The idea certainly isn’t new. Though couched in the terms of another era, Ben Franklin advocated living a “sustainable” lifestyle when he extolled the moral and practical advantages of frugality and thrift more than two centuries ago. It was Franklin himself that toyed with the idea of harnessing the energy of lightning bolts, but he could have barely imagined where his tinkering would lead: to a world run on electricity.
Vampire power and phantom energy existed only in the world of fiction in Franklin’s day. Today, they are everywhere, sucking the precious energy that powers our world and our daily lives. And yet elimination of vampires and phantoms is simple, and when we do, it leads us down a path that would have made Franklin proud. And keeping with Franklin’s philosophy, the solution begins with simplicity itself.
Simplicity is a core mission element behind a new line of products from St. Louis-based start-up Practecol. Simplicity that is expressed in a range of “sustainability products” for home and home office use. Each product is simple in design, easy to use, manufactured, packaged, and marketed with sustainability as the fundamental design element. The aim is to make it simple to implement a basic home resource conservation program and realize a quick savings and return on the modest investment.
There are a growing number of products coming to market that address the problem of phantom loads, and while I haven’t tested all that many, I’d guess that almost all are perfectly acceptable in most operational aspects. What sets Practecol apart is not only the many variations of devices on offer – power strips, switch adaptors, consumption meters – to control phantom loads, but also a full line of easy, simple products that address a wide range of energy and resource hogs throughout the house.
I spoke with Practecol president Andrew Sharon just prior to its July 1st launch. Sharon stressed that Practecol’s mission was to deliver a range of “cross category” products designed to promote sustainability. He broke it down to the “three ‘S’s”:
- Save: A product must save people money and provide rapid payback
- Sustain: It must accomplish something toward sustainability
- Simple: It must be simple
The other key for Practecol is the idea “cross category,” which Sharon explains is a product line that isn’t just about power strips or consumption meters or shower timers, but a comprehensive catalog addresing how we use water, keep our food cold, dry our clothes, and keep our homes cooler in summer and warmer in winter. Sharon says that Practecol if the first such company to offer a cross-category line of sustainability products.
As a means of insight and education for what sort of products would offer the most “bang for the buck” in terms resource conservation and cost savings, Practecol also utilized the energy audit services of Butterfly Energy Works.
The products are manufactured in China, and when I asked Sharon about this, he didn’t want to “get into a political discussion” about it, nor did I really. If being made in China were inherently bad, then there wouldn’t be that much to buy, including most of the world’s solar panels. I really didn’t intend the question to be particularly confrontational, though I got the idea that Sharon might have thought it so.
Nonetheless, how and where any product is made is certainly a legitimate question and Sharon answered that Practecol employs a U.S. sourcing company for manufacture in China based on Practecol’s specifications. A representative from Practecol visits and inspects all plants in China on a weekly basis.
It can be particularly frustrating purchasing some product – especially one purportedly designed to save money or resources – only to be stymied by the Fort Knox-like plastic packaging in which it is contained. Fortunately this isn’t the case here.
Practecol’s products are all packaged in material that is either recycled, recyclable, or biodegradable. The plastic is made with pre-consumer recycled plastic and is 100 percent recyclable. Paper used for the packaging and printed material is from 80 percent post-consumer waste and printing is done with renewable soy-based inks.
One minor problem I did have with my near-sighted vision was reading the printed material. The light green color of the printing was a challenge for me to read comfortably. Something Practecol might consider for future printings.
The practicality test
It all sounds good in theory and it all looked good as I opened the box full of sustainability-focused goodies a few weeks back. The real test comes only with use. Do the products work? Are they simple to use? Do they conserve resources and save money?
Over the past month I have worked almost all of the Practecol line of products into my daily life. While I cannot verify the specific savings claims listed (see below), this is what I can say:
The products are simple in design, easy to install, and serve their stated purpose. For the hard-core urban tree-hugger, you may find that you’re already doing everything that Practecol products do. But then again, maybe not. Or perhaps I’m not as hard core as I’d like to think. In the weeks since my test products arrived, I’ve found several sources of phantom power, just sitting their leaking energy until I banished the phantom with a Practecol product. I hustle up a little bit faster in the shower (lest I get the “red light of lethargy”, and I’m consistently monitoring the optimal temperature in my old refrigerator, keeping it within its most efficient cooling range. Sure it’s little bits and pieces. If I turn off all the phantom power in my house then climb into an SUV to drive down the street a mile or so to the supermarket for a carton of milk and a loaf of bread, true sustainability remains an uphill battle.
But let’s not place that burden on these simple, easy products that in my experience not only do what they say they do, but also make a little dent in a person’s consciousness: Did I turn off that light? Does that glowing red light mean I’m just wasting energy? Can I use less water? Am I being as efficient as I can with my resources?
And that’s the point. Waste not want not. A penny saved is a penny earned.
The method of sustainability evolves, but Ben Franklin knew centuries ago that it was truly the path to the good life. Practecol can help.
The Practecol line of sustainability products
The following list of products were sent to me for testing. Practecol also sells weather stripping, AC wall plates, and other products designed to save money and save resources. All of Practecol’s line of products are currently available in most Target stores.
(savings figures are estimates only)
- 4 Line Retractable Clothesline: Save $40/year by using a clothesline and reducing dryer usage.
- Dryer Balls: Save $20/year with dryer balls that lift clothes and circulate heat to reduce drying time.
- Motion Activated Light Socket Adapter: Save $7/year by using this automatic adapter that turns off lights when no motion is detected.
- Simple Switch Outlet Adapter: Save $40/year by flipping the switch on the outlet to eliminate standby power to any outlet.
- Energy Monitor: Save $40/year with this monitor indicates how cost to keep electronics plugged-in. Once you know how much the energy costs, we think you’ll make small and big changes in your household.
- Remote Control Outlet Adaptor: Save $40/year by pressing the remote control to eliminate standby power to any outlet.
- Remote Control 8 Outlet Surge Strip: Save $84/year by cutting all power to devices plugged into the surge strip and eliminate wasted standby power.
- Foot Switch 6 Outlet Surge Protector: Save $84/year by cutting standby power to power sucking electronics with an easy to use foot switch.
- Shower Water Meter: Save $39/year by decreasing shower time when the alarm signals your shower time limit.
- Perfect Flush: Save $17/year by adding the perfect flush in your toilet tank and reducing water used per flush.
- Refrigerator Kit: Save $38/year by getting your refrigerator set for optimal performance with the coil brush and temperature monitor.
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