New 'green' products save us from ourselves

GE home energy monitorThe folks from the recent International Builders Show have posted a slideshow of their 10 top picks for the most eco-friendly products from the showroom floor, including two aimed at saving us from our neglectful tendencies.

Sure, there are shingle-shaped solar panels that attach to the roof as easily as, well, shingles. And extremely chic sleek low-flow faucets worthy of Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. At the more innovative end, there is a mini-wind turbine that promises to produce 2,000 kWh a year.

But the two products that caught WalletPop's eye were a thermostat and a bathroom fan. Sound hum-drum? Better put on your seatbelts.

The Broan-NuTone fan turns on when it detects humidity and, naturally, turns off automatically within five to 60 minutes -- we get to choose -- saving us from rushing out the door to work and leaving that fan running all day.

If the fan seems a small, but significant, step up from motion-sensor lights, the GE Home Energy Manager makes today's electronic thermostats look like toys. In fact, it's not really a thermostat at all, according to GE. The manager communicates directly with the utility company, and vice versa, "to ensure appliances are operating at the optimum time of day, lessening the load on the power grid and saving the homeowner money."

How exactly does the Home Energy Manager accomplish this? By disciplining our appliances, basically, at the utility company's command: delaying our refrigerator's defrost cycle until off-peak hours or switching our water heater to "its most efficient mode." It's a little creepy to think about in a Big Brother is Watching sort of way.

The Home Energy Manager even gives the homeowner a scold, I mean a touchscreen, offering us a record of our personal energy consumption statistics as well as weather forecasts at the touch of a finger.

Keep your enthusiasm in check. The Home Energy Manager is still in the testing mode.

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