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Video: Money-saving tech gadgets for the home

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    AL ROKER reporting: This morning on TODAY'S HOME , cool new technology to make your home and your life more comfortable and efficient. Lou Manfredini , who's the host of the syndicated show, "House Smarts," is here with some innovative products. Always good to see you, sir.

    Mr. LOU MANFREDINI (Host, "House Smarts"): Good morning, nice to see you. Nice to see you.

    ROKER: So this is awfully cool stuff. I mean, I know we are talking, you know, everybody's talking about solar panels.

    Mr. MANFREDINI: Yep.

    ROKER: But now we're talking about wind turbines ?

    Mr. MANFREDINI: Yeah. I mean, the real answer I think for energy independence is solar and wind and this is one of the slickest ones that I've seen. There's a lot of different versions out there right now. This is the Honeywell wind turbine by Windtronics . It's a long name, but six foot in diameter will turn in less than a half a mile an hour wind. Its optimum wind speed is 12 miles per hour...

    ROKER: Mm-hmm.

    Mr. MANFREDINI: ...to produce 15 percent of the energy your home needs.

    ROKER: Wow.

    Mr. MANFREDINI: You can get a 30 percent tax credit from the federal government.

    ROKER: Mm-hmm.

    Mr. MANFREDINI: Currently most states will give you that as well. It can mount on your roof...

    ROKER: Uh-huh .

    Mr. MANFREDINI: ...it can mount on a pole, and it integrates with your current power system.

    ROKER: Right. So you have to have somebody come install it.

    Mr. MANFREDINI: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

    Mr. MANFREDINI: About $9500 installed. But with those tax credits, this is -- mark my words, Al -- 10 years from now we're going to see these things and units like this everywhere.

    ROKER: Mm-hmm. So basically you put two of these in your home, and you...

    Mr. MANFREDINI: You could potentially do 30 percent of the electricity that you need.

    ROKER: Amazing stuff.

    Mr. MANFREDINI: Thermostats are getting smarter and smarter.

    Mr. MANFREDINI: These are a couple of versions. The is the eccobee Smart thermostat. This is the Trane ComfortLink II . These are Internet enabled.

    ROKER: Mm-hmm.

    Mr. MANFREDINI: They can allow you to control from your smart phone, from your computer.

    Mr. MANFREDINI: They will give you these very detailed readouts on your energy use . They'll allow you to do zoning. This particular one by Trane you can even put an SD card in there and load images so you don't have to look at the thermostat stuff when you're not there.

    ROKER: So you can stand there and look at your family album.

    Mr. MANFREDINI: Yeah, look at my family there. But then the other thing, too, is as we get older the buttons are nice and big.

    ROKER: Right.

    Mr. MANFREDINI: It's very intuitive. You just did a segment on all these...

    ROKER: And, look, there's grandma.

    Mr. MANFREDINI: She's freezing to death.

    ROKER: My gosh.

    Mr. MANFREDINI: Turn the blaze up here.

    ROKER: Oh.

    Mr. MANFREDINI: But this is the wave. This is something really professionally installed because it has to get integrated with your system.

    ROKER: Uh-huh .

    Mr. MANFREDINI: But the way to command the energy and your comfort by the use of these things is amazing.

    ROKER: Right. And what are the costs roughly?

    Mr. MANFREDINI: Well installed, you're probably somewhere around $600.

    ROKER: OK. Security always a big concern.

    Mr. MANFREDINI: First Alert , they know all about smoke detectors, carbon monoxide. This is an inexpensive, about $399, complete wireless system.

    ROKER: Mm-hmm.

    Mr. MANFREDINI: You literally plus this in, you plus the camera in and it integrates quite nicely. You can look at these cameras and where they're looking at. A great application is if you want to know who's at the front door...

    ROKER: Mm-hmm.

    Mr. MANFREDINI: ...this screen comes in there and you can keep it there. If you want to keep it going, it records everything on a small little SD card .

    ROKER: OK.

    Mr. MANFREDINI: So it constantly recovers and covers and then you can delete that.

    ROKER: Mm-hmm.

    Mr. MANFREDINI: And it couldn't be any easier to set up.

    ROKER: And some of these systems actually you can monitor them online.

    Mr. MANFREDINI: Yeah. That's terrific. This one doesn't yet.

    ROKER: Doesn't do that? OK.

    Mr. MANFREDINI: But I really like it for its affordability and what it does. Kids? All right.

    ROKER: Kids.

    Mr. MANFREDINI: Come on, stay with me on this.

