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Energy Solutions

Presents For the Would-be Energy Savers Among Family and Friends

My second annual Christmas shopping list

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LED lighting should be a very good match with motion-activated security lighting. This Concept SL-100 is solar-powered. Photo:
Image Credit:
LED lighting should be a very good match with motion-activated security lighting. This Concept SL-100 is solar-powered. Photo:
Image Credit:
Belkin's Conserve Switch has a remote that can be mounted next to a light switch to conveniently turn off the power to an entertainment system to eliminate stand-by or phantom loads. Photo: Belkin International, Inc.
Image Credit: Belkin International, Inc.
The Caframo Airplus 802 fan uses heat from a wood stove to generate electricity, and the fan distributes warm air from the stove into the room. Photo: Camfro, Ltd.
Image Credit: Camfro, Ltd.
The Accutire 4021 Standard Digital Tire Gauge can help you maintain proper tire pressure to boost mileage. Photo: Accutire.
Image Credit: Accutire

With Black Friday behind us, it’s time for my annual Christmas shopping list — ideas for energy-saving and green living gifts this holiday season. Most of these products can be purchased locally — benefiting the local economy. Discounts may be available for both in-store and online purchases.

Concept SL-100 Solar-Powered LED Security Light

I haven’t actually used this product, but I read user reviews of some of the leading solar security lights, and the Concept SL-100 32 LED Solar Security Light with Motion Detector seems to be the top-rated product right now. It is installed without an electrician and requires no connection to your home’s wiring system. A small (two-watt) amorphous-silicon photovoltaic (PV) panel charges a lead-acid battery that powers a motion-sensor-controlled outdoor light source consisting of 32 individual LEDs. The manufacturer claims comparable light output to a 20-watt compact fluorescent lamp with ten hours of continuous operation on a full charge. The PV panel can be mounted up to 12 feet from the light. List price: $79.95. (I looked everywhere but was unable to track down the actual manufacturer; information on the product can be found on Amazon and many other websites.)

Belkin Conserve Switch Surge Protector with Remote

The problem is that a lot of our electronic equipment keeps on using electricity when it’s turned off. Home entertainment centers, TVs, DVD players, stereo equipment, computer monitors, cable modems, and wireless routers often consume electricity 24/7. The Belkin Conserve Switch Surge Protector allows you to quickly and easily turn off all the devices plugged into the power strip using a wall-mounted, wireless switch. Sure you could save as much energy with a simple power strip if you remembered to turn it off when you weren’t using the equipment, but convenience means a lot. The remote switch for this Belkin surge protector can be mounted right next to your light switch–making it easy to put an end to these phantom loads. List price: $39.99.

Water Heater Blanket

If you have a storage-type water heater, “standby losses” account for a significant portion of its annual energy use. Those standby losses can be reduced by fitting the water heater with an insulating blanket. Most are made with fiberglass insulation and vinyl facing. Use care if insulating a gas-fired water heater; for safety reasons the air inlet must not be blocked. Cost: $15 to $35, depending on product; rebates may be available from some utility companies or energy offices.

Public Transit Pass

Looking for gifts for employees? In an urban area with a public transit system, consider transit passes. You will encourage an energy-saving and pollution-reducing alternative to commuting by automobile — and you might actually improve productivity at the workplace, by allowing employees to relax or check e-mail on their way to work. Cost: varies widely depending on location, duration of pass, etc.

Hand Rake

Hand rake? It’s a great alternative to a gasoline-powered or electric leaf blower. It saves energy, is easier on the ears (yours and your neighbors’), reduces pollution, and gets you outside to enjoy the fresh air. Available in bamboo, plastic, and steel. Cost: $8 to $60, depending on quality.

Caframo Ecofan for Wood Stoves and Gas Stoves

This is not only a functional present that can help deliver heat from your wood stove or freestanding gas stove, but it’s also a really cool gadget that demonstrates the fascinating process of thermoelectric power generation. When the Caframo Ecofan is placed on a hot surface, the base heats up, while an upper metal surface remains much cooler. A thermoelectric material sandwiched between these two layers uses that difference in temperature to produce electric current. Technically, this is called the Seebeck effect, after the Estonian-German physicist Thomas Johann Seebeck. With the Caframo Ecofan, the electricity powers a silent fan that pushes warm air rising from the wood stove into the room. List price: $159.99 for the larger three-blade model (#802). Different model sold for certain gas stoves.

Accutire Digital Tire Gauge

Some pundits made fun of candidate Obama when he touted the energy-saving benefits of keeping tires properly inflated, but he was exactly right. The Accutire MS-4021 Standard Digital Tire Gauge is the best-rated digital gauge on the market. With a tire-pressure range from 5 to 150 psi, it works for bicycles as well as cars and trucks, and the accuracy of 0.5 psi allows precision monitoring of tire pressure. For highway driving, keep tire pressure at the upper end of the recommended inflation range to reduce rolling friction and improve fuel economy. The downside is that it does require small batteries that have to be changed after a few years. List price: $14.99.

The book “Your Green Home”

All right; I’m  a biased judge of the value of this book, since I wrote it. But if you have a friend thinking of building a new home, this is a great starting place. Published in 2007 by New Society Publishers. List price: $17.95 from your local bookstore.

In addition to this Energy Solutions blog, Alex contributes to the weekly blog BuildingGreen’s Product of the Week, which profiles an interesting new green building product each week. You can sign up to receive notices of those blogs by e-mail — enter your e-mail address in the upper right corner of any blog page.

Alex is founder of BuildingGreen, Inc. and executive editor of Environmental Building News. To keep up with his latest articles and musings, you can sign up for his Twitter feed.


  1. GBA Editor
    Martin Holladay | | #1

    The Caframo EcoFan
    Thanks for the list.

    Here's a warning about one item, however: The Caframo EcoFan is an expensive yuppie toy. It spins -- but it is moving art work, not a useful fan that actually moves significant amount of air.

    The first one I bought broke. I sent it back, and the manufacturer sent me a replacement. It broke too. Possibly this was because my stove surface got too hot -- but give me a break, it's a wood stove.

    Save your money. Don't buy it.

  2. Lucas Durand | | #2

    Hand tools - batteries not required.,41131
    I "borrowed" a drawknife from my father-in-law earlier this year and used it to make a coat stand for my wife and shave spindles for a banister. Never having used one before, I was amazed at how easily it took the bark off my maple spindles.

  3. Aj Builder, Upstate NY Zone 6a | | #3

    Remove this post and take Alex's award away
    seriously.... this is not the best blog post... I would go so far as to say the worst I have seen with the blog on how to blower door test multiunits being a close second.

    I mean no harm Alex... I'm sure you are a great guy.

  4. Jonathan Beers | | #4

    Phantom power for Belkin remote?
    How much standby power does the remote switch on the Belkin product use?

  5. Alex Wilson | | #5

    Phantom power of Belkin power strip
    That's a very good question, and I don't know the answer. (To be truthful, these product picks were made rather hastily.) I did think about this issue, though, and I was confident that with most entertainment centers, the standby power consumption of the Belkin strip would be a lot less than the standby power of the products it's turning off. A few years ago I tested one surge protector/power strip one time that used 6 watts! With Belkin's product, I'd be surprised if it uses more than one watt--but I could be wrong. Anyone have one and a Kill-a-Watt meter for testing?

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