Some people are adamant that 2016 will be the year of the smart home, which is just an uppity way to say that home automation is on the verge of becoming mainstream. A revolution is coming, and it’s going to be so much more than simple gimmick devices.
One of the driving forces behind home automation is improved energy efficiency. Even the most shrewd person’s home has leaks and inefficiencies that need to be plugged and fixed. Fortunately, there are devices out there that make it easy to do so.
Worried that this will be too expensive for you? Fear not, because the true cost of a smart home is far cheaper than you think. In fact, there are many home automation devices that everyone can afford, and many of them will feature in this article. You’ll be pleasantly surprised.
Note: In most cases, energy efficiency is an investment — short-term expenses for long-term returns. Some of these offer immediate savings, but others may take months or years to recoup. Keep that in mind!
1. Turn Off Plugged-In Devices Overnight
Think about all of the devices and appliances that are currently plugged into an outlet at your home. You probably don’t worry about them much because they’re switched off and therefore aren’t using any power, right? Well, not exactly.
Even when electronic devices are shut off, they still have something called standby power. The truth is, when you turn a device off, you’re only turning off its primary function. Most devices actually have secondary functions that still run even when the primary function is off.
For example, some devices are slow to turn on if they start from a zero energy state, so these devices keep a small electrical current which allows for “instantly” turning on. Another example is when a device has a receiver that needs constant power in order to respond to things like remote controls.
Regular household devices that consume standby power can include, but aren’t limited to, the following: televisions, computers, microwaves, media centers, cable boxes, modems, routers, coffee makers, slow cookers, rice cookers, chargers and charging stations, and anything with an always-on display (such as a digital clock).
Roughly speaking, every 1W that a device consumes in standby mode translates into 9 kWh per year. Standby power usage per device can range from 1W to 15W depending on the device’s age and features. As such, plugging this leak could save you between $50 and $100 per year.
The easiest way to do this would be to use smart plugs (also known as smart outlets). Smart plugs can be turned on/off from your smartphone, but more importantly, they can be put on a timed schedule, allowing you to automatically shut off standby power draw on devices overnight.
The Belkin WeMo Switch is a great choice for a first timer. The Aeon Labs Energy Switch and the SmartThings Outlet are also worth considering if the WeMo Switch doesn’t seem like a good fit for you.
2. Turn Devices Off When You’re Away
Have you ever left home for work only to remember that you forgot to turn off your TV, your lights, or even your air conditioner? Most of time, you can’t just rush home to turn them off manually, so you just have to suck it up and eat the costs of wasted energy.
This is an issue that could be solved with one or two smart home devices. As mentioned above, if your TV or air conditioner was connected to a smart plug, you could just shut the plug off with your smartphone and be done with it. But there are some other solutions that are more elegant.
Consider the fact that many smart devices can be triggered by your smartphone’s GPS location. This triggering can often work both ways, too: your devices can know when you’ve left your home and when you’ve arrived at home. Wouldn’t it be great if all of the lights in your house automatically turned off the moment you left?
If GPS-tracking is something you’d rather avoid, you could opt for something like a motion sensor instead, which would detect your physical arrival at home and react accordingly. Note that this route may require investing in a smart hub that’s compatible with said motion sensor.
Two solid options for beginners are the SmartThings Motion Sensor and the Aeon Labs Multi-Wave Sensor.
As an aside, you could also tie this in with home security. With the right devices, you could set up wireless home surveillance cameras that automatically start capturing footage when you leave home and stop when you come back. No need to waste energy recording 24/7 during those times you’re already at home.
3. Measure Energy Used by Devices
In personal finance, there’s one core principle that acts as the foundation of all things related to money: if you want to fix your money problems, the first thing you have to do is figure out where all of your money is going. (This is especially true when struggling to get out of debt.)
The same principle applies to energy efficiency: if you want to cut back on energy consumption and really make a difference, the most important thing you can do is measure and track which devices and appliances are using the most energy. You’ve never actually measured your energy usage, have you? Most people haven’t.
The Belkin Insight Energy Use Monitor plugs right into any outlet, allowing you to plug devices into the monitor’s outlet instead of the actual wall outlet. The monitor will then track energy usage and predict what those devices will cost you over time.
Another option is the Enerwave Smart Meter Energy Monitor, which replaces the wall outlet altogether. Not only does it monitor energy usage, but it can also be turned on/off remotely. It’s also more compact than the Belkin, which is aesthetically nicer to the eyes.
By using one of these, you can physically measure how much energy is being used by your computer or whatever other oft-used devices you may have, such as space heaters, air conditioners, toaster ovens, etc.
Once you know which devices are consuming the most energy, you can then decide what to do about it. For instance, maybe you’ll realize that your incandescent bulbs are costing you too much and finally upgrade to LED bulbs (a change that comes with many security benefits).
