SmartHome Improvement: Green Your Electronics

tajmahal.JPGYou may think smart homes are a thing of tomorrow, but you can make your house a smart home today. With these do-it-yourself tips from Darren Gladstone and Josh Schoonmaker, we’ll supersize your nerd-cred in no time.

 

Contrary to popular belief, the HP SmartHome’s electricity bill doesn’t rack up more than a small city. We’re constantly evaluating the best ways to keep energy consumption down as we’re installing the latest gear. Even if you don’t have a fully-automated house, there are plenty of simple things you can do in your daily nerd-ridden routine as well. That’s why Darren and I put our heads together to give you some of our favorite tech-greening tips in this latest installment of SmartHome Improvement.

 

But first, give yourself a spot check - How much energy are you using on a regular basis? If you're curioius about your PC gear's carbon footprint, I even found this HP site that figures it out for you. At least it helps me figure out where my paycheck was going on a basic level. As handy as that calculator is, we wanted to provide tips on how to trim the amount of juice we suck down on a daily basis.

 

Read the Meter

Here in a California, PG&E is installing SmartMeters in homes so that you can log in and see your overall usage for power. That’s great for the big picture, but trying to zero in on what is causing spikes – and being able to actually do something a little more proactive about it is another matter entirely. You see, here in the SmartHome, we have SmartMeters plugged in throughout the house. They tell us everything from the temperature in rooms to what is draining the power grid the most. The ones I use at the SmartHome are custom designed by HP Labs as part of their research project.  They are engineered by Digi and they are utilizing ZigBee wireless communications protocol.

 

What? You don’t have access to HP’s Labs?!? A good work-around solution could be to simply use a sophisticated power strip that tells you what energy is being used and automatically shuts down power hogs.

 

Fight the Power (Drain)

powerstrip.JPGAn often-cited problem is trying to combat “vampire drain” – electronics that sip small amounts of juice even after you turn stuff off. An easy way to take a bite out of that, is look for power strips that have a couple always-on sockets. That is, there are some things that you might need on all day – like your home server or router. Keep those plugged into the always-on sockets and then flip the switch to cut the power to all those things that don’t need to be on all day (your monitor, for example). In the past, I know that Darren relied upon a Monster Home Theater PowerCenter HTS 850 for keeping all his PC gear in check. “I really liked how it broke down the wattage usage weather electronics were on or off…but man, that thing was big trying to stuff it under my desk,” Darren told me. Since then, you’ll find a couple PC-specific power centers on the market – HP partnered with Monster to provide a number of strips meant to cut vampire drain and protect your equipment. The HP Monster Digital PowerCenter 800G w/ Green Power (a 650G model available as well) come to mind in that department.

 

Interested in picking up some HP/Monster Power equipment? It’s right here. Also, you can learn more about that HP / Monster gear right here.

 

Buy Greener Gear
Think about the computer you’re using as well. You know how you buy a new fridge or washing machine because they are more energy efficient? The same holds true for computers and monitors. You’re seeing more powerful machines crammed into smaller form factors that require less energy to get the job done. And as we move to LED-backlit panels, we’re seeing slim displays that take significantly less power to run than even LCD panels. 33 percent less energy, if we’re getting specific. Darren wrote about some of those differences a little while back as he played with the HP 2310e and HP x2301 monitors.

 

powersettings.JPGPlaying with Power
The problem with laptops is that when you’re on-the-go, you’re often looking for the next electrical outlet. So, you quickly learn to adjust the power settings to get just…..five….more….minutes before it konks out. In Windows 7, you can just click on the battery symbol in the icon tray and select “More Power Options.” On the surface level, you can adjust when the computer will go to sleep, when the display will shut off and adjust screen brightness. But dig an extra level deeper by selecting “Change advanced power settings.” From there, you can tweak everything from the wireless settings to how you want the CPU to behave. Personally, I like to set the hibernation time to about an hour, make closing the lid hibernate instead of sleep the laptop and adjust the “dim screen” times.

 

If you don’t feel like fiddling with the settings too much, that’s fine. I know of at least two examples where HP laptops can help manage the power for you. Take, for example, CoolSense technology that can automatically throttle power just by sensing if you’re moving your laptop. You can learn more about CoolSense here. Also, Darren recently talked about how in the new HP Pavilion dv7, the machine can be set to automatically throttle power settings according to what programs the PC detects running. Very neat stuff! Read about the dv7 right here.

