrating ductless heat pumps with hydronic (water) systems that can meet the home's water-heating needs.
Ductless heat pumps are gaining a foothold because of the increased interior design flexibility these systems offer. Installers can suspend these indoor air-handlers from a high ceiling, mount them flush against a dropped ceiling, or hang them on a wall. Even floor-standing models are available.
• Heat pump technology for drying clothes.
In the laundry room, washers have gotten increasingly more efficient and will likely continue to advance. Unfortunately clothes dryer technology hasn't progressed as far, until recently. The electric motors in today's clothes dryers are 100 percent efficient; they consume similar amounts of energy across models, and the general designs available remain mostly unchanged.
Today we're just starting to see new clothes drying technologies emerge in other parts of the world, specifically in Europe. These options include ventless dryers using new heat pump or condenser technologies. Many older European buildings, for example, lack ductwork so the dryers have no vents going outside. Instead of blowing inside air out, these dryers recycle it.
"These alternative dryer options tend to be bigger than what we're used to and have a smaller capacity and longer dry time," said Dunham. "But they require only half the energy per load compared to the dryers we currently have in our homes."
Energy savings experiments, like the Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance's (http://neea.org/) Next Step Home Pilot, are demonstrating that tighter building codes can squeeze more energy efficiency out of every home built, which may in turn help these three new technologies become better utilized in homes around here.
Energy adviser is written by Clark Public Utilities. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or to Energy Adviser, c/o Clark Public Utilities, P.O. Box 8900, Vancouver, WA 98668.