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Decreasing your energy consumption is not only environmentally friendly, it can save you money each month.
There are significant lifestyle changes you can make to reduce your energy consumption, like committing to using appliances less, or changing your diet, but those processes take time, and aren’t always possible. If you want to lower your energy bill without turning your world upside down, we can help.
We’ve gathered power-efficient tech accessories everyone can use, whether you rent or own your place. Some are standalone gadgets, like a smart thermostat, while others can help you reduce the amount of power your current appliances take up while making your home smarter at the same time.
These accessories can also help you avoid losing money due to “vampire power,” a term used to describe appliances or other technology that drain a small amount of power when they’re plugged in, even when they’re turned off. The U.S. Department of Energy says some people pay up to $200 more per year on energy because of vampire power.
It’s hard to change your life overnight, but if you can make little modifications to the gadgets you use, you can save money each month, and be a little kinder to the environment, too. Here’s how to do it.
1. A Smart Thermostat
One of the biggest ways to reduce your energy bill is installing a smart thermostat.
Instead of leaving your HVAC (Heating, Venting, And Cooling) system running all the time, or waiting uncomfortably for your place to heat up or cool down when you get home, you get fine-grained control over your system.
This smart thermostat from Nest can connect to your home WiFi network, which allows you to turn the temperature up or down from wherever you are using an app on your phone (iOS or Android) or a smart-home hub like the Amazon Echo.
For instance, if you’re driving home from work, you can tell the Nest when you’ll arrive, and it’ll gradually adjust the temperature of your home so it’s ready when you get back. You can also set the Nest up to learn your schedule over time, so it can heat and cool your home much more efficiently.
Nest says its thermostats are compatible with 95% of heating and cooling systems, but you can use the company’s free online tool to make sure it’ll work for you.
Note: If you don’t care about the Nest’s color screen and aluminum frame, you can get the company’s entry-level model. It has all the same smart features, is compatible with 85% of HVAC systems, and is available at Amazon for $129.99.
2. Smart Light Bulbs
Smart light bulbs can help lower your energy bill the same way a smart thermostat can: by giving you more control over your tech.
TP-Link’s Kasa smart light bulbs can be controlled with an app (iOS and Android), or with your voice through a smart-home hub like the Amazon Echo.
You can use the app to turn your lights on or off, or dim them to use less energy. You can also set your lights on a specific schedule, so you have a safety net in case you accidentally leave one on in a low-traffic part of your house, like the basement.
If you want to save energy and have a little extra fun, I recommend getting TP-Link’s color change bulbs. They have all the smart and energy-saving features of the company’s regular bulbs, but can be changed to one of several dozen colors to add some ambiance to your room.
3. A Solar-Powered Battery Pack
Harnessing solar energy is one of the easiest ways to reduce your reliance on electrical energy — as long as it’s sunny out. This external battery pack from ADDTOP comes with four foldable solar panels, and has two USB ports, so you can charge multiple devices simultaneously.
It has a maximum capacity of 25000mAh (milliamps), which the company says can fully recharge an iPhone 8 nine times, and an iPad Mini 4 almost three and a half times. Charging via solar power is less efficient than plugging your tech into the wall, but we recommend setting this solar panel near a window, and keeping your phone plugged into it for most of your work day for the best results.
4. Battery-Powered Smart Security Cameras
You shouldn’t have to choose between installing a security system, and making your home more energy efficient. Thankfully, battery-powered smart security cameras make that possible.
The Blink outdoor camera (which can also be used indoors) is a pocket-sized camera that can run for up to two years on a pair of AA batteries. It has a 1080P sensor, so the footage it takes will be very clear, and infrared night vision to monitor your home at night.
You’ll get a notification on your phone (iOS or Android) each time the camera senses movement, and it’ll automatically save a video clip to the cloud, so you can review it later. If you see an intruder, you can communicate with them through the camera’s two-way microphone system to let them know they’ve been caught.
Blink doesn’t get into specifics about this camera’s durability, but calls it “weatherproof,” which means it should be able to withstand rain or snow if you keep it outdoors. Blink includes a wall mount, so you can position this camera at the perfect angle.
The final great feature about this camera is that you can start with one, but get more over time to build up a larger security system that monitors your entire home without plugging in a single cable.
Note: Ring’s Video Doorbell 3 is another good battery-powered security camera. It has a 1080P lens, motion sensing, night mode, two-way microphone system, wide field of vision, and iOS and Android support. It can last for up to six months per charge, and is available at Amazon for $199.
