Gadget gifts for the home

Whether you are interested in decreasing your carbon footprint and being more "green" or are just looking for ways to save money in this belt-tightening economy, there are gadgets out there that can help in your quest.

And they make interesting Christmas gifts, as well.

One of those gadgets is a timer you can attach to a water heater that costs about $30 but can save a third of your water-heating cost.

"This is actually an older, energy-saving device," says Bill Romaniw, sales associate at Home Depot in Phoenix. "You can set the timer so it isn't running 24 hours a day. This can save you 33 percent of your water-heating bill. It usually takes 15 minutes to install."

The timer can be set so you're heating water only when you need it, such as for three or four hours in the morning and again in the evening. If you install an insulating blanket around the heater, you'll still have hot water during the day if you need it.

"It's really very simple to install," says Daniel Sathre, sales associate at Grover Plumbing and Electric in Medford. "We sell a lot of them to homeowners, particularly at this time of year."

Another energy-saver is a remote-controlled plug that can reduce the juice needed to power all those little lights on your electronic appliances even when you think the appliances are turned off. These "phantom loads" can account for 20 percent of your power usage.

The remote-controlled plug, which costs around $25 to $35, goes into a wall outlet, then you plug your power strip with all the components into the plug. The remote control turns everything off or on at once. They work especially well for computer components and television entertainment centers. One brand even features a surge protector controlled by your TV remote.

Another option is a surge-protector strip with two always-on outlets for TiVo or digital video recorders, with the rest controlled by the strip's on-off switch or the TV remote.

If you or someone on your Christmas list is interested in saving water — perhaps as much as 15,000 gallons a year — check out a dual-flush toilet converter. The converter allows you to push one button for a minimum amount of water in the flush, a second button gives you a maximum flush. They cost about $20, are easy to install in place of flush handles on toilets and can be used on both older and newer fixtures.

If you have a pump house or pipes in danger of freezing when temperatures drop, you might want to invest in a Thermo Cube. You plug the cube into an outlet, then plug your heat tape into the cube. Instead of running constantly all winter, the cube, which retails for less than $15, turns the heat tape on only when the temperature reaches 35 degrees. It goes off again at 45 degrees, so you're only powering the tape when your pipes are in danger.

This last gadget — an LED faucet light for $20 — won't save you money. But if you have small children, it can keep them from getting burned by hot water. A small, battery-operated, light-emitting diode fits in the faucet. When the water is turned on, a blue light tells you if the water is cool, and a red light warns if the water is hot. There is also a model for showerheads.

Does Granddad really need another tie?

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