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Green was the theme at the Pacific Coast Building Conference (PCBC) in San Francisco earlier this month. Several new products and technologies displayed at the event are poised to raise the bar for energy-efficient, resource-efficient and water-saving building products and techniques. Here are three of these game-changers:

Smart Grid technologyGE's smart-grid appliances would be controlled through a central device. Photo: CNET

SMART GRID-ENABLED APPLIANCES
In some areas of the country, energy costs more during peak energy-use times of the day. And it costs less during non-peak times of the day, like late at night. The idea of "smart grid" technology is to use our appliances less during peak hours to save money and prevent the need for more power plants.

General Electric's forthcoming smart grid-enabled appliances are smart enough to operate at lower wattage when the energy costs are high, and to put off certain tasks (such as defrosting the freezer) until the rates go down in non-peak hours. All the communication is done between the appliance and the power company. And the system can be overridden by the home's occupants at any time.

GE is already producing and testing smart-grid appliances in pilot programs in Louisville, KY and Abu Dhabi, the capital of United Arab Emirates. Pilot programs are set to begin on Martha's Vineyard and across Texas too.

Smart-grid enabled appliances save energy these ways:

• The smart-grid refrigerator delays the defrost cycle from occurring during peak hours, when it goes into energy saving mode. According to GE, one participant's energy-efficiency efforts with refrigerator usage over 10 weekdays showed over a 20% reduction of energy used during peak hours.

• The smart-grid dishwasher can shift the cleaning cycle to off-peak times.

• Smart-grid washing machines delay washing laundry to off-peak time can also help consumers meet their own energy-efficiency targets.

How well consumers can integrate smart-grid technology into their busy lifestyles remains to be seen. According to GE, having laundry cycles delayed has been "the most challenging" for the participants in the pilot. However, automatically delaying dishwashing to night time hours was caused participants little grief, and changes in refrigerator behavior were seldom noticed.

General Electric

GEOSPRING HYBRID WATER HEATER
This appliance from General Electric performs a neat trick to make hot water: it pulls heat from the air. So instead of using only electricity or gas to heat up water, this "smart" appliance also uses the forces of nature. According to the company, this can save more than $300 a year in water-heating costs (which are third only to heating and cooling in utility costs).

As you may have guessed, this appliance is not cheap. It sells for about $1,600 at Lowe's. On the bright side, this is an ENERGY STAR appliance, which means you could qualify for a rebate of 30% of the cost plus installation. Plus, you could save a lot of money over the estimated 15-year life of the water heater -- not to mention the environmental benefits of using less gas to heat water.

HybridCore Homes

HYBRIDCORE HOMES

You might call these partly pre-fab homes "a little bit of this and a little bit of that." This company premiered its wares at PCBC and will certainly change the way we all consider our building options. Here's how HybridCore Homes are built:

The "core" of the home is built in a factory with very precise quality control compared to what you would find on a typical new-home jobsite. The core includes the "wet rooms," which translate to kitchens and bathrooms in building lingo. The core is then hauled to the jobsite in trucks, lifted off with cranes and set into place on a foundation.

The "dry" rooms -- bedrooms, living area, porches, etc. -- are then built around the core. The result is a unique hybrid of a prefab home, which is completely built in a factory, and a traditional site-built, which is constructed stick by stick out in the field.

Why combine the two? You get the green features of a factory -- where there is very little waste and theoretically very few construction defects -- and the flexibility of more rooms added on site.



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