    ROKER: OK.

    Mr. MANFREDINI: Potty training.

    ROKER: Mm-hmm.

    Mr. MANFREDINI: The age-old thing, right?

    ROKER: Right?

    Mr. MANFREDINI: What happens if the -- first of all, you're touching the toilet seat . And the kids go in there like this...

    ROKER: Yes. Well thanks for giving me that, Lou .

    Mr. MANFREDINI: Well, it's clean. The toilet seat goes in there and what happens and you get a wet bottom.

    ROKER: Right.

    Mr. MANFREDINI: The people over at Mayfair , look at this.

    ROKER: Ah.

    Mr. MANFREDINI: Come on. Now that...

    ROKER: Why didn't I think of that?

    Mr. MANFREDINI: ...is high-tech right there. This is awesome.

    ROKER: This is -- it's a convertible toilet.

    Mr. MANFREDINI: It is. And so look at that. And then when you close it and then you come in there it sticks with a magnet. I know it's not high-tech, but high function.

    ROKER: We like that. Very nice.

    Mr. MANFREDINI: That's right . And, by the way, that's your biggest fan.

    ROKER: Ho!

    Mr. MANFREDINI: Pa -dum-bum.

    ROKER: Lou Manfredini is here till Thursday.

    Mr. MANFREDINI: That's right , enjoy the veal.

TODAY contributor
updated 3/3/2011 10:37:25 AM ET 2011-03-03T15:37:25

A hundred years ago, all homes in the U.S. had a real fireplace and used them to heat the home. Now it’s an area we use only a few times a year. Why? Things change, and better systems are being invented to make living in our homes a lot easier and in many ways less expensive.

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In the last 10 years, technology in our homes has rocketed forward; much of that due to Internet connectivity in our homes  Below are some neat items that you may want to look into to help you enjoy your home just a little bit more:

When it comes to comfort and energy savings in your home, a critical part of that comes from an electronic programmable thermostat. The ability to program them for different settings throughout the day can lower you energy costs by up to 20 percent.

These units got a whole lot better with wireless access to give you total control from anywhere in the world.  A couple of makers to look for are EcoBee and their Smart Thermostat  and the Trane ComfortLink II Thermostat 950.

These thermostats can interface with the wireless network in your home and help you control them from your smart phone or computer. They can also help with service reminders, zoned heating and even provide you with a weather forecast.

One interesting application is for people with mobility issues: They can access the controls from a cell phone or remote control to set the temperatures in their home. The EcoBee unit can be intalled by anyone, while the Trane unit is a professionally installed item only. My advice; (And I love to show you how to do things yourself): Talk to a licensed and trained HVAC contractor in your area to install one of these.

Now here is a way to upgrade your home security from First Alert. Their wireless camera systems sets up in less than 10 minutes and can provide you with added safety in your home.  The two-camera kit retails for about $399 and all you need is a place to plug the cameras in and the 7-inch screen.

The cameras are motion-activated and work both in day light and at night. Any movement is recorded on a small SD card. One terrific application is pointing at the front door so you can see who is there and whether or not you should answer the door. 

Solar, wind power
Timing is everything! With oil at $100 a barrel, we are all asking ourselves how we can be less dependent on outside sources. Two technologies that are making huge strides are solar and wind to power our homes.

Wind ower has now hit main stream with The Honeywell Wind Turbine from Windtronics. This 6-foot diameter unit will capture wind where we live and work to provide up to 15 percent of the energy a home needs to operate.

It also solves a lot of the issues that have been common with earlier technology. It spins at lower wind speeds; it’s small, quiet; wildlife can see it, and it does not vibrate. Twelve miles an hour is the recommended wind speed to start generating consistent power. But it will actually start spinning with wind speeds of as little as 2 mph.

You can look online to see how much wind on average is in your area at WindKnowledge.com.  The typical cost to install one of these units is about $9,500, and until 2016 there is a federal tax credit of up to 30 percent. Many states offer about the same amount depending on where you live. Mark my words, you will start seeing these pop up all over the U.S. and they will become as common as small satellite dishes are now.

The last cool thing I want to mention is not high-tech, but high-function. Parents of small children learning to use the facilities, stand up and be heard! The Mayfair “Next Step” Potty Seat is built into a regular toilet seat. This seat mounts just like a regular toilet seat and when closed, looks just like a standard issue. It costs around $30; you can learn more at Bemis.com; it's a great addition for children in training.

If you have questions, please visit me at Housesmarttv.com.

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