Green Homes—Electronic Controls

New systems allow homeowners to manage power usage.

energy-saving-technology

Photo: shutterstock.com

Today’s home automation products allow homeowners to take an active role in managing power consumption while controlling home climate, lighting, and security.

People can start saving energy simply with single devices, says Steve Koenig, Industry Analysis Director of the Consumer Electronics Association , which represents 2,200 companies. A basic programmable thermostat can lower the heat or raise the cooling temperature when no one is home, thus saving money. A timer can consistently turn off outside lights at a certain hour instead of having them left on all night using up kilowatts.

“People also don’t think about appliances plugged into receptacles using energy when they’re turned off,” says Lisa Whitcomb, senior public relations specialist with Intermatic. “This phenomenon is known throughout the industry as vampire electronics. In a standby mode, some products such as a stereo or TV can still draw small amounts of power to keep them warmed up. When the InTouch outlet is powered off, all electric current is stopped from going through the outlet to whatever may be plugged in to it.”

Living “green” is also about reducing the carbon footprint, says Product Marketing Manager Grant Sullivan for Leviton Home Automation Products, based in Little Neck, NY. “Extending bulb life means fewer light bulbs are put in landfills,” he says. “Converting switches to dimmers means less energy is wasted”

Simply dimming a lamp has positive effects on energy usage. Sullivan says:

  • Dimming a lamp 10 percent reduces energy use by 10 percent and provides twice the bulb life.
  • Dimming a lamp 25 percent reduces energy use by 20 percent and provides four times the bulb life.
  • Dimming a lamp 75 percent reduces energy use by 60 percent and provides more than 20 times the bulb life.

Beyond individual controls, having devices work together in a whole house system can add to energy savings. For example, a motion detector, noting there is no movement in the house, might reduce energy usage by the HVAC or dim or turn off certain lights.

Energy-Saving Electronics - Dimmer

Photo: leviton.com

Sampling the Marketplace
A surprising array of products are available or being developed to help conserve energy in the home. Leviton, for example, produces lighting controls, wireless controls, and power line controls. Levitons Sullivan offered examples of what its products can do.

“Consider a lighting circuit controlled by a traditional toggle switch,” he says. “Turn on the switch and each bulb instantly goes to 100 percent every time. Replace that switch with Leviton’s Vizia + or Vizia RF + dimmer and, beyond the obvious ability to dim the lights, the user has added benefits. If the new Energy Save Mode is engaged, the user will reduce energy consumption every time that dimmer is used because that mode allows a maximum brightness level to be preset. The return is savings in energy use and extended bulb life.”

Sullivan says the benefits can be expanded by uniting all home control devices into a common wireless system, such as Leviton’s Vizia RF +, which uses Z-Wave® wireless technology and allows a homeowner to schedule events such as turning the porch lights on or dimming them at specific times.  The system also provides the consumer with remote access capability.

Home Automation, Inc., (or HAI), based in New Orleans, LA, manufactures control systems and products, including energy management tools. CEO Jay McLellan says a home often has many control components and it doesn’t cost much more to make them work together for homeowner comfort and convenience. HAI’s tools include programmable communicating thermostats that have the ability to exchange information with an electric meter to show the current cost of energy, amount of energy used, and what the next utility bill will be.

The company’s heavy-duty control modules can control water heaters and pool pumps. With its home control system, which can link remotely to handheld mobile devices, users can monitor and control lights and temperatures as well as security, audio and Web cams.

Intermatic, based in Spring Grove, IL, manufactures consumer and industrial energy control products. Its InTouch and HomeSettings control systems both use Z-Wave protocol. Intermatic’s Whitcomb says the company’s home controls can be wired into the wall or plugged into receptacles. They can work alone or as part of a whole-house network.

Prices vary with homeowner needs. A HomeSettings starter kit with two devices and a controller is about $100 retail, while the InTouch entry kit for a 2,500-square-foot home for those hiring professional installers sells for about $1,000, not including installation.

Control4, based in Salt Lake City, Utah, uses technologies such as ZigBee, WiFi, and Ethernet standards and Linux to increase integration of existing systems and to reduce user costs. “Digital households are overflowing with feature-rich gear and media that should work together but rarely do,” says CEO Will West. By developing standards-based products instead of proprietary ones, Control4 provides home automation solutions that tackle the problem of too many remote controls and disparate digital gadgets with no connectivity standards.

Evolving Market
Koenig says that emerging solutions include products that allow homeowners to schedule power usage. He says one solution is a home battery that can draw its power during non-peak, and less expensive, periods and supplement a home’s needs during more expensive peak hours.

Home monitors are also of interest. Control4’s 4Sight Internet Service gives homeowners the ability to securely monitor and control their home from any Internet connection. It includes email alerts for events that a person may want to monitor in their home, such as a garage door left open or a basement water leak.