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5 Smart Home Technologies That Will Save You Money
By Freshome.com on Mar 25, 2013
Replacing old appliances with newer “smart” technologies opens up the door to substantial savings on the cost of utilities. Every house is different, so there isn't a single solution; an individual home's characteristics must be considered with respect to the many energy-saving options available today. Indeed, smart gadgets and systems are entering the consumer market at an ever-increasing rate.
1. Renewable Energy
Solar energy. Solar panels convert energy from the sun into electricity used in the home. As you might expect, homes located in areas with more sunlight will benefit more from a solar solution. Another factor that plays a role is your roof's exposure. Take into account the size of your home, how much energy you wish to generate via renewables, and government rebates and tax incentives for green building.
Generally speaking, if your home uses lots of electricity, it won't take you so long to begin saving money with solar energy. But the initial cost is considerable, so many companies now provide a power purchase agreement (PPA) that enables you to lease the solar equipment while paying a low, fixed rate for the energy your system produces.
Expect an average solar panel installation to save you about 30% off your energy bill. If you decide to purchase the solar panels outright, plan on spending between $2,000 and $10,000, depending on the size of your home.
Wind energy. Purchasing and using home wind turbines to create electricity is another possibility. The most effective wind turbines are not small. In order to produce the requisite amount of energy, many turbines reach heights of 20 or 30 feet. If a tall turbine is going to be a problem—whether for you or your neighbors—then wind power may not be the right choice. The good news is that, even though they are eyesores, turbines operate quietly.
Take a look at The Windspire to get an idea of what's out there. Priced around $5,000, The Windspire is capable of producing about 2,000 kWh annually. A less pricey way of harnessing wind energy is the Air Breeze—a small, traditional-looking wind prop capable of producing 200 watts daily. That’s roughly the amount of power needed to run a computer or TV.
Wind power doesn’t yet have roots as deep as solar, but the market is emerging and worth keeping your eye on. According to the US Energy Information Administration, average residential energy use is 11,496 kWh. So if you had half a dozen Windspires on your property, theoretically your needs would be covered completely by a renewable energy source, but for most people, owning six tall turbines is not very realistic.
2. Smart Thermostats
Here's a worthy investment: Spend a few hundred dollars on a thermostat that can teach itself the best way to manage temperature control in your home. One that's gotten a lot of recognition for its functionality and consumer benefits is the Nest. In a matter of weeks, the Nest thermostat learns your daily schedule, and from then on this little device governs your home temperature settings all by itself, in the process helping you to save money on heating and cooling.
Nest knows when you go to work and what time you're likely to return, and it can even sense your presence via built-in motion detectors. So whether you're home or away, and no matter the weather outside, Nest automatically makes your home the perfect temperature. If you’re not satisfied with how the thermostat is being automated, you can control it with your smartphone—from anywhere.
All the adjustments that Nest makes based on your schedule will save you money, especially in light of the fact that 50% of the average homeowner’s electric bill goes to heating and cooling. According to the manufacturer, households could cut 30% off their average energy bill simply by plugging this little device in.
In essence, you get a thermostat that learns how to control your environment without your input, one that can save you up to 30% on your heating and cooling costs, and the device only costs about 10% more than a standard programmable thermostat on the market today.
3. Light Occupancy sensors
Installing light occupancy sensors to turn control lighting has the potential to save you money. As any parent knows, no matter how many times you remind your children to turn off the lights when exiting a room, the kids never seem to remember. It's estimated that the average homeowner wastes of hundreds of dollars annually on lighting unoccupied rooms. If a 100 W lightbulb is left on for 10 hours, it uses 1,000 W of electricity, or 1 kWh. A quick look at your electric bill will reveal how much you spend per kilowatt hour.
If the average is $.20, then that 100 W lightbulb left on for 10 hours would cost you… $2.00. Multiply this number by the number of lights you leave on throughout the day and you will start to understand just how much energy you typically waste. One solution to this problem is motion-activated sensors, which can be purchased and fit into existing electrical outlets.
Plug any fixture into the new sensor, or attach multiple lights to the sensor, and you’re done. Highly trafficked rooms will probably not benefit much from this technology, but it might make a difference in low- to medium-trafficked rooms. Simple motion sensors like this cost anywhere from $10-$20.
There's another way to solve the problem of leaving lights on. Home automation systems exist that can connect all of your home's lighting to a program on your computer and smartphone. Such a program allows you to monitor your lighting, turning individual fixtures on and off as needed, remotely.
4 – Smart-Grid Appliances
There is a strong sense in both private enterprise and government circles that the smart grid will be slowly implemented across the U.S., and around many parts of the world, over the next decade. The smart grid uses information to communicate the personal habits of electricity consumers back to the energy companies. In essence, if your household uses lots of electricity during peak times, you’ll be charged a higher rate. In response to this development, appliances are being rolled with the capability of communicating with the smart grid.
Not only will you be able to "talk" to your refrigerator via smartphone, but your refrigerator, dishwasher, oven and washing machine/dryer will all be able to communicate with the smart grid. That "conversation" will enable appliances to know the optimal times during which to perform their functions. When possible, appliances will run during off-peak hours, allowing you to save money by not incurring the higher rate.
Manufacturers of such appliances have already introduced energy-saving features into their products to help mitigate energy costs, but the latest wave of smart appliances will take this a step further, making it so that you won't have to worry about issues of peak rates.
According to the Department of Energy, tax incentives and credits, not to mention lower energy costs, will help make these appliances pay for themselves within a few years of their purchase. But compared to normal high-end appliances, smart-grid-ready models are not so expensive to begin with.
5. Water Conservation
We all know that wasting water with extra-long showers is bad for our wallets and bad for our environment. Counter to intuition, long, hot showers waste not only water but also electricity, thanks to non-efficient water heaters and non-insulated plumbing. Many homeowners, whether financially or ethically motivated, have considered upgrading to a new, energy-efficient tankless water heater.
While that is not a bad idea, some practical solutions may be worth trying first, because after all, a tankless water heater is not inexpensive. Whether such a unit is the right choice depends on your home, your water use, and the price of gas in your area. Consider consulting a professional to assess your needs in light of these variables.
Even with a tankless water heater, it's possible to waste money if your showering habits don't change. For $10, you can purchase a simple product called WaterPebble. Placed at your feet in the shower, this small device helps control the amount of time you spend under the shower head. At first, you’ll see a green flashing light, and as you continue, that light will go from green to yellow, before finally blinking red to indicate that your shower time is over.
Make no mistake about it, this device is smart. It tracks the amount of time you spend in the shower during your first use, and it records consecutive uses, shortens your shower time by seven seconds with each use. When your shower becomes too short, you simply hit the reset button.
According to the manufacturer, this device could end up saving you more than $300 per year on wasted energy, or looked at another way, up to 12,000 gallons. Not a bad solution for $10.
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