5. Smart Outlets
Replacing your appliances with more energy-efficient models is a huge project, but Amazon’s Smart Plug can help you get part of the way there.
By plugging an appliance into the Smart Plug, you get the ability to turn it off via an app on your smartphone (iOS or Android), or an Amazon Echo. Think of the appliance in your home that you’re running all the time (microwaves and stoves come to mind) that don’t need to be connected to power at night.
Plugging and unplugging them twice a day would be annoying, but you could set Amazon’s Smart Plug to do it automatically. If your microwave is off while you sleep, and on right before you go into the kitchen in the morning, you’ll save energy without impacting your day.
Note: If you don’t mind a DIY project, you could replace an entire electrical outlet with this smart one from TP-Link. It has the same features as Amazon’s Smart Plug, but you connect your appliance directly into the wall instead of into an adapter. It’s available at Amazon for $19.99.
6. A Solar-Powered Generator
If you want to make a big investment in solar energy, but aren’t able to install panels on your roof, Jackery’s line of Explorer generators are a good choice. I’m recommending the high-end Explorer 500, but the Explorer 240 and Explorer 160 are also good choices.
All three can be connected to Jackery’s Solar Panel, which the company says can convert solar power to electricity with 23% efficiency. The company says the average solar panel is only 15% efficient, which is a big difference.
The Explorer 500 itself has three USB ports a 110 Volt 500 Watt power outlet, and a giant front light. It can power mid-size appliances that draw up to 500W of power (think 4K TVs, game consoles, laptop), or charge multiple smaller devices like smartphones and tablets simultaneously.
Lower entries in the line are more affordable, but can only power less power-hungry technology.
Jackery says this can be totally recharged in 7.5 hours if it’s plugged into an outlet, or 9.5 hours via the solar panel. If you live in a sunny area, this battery could help you take a big step toward going solar only.
Plus, it’s portable, so you can take it on the road with you for multi-day camping trips without worrying about the next time you’ll be able to plug in your gear.
7. Solar Powered Outdoor Smart Lights
Ring’s Solar Pathlights are the most energy efficient outdoor lights we’ve seen yet. They’re powered entirely by a solar panel on top of the light, and turn on each time their motion sensor is triggered.
The bulb inside puts out an impressive 80 lumens of light, which is enough to illuminate a driveway or side path. I’ve used these lights myself, and they’re easy to set up and manage through Ring’s mobile app. I’ve also been impressed at the stake Ring provides, which has withstood wind, snow, and rain without budging an inch.
I’m recommending a bundle that includes a pair of pathlights and a Ring sync module, which is required to connect the lights to your Wi-Fi network. Each sync module can control up to 50 Ring lights, so you can slowly expand your outdoor smart lighting over time.
7. “BUS”-Powered Computer Accessories
A great way to save on your energy bill is to make sure your computer accessories are “BUS”-powered, which means they draw energy from your computer instead of being plugged into an outlet.
External hard drives, like the 2TB WD MyPassport Ultra I recommend is BUS-powered, but your options don’t stop there.
Musicians could use a BUS-powered interface and microphone to record music; most live streamers can get away with using a webcam instead of a fancy camera rig; gamers can use wired controllers instead of battery-powered ones; and most of us can plug our Apple or Android devices into a computer to charge instead of the wall.
All of these little changes add up, and reduce the amount of power you consume each month. And, because these accessories turn off when they’re unplugged or your computer is shut down, you don’t have to worry about vampire power.
9. A Power-Efficient Laptop
Constantly plugging your laptop into an outlet is not only annoying, it’s an easy way to suck up a lot of power.
Apple’s new MacBook air runs on its custom-made M1 chip, which is significantly more power-efficient (and speedy) than the one it replaces. Apple says it can get up to 18 hours of battery life per charge, and while that’s hard to believe, it’s pretty accurate. I’ve tested the new 13-inch MacBook Pro, which has the same chip, and can routinely get 10 or so hours of battery life with heavy use.
If you stick to apps like Microsoft Office and Safari (Google’s Chrome browser is notoriously power hungry), you may not have to charge your laptop every day. The M1-equipped MacBook Air is also very fast, and its 8GB of memory and 256GB SSD will be sufficient unless you store a lot of media, or use a lot of apps at once.