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Our homes are late to the tech revolution

Technology-based change keeps coming at us at the speed of the closest WiFi router, but not that much has changed around our homes.

Well, technology has changed life in the family room. We have hi-def television with streaming movies. Interactive video games like the Wii. And Skype gives me free face-to-face communication around the world through my laptop. Yes, the tech revolution has made its way to my couch....and pretty much stopped there.

But very little about the home itself has changed. Many things--furnaces, appliances, shower heads and toilets come to mind--have been tweaked to consume less energy or water. But there's not much that's really new. Oh, yes. My Crock Pot now switches automatically to a warming setting once the food is cooked. That's an advance.

Other advances -- like the front-loading washing machine-- feel like retreads. My mother had one back in the 1960s. No doubt today's are more efficient, but they're hardly an advance similar to the Wii vs. pinball machine.

Most of us heat water the same way, storing it in big tanks, because the alternatives are so pricey. We get heat in basically the same way, burning a fossil fuel and using electricity to blow it through ducts (or we circulate hot water through pipes.)

When will solar panels, heat pumps--or newer technologies that I can't imagine -- become compelling enough to induce homeowners to dump their old systems for new ones, the same way we abandoned vinyl for compact discs for MP3 files?

Weekend reading: If you -- or someone close to you -- got engaged over the holidays, you'll find Dina ElBoghdady's story about weddings at home fascinating. They're not always a money-saver. And columnist Katherine Salant has found some chic new countertop materials that might offer an alternative to the ubiquitous granite.

Chat day: Please tune in at 1 p.m. Friday for the first Real Estate Live chat of the new year.

The Weekend Poll: Advances most likely to hit home

This is a non-scientific user poll. Results are not statistically valid and cannot be assumed to reflect the views of Washington Post users as a group or the general population.

By Elizabeth Razzi  |  January 8, 2010; 12:30 PM ET
Categories:  Home features , New construction , Poll , Remodeling and repair , Weekend Poll  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Trying out an alternative to iPhone's Zillow app
Next: Realtors launch their own free iPhone app


Problem with heat pumps is when its really cold or really got they don't adequately heat or cool. Many homes can't use tankless hot water heaters becuase of the venting requirements. Geothermal doesn't work if you live in a condo or townhouse.
Solar and wind power has to converted to electricity and stored in batteries. Solar sin't really price competive yet and many community HOAs would frown on backyard windmills. Forced hot air and AC doesn't have a viable replacement yet. Sorry I am not going to sacrifice AC in DC's summers.
Let the planet get warm and the polar bears disappear. Screw the rest of you.

Posted by: omarthetentmaker | January 11, 2010 9:25 AM | Report abuse

Although I'd like to consider myself a conservative, it seems like some slight and gradual tax increases for energy use (gasoline - I'm looking your way) would allow newer technologies to garner market share more quickly. I can argue this (as a "conservative") because I agree w/ T. Boone Pickens & his "Pickens Plan": We buy oil at cartel inflated prices from people who often want to kill us. If we weren't involved in two wars that seem linked to these "people" I would say who cares?, but we're spending a boat load of money and more importantly thousands of lives on this effort. So, what's the difference? Why not just raise the tax on gasoline by 1 cent a gallon every month until we hit $4 again (or some gradual plan that the average American wouldn't notice)? Then we'll all be driving electric or hybrid cars and we save a billion bucks a day or so by bailing out or scaling back on our two primary military efforts. Not to mention the other costs that come with dealing with that part of the world (State Dept., etc.). While not directly linked to home energy use, higher gas prices would probably trickle down and help with overall "greening" of our economy: better battery prices, new emphasis on nuclear power, etc. OK, that's my rant.

Posted by: jtest | January 11, 2010 10:39 PM | Report abuse

T Boone Pickens is a snake oil salemsman from way back. His paln puts billions in his pocket and the pocket of his companies.
The puprose of T Boone's plan is not to make the US energy indepenedent but to make T Boone richer.

Jtest what about those folks just getting by. Sorry folks are going to notice when the cost of everything goes up. Using tax policy to effect behavior never works and is not a bright move economically.

Better plan allow drilling off our coasts and more oile exploration. Give tax breaks to build more nuc power plants with the proviso of low cost electrical power for 10 years or so.

Problem with green technologies is the cost. A "Greeen" gas fired hot water heater is twice as expensive as normal one
and that doesn't include installation. And no you will never get your money back in its normal live span. Solar powered hot water heaters are even more expensive. Problem with green technology is the cost and convenience. Try driving to Atlanta with a plug in hybrid or electric on just electricity. With current recharge times it will take you about a day instead of 9 hours.

Try living with that Green heat pump in this area over the last 20 days. heat pumps just can't keep you warm. And then try them again in July when the temp is closing in on a 100 degrees.

The cost of green most be affordable. And taxes shouldn't be used to efect behavior. Last thing we need is more hypermilers obstructing traffic.

Posted by: omarthetentmaker | January 12, 2010 7:42 AM | Report abuse

Omar, I don't really have any loyalty to T. Boone Pickens. I just think his plan in general makes sense. He may make money from it and that's might other companies/investors. I agree that taxes are not usually the answer, but believe it or not we do need some taxes to allow our society to function. National Defense won't take care of itself and neither would transportation infrastructure. You say all these technologies are too expensive, but that's exactly my point. They are too expensive NOW. Blu-Ray players were expensive when they first came out too, but I got one from WalMart for $78 this Christmas. With economies of scale green tech would get cheaper. I am also highly skeptical that more drilling off shore will lower the price of gasoline and substantially reduce our dependence on foreign oil. OPEC is a cartel. They artificially set a high price. If there is a threat to their revenue stream they will adjust pricing/production accordingly to continue making money. Saudi Arabia gets their oil for something like $2 a barrel. I don't think Exxon drilling off shore will ever compete with that. Also, how many people drive to Atlanta from DC? This is the most silly argument against hybrid or electric cars. Will our trucks being running on batteries anytime soon? Probably not, but take a look around when you are on the beltway. It's just a bunch of other people "trying to get by" that have routine commutes of 100 miles round trip (or much less).

Posted by: jtest | January 12, 2010 8:45 AM | Report abuse

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