When is the best time to have full electronic control over your house? Often it’s when you’re away. It’s easy to control your home while you’re there, but when you’re at work or on the road, it’s tough to know which electronics have been left on, sucking up electricity, when they really should be off.
“Turning things off is the basic tenet of saving energy,” says Jay McClellan, president of HAI (Home Automation Inc.), a manufacturer of energy-conscious home control systems.
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A remote monitoring system lets you do just that, right from your cell phone, iPod touch or any other Internet-connected mobile device.
Remote monitoring has been perceived largely as a way to be alerted of security issues, like a break-in or a water leak in the basement. Now, in the wake of the green movement, it’s also poised as an effective way to curb energy use.
Make no mistake, security will always be at the core of remote monitoring, but you can get the green benefits along with the safety measures, says Joe Lautner, vice president of marketing and sales for HomeLogic, a manufacturer of home control systems. “With the right set of features, you can take what was once strictly for security and use it as a green solution as well.”
For the best performance, use a home control system with built-in security features. That one system will not only be able to protect your home from fire and burglary, it will also be able to control the lighting, thermostats and some appliances. Many security-capable home control systems also come with remote monitoring options that allow you to manage those devices from anywhere in the world, just as if you were pressing a button on the security keypad by your front door.
That same AWAY button that sweeps through the house, turning off anything that’s on, could also be activated from your iPhone or PC. While you’re logged into the system, you could also put the lights, entertainment components, water heater, irrigation system and motorized shades into an energy savings mode.
Big Savings for Vacation Homes
Many vacation homes can have sensors installed to report changes in the home’s environmental status—directly to a mobile device. “Having outbound alerts is a very powerful tool when it comes to energy management, particularly for owners of vacation homes,” says Lautner. He cites one family that saw a 40 percent reduction in fuel usage.
“Prior to having a HomeLogic system installed in his vacation ski home in Vermont, the family kept the property set at 55 degrees when the home was unoccupied. After having remote monitoring capabilities added, he felt more comfortable reducing the setting to 50 degrees, because he knew the system would alert him if the temperature ever dropped below 50, which could cause the pipes to freeze.”
Vacation homes are also prone to problems created by houseguests. Via a remote monitoring application, you could learn, for example, that someone had left open a window, making the AC work harder than it should. You could respond to the situation by using your mobile device or PC keyboard to temporarily turn off the heating and cooling system until the window has been closed. You could also turn off any lights that were left on, and lower the temperature of the swimming pool until your next guests arrive.
Awareness Changes Habits
Even if you don’t own a vacation home, remote monitoring can be a handy energy management tool. One emerging technology that ties in nicely with remote monitoring for both primary and secondary residences is the smart utility meter. By using it in combination with a security or home control system, you can view the current cost of electricity on an in-home touchpanel, or remotely via a PC or mobile device, and operate your electronic devices accordingly.
Many of the adjustments can happen automatically, like having the thermostat lower when electric rates are high. However, simply having access to real-time information about where your energy dollar is being spent could be all the incentive homeowners need to pick up their iPhones to turn off the porch lights and the swimming pool heater, says McClellan. “There’s a study that shows that when people understood right here, right now what they’re wasting, they changed their habits and saved an average of 11 percent on their utility bills.”
It may be a while before smart meters become widely available from utilities. In the meantime, consider using a device like The Energy Detective (TED) from Energy Inc., or the PowerCost Monitor from Blue Line Innovations. These devices, which cost $120 and $109, respectively, install either at your home’s main circuit breaker panel or at the electric meter and feed information to a small, wireless “energy dashboard.” The screen of the dashboard displays basic data about your electricity usage in real time. You can monitor how much you’ve spent on electricity daily, weekly or even by the hour, and use that information to discover ways to spend less.
To bring the concept full circle, these manufacturers are beginning to partner with home automation companies. TED, for one, works with systems from Cinemar, Control4, HAI and HomeSeer. “Our system can be programmed to do things based on the information it receives from TED,” says Mark Closgrove, director of sales and marketing at HomeSeer. “For example, you could designate certain devices in your home either as critical or non-critical. When you’ve reached a certain energy-management threshold, HomeSeer could shut down the non-critical devices.”
Of course, all that information and control is accessible remotely, as well. Don’t want your AC to turn off just yet? You can use the remote monitoring capabilities of your security or home control system to keep it humming … or not if you’d rather be green.