The Four-Pronged Approach To Ultimate Smart Home Energy Savings

Heating and cooling costs make up 50% of the average household energy bill. A few smart home devices can help you take a big chunk out of that. Install the right devices, and you’ll end up with a greener home and a lower monthly energy bill. Next, I am going to tell you about four smart home products that can combine to reduce your monthly heating and cooling bill by about 34% and sometimes much more.

How Can Smart Devices Save You Money?

Smart Gadgets Do The Little Things

You are probably already aware of some little things you can do to save little bits of energy. Some typical energy conservation techniques are: turn the ceiling fan off when you leave a room, close the vents in rooms you rarely use, or close the blinds on a hot summer day. Of course, doing these things doesn’t actually require any special technology. The problem is that most of these little things make such a small difference by themselves that we as humans tend to dismiss them as not worth our time. That’s where smart things can help. They don’t care about time and they don’t care about performing menial tasks over and over. In fact, that’s one thing they excel at.

They Do The Things You Forget To Do

There are things that you know can make a big difference, but just flat out forget to do. How often do you leave the house for several hours or even several days and forget to set the thermostat back? I know I’ll usually remember if it’s for a weekend trip and I’ll definitely remember if it’s a week-long trip. But, for those day trips, it almost never even crosses my mind. I leave the house and the system happily keeps heating or cooling and at the end of the month I pay the bill. But, it doesn’t have to be that way. Smart gadgets are great at remembering.

Smart Products Can Be There When You Are Not

Whether you’re not actually home or you’re just sleeping, you won’t always be around to make the needed energy-saving adjustments. Opening or closing blinds depending on the season and whether the sun is shining can have an effect on your energy costs. I doubt you would ever find yourself taking time out of your work day to run home and open your blinds. Luckily, your smart home devices will always be home. Most of the time, they will be operating autonomously without any thought or care required from you. But if you ever do need to make some manual adjustments they will be right at your fingertips. No matter where in the world you are, as long as you have your smartphone, you can access your smart home.

They Can Do Things You Can’t Do

Finally, there are a few things you might find too difficult to do, but a smart home can. Think about the example of closing vents that I mentioned earlier. It turns out that closing too many vents can actually be harmful to your HVAC system. Can you imagine trying to run around the house opening and closing vents to try to perfectly balance the temperatures in your house?Then, the sun switches to the other side of the house and messes everything up. And finally the sun goes down and it messes everything up one more time. No sane person would ever even think of trying to maintain that kind of system manually. It turns out, computers are really good this sort of thing. They are good at taking constant measurements and making continual adjustments. It’s best to leave that kind of insanity to the machines of your smart home.

Which Four Smart Home Gadgets Can Save You The Most?

So now that I covered the general “how” smart things do it, what follows are four types of smart home devices that can significantly reduce energy usage when they’re used correctly. I’ll explain what each device does and specifically what they can do to save you money.

Smart Thermostat

Nest 3rd Generation

Nest Learning Thermostat 3rd Generation

Smart Thermostat Estimated Savings:
HEATING: 10%
COOLING: 15%

What Does A Smart Thermostat Do?

A smart thermostat uses a variety of methods to control the temperature of your home. A combination of home sensors and cell phone GPS can tell your thermostat whether you’re home or away and whether you’re awake or asleep. You can tell the thermostat ahead of time which temperatures you prefer for each situation.

How Does A Smart Thermostat Save You Money?

In order to save money on your heating and cooling, you have to heat and cool less. It isn’t magic. A smart thermostat saves money by adjusting temperatures to use less energy during the times when you will notice it the least.

It doesn’t make sense to heat or cool a house when no one is home. If you forget to turn down the thermostat before you leave, you will be wasting energy by heating or cooling your house while you are gone. Top smart thermostats are designed to know when someone’s home or not and adjust the temperature accordingly.

A smart thermostat can use preset schedules combined with in-home sensors to determine when you are most likely sleeping. Most people prefer a cooler temperature when sleeping compared to when they are awake. Let the smart thermostat turn the heat down while you are safely bundled up in your cocoon of blankets and save some energy.

