5 Steps to Turn Your House into a Smart, Energy-Saving Home

Reader Contribution by Jennifer Tuohy and Home Depot
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Want to get smart about protecting the planet? The first thing you need to do is stop wasting Mother Earth’s precious resources in your home. Two years ago, America won the dubious honor of being the worldwide leader in wasting energy. Considering U.S. households use 25 percent of the energy the world consumes, reducing energy waste in the home is an essential step everyone can take to limit this negative impact.

Of course, this is old news to most eco-warriors, and the majority of Americans have been fed a steady diet of information about how to save energy at home for the last decade or two (thanks to the EPA’s Energy Star program). What is new, however, is that now our homes can help save energy all by themselves if we just give them the “smarts” to do so.

Here are the top five ways you can use home automation to turn your house into a smart, energy-saving abode:

1. Install a Smart Thermostat

Programmable thermostats have been helping homeowners save money for decades, but the addition of “smarts” by using self-adjusting thermostats has saved an additional 8-15 percent on electrical bills, on average. In a study of various smart thermostats, the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy estimates that they “…provide electricity savings for 2-3 cents per kWh saved, and that overall they can reduce total US electricity use across all sectors by about [half a percent].”

Smart thermostats can cost between $250 and $300 and are manufactured by brands such as Honeywell, Nest and Ecobee.

2. Monitor Your Water Heater

After heating and cooling, the water heater is the biggest energy user in the home, averaging about 18 percent of your home’s energy bill. Regardless of whether water is being used, it expends inordinate amounts of energy heating and reheating water in a tank.  If you are on vacation or away from the house all day, that’s a substantial amount of wasted energy.

Installing a Wi-Fi connected “smart” water heater monitor lets you schedule your hot water heating in the same way you do the heating and cooling of your environment: to fit in with your schedule. And, if your needs change, you can easily override the schedule using the device’s smartphone app.

Rheem’s EcoNet Home Comfort Wi-Fi Module is currently the only standalone “smart” water heater monitor on the market, however it only works with compatible Rheem water heaters. The Nest 3rd Generation Learning Thermostat now offers hot water heating control alongside HVAC control.

3. Control Your Shades

Allowing the sun to passively heat your home, or strategically blocking it so that your home remains cool, greatly reduces the amount of energy your HVAC system consumes while trying to keep you at a comfortable temperature. By installing smart blinds (which can be programmed to open and close at sunrise and sunset or when the temperature in a room reaches a certain point), you can take full advantage of the power of the sun to warm your home in winter and keep it cool in the summer.

For this system to work most effectively, however, you need at least two smart devices working together: smart blinds in combination with a smart thermostat. Smart blinds lower when the sun is heating the room and raise when it’s warm outside. Currently, Serena Shades by Lutron use the Nest Learning Thermostat in this way, and both integrate with Caseta Wireless lighting to give you complete remote control over the interior of your home.

4. Get Set with Smart Power

It’s not always necessary to buy new appliances to create an energy-efficient smart home. Sometimes the simplest solution is to use smart plugs or a power strip, or install a smart socket in place of your regular electrical outlet. These smart electricity sources — from brands such as WeMo, GE and Leviton — allow you to easily turn any appliance on or off via an app on a smartphone. You can also schedule the switches to turn off at a pre-set time, helping prevent wasted energy without even needing to think about it.

Smart power strips are particularly useful for home entertainment systems, which are notorious for using vampire power (drawing energy even when they are seemingly switched off). Some smart power sources can even tell you how much power a particular device is using through the companion smartphone app, letting you easily identify power wasters in your home so you can replace them.

5. Start Using Smart Lighting

Retrofitting an existing home with smart lighting is not as expensive or as difficult as it may sound. Not only will it significantly reduce the amount of energy wasted by leaving lights on, but it will also reduce the amount of energy you use to light your home.

By simply switching out your existing light bulbs for dimmable, LED smart bulbs — such as GE’s A19 dimmable LED bulbs ($16 each) and BR30s ($20 each) — you can set schedules for your lights through a compatible smartphone app. For example, you can have all your lights turn on when you usually get home, dim as you’re getting ready for bed and shut off when you go to sleep. You can also pair the lights with other smart devices such as motion sensors through a smart home hub, so they will turn on and off automatically when you enter or leave a room. Additionally, you can program every light in the house to shut off as you walk out the front door, meaning you’ll never mistakenly leave a light on all night wasting precious energy.

Finally, by choosing dimmable bulbs, you automatically use less energy than a standard bulb by as much as 9 percent. You can also use the app to set each bulb to only turn on to only 80percent of capacity, saving 20% in energy use. It’s something you will barely notice, but the planet certainly will.

Smart home technology is improving our lives at home, but it’s also helping to reduce our energy usage. That’s a win-win that’s truly “smart!”

Jennifer Tuohy, a tech enthusiast, writes about cool new gadgets and technology for The Home Depot.  She especially likes to provide advice around smart home products and smart lighting.  To find out more about the home automation products and smart LED light bulbs, visit www.HomeDepot.com. Read all of Jennifer’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

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