As more homeowners are discovering, saving energy in your home doesn’t require sacrifice. You can actually add to the look and appeal of your house with energy-saving systems—while pocketing some extra cash to spend on great-looking designer wares. Whether you choose easily retrofitted products or more elaborate systems, efficiency technologies are trending. They may not exude the cool factor of the new granite countertops in your kitchen, but they can make those smooth surfaces look even better.
Think efficient lighting, shading, heating, cooling, and fan control. Use occupancy and humidity sensors as much as possible. And we can’t stress these three words enough: smart programmable thermostats (see sidebar).
Here are our room-by-room recommendations for energy-saving systems that will add to the aesthetic appeal of your entire home.
We’ve got to start here, and this is where LED lights will shine (pun intended). Make sure you select the appropriate color temperature (for warm, yellowish, incandescent-type of lighting look for bulbs around 2700K to 3000K; higher for whiter light) when installing LED bulbs in your ceiling fixtures. Also think of under-cabinet LEDs in tape, strip, or puck lighting, some of which can be adhered directly to the kitchen cabinets. They’ll give your countertops a nice glow. Consider LED strips for soffits and toe kicks, as well. Cost: $20 to a few hundred dollars
By far the biggest dent you can put in your kitchen’s energy bill is in its appliances. Take the dishwasher. Did you know that 80 percent of the energy used by a dishwasher goes toward heating the water? Look for Energy Star-rated units and those that use less water. Some of today’s higher-tech ovens are also coming with connected apps that let you know when the roast is done, and a few smart ovens will even adjust the cooking temperature per the recipe instructions and power down at just the right time. Cost: hundreds to four figures
Programmable Thermostats: Saving energy throughout the home
The biggest user of energy in a home is usually a heating and cooling system, so use a programmable thermostat—and program it. Setting a thermostat back by just 2 to 3 degrees can save about the same 2 to 3 percent on your heating and cooling costs. Smart thermostats include those from Nest, Alarm.com, ecobee, Honeywell, and many more. Cost: $100 to $250, typically for Wi-Fi connectivity
This is where a dimmer switch comes in handy. You can replace a standard light switch with a dimmer in 15 minutes—remember to turn the power off—so you can have full-on lighting for dinner parties or set a romantic mood with softer lighting. Even better, invest in some lighting control to affect preset scenes that bring the lights to just the right level. Cost: $15 to several thousand dollars for a full lighting control system
Start with a ceiling fan that can help circulate the air and keep your family cool without having to crank up the air conditioning. Big Ass Fans’ Haiku model even has Smart SenseME technology that incorporates an array of sensors for automatic on/off and adjustments in the fan speed as people enter and exit the space and the room temperature changes. It also works with the Nest learning thermostat. Cost: $900 and up
For entertainment, consider using an energy-stingy LED TV. And some excellent audio/video receivers from companies such as Yamaha and Rotel now use energy-efficient Class D switching amps that will save you some juice as you enjoy music and a movie on your home theater system. You should plug all of your audio/video gear into a power conditioner, or at least a surge suppressor. IP-addressable power conditioners from companies such as Panamax BlueBolt and SurgeX can act as smart surge suppressors that protect your electronics and turn them off when not needed. Cost: Varies widely
Occupancy sensors that detect when a person is in the room are a must in bedrooms and hallways—even if they are used to just turn on and off the lights. They can also be used for closets and to illuminate a dim pathway to the bathroom or kitchen. Motorized shades can be put on timers or daylight sensors to open and close at appropriate times, minimizing the need for heating or air conditioning. Cost: $30 and up for occupancy sensors; hundreds to thousands of dollars for motorized shading
Save energy in the bathroom? You bet. Use occupancy sensors for the lighting and humidity sensing switches to turn on and off a bathroom fan. Some bath fans today from Panasonic, Delta, Broan-NuTone, and others come with motion and humidity sensors built in. And consider a hot water recirculator like one from D’Mand Kontrols. It delivers hot water to the tap immediately so you don’t have to wastefully run the water to wait for it to heat up. Cost: $40 for a humidity sensing switch to several hundred for fans; around $750 for a hot water recirculator.
There are many efficient washers and dryers on the market today, but our favorite appliance technologies are moisture-sensing dryers that shut off when your clothes are dry, and new heat-pump dryers that use the heat they generate to power themselves more efficiently. Whirlpool’s HybridCare heat-pump dryer is even ventless, while LG’s EcoHydrid heat-pump dryer uses steam to reduce wrinkles and odor. Heat pump technology is also used in some hybrid hot water heaters. Cost: about $1,500 to $1,700 EH
Steven Castle is a freelance writer and editor. He has covered home technologies for more than 20 years, and also writes about green tech and design. www.stevencastle.com