A feature that is starting to gain some traction is peak demand response. Some power companies charge a premium on energy usage during times of heavy usage. Some smart thermostats can communicate directly with the power companies and actively reduce your energy usage during those times. Currently, Nest has some active partnerships with energy providers and is in the process of creating more. Schneider Electric’s Wiser Air thermostat can communicate directly with smart meters, but the feature is still in the development stage.

Some smart thermostats record your energy usage. You can look back and see when you used the most and when you used the least. From there, you can use that knowledge to determine where you might be able to save. The Ecobee3 has probably the best energy reports in the industry. It provides users with a comprehensive analysis of their heating and cooling for up to 18 months. You can look at when you use the most, how the weather affects your usage, and even compare how your house stacks up with your neighbors’.

How Much Can A Smart Thermostat Save You?

The amount you can save will depend on your current thermostat habits. Ecobee estimates that if a person currently keeps their thermostat at 72F year round, the Ecobee3 could save that person about 23% on their energy bills. However, very few people keep their thermostat set at a constant 72F year round. Nest did a study of real people using their Nest learning thermostat and found people saved 10 to 12 percent on heating costs and 15 percent on air conditioning costs.

Here is a way to approximate how much you can save by adjusting your thermostat:

First, figure out what your current set point is. To make the math easy, let’s say it’s 70F. Then, make a guess at the average outside temperature. Let’s say it’s really hot and the average is 90F.

Now, take the difference between those two numbers.

90-70 = 20

Then divide 1 by the previous result

1/20 = 0.05

Finally, multiply that number by 100 and that is the percentage you can save for each degree you raise the thermostat.

0.05 X 100 = 5% savings per degree raised

Now let’s do an example for winter

current set point: 70F

average outside temp: 20F

70-20 = 50

1/50 = 0.02

0.02 X 100 = 2% savings per degree lowered

Using these numbers, I can make my estimate. Let’s say I want to lower my thermostat by 10 degrees while I’m sleeping during the winter.

So, first I multiply

10 X 2% = 20% savings

But, I’m only lowering the temperature while I’m sleeping which is about 8 hours per day which is only 1/3 of the total time in the day.

20% X 1/3 = 6.66%

So, lowering my thermostat by 10 degrees for 8 hours a day in the winter will save me roughly 6.66% on my heating bill. Simple, right?

Smart Ceiling Fan

Image Credit: Big Ass Fans

Haiku L Series Ceiling Fan by Big Ass Solutions

Smart Ceiling Fan Estimated Savings:
HEATING: 5%
COOLING: 10%

What Does A Smart Ceiling Fan Do?

A smart ceiling fan contains all the required ingredients to automatically turn your ceiling fans on and off at the right times to keep you comfortable and cut down on your energy bill. A quality fan like the Haiku L series can be purchased with a motion sensor, humidity sensor, and a thermometer. The sensors provide feedback that can help determine the appropriate speed of the fan and intensity of the light.

How Does A Smart Ceiling Fan Save You Money?

You wouldn’t be alone if you tend to leave your ceiling fans on for days at a time. However, a ceiling fan running in an empty room is just using up energy for no reason. If you are going to use ceiling fans as an energy saving device, you need to shut them off when you leave the room. Motion sensors on a smart ceiling fan can detect whether a room is occupied. It can be programmed to turn on when you enter and turn off when you leave.

During warm times a ceiling fan can provide a pleasant cooling breeze. The breeze doesn’t actually lower the temperature in the room. It provides a wind chill effect that makes you feel cooler than the actual temperature of the room. This is caused by evaporative cooling. The intensity of this effect depends on the speed of the air and the relative humidity in the room. Since the breeze will make you feel cooler, the ambient temperature can be raised a couple degrees. Even better, a smart ceiling fan can work directly with a smart thermostat. The Haiku fans work with both Nest and Ecobee3 to make this change automatically.

During cold winter months, you probably won’t want to feel a cooling breeze. But it’s often beneficial to have a subtle source of air movement to keep the room at an even temperature. I’m sure you’ve been in rooms where the floor is frigid and the ceiling is toasty warm. This sort of uneven heating has a tendency to make you less comfortable and use more energy. The lower half of the room is the part that is occupied so all that heat trapped near the ceiling is completely unnecessary. A smart ceiling fan can operate on low speed when a room is occupied to provide a mixing effect without making so much wind that it gives you the chills. Then, when the room is not occupied it can briefly speed up to thoroughly mix the air.

