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.