5 Smart Home Upgrades That Are Good for Your Pocket and the Planet

Reader Contribution by Jennifer Tuohy
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The synergy between the smart home and the sustainable home is a beautiful thing. Technology brings conveniences, and by reducing our consumption of water and energy, sustainability brings savings. Put these two powerful features together, and you have the sustainable smart home. This is a home that saves its owner money and the planet precious resources—by automating many of the things we forget to do, don’t know how to do, or don’t realize we need to do.

Here are five of the best smart home upgrades you can do in your own home that will benefit both the planet and your pocket.

Replace Your Standard Thermostat with a Smart Thermostat

Resource Savings: According to Energy Star, installing a smart thermostat is the best way to save energy in your home. While programmable thermostats save energy by running the heating and cooling system when you think you’ll be home, smart thermostats know when you’re home. They use geolocation of your smartphone and/or sensors to figure out when the house is empty or occupied and adjust accordingly.

Convenience: Apart from never needing to fiddle with the thermostat again, smart thermostats can be controlled remotely using your smartphone. For example, you can turn the heat down when you’re away for a few days and then adjust it on your way home so it’s nice and cozy when you arrive. Some of the higher-end smart thermostats can actually learn your heating and cooling patterns and preferences and program themselves for you.

Cost: Smart thermostats run from $100 to $250, but some promise to pay for themselves in energy savings within a year or two. Also, you may be eligible for a rebate of between $25 and $200 through your energy company. Enter your zip code here to see if you qualify.

Control Solar Gain with Smart Blinds

Resource Savings: Reduce the work your HVAC system has to do by installing smart blinds. Solar heat gain is our friend in the winter and enemy in the summer, and smart blinds can help you tame this tricky resource. They can be programmed to automatically close when they start to heat up or when the temperature in the room rises. Additionally, smart blinds can adapt to the seasons and be programmed to automatically open and close at certain times of day during the winter, allowing the sun to heat your home naturally.

Convenience: Smart blinds work with your smart thermostat to “sense” when you are away and close the blinds for you, another thing you don’t have to remember to do on the way out the door. Additionally, they can work with smart voice assistants so when you wake up in the morning, you can simply say “Open my blinds,” to welcome in the day.

Cost: Installing a set of smart blinds in your home is a high-cost proposition, one not offset significantly by the energy savings. However, if you are building a new home or renovating a space, it’s definitely something to consider. There are some smart devices you can retrofit onto existing blinds that will offer some of the benefits, but the most effective, least expensive way to benefit from the energy savings and conveniences of smart blinds is to install a couple in your most used, south-facing room.

Start Using A Smart Ceiling Fan

Resource Savings: Ceiling fans help reduce our reliance on an energy-hungry HVAC system by cooling us off when it’s hot and pushing rising heat downward when it’s cold. But if they’re left running when no one is there, they’re wasting energy. Smart ceiling fans can sense if a room is empty and turn off automatically, preventing wasted energy — up to 30 percent in some cases. Some can even integrate with your HVAC system to automatically switch the fan to the correct seasonal settings.

Convenience: Smart fans can adjust themselves based on your desired temperature to automatically speed up as temperatures rise, and because they can sense your presence thanks to built-in sensors, they’ll just turn on when you need them to. No need to get up and flip a switch. You can also set a schedule for a smart fan.

Cost: Fans range in price from $300 to $600, but they boast of energy savings of up to 30 percent, so they’re a worthwhile investment.

Install a Smart Irrigation Controller

Resource Savings: A smart irrigation controller can drastically cut back on your water usage, while still maintaining a healthy landscape in your yard or garden. With the power of science, the Internet and weather forecasting, smart controllers decide when to turn on, and more importantly, when not to. Using evapotranspiration calculations to determine the moisture content of your soil and a connection to the Internet to know when it will next rain, smart sprinkler controllers can determine when your sprinklers need to run. According to the EPA, replacing a standard irrigation timer with a smart irrigation controller could save you around 7,600 gallons of water each year.

Convenience: With a smart irrigation controller to control your sprinklers you no longer need to deal with that tiny, confusing LED screen on your irrigation clock. You can program all your zones and easily set up your system using a smartphone app, or just let the system take care of your lawn all by itself. You can also start or stop your sprinklers from your phone, or with voice control.

Cost: These systems run between $100 and $250, depending on how many zones and whether you want to integrate with other smart home systems. However, if you have high water costs, this device will pay for itself very quickly. You can also look into rebates offered by local water companies.

Stop Wasting Light with Smart Lighting

Resource Savings: Smart lighting cuts down the energy you use to illuminate your home in two ways: First, because all smart light bulbs are LED bulbs, they use around 80 percent less energy than other bulbs and last up to 25 times longer (cutting down on waste). Second, smart lighting can be programmed to automatically turn off based on your location, a schedule or motion sensing, meaning you’ll never leave your lights on unnecessarily.

Convenience: With smart lighting, you need never flip a light switch again, if you don’t want to. Motion sensors can turn lights on when you enter your house and geofencing can shut everything off for you when you leave. You can also set schedules in your smart lighting app or use voice control by pairing smart lighting with a compatible smart speaker.

Cost: Smart lighting can be as inexpensive as buying a few LED bulbs (from $5 each) and installing a motion sensing switch (from $20), or you can outfit your whole house with high-end, color-changing, smart LED bulbs that can be automated with motion sensors, voice control, geofencing and scheduling for upwards of $600. An in-between option, especially if you already have LED bulbs, is to swap your standard light switches for a line of smart switches. These can activate your lighting based on various triggers — motion, time of day, schedule, and geofencing.

The smart home and the sustainable home go hand-in-hand. By harnessing the power of technology to reduce our use of natural resources right in our own homes, we can each make even greater strides every day in our quest to preserve this planet for future generations. And it’s never been easier. With a smart home hub, like one provided by your local Internet company, you can manage mange of these devices within one mobile app.

Have you implemented smart home technology to save resources in your own home? Share your experiences in the comment section below.

Jennifer Pattison Tuohyis a freelance writer and editor covering the intersection of sustainability and technology for Xfinity?Home. She writes about the smart home, consumer tech, small businesses, and green living for a variety of newspapers, magazine and online publications.

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