How Much Can A Smart Ceiling Fan Save?

A small amount can be saved by simply shutting the fan off when you don’t need it. However, a smart ceiling fan like the Haiku L Series is incredibly efficient. You could run the Haiku constantly on its highest speed for an entire year and it would only cost about $20.

A much larger chunk can be saved when you use the fan to supplement the cooling of your home. According to the calculations I made in the smart thermostat section, you can save roughly 5% on your cooling costs for every degree you raise your thermostat. It’s completely doable to raise the set point 3-4 degrees and offset the higher temperature with a medium-low fan speed. That would result in a 10-20% reduction in your cooling costs. You probably don’t want gale force winds in your living room all the time, so there is a practical limit to how much supplemental cooling you can get with a ceiling fan.

It’s more difficult to figure out how much can be saved with a smart ceiling fan during the heating season. A well designed HVAC system will usually provide adequate mixing of air without any assistance from a ceiling fan. In fact, sometimes a ceiling fan can even disrupt the airflow and cause it to work less effectively. However, even the best-designed systems will have difficulty properly mixing air in houses with high or vaulted ceilings. Therefore, winter savings with a ceiling fan are best realized in houses with those types of ceilings.

Smart Blinds

blinds

Smart Blinds Estimated Savings:
HEATING: 3%
COOLING: 12%

What Do Smart Blinds Do?

In terms of energy savings, the purpose of smart blinds will be to either enable or block the sun’s rays from transferring heat to your home. You want to let the heat in during cold times and keep the heat out during hot times.

Smart blinds automate the opening and closing of your blinds or shades. Your smart blinds will come with an app that allows for manual scheduling or remote operation. In order to make blinds truly smart, they need to have some feedback about their environment. FlipFlic is a crowdfunded smart blind that includes a light sensor which can be used to tell the blinds to close at night and open in the morning. Also, Lutron’s Serena Shades can connect to other smart home devices to enable more interesting automation capabilities. You could use it to make sure the blinds are closed when no one is home on a hot summer day.

How Do Smart Blinds Save You Money?

To me, the most obvious place blinds can save you energy is during the heat of summer. The most significant heat gain will occur on South facing (as long as you’re in the Northern Hemisphere) windows during afternoon hours. If it’s cooling season and the sun is shining, set your smart blinds to stay as closed as possible and you’ll give your AC a bit of a break.

On cold sunny days, open south-facing blinds to help heat your home. Generally, the radiation of the sun will offset any insulation that the blinds were providing so that you get a net positive heating effect. Plus, you get the added benefit of letting in some natural light.

You may already close your blinds at night for security or privacy reasons, but it’s also good for energy savings. On a cold clear night, you will feel a chill if you stand in front of an uncovered window. This is due to radiation heat transfer from your warm body to the cold window surface. If you close the blinds, you will create another thin layer of insulation between you and the window. The surface temperature of the blinds will be much warmer than the surface of the window. This will greatly reduce that chilly feeling.

How Much Can Smart Blinds Save You?

In an average house, about 20% of heat loss during winter happens through windows. During summer, a typical home can see 30% or more of its heat gain come in through windows. However, exact numbers for your home may vary quite a bit. Any potential savings will depend on how many windows you have, which direction they face, and how efficient they already are. Any awnings or overhangs will also have a big influence on how much sunlight enters through your windows.

If you close the blinds on a hot summer day, you can expect to reduce heat gain through windows by around 45%. For maximum effect, the back side of the blinds should be reflective.

I know opening blinds on a cold sunny day can reduce heating load, but I did not find any specific value for the potential energy savings. This is another number that will vary greatly depending on the size of your windows and the direction they face.

Tightly closed blinds will reduce heat loss through windows by about 6-7%. This isn’t much, but if it’s all done automatically, might as well take advantage of it, right?

Smart Vents

Ecovent smart home vent system

Ecovent smart home vent system

Smart Vents Estimated Savings:
HEATING: 20%
COOLING: 20%

What Do Smart Vents Do?

If you live in a relatively large house, you probably have rooms that you barely use. You probably have rooms that you only use during certain times of the day, and some other rooms that you use all the time. Wouldn’t it be great if you could set a separate temperature for each room of your house? Maybe you want to keep the kids’ room nice and warm at night but you prefer it cooler in your bedroom so you can bury yourself under a mountain of blankets. That’s exactly what a smart vent system is designed to do.

