If you haven’t been paying attention, “smart houses” aren’t just for Bill Gates anymore. While chances are that you’re in the market for something just a bit more modest than the Chateau Gates, even the average person can benefit from the money-saving advantages of smart houses. Keep reading, and you might find out about perks you never knew existed, but won’t want to live without.
Home Energy and Resource Management Systems
For the past few decades, industrial plants have been taking advantage of computerized resource usage monitoring in order to find new ways to keep costs down. These systems can evaluate the amount of energy, gas, and water being used for heating, air conditioning, lighting, and more. They can analyze patterns of usage, find opportunities to cut consumption and waste, and be used to automatically control energy-hungry processes.
The most common and humble tool used by these systems that is now appearing in the average home are computerized, programmable thermostats. In recent years, a number of local governments and power companies have subsidized the replacement of old-style ‘dumb’ thermostats with these more feature-filled modern counterparts. They maintain temperatures at comfortable yet economical settings, and also allow users to program changes in temperature through the day, or even on a weekly schedule. The newer ones can also be remotely accessed and controlled using computer and phone apps. So the next time you forget to turn off the heat when you leave for work, you can save money by using your phone to turn down the heat, and the resulting energy bill.
Remote and Automatic Lighting Controls
Sometimes making it just a little easier to make economical choices is all the motivation people need. Some homes now have lighting systems that can be turned off and on by remote control. If you’ve just gotten comfortable in the living room and don’t want to have to get up to shut off that pesky bathroom light, just pick up the remote and hit the power button.
A few homeowners are taking this a step further by installing automatic light systems. While common in office buildings, these have been rarities in home environments until just recently. Instead of light switches, rooms are equipped with motion sensors that turn lights on when they sense motion, and then engage a timer that will shut them back off if motion isn’t seen for a while. These can be the ultimate energy savers, as you don’t even have to think about turning the lights off, let alone get up from the couch.
Your kitchen, bedroom, bathroom, living room—they’re all full of leaky appliances. We’re not talking about sink faucets or coffeemakers. Electronic gadgets of all shapes and sizes, from your big screen TV all the way down to your cell phone charger, all consume small amounts of electricity, even when they’re not in use.
Your average TV will use 48 watts when powered off, with DVRs and cable boxes falling not too far behind. Even your microwave with its always-on clock consumes 4.9 watts. Phone chargers can use between 0.25 and 1 watt when your phone isn’t attached, and can burn up to 2 watts when your phone is plugged in, but not even charging anymore. Each watt that your household unnecessarily consumes over the course of a year adds up to 8.76 kilowatt-hours wasted every 365 days.
For those in Alberta paying regulated rates for electricity (between 5 and 6 cents per kWh), each watt that drains away in any given moment costs you about 48 cents per year. So your microwave is costing you a little over $2 per year when it’s not running. Maybe not a big deal. But your TV? Even if you never watched it this year, you paid $23 just for the privilege of keeping it plugged in. And if your TV is connected to a DVR, Blu-Ray player, stereo system, and a satellite TV or cable box, that entertainment center is running you more than $77 per year, even if you never touch the power button.
This is why some homeowners are starting to use smart plugs, which are essentially fancy power strips. There are many different types. Some use a motion detector, like the lighting systems we mentioned earlier. If no movement is sensed in the area for a long while, the outlets will be powered off. Others use remote controls that allow you to easily shut off power. Perhaps the most convenient are master-controlled power strips. One device is plugged into the “master” outlet on the switch. When the TV is turned off, the power strip cuts electricity to all of the outlets—a great way to prevent that entertainment system from sucking your wallet dry. These are also proving popular for people who have elaborate computer setups—when they shut down their computer for the day, the power is also cut off to monitors, printers, scanners, speakers, and more.
Smart Dryers and Dishwashers
Many clothes dryer manufacturers are now including moisture sensors in their newest models. In the past, you’ve always had to guess how long it would take for your clothes to dry—your shirts take half an hour, but who knows how long the sheets will take! This often leads to people leaving dryers running for far longer than necessary, in order to avoid the inconvenience of coming back to a dryer full of wet clothes. New clothes dryers can now automatically tell when your clothes are completely dry, and shut themselves off in order to avoid wasting electricity, and possibly harming your clothes in the process.
Some dishwashers are incorporating similar technology, so that they only use as much water and heat as absolutely necessary.
Tracking Your Energy Usage
Lastly, some electricity and gas providers now provide tools that allow residential customers to keep track of their energy usage via emails or text messages. This can help you find where you’re wasting energy and money, and show you when it’s worth your while to upgrade to new energy-saving systems, such as those discussed above.