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Lou Manfredini's cool home technology guide

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.

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.

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