Homeowners now have a broad spectrum of smart home devices choices that provide entertainment, convenience, security, and energy efficiency. Generally, these conveniences can be managed from a central control point, a remote location by smartphone, and even by voice recognition.
Given all the home devices designed to reduce energy and utility costs, which ones are the most sustainable and can indeed reduce your energy costs?
Here are ten categories of new products that meant to control your energy usage while also providing additional convenience to the homeowner. Note that each group has several competing products in a range of prices and may perform at different levels of efficiency.
How do Smart Energy Management Home Devices Save Money?
The core purpose of many smart home devices is to:
- Allow you to monitor usage in real-time
- Control energy usage levels to use only when and how much is needed
- Reduce energy consumption with alternative appliances
A German research company, Fraunhofer ISE, one that studies alternative energy sources, has calculated that intelligent or smart energy control can reduce energy usage in homes by up to 40%.
How do Smart Energy Management Devices Save Money?
1. Smart Thermostats
The significant percentage of your home’s energy consumption is used for heating and cooling, keeping your residence comfortable and healthy whenever you are present. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, EIA, 51% of the energy of the average household’s energy cost in 2015 is in heating and cooling.
Water heating, refrigeration, lighting, and other elements in varying degrees make up the balance of the energy consumed.
Better control through an interactive thermostat is a great place to begin when configuring an energy-efficient home.
So, what exactly is a Smart Thermostat?
Early thermostats allowed owners to set a temperature target manually, and the device would increase or decrease the heat output from the furnace. The furnace would be turned on or off based on the air temperature around the thermostat. Metal elements within the device would expand or contract, thereby bending toward or away from a switch that activated the furnace. Once the temperature rose to the setpoint, the thermostat elements would bend away from a switch, thereby turning the furnace off.
This type of thermostat was highly inefficient, especially when homeowners did not change the setting as external temperatures changed or when no one was at home.
Programmable thermostats replaced these earlier ones. While this was a giant step forward in energy management, they are often set and forgotten based upon the residents’ typical schedules. Since the settings cannot be changed remotely, heating and cooling cycles will continue to operate unnecessarily.
Smart thermostats, on the other hand, have features that can adjust the setting to the preferred levels from anywhere at any time or automatically. With internet interconnectivity, owners can access their thermostat remotely to change settings when they may be delayed or are coming home early.
How Does a Smart Thermostat Do to Save Energy?
To use only as much energy as is necessary to be comfortable, a smart thermostat:
- Uses its WiFi capability to allow you to adjust temperature settings from a computer, smartphone, or tablet.
- Records when you adjust temperatures to learn your schedule and will eventually make those adjustments automatically.
- Shows real-time energy consumption and cost.
- Offers efficiency tips about raising or lowering temperatures in the most efficient way.
- Makes adjustments in energy output based on ambient conditions like a hot stove emitting additional heat or changing humidity levels.
- Maintains lower heat and air conditioning levels in less used or unoccupied spaces.
2. Virtual Assistant
A virtual assistant is a relatively recent creation that you can program to perform a multitude of tasks to facilitate energy savings with many of your electrical devices. The advanced systems are voice or WiFi-activated, allowing you to manage your smart thermostat, smart lights, entertainment and security devices, and more from anywhere you happen to be. While you are away, your virtual assistant can command these devices to turn on or off to minimize energy usage while also providing an added level of security to your home.
3. Smart Lighting
While certain types of LED lighting lasts longer and works more efficiently than conventional incandescent or CFL lights, smart lighting systems can be installed that will lower your overall energy consumption. Strategic placement, brightness controls, timers and the ability to quickly turn lights on through your virtual assistant will save energy while providing ample illumination precisely where you need it.
4. Smart Power Strips and Outlets
It’s true. Your appliances are using power even when not in use. As lamps, cable boxes, computers, coffee pots, and other electrical devices sit idle while plugged into a conventional wall socket, they are sucking up energy for no purpose. These“energy vampires” can account for as much as 20% of your energy bill, according to a Duke Energy article. This waste can be prevented by installing smart power strips and outlets that automatically cut off the power to devices that are not in use.
