HIGH-TECH BUT ENERGY-WISE
About this time last year, Kimberly Lancaster and Joe Hageman were in the midst of building a 4,400-square foot house, with a goal of making it as green and energy-efficient as possible. Oh, and to also have it receive a LEED for Homes (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) designation. After living in the house for nine months, Lancaster is proud to say that she achieved exactly what she had intended. Her lower-than-normal energy bills prove it. “Our monthly electric bill is about $450, including our geothermal heating and cooling costs, but this house is twice the size of my previous one and our monthly bills there ran $300, plus he cost of heating oil,” which was anywhere from $280 to $380 a month. All totaled, it’s an impressive savings, especially given that Lancaster’s house is brimming with all kinds of electronics: multiple computers, entertainment systems, charging stations, and scads of other devices. “We didn’t want to give up these conveniences just so we could be green or to have our house feel stark and uncomfortable,” she explains.
Automation is a big reason Lancaster is able to enjoy these creature comforts yet still maintain an energy-efficient lifestyle. Her Control4 system manages nearly every electronic component in the house—even the rack of networking and video equipment that feeds movies and cable programs to her flat-panel TVs.
Come to find out—through energy data gathered by the Control4 system—the equipment in that rack was sucking up an “astonishing” amount of electricity. With assistance from Control4, the custom electronics professionals (CE pros) at Rhode Island–based Robert Saglio Audio Video Design were able to program the Control4 system to power down the rack automatically between the hours of midnight and 7 a.m. This feature alone has reduced the rack’s power consumption by 30 percent.
Lighting is another area where Lancaster has noticed a substantial reduction in electricity use. “Currently, lighting contributes to 8 percent of our overall electric bill; in most houses of this size it’s more like 20 percent,” she says. Again, the automation system, in combination with a Lutron HomeWorks lighting system, is largely responsible. Based on parameters programmed into the HomeWorks system, the home’s 70 LED light fixtures never brighten beyond 85 percent. “You really can’t even tell that they aren’t all the way on,” Lancaster says. Additionally, through the Control4 system, the family is able to engage commands like ALL OFF, which switches off every light in the house. An astronomical clock built into the HomeWorks system does the same for the exterior lights.
Lancaster’s utility bills reflect the effectiveness of the automation systems, but she needn’t wait for those monthly statements to validate that she and her family have adopted a greener lifestyle. The Control4 system can show her at a moment’s notice just how much energy they’re wasting … or saving, if the case may be. Several devices and systems, including a rack of audio/video gear, the refrigerator, and laptop computers are plugged into modules that monitor their energy draw. This information is dispatched to the Control4 system, which deciphers it, graphs it and presents it on the screen of any TV. “We can see exactly how many kilowatts of energy each device is using, and can choose to turn them off right from the Control4 remote if we want to,” Lancaster explains. “Just being aware of your energy draw really makes an impression. For me, it’s become a challenge to see how low I can take the draw.”
Make no mistake, though, Lancaster isn’t about to live by candlelight and wool socks. “I feel good just knowing that we’re not wasting energy, she says. “And the control system helped us do that.”