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Products to avoid

By Tom Tate

When it comes to saving energy, caveat emptor is alive and well. We are all bombarded by claims that border on outright falsehoods, so it pays to view savings claims from third parties cautiously. Remember, if it sounds too good to be true, it generally is.

    Electric space heaters drain energy savings from your home if used incorrectly. Companies make elaborate claims about the amount of money you can save and charge exorbitant sums for their products. The advertisements frequently target those on a fixed income, presenting false hope while extracting precious dollars from their customers. I have seen a number of these space heaters and admit they appear to be well made, but they typically offer no better economy than any other 1,500-watt electric heater. Bottom line, electric space heaters should only be used to heat small spaces – not your entire home.

    Black boxes that claim to clean up power, protect appliances and reduce energy use come and go. These often require an electrician to install and claim to improve power quality, smooth out power fluctuations and store energy so you can reduce your bills. Save your money. The concepts they present are already in use by Clay Electric and require utility-size equipment to deliver them. Something that can fit in a shoebox is not going to deliver any value, at least not in the areas promised. If you are concerned about protecting your sensitive appliances and electronics, install surge protection.

    When you see the ad that reads, “The power companies don’t want you to know,” skip it. These are generally claims around building your own renewable energy source from parts easily obtained at the local hardware store or a motor that produces limitless “free” electricity. I would equate these with the emails I get from foreign countries telling me I can receive millions of dollars by simply sending all my banking information. At least in the case of the homemade renewables and limitless motor you get some cool plans and parts lists. You decide if it’s worth $50 – $200. I’d give it a pass.

    There is a product that claims it will replace basement dehumidifiers and save tons of money. It basically is a fan system that vents all the basement air outside. Yes, dehumidifiers can be expensive to run and are a nuisance when you have to empty the water. Knowing that, I asked the Cooperative Research Network (an arm of the Arlington, Va.-based National Rural Electric Cooperative Association) a few years ago if these products delivered on their savings claims. They said no. The problem is that when you blow all the basement air outside, it is replaced with conditioned air from other parts of the house. Now your HVAC system works harder and dramatically reduces the promised savings. Here’s my solution: I set my dehumidifier to 60 percent and run a hose to my floor drain. This resolves the water emptying hassle and really reduces the power use while keeping my basement acceptably dry.

    I will close with a non-technology warning. Scammers love to call or stop by claiming they represent the local power company. Never give anyone personal or financial information who claims to be a Clay Electric employee without confirming their identity. Ask for a call back number from the caller, then check with Clay Electric. Ask the door-to-door person for a valid ID. If they really are a co-op employee, they’ll be able to prove it.

    Most of us want to save energy and keep our bills manageable. Technology can help do this, but be careful. Call Clay Electric at 662-2171 or 1-800-582-9012 before making any investments in technology that seem too good to be true. You’ll be glad you did.

    Tom Tate writes on cooperative issues for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, the Arlington, Va.-based service arm of the nation’s 900-plus consumer-owned, not-for-profit electric cooperatives.