Smart homes used to be the purview of science fiction, but they’re swiftly becoming reality — houses with networked devices interconnected with the goal of making our lives easier. While it’s nice to be able to open and close our garage door remotely or turn lights on and off when we’re not home, that’s not the only benefit of these smart properties. How can smart homes increase energy efficiency and reduce your utility bills?
Eliminating Power Ghosts
We tend to leave everything plugged into the wall whether it’s actively being used or not. While this is more convenient than crawling behind appliances, plugging them back in and then waiting for them to boot up, it can waste power. Even if they’re shut off, these appliances draw a small amount of energy, called “power ghosts.” It might not sound like it, but these small amounts of energy add up and can increase the cost of your utility bills.
Smart homes can be equipped with networked power strips and outlets that automatically cut off power when the appliances aren’t in use. You can also control these remotely, usually from the product’s app. These outlets and power strips are all networked, so you can also monitor overall power use and see which appliances draw the most voltage.
Regulating Internal Temperature
In most cases, you’re not in your home 24 hours a day. Most of us leave to go to work or school, to grocery shop or to socialize. There’s no reason to keep your home’s HVAC system running the entire time you’re gone. Of course, no one wants to come back to a cold house in the winter or an uncomfortably warm one in the summer.
That’s where smart thermostats come in. You can control your home’s temperature remotely so that, when you’re on the way home, you can tell your HVAC system to start working without leaving it on for the entire day.
You can even connect some smart thermostats to the internet so they can adjust your home’s temperature automatically — based on the parameters you’ve set — using the date, the time of day and the weather conditions. At night during the summer you don’t need to run the AC as often because it cools off outside. During the winter, however, you need to run the heat more for the same reason.
Off-Peak Appliance Use
Most of the time, we run our appliances while we’re home from work, in the evenings or on the weekend. Unfortunately, this is also when everyone else is running their appliances. This creates an additional drain on the power grid. To create the most energy-efficient home possible, you ideally want to run your appliances during off-peak hours when there isn’t as much of a draw on the local power grid.
Using smart appliances that are networked with your home means you can program them to run during off-peak hours when demand is low. It might take some getting used to, but running your dishwasher or your washing machine at night or when you’re at work during the day can help make your property more energy-efficient simply by reducing your power use during peak hours.
Lighting consumes roughly 5% of residential energy, which means it’s a prime target for using energy-efficient technology to reduce your utility bills. There are several different devices you can use to make your lighting less wasteful.
You can use smart bulbs or light fixtures that you can control remotely from your cell phone. If you forget to turn the light off when you leave for the day, you can control it remotely. You can also use a tool called “geofencing” that ties your home’s lights to the GPS location of your smartphone. If you’re at home, your lights turn on automatically. If you leave the fenced area, they shut off.
You can also use motion sensors that detect when you’re in a room. They turn the lights on when you’re there. And once they don’t detect motion for a while, they turn the lights off again.
Looking Toward the Future
Smart houses are starting to appear in nearly every community in the world. While automation helps make our lives easier, it can also improve energy efficiency and reduce our utility bills. In turn, this makes the world a greener place to live.
Emily is a sustainability writer who is the creator of Conservation Folks.