Smart home appliances are more popular than ever, and lower prices and increased visibility means that smart thermostats, smart lighting, voice-activated home assistants like Alexa, and many other new technologies are poised to become commonplace within the next few years - and they are a great way to help you live sustainably.
One of the major selling points of smart devices is their ability to lower energy use, reducing a person’s carbon footprint by using energy much more efficiently than traditional systems. While studies of energy usage by smart home systems are still ongoing, early data suggests that enhanced functionality and automation are making a real impact on electricity usage in a variety of ways.
What’s the “IoT”?
Connected technology is simply a way to describe devices that have internet or Wifi connections that allow them to communicate with other devices, as well as central hubs. When connected to a 'smart’ hub or HEMS hub, your appliances, devices, and home systems become part of an extensive network, collectively called the Internet of Things, or IoT. This connectivity allows homeowners to interact with their home systems and appliances through mobile devices and programmable interfaces, inviting them to experience an entirely new world of convenience and enhanced functionality.
...the enhancement of each system’s capabilities actually results in a reduction in energy usage.
Understanding Smart Technology
Home automation systems, comprised of a network of smart devices, work through the installation of a smart hub or Home Energy Management System (HEMS). These HEMS hubs act as a central command station for all of the connected devices and appliances in the home, allowing homeowners to control thermostats and HVAC systems, lighting systems, automated windows, security systems and cameras, and even electrical outlets.
Systems can be managed via smartphone or tablet, and sometimes even via voice command. Connected technology allows homeowners to monitor home systems, turn them on or off, and make other adjustments to their functioning, like controlling the temperature from another location via smartphone. It’s possible to access motorized windows, opening, closing, and locking them from a remote location, and lock and unlock doors. Appliances and security systems that are equipped with smart cameras can provide you with a live feed, making it easy to monitor activity in a home or even check the contents of cupboards and refrigerators.
Pros and Cons of Connected Tools
As home automation systems grow in popularity and importance, their individual components become more reliable and sophisticated. Until recently most smart devices required a control panel or app, voice-activated home assistants like Amazon’s Alexa can now be used to simply ask for adjustments. Along with this convenience, energy savings are inherent in devices like smart lights that can be dimmed by voice command, and home heating and cooling systems that can be preprogrammed to turn themselves on and off according to a family’s schedule.
Though it may seem as though embedding home appliances and systems with computer chips and network connectivity devices would increase energy consumption, the enhancement of each system’s capabilities actually results in a reduction in energy usage. Having a home thermostat that can turn itself down when no one is in the home and adjust itself the moment someone arrives is an unanticipated technological advancement that is really helping energy-conscious families reduce their carbon footprint.
Of course, these conveniences come at a price, at least up front. Presently, most smart devices run a few hundred dollars each, and things like light bulbs that are normally cheap could run you upwards of $120 for a single smart bulb. Another concern is the security of the home networks on which these devices run. Connecting home systems and appliances to the IoT may make personal information about a home’s inhabitants available to anyone who accesses that home’s Wifi network, or even to unscrupulous power companies gathering information about electricity usage. That said, utilizing strong passwords and common sense security measures can go a long way toward mitigating these risks.
Looking at the Bigger Picture
When viewed from a broader perspective, the cost of having a connected technology or smart home system installed in your home is well worth the investment. When used properly, smart lighting, heating, motorized windows, and smart cooling systems can save you a considerable amount on your energy bills. The upfront cost can be significant in many cases, but this should be weighed against the money saved, and the convenience and peace of mind you gain by investing in smarter devices.
Smart technology is sure to keep getting cheaper, as technology does, so the future is bright for those of us who want to find ways to lower our carbon footprint and use less energy more efficiently. Who’d have thought that going green would one day be as easy as asking Alexa to “turn off the lights, please?”