Most people concerned about greenhouse gases know to install compact fluorescent light bulbs and shop for Energy Star appliances. Some might invest in getting their electricity from the sun or wind, but those expensive options can take decades to pay back. Gadget makers are offering new ways to cut energy use today with much smaller outlays. Most pay for themselves in saved energy and offer benefits of less noise, more natural light, or greater convenience.
Know the enemy. Simple meters can help identify energy hogs. The Kill A Watt (about $25 online) monitors the electricity used at one outlet. The EZ model ($40 online) stores the data for easier viewing and calculates electrical costs. The Energy Detective ($140) monitors a whole house's electrical use.
Vampire power. Even when switched off, most electronics continue sucking small streams of current. That phantom load can consume 5 to 20 percent of a home's total electrical bill. The Bye Bye Standby starter kit (about $30) uses a wireless remote control to completely cut power to two outlets. Cover additional sockets for $15 each. The Smart Strip ($33 and up) automatically senses when a primary device, such as a computer or television, is shut off and cuts power to peripherals, such as a monitor or cable box.
Sun power. Skylights use sunshine to cut energy use, but you can't put them everywhere. The Solatube ($300 and up) gathers and delivers sunlight through a long reflective tube to many areas of a home while leaving the heat outside. The Voltaic Generator ($600 later this spring) will be the first bag to collect enough solar juice to power a laptop.
Wind power. Efficient wind turbines are dotting the landscape. But their big towers limit them to rural areas or homes on large lots, and it can take years to recoup their cost. The HYmini ($50) can put wind power into a handset. A battery stores electricity for small devices, such as cellphones, and can be charged from an outlet.
Quiet cuts. Rechargeable lawn mowers not only cut more cheaply than conventional, gas-powered models, but they're quieter and require much less maintenance. The Black & Decker CMM1200 ($400) packs enough of a charge to cut a third of an acre. It's also the first mower to earn an Energy Star rating.
Endless hot water. Tankless heaters deliver water on demand, instead of repeatedly warming a full tank. In southern climates, the Stiebel Eltron Tempra 12 (about $350) can provide enough water for one satisfying shower at a time. The Rheem RTG-53 (about $800) can supply two showers at a time, including north of the Mason-Dixon Line.
Flat and frugal. LCD panels consume less electricity than plasmas, and the Philips 42pfl5603d Eco tv ($1,400) achieves new efficiency. The 42-inch screen senses room light, dimming its backlighting when appropriate to use less than 100 watts. That's less than half of what other LCDs continually consume. And when switched off, the TV draws less than 1 watt. All this with a top-quality, high-definition picture.