4. Upgrade to Energy-Efficient Appliances
Let’s say you’ve determined that a certain device or appliance is being an energy hog. You’ve done your best to eliminate standby power waste, and you’re only using it when you need to, but it’s still sucking electricity like crazy. What then?
In that case, it’s time to upgrade to something more modern.
The first thing to know is that there are several eco labels for electronics that you should know. If a device or appliance has one of these labels, then you know it meets the energy standards of those labels, and these are important because it’s the only reliable way to gauge energy efficiency prior to purchase.
When upgrading, you may even want to consider something smart instead of something traditional.
For example, smart refrigerators are growing in popularity and it’s not hard to see why. Compared to the usual fare, they have better controls for temperature and humidity for different compartments, they can improve shelf life of produce, are energy-efficient, and can even interact with your smartphone.
The Samsung 4-Door Smart Refrigerator is one of the better offerings available today. Not only does it do all of the above, but all of its lighting is done with LEDs and, overall, greatly surpasses ENERGY STAR requirements across the board.
Other smart appliance options include washers, dryers, and dishwashers.
5. Solar Panels Have Many Benefits
Solar panels are an obvious choice for anyone who wants to improve home efficiency. They may take a while to pay for themselves, but it’s undeniable that they do pay for themselves — especially once you factor in long-term increases in fossil fuel costs. In particular, solar is good for heating air and water.
Fortunately, there are companies that can help you get started. They’ll step you through the process and make sure you don’t make any catastrophic errors, such as ensuring your roof can withstand the weight of solar panels and calculating overall costs.
Solar energy still has some flaws to overcome, but also comes with several benefits you may not have even realized. At this point, installing solar energy for your home is still a risk, but the severity of that risk is shrinking with every month that passes.
If you want to try it out but without the huge commitment, you could wet your feet with these solar-powered household gadgets instead. Since they’re powered solely by the sun, you can still end up saving on your energy bill.
6. Smart Thermostats Pay for Themselves
We can’t forget about smart thermostats. In fact, one might even argue that the smart home movement never would’ve taken off if it weren’t for the sudden boost in popularity of the Nest Thermostat a few years back.
Unsurprisingly, the Nest Thermostat is still the most popular option of all the smart thermostats available today. That can be attributed to a couple of factors: how easy it is to install one, how much energy it can save, and all of its amazingly cool features.
Of course, if you want to avoid the Nest for some reason, or if it’s simply not available to you, there are several Nest alternatives worth exploring. The Ecobee3 Wi-Fi Thermostat and the Sensi Wi-Fi Thermostat are both well-regarded by consumers.
In the end, it doesn’t really matter which one you get as long as you get one that works with your home’s climate control. A smart thermostat can save 10-15% on heating and cooling costs, which means $100-$150 per year for the average home. These things pay for themselves in no time.
If you want to save even more money in the winter, wear layers and set the temperature as low as comfortable. Then help fend off the cold weather with some of these warm household devices and gadgets.
7. Don’t Forget About Smart Water Usage
Water usually doesn’t fall under the same heading as energy, but if you’re the kind of person who’s trying to cut back on energy usage (for whatever reason), then you probably want to cut back on water usage as well.
The good news is that there are smart devices for this, too.
For example, we recently covered reasons why you might want smart faucets in your kitchen and bathrooms. Long story short, smart faucets are easier to control, less prone to spreading germs, and more efficient with water — and that’s not even mentioning the coolness factor.
The Delta Faucet Tesla is good one to start with. It isn’t the cheapest, but it’s WaterSense certified and can be operated in three ways: a manual handle, touch-based tap-on/tap-off, and a 4-inch proximity sensor.
Water conservation is also important when it comes to lawn maintenance and garden irrigation.
The RainMachine Forecast Sprinkler is an amazing device that pulls real-time weather data from the Internet and uses that information to adjust your home sprinkler system for optimal water usage (it’s WaterSense certified).
An alternative to the RainMachine is the Rachio IRO Wi-Fi Lawn Sprinkler, which is one of the more impressive home automation gadgets out there. It also pulls real-time weather data but comes in 8-zone and 16-zone variants depending on the size of your lawn. This WaterSense-certified device can save up to 30% on outdoor water costs.
One last thing to note: installing a smart irrigation system can actually increase the value of your home. Not only does it offer short-term benefits, but you can also view it as a long-term investment.
How Energy-Efficient Is Your Home?
All of the above may sound too good to be true. The truth is, yes, there are things to consider before smartening your home, but we’ve gotten to the point where the benefits are really starting to shine. It won’t be long before every home becomes a smart home.
Now you tell us: have you smartened up your home yet? If so, in what ways? If not, what would convince you? Share with us in the comments below!
Image Credit: Solar Panels by Diyana Dimitrova via Shutterstock