Smart home accessories like thermostats and lighting make many promises, with money and energy savings at the top of the list. Which devices measure up to the cost-savings expectations? If frugality is your priority, which limitations should you be aware of? Let’s take a look at which smart home devices can save money and how you can optimize energy savings with each.
Smart Power Strips & Outlets Fight Off “Energy Vampires”
We like: Tripp Lite 8-Outlet Surge Protector Power Strip for its power-saving outlets, competitive price point, phone and network connections, and history of good reviews.
In the home electronics industry, the term “energy vampire” refers to appliances that suck power anytime they’re plugged in, even when you’re not actively using them. The worst culprits are smartphone and laptop chargers and devices with active-standby modes, like TVs. You can avoid this phantom energy drain by unplugging each device, but that can be a hassle. If you use a smart outlet or power strip instead, it automatically detects and cuts off power to devices in standby mode or not in use.
When you shop for smart power strips, know there is a wide variety. Some have different color-coded outlets that include designated spaces for appliances that always need to stay on. Others just have built-in charging ports and regular electric sockets, which means your plugged-in appliances work normally, but the charging ports don’t draw phantom power. There are also options with motion detection and voice control via Alexa or Google Home.
The bottom line? According to a report from the American Council for An Energy-Efficient Economy, the plug load (total energy expenditure) of miscellaneous non-essential appliances accounts for approximately 20% of the energy use in an average American home. By switching to smart plugs and outlets, this plug load can be reduced by as much as 50%.
Conserve Water With Smart Sprinklers
We like: For built-in sprinklers and pipes, we like Rachio for its level of customization and recently improved response to ambient weather. The Orbit B-hyve Hose Faucet is a good alternative if you’re just trying to upgrade a standard garden hose.
There is no doubt about it: lawns take a lot of energy, water and time to maintain, especially in arid or highly variable climates. Save the planet and your water bill by running your sprinklers only when you need to. With a highly customizable and programmable sprinkler control system, you’ll conserve water by making accommodations for soil moisture, weather and the varying needs of different types of plants in your yard.
If you don’t have a plumbed water supply to your yard, you can also add a smart faucet extension to give you more convenience and control when a sprinkler is attached to a garden hose. The Orbit B-hyve Hose Faucet, for example, doesn’t have as many customization options as smart controllers for built-in systems. However, it does take weather into account and lets you control the garden hose with Alexa commands.
Smart Thermostats Fine-Tune the Temperature
“Smart thermostats can help you reduce your heating and cooling costs from 10%-25% by providing you with more precise control of your house’s inside temperature,” advises Matthias Alleckna, a professional energy analyst with EnergyRates.ca. These devices learn your habits and stop you from needlessly heating or cooling unused spaces. Since climate control makes up a significant portion of a home’s total energy bills, better control could mean significant savings, he says.
But you should also understand that smart thermostats can’t actually decrease the amount of energy it takes to heat or cool your home. The amount of energy that the system expends will depend on your habits, temperature settings, the size of your house, the type of HVAC system you have, and other factors. To save the most money, combine your smart thermostat with climate-controlling efforts.
- Better insulation.
- Checking the seals on windows and doors.
- Dressing according to the climate.
- Drapery for windows to prevent the intrusion of warmth from sunlight.
Hot air escapes after rising, and cold air is released after sinking, so take note of temperature gradients in your house — it may indicate an air leak.
Smart Lighting — Another Bright Idea
We like: Philips Hue Smart Light Bulb Starter Kit for getting started with smart lights that pair with Nest, Apple HomeKit or Samsung SmartThings, but make sure to compare the options on our best smart light bulbs list.
Mitchell Klein, executive director of the Z-Wave Alliance, is a 30-year consumer technology expert affiliated with one of the largest intercompany organizations in the smart home industry. His pick for smart energy savings? Lighting. The best smart lighting products save money in two ways: First, they can help you program a lighting system that automatically turns off when you’re not using it. Second, many LED smart bulbs are more energy-efficient than their older counterparts, which means you get the same amount of light for less energy expenditure.
As Klein points out, “many smart lighting devices like outlets or switches now also offer energy monitoring as a standard feature. Users can access their energy consumption via an app on their phone and see exactly what they’re using, rather than relying on the assumption that their lighting or other electronics are using a certain amount of energy,” he told Safety.com. “Many insurance providers are now realizing that providing incentives for installing smart home devices is compelling for attracting customers and are moving to programs and education around the benefits of smart home. I think we’ll continue to see these programs expand and mature to become an industry-wide standard.”
If you upgrade to smart lights, you might be able to increase your use of lighting as a burglar deterrent without driving up your bill too much. For many, the benefits justify the energy expenditure because a few extra lights on is a cost-effective security measure. If they prevent just one theft, they’re worth it.
A Better Way to Monitor the Meter
We like: Sense Energy Monitor for its remote monitoring, appliance detection, multi-user support, and customizable alerts.
Sometimes a high power bill catches you entirely off guard. Maybe an expensive-to-run appliance went on the fritz or was left on by accident, or your family has a few bad habits that get out of hand when left unchecked. To stay ahead of things, you can always monitor your energy usage by checking the power meter yourself, but that’s not very convenient or effective. You’d also have to watch it like a hawk to know your household’s regular patterns and notice anomalies as they happen.
If you’ve run into this problem before, you may have noticed that you don’t have many options when it comes to tracking your energy usage in real time. Smart energy monitors can help. Not only can you track energy usage whether you’re home or away, but appliance detection features also identify which devices are on and when. You’ll be able to stop energy drainage before it becomes a serious problem, and you won’t have to wonder whether or not you left the iron on.
Smart Window Coverings
We like: MySmartBlinds Kit for converting existing blinds into solar-powered smart blinds.
Curtains, blinds and other light blockers might not be the first thing you picture when you think of a smart home, but smart window treatments have a lot to offer. For one, a good system is a pleasure to use since you can open and close hard-to-reach curtains or blinds with just a button or voice command. They also offer savings on temperature control and lighting since you can program your system to respond to the environment automatically. The ACEEE estimates that a smart window covering strategy can yield savings of 11%-20% in space heating and cooling and approximately 3% in lighting.
All-In-One Security Systems Combine Smart Appliances, Monitoring and Home Insurance Savings
If you’re trying to modernize your home electronics across the board, you might be overwhelmed with your choices, ranging from smart thermostats to home security cameras and lighting. Your time is valuable, too. So, if convenience, safety and energy conservation are all priorities, look for a comprehensive system provided by a monitored home security provider, like ADT or Vivint. Monitored home security represents everything you need in a cohesive package. For the sake of security, consider a Nest Cam IQ, as it is a home security camera that is capable of motion detection and facial recognition in real time. Compare your options here. For maximum cost-effectiveness, check with your home insurance provider before you make a purchase. Depending on the company and policy, you may be eligible for a discount for adding devices or systems that meet certain requirements.