Monthly archive: December 2010

by Jacob Corvidae

Ever since NASA did their studies in the 80′s about the ability of houseplants to remove common toxins from the air (since you can’t open a window to ventilate the space shuttle), people have been promoting the use of plants for air purification. Well, to be fair, people have been promoting that idea for a LOT longer than that, but this time they had evidence: formaldehyde, benzene, trichloroethelyne, etc. all removed by the likes of English Ivy and Peace Lily’s. I’ve long recommended this as a low-cost approach to air purification in homes and offices.

But the EPA doesn’t agree.  Their official stance is one of skepticism, claiming that tests haven’t been done in ‘real world’ settings showing that sufficient amounts of toxins can be removed with a reasonable number of plants. But this isn’t true. Tests have been done to adress exactly this concern and found that the plants performed better than anticipated.

I’m in the process of contacting the appropriate people at the EPA, but have received no response over the past several weeks. I know they’re busy. Still, I’m frustrated with this stance. This low-cost, effective solution should not be cast into doubt by an agency like the EPA when evidence supports this technique. A disclaimer of uncertainty would be fine, while also being a strong improvement over their unnecessarily skeptic stance.

I’ve posted more links into the research as part of an advice post here.

by Cecil Scheib

For many years, those who wanted to track their home energy usage more carefully than just looking at their monthly utility bill (if they lived in a home powered by renewable energy, for example) have been measuring the energy use of individual appliances. In the old days this was done with a basic Kill-a-Watt or Watt’s Up (the latter is my personal choice, and more recent versions have come with a logger and USB port so you can download data and graphs to your computer).

Nowadays many more players are getting into the game. I’m field testing a fantastic product from ThinkEco (the “Modlet“) that you can plug up to two devices into and have it wirelessly transmit their energy use to your computer. Then, it will suggest schedules to automatically turn things on and off for energy savings, and easily let you compare your usage across periods. And Watt’s Up is working with Google PowerMeter to accomplish something similar.

These devices are now becoming mainstream. However, they remain bulky, inconvenient, and individualized in their application and use. Even if some day “smart houses” have individual meters on each outlet, it will not measure the load of individual devices on power strips.

A much better idea would be to standardize an interface for electric devices to report their own power use. By including it in the manufacturing process, it would be smaller and cheaper – and come by default. It would work just as well if you lived in a smart house as an old, dumb one. And consumers would not have to choose to shell out upfront costs – even though power meters do tend to pay themselves off quickly in savings.

Under this plan, every electric device would wirelessly report its make, model, and energy draw using a standard system that interfaced with easily available computer (or smartphone) software. A wired option might be available for those who don’t want more wireless waves in their home. Perhaps very low current draw or very small devices (like cell phone chargers) could be exempted – but with miniaturization that might not be necessary. Data transfer and device control would use a standard set of wireless, communication, and security protocols (like Zigbee et al) so that consumers don’t have to download a new piece of software or buy a new USB dongle just to use the new microwave.

So who should create and maintain this standard? There are many options – IEEE, ASHRAE, ISO, ANSI, IEC, CE, USDOE, USEPA, NREL, FCC – so pick an acronym. Manufacturer’s consortia are also an option. That said, one intriguing idea would be Underwriter’s Laboratories (UL). They already review just about every device that hits the US market and would be ideally situated in the marketplace.

Or we could just ask Google to do it.