Like many folks these days, I’m really in no financial position to be adding to my list of home projects.  Still, it’s hard for me not to daydream a little bit—especially about gadgets that would save water, energy, and space in the home.

Caroma toiletConsider, for example, a wonder-appliance that’s used widely overseas: a super-efficient clothes washer and dryer in a single unit.  Yes, such things do exist, even in the US, but they’re far more common in boats and RVs than in people’s homes.

Combining two major appliances into one saves manufacturing energy, and is a perfect space-saving solution for apartments and smaller homes. But for some of these combos, the coolest feature is a super-fast spin cycle that extracts most of the water from wet clothes through centrifugal force, not heat.  The super-spin is a great idea: clothes dryers use more electricity in US homes than any other appliance except for fridges; and converting electricity into heat is ridiculously inefficient. (Yuck.) It’s much better to squeeze your clothes dry than to heat them.

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  • Of course, if I wanted to go super-duper efficient, I’d take another idea from RVs and boats—the hand-cranked washer and counter-top spin-dryer.  I’ve never seen them in action, but they sound nifty—the washer in particular uses water and detergent so sparingly that it’s marketed to folks with low-capacity septic systems.  The only drawback is that you can only do a bit of laundry at a time, so it may not be the most convenient solution for a big family.  Still, if you’re looking to cut back on your water and power bills, this combo is hard to beat.

    Caroma toiletOr consider the nifty gadget to the left: a combined toilet-handbasin that reuses water from the sink to fill the tank for the next flush. (The model in the picture is the Caroma Profile Smart, and is currently only available in Australia.  Sigh.)  The water savings are impressive:  according to this video at the Popular Mechanics website, the Caroma toilet uses 17 percent less water than a dual flush toilet with a separate handbasin, and 70 percent less than a standard toilet + handbasin. But as with the combo washer-dryer, perhaps the biggest potential benefit is that it saves space and installation costs—allowing new homes to be a bit smaller and for a bit less money, without losing an iota of modern convenience.

    The real point of all this meandering is this:  there are TONS of off the shelf products that can save families money, water and energy. They’re not exotic, they’re not complicated, they’re not that expensive.  They’re just uncommon…so far, at least. 

    Just as importantly, there are plenty of super-efficient product ideas that are just over the horizon, and wouldn’t be that hard to implement.  (Take, for example, this concept for a recycling washer-dryer combo that uses rinse water from one load to wash the next.) 

    There’s simply no reason we can’t make these sorts of appliances the norm, rather than the exceptions.  And now that both money and energy are at a premium, there’s no reason to dawdle, either.