Green Dad's Final Roundup of 5 Energy-Saving Gadgets

By , dealnews contributor

Over the last year, I've preached about how saving energy and resources not only makes good sense for the planet, but for your pocketbook. That's the Green Dad way, and I'm proud to say putting digital pen to e-paper has helped me change some of my own habits as I tried to assist you in reconsidering yours.

But today's post marks my last Green Dad column at dealnews. While the subject of eco-friendliness in inexhaustible, the amount of columns one can write about it for a deals site are finite. In the weeks to follow, let's hope the seeds of green wisdom I've sowed and you've tended to are ready to bear fruit.

I've appreciated all the reader support and feedback (even when I was off on some notions) and want to remind you all that while Green Dad is on hiatus, you can still catch up on green products and eco-friendly items here at dealnews. Just sign up for an email alert, and keep your eyes peeled for my continued weekly roundups and the occasional guest feature. But before I go, here's one last Green Dad column. Energy-saving devices happen to be a reader favorite, so I've gathered the top five such devices from columns past, and hope to help you separate the green gems from the not-so-green junk.

1. Eclipse Thermaback Kendall Blackout Window Panel

When you hear "blackout curtain" most of us think "college student hangover," but acetate-lined curtains, like the Eclipse Thermaback Kendall Blackout Window Panels (from $13.98, with $5.99 s&h, a low by $2) also keep out the cold from winter and heat during the summer, thereby reducing both heating and cooling bills. Your big investment is just two panels for average 40" to 48" windows. Actual energy savings is hard to pin down. What's more, these curtains block out light so well that you might think you've moved into a cave. That said, these curtains do enhance the "home theatre" experience wherever you use them, and it's always a good idea to offer a lyre of buffering between yourself and windows where heat or air conditioning loves to escape.

2. Voltaic Generator Solar Laptop Charger

I've wanted to write about this this laptop case that can hold up to a 17" laptop, and can charge it via a 15-watt solar panel ... but it has always been on back order, until now. Popular Mechanics rates the Voltaic Generator ($459 with $11.62 s&h, a low by $28) one of its 10 Green Gadgets to Reduce Your High-Tech Carbon Footprint for its portability and power. One hour in the sun can generate about 12 to 45 minutes of additional power*, while the included optimized battery pack is fully charged after eight hours. Used repeatedly and over years, this pack will reduce your carbon footprint while allowing for flexibility in where you use your computer. But if you're buying it solely to save money on your electric bill, know that it likely won't recoup the original cost.

3. The Zap Box

Attached straight to your breaker, this 200-amp capacity Zap Box claims to lower electric bills by 10% to 15% for a period of roughly 25 years. Without getting too technical, the Zap Box ($297 with free shipping) claims to recycle power that electric motors, pumps, and compressors kick back into the electrical system. As Green Dad understands it, this is simply "power factor correction," making The Zap Box's claims nonsense. Others agree: writes: "Power factor and power factor correction are ... 'near fraud' when excessively marketed to home owners as a way to save money on their electricity bill." Therefore, this gets a "do not buy."

4. Tatco Energy-Saving 100-watt Heating Panel Heater

Keep your feet warm (and thereby warming your whole body) with this heater, which uses just one-tenth the energy of larger space heaters. Tuck this Tatco Energy-Saving Heating Panel ($77.56 with $6 s&h, a low by $2) under your desk and feel the heat generated by 150 watts of power. What's more, this heater employs technology that keeps its surface relatively cool. Using one of these strategically placed heaters not only avoids the possibility of blowing a fuse (or starting a fire), but will cost you far less than operating any stand-up other space heater.

5. Solio Universal Solar Charger Kit

Unfolding like a lotus flower of electrical eco-friendliness, this three-paneled Universal Solar Charger (in Hot Pink for $28.59 with about $9 s&h, a low by $1) device recharges your mobile phone, iPod, and other handheld devices. Though it takes the Solio Charger one hour in the sun to charge approximately 15 minutes of talk time, the benefits are clear, and the reviews good. The folks at CNET call the Solio "well designed and high functioning ... great for power in a pinch on a sunny day." A device like this will pay for itself in energy savings in a few years, and it's a good trinket to have when you've forgotten your iPhone charger. Keep in mind Sony Ericssons aren't supported yet, and the Solio needs direct sunlight to work best.

*This article has been updated to correct an error in regards to charging times for the Voltaic charger.

Front page photo credit: A Green Living

Lou Carlozo is dealnews' Green Dad columnist. He was most recently the managing editor of, and before that a veteran columnist at theChicago Tribune. Follow him on Twitter — @LouCarlozo63. You can also sign up for an email alert for all dealnews features.
DealNews may be compensated by companies mentioned in this article. Please note that, although prices sometimes fluctuate or expire unexpectedly, all products and deals mentioned in this feature were available at the lowest total price we could find at the time of publication (unless otherwise specified).


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Bay Area John
I see you corrected, but you added, "Used repeatedly and over years, this pack will reduce your carbon footprint". A common feel-good pat on the back, but also usually false. Like battery-operated cars, the cost of energy expended in manufacture of this gadget already has a carbon inheritance you'll need to work off with any savings. In the actual hours used before it retires, a device like this can't work off the manufacture debit, let alone your purchase price. While "green" is important for our future, too many "green products" today are more of a dark brown if you look close.

I also looked up the SOLIO reviews and found them to glow less brightly than a cell phone will when attached. I'd say it was $40 wasted... unless you frequently hike in the wilderness (but still close to a cell tower) frequently enough to be willing to wait an hour for to make a short call. And again, unreasonable to imagine how it could ever earn back its cost, no matter how diligently it is used. Most chargers use 25 watts or less, maybe 2 cents an hour, and in an hour can fully charge a phone. Using the math above, about 4 hours with this to do the same full charge, saving you 2 cents each time, if you use it for 2,000 full 4-hour charges (taking over 5 years if you do it EVERY DAY), you'll earn back the purchase price and can start on earning back the manufacturing footprint.
Lindsay Sakraida (DealNews)
Thank you, we corrected the article. 
Bay Area John
Re the Solar Laptop case, your math is off. At 15 watts charge rate, one hour will give you about 12 minutes of use at 65 watts draw, not 12 hours. Even their own web page says "Charge times: 1 hour in the sun will provide between 12 and 45 minutes of runtime, depending on your laptop." Since no battery outputs at 100% efficiency, that's more likely 5-8 minutes with 1 hours of 15 watt input. Considering there are about 4 hours of useful charging in a day and give you at best about one hour of laptop use, it will take you 10,000 days or over 27 years of using it dilligently every day (with no cloud days) to earn back the cost of this device. Realistically, never.