Using your phone to save energy

Using your phone to save energy

Whether you call it the smart home, the connected home or the Internet of Things, technology is changing the way we interact with the products in our homes. Wi-Fi allows us to manage a number of home automation products from a remote location. The latest advancements are truly amazing, with much geared toward convenience and entertainment. However, the technology also offers the opportunity to save energy.

The Basics

Home automation has been around for some time. But until recently, automated devices were hard-wired into the electrical system of a home. Today, Wi-Fi devices use an internet connection to replace wiring. You’ll need a good connection, a wireless router—which connects your smart product with the internet—and a smartphone, computer or tablet loaded with an app you can use to manage the product.

You can install one smart device or a number, and there are a lot to choose from: smart thermostats, door locks, security cameras, lighting systems, sprinklers and more. Rather than having an app for each device, a wireless hub, such as Wink or Samsung Smart Things, acts as the control center for a number of smart devices. It allows devices from different manufacturers to “talk” to one another while giving you control through one app. Just be sure the smart device and the hub are compatible before choosing your model.

Smart Thermostats

Programmable thermostats have evolved into smart thermostats. The ability to program a thermostat to provide heating and cooling when it is needed, rather than having the heating and cooling systems run at a constant temperature, saves money. For example, if your house is empty all day, you can set the heating thermostat at, say, 62 degrees while no one is there, but program it to return to a comfortable temperature when you are due home. Most homeowners can save about $180 a year in energy costs if they program the thermostat correctly, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Smart thermostats go a little further. Wi-Fi capability lets you control the device when away from home. Suppose you usually get home at six but will be delayed until nine? Using the app on your phone you can override the programmed set times and save energy longer. Vacation mode lets you keep the temperature at an energy-saving setting the whole time you are away. Other features you can find on smart thermostats may include:

  • Learning how long it takes to heat or cool your house to the desired temperature and then adjusting their operation accordingly.
  • Monitoring local weather conditions and then compensating to keep the house comfortable.
  • Learning the temperatures you like (and when you like them) and then programming itself to match.
  • Displaying local temperature and humidity.
  • Guiding you to reach an energy-saving setting.
  • Alerting you through email or text when your home becomes unusually hot or cold.
  • Alerting you when it is time to change your furnace filter, which helps the system run at its most efficient.
  • Tracking the heating and cooling system's energy performance.

Not all smart thermostats offer all of those features, so you may find it best to compare models and find the one that works best for your lifestyle and can save you the most money.

Proper Setup

The EPA's savings estimate is based on heating systems that are set back eight degrees and cooling systems set up seven degrees. So if you like your house cooled to 75 degrees in summer, set the thermostat to 82 when the house is empty. Savings also depend on proper thermostat setup and use. Here are some general guidelines to follow:

  • Install the thermostat away from heating and cooling vents or any area that receives direct sunlight or drafts.
  • Program the thermostat to stay at energy-saving temperatures for long periods of time, such as overnight while your household is asleep.
  • Resist the temptation to override the programmed settings.
  • If you have multi-zone heating or cooling, install a thermostat in each zone.

Smart Water Heaters

Wi-Fi-enabled water heaters offer the convenience of checking and adjusting your water temperature from a phone or tablet. They are not as common as smart heating and cooling thermostats, but with water heating accounting for up to 20 percent of home energy bills, they are sure to become more common in the future. For now, companies that offer the option make Wi-Fi capabilities available on their top-of-the-line models.

In addition to controlling water temperature, smart water heaters can run their own diagnostic to spot potential problems. They can also alert you with a smartphone notification if the tank starts to leak. Because water heaters are usually located in a basement or utility room, it is important to make sure that your Wi-Fi signal is strong enough at that location.

No matter what method you choose, when used correctly, home automation can make a big savings impact on your utility bills.

Fran J. Donegan is a home improvement author who provides advice and tutorials on a multitude of topics, from installing a smart water heater to explaining how smart home automation can be used to save energy. To get more info on the smart home products that Fran talked about in this article, visit The Home Depot.  


Topics: Appliances, Connected Homes / Smart Homes, Heating & Cooling, Lighting, Water Heaters

Companies: The Home Depot


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