 

Print Pro-Tips

printer.JPGThe first, most obvious thing to consider with your printer is how often you use it. Print up important documents you need, sure, but how many other things do you really need in hard copy? After you answer that question a couple other minor lifestyle tweaks for you:

  • A piece of paper has two sides – use them! (I think that’s pretty self-explanatory).
  • Select a printer that most closely meets your needs, to help minimize waste in energy, paper, ink, etc. For example, if you choose a multi-function device, you can save energy vs. having several separate devices plugged in
  • Choose Original HP ink that performs reliably, so you don’t have to re-print failed print jobs
  • Want to learn more about how HP recycles your used cartridges? (http://bit.ly/9tBSDL)
  • Buy paper with post-consumer recycled content and/or from FSC-certified forests
  • Pick your printer battles. Ask yourself if you need to print every single page of every single document. For example, you can email important data to you cell phone or tablet (a webOS device, of course…).
  • Adjust the printer quality. You don’t need to crank out a full-color copy of everything, do you? Set the default printer to go to draft quality and black & white.

There’s also a new browser app, HP Smart Print, that can help green your printing.

 

Have you ever attempted to print an article from your favorite website, walked to the printer and found five or six unwanted, half-blank pages sitting in the tray?  Between the ads, logos, and reader comments, you now have to sift through a stack of paper to find the article you wanted.  Enter HP Smart Print.  This browser app will help you print ONLY the information you want and leave the rest on your screen. 

 

By optimizing web printing, HP Smart Print eliminates unwanted pages, offering paper and energy savings to users. HP Smart Print helps you reduce waste when printing from the web – maps, articles, recipes, etc. –  by ensuring the printed content is exactly what you want, without the ads, headers and/or footers, irrelevant content, sidebars, comments and links you DON’T want.

 

 

 

Recycle

It’s been well-noted that HP has been making strides to make computers without toxic materials. In fact, Greenpeace rated HP as the 4th best company at keeping green in its most recent survey. But did you know that HP provides you with ways to recycle your ewaste? Old PCs, monitors, batteries, even your old cell phones….we gotcha covered. Go to the HP recycling page to learn more.

 

Reduce

Obviously, laptop batteries are rechargeable, but how many rechargeable batteries are you using in the rest of your daily life? Take a look at your wireless mice, for example. Start swapping out your AAA and AAs for something that’s going to last you a lot longer and take up less landfill space. (And, for those of you in a hurry, you can get batteries that’ll recharge in under 15 minutes).

 

Reuse

Besides looking neat, a brand-new All-in-One PC requires fewer parts than your garden variety desktop PC. That means less plastic needed to create them and more units that can be shipped at less of a cost. But here’s something else to consider: Ask yourself if the computer you have needs to be fully replaced or if a few upgrades will suffice. A shiny, new piece of technology is great, but if all you need to do is run the latest office suite, maybe beefing up your RAM will suffice. Or you just need a new GPU to run the latest game. Then, when you need to make that next generational leap, you can honestly say you’ve squeezed every last ounce of power you could out of your current machine.

 

Donate!

That computer may seem crusty by your standards, but why not pass along your PC to someone who could use it? Donating your old gear to a good cause is good for karma points and the environment. I found the following handy quick list at digitaltips.org:

  • CollectiveGood collects used cell phones and donates refurbished phones to both the developing world and organizations in the US, such as Planned Parenthood, United Way, Center for Domestic Violence Prevention, etc.
  • Inveneo, a non-profit social enterprise whose mission is to empower people in remote and underserved communities and the organizations who serve them through access to computing and communications will take old flash drives (otherwise known as USB Memory Sticks) and get them into the hands of students, aid workers and small business entrepreneurs in the developing world.
  • Close the Gap makes reused and refurbished computers available to underprivileged individuals in Africa and other developing countries.
  • Digital Links has provided more than 65,000 computers to schools, hospitals and NGOs across Africa, Asia and Eastern Europe. Your business can help provide technology solutions for development.
  • World Computer Exchange helps to bridge the global digital divide for youth all over the world by expanding local capacity for the educational use and responsible disposal of computers.
  • Interconnection's mission is to make information technology accessible to underserved communities around the world.

 

Also, check out HP's EcoSolutions center here -- where you can learn more about solutions, find the carbon footprint calculator, and more about that crazy Taj Mahal made with recycled PC parts we show at the top of the story!

 

Are there any handy recycling or electronics-greening tips that you’ve picked up we didn't mention? Share them with the rest of us!

 

UPDATE - 07-07: And for those savvy and looking to take it to the next step, you can Power Your IT Down, along with scores of others looking to do the same. Read more about the national holiday on our sister blog 367 Addison Avenue.

Labels: green| Trends
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