Unlike the standard vents that are most likely installed in your home right now, a smart vent is specifically designed to be able to control air flow. It should include a static pressure sensor which is needed to make sure enough air is flowing through your system. It will also require a temperature sensor in each room you want to use smart vents.

Creating a smart vent system is more complicated than just opening and closing vents. Most HVAC professionals will tell you that closing vents is not a very safe way to turn your single zone system into a multi-zone system. Instead, it can be a good way to end up with some costly repairs or service calls. Your HVAC equipment is designed for a certain amount of air flow during operation. Closed vents restrict the air flow.

Restricted air flow in an air conditioner can cause ice build-up on the evaporator coil. This will destroy the efficiency of your AC. It will cause the AC to work much harder and run for longer periods of time which can lead to expensive electricity bills and maybe even mechanical failure (more expensive bills).

A furnace with restricted air flow can get too hot. Modern furnaces have safety mechanisms in place that will automatically shut down a furnace that gets too hot. But, those safety switches aren’t meant to be used as an on/off switch. If your air flow is restricted too much, that may be exactly what happens. The switch can get worn out and require an expensive service call.

Most of the vents in your home are not very effective at controlling air flow. That’s because they’re designed for either open or closed operation. They are most effective at directing air, not restricting it. However, a smart vent is specifically designed to control air flow.

How Do Smart Vents Save Energy?

A smart vent system saves energy by redirecting air to where it’s needed most. This will result in lower run times for your heating and cooling systems. You will be able to create a schedule for each room with a smart vent so that rooms are only conditioned when you plan on using them. You may also integrate motion sensors to let your smart vent system know which rooms are being used.

How Much Can Smart Vents Save You?

There are many factors that will determine how much you can save with a smart vent system. It’s going to depend mainly on the size of your house and how you use it. The people that benefit the most will be those with a big house with large spaces that aren’t used very often.

KeenHome smart vent

KeenHome smart vent

The two most visible brand names that are making smart vents right now are KeenHome and Ecovent. The KeenHome website advertises “up to 30% savings.” Of course, any time you see the words “up to” in an advertisement, you should assume that is the optimal situation and not very representative of what the average user would see. I continued my investigation by emailing customer support at Ecovent. I asked what type of savings I might be able to expect with their system. They replied that they have seen savings from 20-50% but noted that savings will vary greatly depending on the installation.

Conclusion

I did the math and combined the estimated savings. Together, these four smart systems can cut your home energy use by well over a third.

Total Estimated Savings:
Heating: 34%
Cooling: 46%

Smart thermostats are the most developed of the group and are the most likely to pay for themselves. There are plenty of quality smart thermostats available to the consumer right now. The smart vents have the greatest potential for big savings, but it’s still a young developing technology. Smart blinds and ceiling fans will have less of an impact on energy savings. At current prices, they probably won’t ever pay for themselves with only energy savings. But, they also provide elements of convenience and comfort which add to their value for many people.

The residential smart home industry is just beginning to explode. I believe in the next few years, you will see a whole bunch of improvements to each of these systems. As more and more people have multiple smart devices in their homes, these systems will be able to draw upon more and more in home data to make smarter and smarter decisions. Right now, most companies are focusing on getting high-quality hardware in place. Once that’s done, they will be able to focus more on the software side and really make some of these products smart. That will lead to better customer experiences and even more energy savings.

 

Questions or comments? I’d be happy to strike up a conversation in the comments section below!

Eric Blank

Eric Blank blogs about smart homes and other connected technology here at thesmartcave.com. He enjoys technology, sports, outdoors, and dabbles in the dark realm of politics. He dreams of someday living in a castle on an island but for now will settle for smalltown, USA.

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ductdynasty - November 4, 2016 Reply

worth checking out the smart vent system from https://flair.co. better pricing, smarter features and shipping has started. also offers controls for non central systems like minisplits and window ACs.

    Eric Blank - November 4, 2016 Reply

    Thanks for the heads up! It looks like Flair is promising some pretty great things at a very competitive price point. I love that they can utilize the Ecobee3 sensors. The website shows that they are still in pre-order. Have they actually started shipping?

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