The Internet of Things (IoT) has permeated everyday life, transforming the way we communicate with the world around us, including our very own homes. Homeowners more than ever have the tools to understand their home environments and better manage the ways in which they use water and energy. In fact, according to a Berg Insight report, by 2021 nearly 55% of all households in the US are expected to be “smart” homes. That’s approximately 73mn homes!
Smart, connected thermostats can now do far more than just monitor temperatures – they can adjust humidity levels, turn on and off lights, lock and unlock doors, check security cameras and more. But what homeowners may not understand is that this technology can also help them reduce their energy use, leading to potential cost savings.
The US Department of Energy predicts that for every degree a homeowner raises their thermostat, they can possibly reduce their overall energy costs by about two or three percent. Setting back your thermostat a couple of degrees to save energy may seem intuitive, but there are several other ways homeowners can utilize their smart thermostats. With that said, here are three tips for maximizing savings and efficiency through the use of smart home features:
Understand your energy usage and explore options
First, start by making a list of places in your home or times when you believe you are using more energy than necessary. For example, are you heating and cooling your home when you’re away? Do you regularly leave lights and appliances on when you leave the room? Or do you have ceiling fans that stay on high speed even when a slower speed would suffice? Asking yourself these questions can help you determine peaks in energy usage.
There are a variety of smart, connected tools to choose from that can help you automate power consumption – including for the exact areas where you over-use energy. Smart controls and sensors exist for heating, ventilating and air conditioning (HVAC) thermostats, lightbulbs, light switches, fan controls, appliance modules, specific energy-monitoring plugs and water leak sensors. Consider the products that best match to your energy use patterns.
A smart thermostat will be central to managing your energy usage, as heating and cooling accounts for almost half of the energy use in a typical US home. Smart home automation systems like Nexia, for example, can help you control all of your smart features from one application when you’re at home and when you’re away.
Take advantage of the automation settings these devices offer. These settings allow you to schedule actions that will help you achieve energy reduction goals. For example, if you leave your home by 8am each day, you could schedule your heating or cooling to adjust by several degrees every day at that time. Other common automation options include turning off all unnecessary lights and any small appliances that may have been left running – such as coffee makers or hair straighteners.
If your home schedule varies a bit more – geofencing is an option. Geofencing creates a virtual geographic boundary that allows your home to make adjustments based upon whether it is occupied. For example, when all of your home’s occupants are outside of the set “home” boundary, the thermostat can change temperatures and turn off lights to conserve energy. When occupants are sensed to be returning home, the temperature can reset to a more comfortable level and lights can turn on to welcome them.
The most rewarding part of your efforts will be tracking your home’s energy conservation levels. You may soon notice a decrease in your monthly electric bill – a good sign that your efforts are having a positive impact. Many electric companies also provide data on paper bills or online accounts that show how your current usage compares to the previous month, or even last year.
You can also explore your home’s HVAC runtime history. Smart thermostats, when used with automations system like Nexia, can provide a daily log showing how many hours your HVAC system has operated. With regular monitoring, you can begin to understand how the outside temperature, occupancy and other factors play into the system’s operating time. Increasing or high runtimes could be an indicator that your HVAC system needs maintenance. For example, maybe an outdoor coil needs cleaning or your system needs a filter change.
While IoT technologies are gaining in popularity, energy efficiency remains the easiest — and single most cost-effective — way to cut energy use. By better managing one’s own daily energy use in the home, we can each make a big impact on our personal carbon footprint. And if even more individuals take these actions on a regular basis, imagine the potential, widespread impact on local energy grids and greenhouse gas emissions. We all can do our part.
By Scott Tew, Executive Director for the Center of Energy Efficiency and Sustainability at Ingersoll Rand