Smart Technology: Protecting Your Home and Saving the Planet

By Morgen Henderson

Smart technology may have started as a way to make modern life more convenient, but it has significant potential to help us conserve resources and address environmental problems, too. Humans are undoubtedly having a huge impact on the planet, and technology is both a cause and a possible solution to the damage we’re doing. From small-scale changes in individual homes to large-scale efforts such as recycling carbon dioxide and carbon capture storage, it is possible to create systems of technology that work with, not against, the environment.

When facing a challenge as big as climate change, it sometimes seems that whatever changes you can make in your own life just don’t matter enough, but that’s not the case. Many people shifting their behaviors creates a measurable impact.

One source of earth-friendly tech is smart home technology. Smart homes can save energy– and lots of it. Smart thermostats help you control the temperature in your home, so you’re only using energy when and where you need it. Other smart devices can also be controlled remotely and programmed to function around your schedule to save power when they’re not in use, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

The evidence for smart home technology

Smart technology at home
Smart home tech is a new (and quickly expanding) industry, but there are already several ways you can incorporate it into your home to help save the planet.

Research says even just using more energy-efficient devices will conserve energy: a Consumer Technology Association study in 2017 found that while the number of tech devices in U.S. homes had increased 21% since 2010, those devices accounted for 25% less energy than they did in 2010.

And that’s before even getting into smart home tech. As early as 2011, researchers found an 18% decrease in energy consumption when people used home automation systems such as Z-Wave or ZigBee to manage power consumption of devices.

More recent estimates of smart home tech suggest that net energy savings for various devices range from 8 to 15 percent for smart thermostats and 40 to 75 percent for smart lighting products. It’s important to consider the power a smart device uses even in standby mode when calculating possible conservation, which might account for the wide range of energy savings to be found with different devices.

Smart home tech is a new (and quickly expanding) industry, but there are already several ways you can incorporate it into your home to help save the planet.

Furthering your understanding of power consumption

The first step to change is awareness. If you don’t know where all the power in your home is going, you won’t be able to reduce it. There are smart devices that can measure consumption of various appliances as well as send you notifications about the best times of day to run the appliances you do need to use regularly, like washing machines.

Sense, for example, connects to your electrical panel and tracks all the energy your home uses, showing patterns that can help you change your habits to increase efficiency and save money. Such a device can be the first step in creating a smart home system that will optimize energy usage where you need it most.

Water saving

Depending on where you live, water isn’t yet a resource in short supply, but many predict that it will be soon. That means now is the time to start conserving, before it becomes dire. There’s a new generation of water-saving showerheads, such as the Hydrao Smart Shower, that not only reduce the flow of water but also measure your water consumption through an app and alert you to your usage in real time, while you’re in the shower. It’s hydro-powered, of course, and helps you become more aware of your usage so you can change your behavior.

Another way to save water is to make sure you’re not losing it via small leaks somewhere in your home. Similar to Sense but for plumbing, Flo is a device that monitors temperature, flow, and pressure of water usage all over the home to make sure there are no leaks.

Saving water happens outside the home as well. How do you water your garden or lawn? A simple timer that sets off the sprinklers when the sun goes down is a good start, but smart tech now offers a better option through devices that allow you to control watering in more advanced ways and respond to local weather forecasts to prevent excessive watering.

Heating and cooling

Smart technology: Ecobee Smart thermostat
Smart thermostats offer programmable temperature schedules, so you only use power when you need it.

Heating and cooling are the main sources of energy usage at home. Smart thermostats offer programmable temperature schedules, so you only use power when you need it. However, simple programmable thermostats also do this. What sets a smart thermostat apart is that it will monitor your usage and set temperatures slightly lower or higher during times when you are using heat or air conditioning to save you money and reduce energy.

Another way to keep your home’s temperature comfortable while saving energy is to invest in smart blinds. These blinds can be programmed to raise or lower themselves in response to the changing sun in every room of your home to maximize or minimize how much your home will warm up in the bright part of the day.

Lighting

Speaking of light, smart lighting was an early arrival in smart home tech. Philips Hue is perhaps the best-known option of the bunch. A smart lighting system allows you to control lights from anywhere so you never accidentally leave the lights on again, and it incorporates motion sensors that will automatically shut lights off when someone leaves the room. The bulbs themselves, which are LED, use vastly less energy than incandescents do.

Once again, think about what you’re using outside your home as well as inside. You can find solar lights to install along the walkway or in a pond in the yard.

Better device use

To save energy, you should unplug all your appliances whenever you aren’t using them. But who really does this? Smart power strips take care of it for you by turning off devices all the way whenever they go into standby mode (which is what happens when you turn off the TV). Referred to as “vampire power drain,” leaving devices in standby mode can account for 5% or more of total energy usage.

Smart power strips take care of this energy drain and also offer one or two always-on plugs for devices that need to stay active. Some newer ones also incorporate motion sensing technology and turn devices on when someone’s in the room. The best places to use these are with home entertainment systems, in the office, and in the kitchen for microwaves and toaster ovens.

All this smart home technology can be added to existing homes, though the potential for energy savings is even greater when they’re built into new homes. And it adds up. For example, adding only a smart thermostat can reduce your energy usage by anywhere from 10 to 40 percent. It’s not just energy you’ll be saving, but money too, when you take into account reduced utility costs over the course of a year or more. If you can afford the initial investment, there’s a compelling case to incorporate smart tech into your home.

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