5. Smart Plugs
A significant first step in transforming your home into a smart one is to install smart plugs. These devices plug into standard outlets and allow you to turn the connected devices off or on while you are away. For security reasons, you can turn lights on at night from a mobile device when you may be away unexpectedly. These smart plugs are usually compatible with Amazon Alexa, Google Home, or Apple HomeKit.
Turning selected devices completely off through the smart plug can save substantial energy.
6. Energy Monitors
Of course, you will know how much improvement you have made when your future energy bills begin showing up. However, knowing what is happening in real-time can provide a serious boost to understanding how you use energy.
A “whole home” energy monitor provides an energy sensor device that clips onto your main power conduit to determine how much electricity is being drawn into your home. Also, the system will have a hand-held device with a screen to monitor readings.
Once installed, you can monitor:
- the amount of energy you have used today
- how much power you have used in a week or month
- the cost per unit you are using on your current plan
- peak periods
- targets and receive alerts
- how much energy each appliance is using when you test it by plugging and unplugging
Energy monitors are designed to provide a transparent view of your own energy-management habits, trouble spots in your system, and to create strategies and goals for better energy consumption.
7. Smart Home Devices for Window Coverings
Smart window coverings can be motorized to program and time when your smart shades or blinds will open and close.
Your home’s internal heating and cooling are significantly affected by sun and shade. Coordinating those cycles can save energy. On a hot day, when your air conditioning is required, automatically closing the shades on the appropriate side of the home will block much of the energy produced by the sun and reduce the power needed to cool the room. Similarly, opening the shades or blinds at a predetermined time will allow the sun’s rays to penetrate in the winter and can reduce your cost of heating.
Furthermore, automatic blinds reduce your home’s dependency on artificial light during the day. Natural light is better for plants and pets while you are away.
With smart home devices for window coverings, you can program opening and closing times while you are away.
8. Smart Hot Water Heaters
Your hot water system is likely your second most significant drain on your energy usage. Smart water heaters are becoming very popular for their energy-saving capabilities. Without sacrificing an available-when-needed source of hot water, smart water heaters have WiFi capability that can control their heating capabilities from anywhere with a smartphone or computer. Heating elements can be turned off quickly when you leave on vacation, for example, and back on within hours of your return.
You might even turn the water heater off or lower the temperature as you leave for work, and then you turn it back on before you return home.
Some smart water heaters operate much like your smart thermostat. These devices can learn your regular routines and act accordingly.
And, if the systems should detect a water leak in the system, you will immediately receive an alert. You can then contact someone to check it out and shut off your water source until you return.
9. Smart Sprinklers
While sprinkler systems mostly control the amount of water it spreads on your property (another savings opportunity), the devices also operate with electricity. While connected to the internet, you can alter when, where, and how much water you will be spreading throughout your systems with your smartphone or tablet.
Also, a smart sprinkler system can draw on data from sensors that detect soil moisture levels and even read weather forecasts to eliminate watering during rainstorms or add just enough to keep gardens and lawns hydrated. “Not too much and not too little” is the mantra of any gardener. Using the right amount of water and electricity will save your landscape and your energy consumption.
10. Portable Solar-Powered Products
Solar power is one of the best alternative energy sources available. For exterior lighting, most of us have long used those simple solar-powered lights for patios, driveways, and other exterior features.
Solar power offers more in-depth capabilities for homes and businesses. Such devices include:
- Solar panels for entire home energy
- Solar inverters or generators
- LED flashlights
- Compact solar fans
- Water fountains
- Rodent repellents
- Smartphone chargers
- Motion sensor lighting
- Solar chargers
- And more
Future of Smart Energy Management
The importance of energy and resource conservation can be clearly discerned each month in your energy bill. Costs of generating electricity will continue to rise as the fuel resource costs continue to increase.
While saving money in your own home is essential, conserving energy and the world’s resources is also a significant concern. Each step you take to conserve energy is a progress toward a more sustainable world.