So you went out a bought a Nest smart thermostat. You open the app a couple of times each day to turn the temperature up or down, and feel good about the money and energy you think you’re saving (this article states that for most users, a Nest will pay for itself in two years, but most people don’t use the automation features of the Nest). You like the way that the WiFi thermostat glows up on the wall reminding you how energy progressive you are. You like the idea of saving energy through smart home technology, yet, you’re missing the bigger picture.
Hey, that was a good first step. But what comes after a smart thermostat? Home energy saving is not had just by turning the heat (or AC) up and down. Energy saving, or energy management is a total package—a total smart home package. There are a number of smart home devices and settings that can contribute as much or more to your total energy savings as a WiFi thermostat, and the savings compound when you integrate the functions of these devices together.
Here are three other devices you can easily add to your home to improve your energy management:
The first, and easiest, smart energy change you can make is to upgrade your home lighting system. If you just want to take baby steps, then replace your existing light bulbs with energy efficient LED light bulbs. The reduced energy usage of LED lights, and their looooong life, is a game changer in any home. If you want to go a step further, get smart led light bulbs—these cost more, but they do a lot more. With your iPhone, tablet or Android device you can dim and control a smart bulb (some via Bluetooth, some via WiFi and others use a variety of wireless technologies). Most can be set on timers or integrated with smart home systems or the app ITTT to automatically turn on an off in user-programmed conditions. For example, you can program your smart lights to automatically turn off when you leave the house, thus saving energy.
If you want to go another step forward, make more serious smart lighting upgrades by replacing your switches with smart dimmers and putting all your lights on a home control system such as the Lutron Caseta Wireless Smart Bridge, Wink smart home system or another DIY or professional system.
Smart sensors will, of course, sense things around the house. To take advantage of sensors you’ll need a smart home system, such as SmartThings, Lowe’s Iris, Insteon or Wink (there are lots of others). Motion sensors can programmed to turn off or on lights or adjust a smart thermostat based on your presence in the home. Ambient light sensors can program lights to turn off or window shades to open. Humidity sensors can be programmed to trigger your smart thermostat, because moisture also effects how warm or cold we feel, but most thermostats only react to temperature.
Motorized Shades and Blinds
If you have a cat, you know where to find him or her on sunny days—reclining in the sun that streams through the window. Your cat, and your home’s heating system, can’t benefit from the sun’s warming rays unless the shades or blinds are open.
Of course, you already know this, because opening the blinds on a sunny day in winter is one of the first things you do in the morning. You probably also close them in the summer when the late afternoon sun comes in strong through the dining room. But… sometimes you don’t. Sometimes you forget or you’re not home, or you’re just an inconsistent or lazy person. Home automation can help that.
First, motorized shades and blinds are nice because—motors. You don’t have to touch them, don’t have to remember which way to twist the rod or which string opens the blinds. You just press a button. When you put your motorized blinds or shades on a smart home system, you can program them in a variety of ways to help make the most out of the sun’s natural heat and light. You can program them with timers, astronomical calendars or even outside weather monitors to respond to real-time conditions. Their function can be integrated with door or motion sensors to close automatically when you leave the house, thereby contributing to your security.
Controllable Power Outlets
Smart power outlet modules, which plug into a wall socket, allow you to turn on or off any device you plug into it. Do you have things in your house that are energy vampires—things that such large amounts of power even when you’re not using them? Smart outlets give you an easy way to turn those devices off automatically. Some devices, like the Belkin Wemo Smart Switch, will actually monitor your appliance’s energy usage, which you can monitor via your smart phone app. Just remember that a smart outlet actually uses a little bit of power itself, so make sure you’re not replacing one energy vampire with another.
This article was originally published on March 11, 2015 and was updated on December 23, 2015.
Orrin Charm says
Yes, a smart thermostat is just the beginning! There are many additional solutions for comprehensive energy management, such as:
1. Install an Energy Management System, such as SiteSage from Powerhouse Dynamics. These systems install in your circuit breaker panel(s), and give you a circuit-by-circuit, minute-by-minute analysis of your actual usage and monthly cost. You’ll be amazed to discover what actually costs a significant amount of money (old refrigerators, cable boxes, computers, pool pumps), and what doesn’t (most incandescent lights, most appliances). Energy costs are more related to the amount of time the device is on than to how much current the device draws.
2. Replace that old refrigerator! You’ll be surprised what it’s actually costing you!
3. Install zoned HVAC vents, such as EcoVent. A Nest is nice, but you need more than one thermostat and HVAC zone to keep your house comfy while not wasting energy on unoccupied rooms. These systems will measure the temperature where it’s important, in each room, and close off ducts where air isn’t needed. Wireless communications make installation easy. Nest now integrates with Withings Aura Sleep Monitors, to adjust temperature to your sleep habits, but that’s of no use if the thermostat’s in another room.
4. Look into water management. Just like “vampire power”, slow leaks can cost a lot of money, not to mention catastrophic damage. These are fairly new in the consumer market, but Belkin and Lowe’s Iris are starting to offer interesting early products.
5. If you have an electric water heater, there is potential savings by turning it off when you leave the house in the morning and go to bed at night, then turn it on a while before you return home or wake up.
All of these products will significantly reduce your energy footprint, and lower your energy bills.
I am waiting for a consumer/prosumer grade smart home air quality management system. A system would integrate heatpump, furnace, humidifier, dehumidifier, ERV/HRV into one package. Such a package would also receive weather forecasts and adjust accordingly in a proactive and intelligent manner. For example if it is February and going to get very cold at night, do not ventilate until temps are more reasonable during the day. Or, if it is spring, instead of running cooling system, ventilate the house at night for cooling. I’ve looked at Ecobee and similar systems but they are not quite there yet. Does such an animal exists?
Joy Butler says
It is good to learn that a good baby step to take to make my home more energy efficient is to use LED light bulbs. Implementing energy efficient methods in my home seems like a daunting task because my home is older. It is good to know that it is within to reach to better my home and to use less energy. It seems like a good option to begin with LED lights and then to talk to my husband about installing more smart technology so that we can control our systems through our smart phones.
Baron B says
I absolutely love the advancement in technology specifically for the home. It’s fascinating seeing homes getting smarter and smarter every few months. I had no idea there were smart power outlets now! Looks like I can say goodbye to my archaic outlet timers!