Guest Post by Hilary Thompson
The promise of smart tech is convenience, but using it can also, over time, save you a lot of money. But between customer reviews, information from companies themselves, and independent evaluations, it can be hard to figure out what smart tech options are most worth it. Promises made by energy-saving tech companies don’t always turn out to be true (for example, check out concerns about SolarCity, which provides home solar systems).
It’s important to figure out not only what types of smart tech devices are best for cost savings, but which models to choose. Every smart home has sensors, but the kind you buy (or don’t buy) will greatly influence the amount of money and energy you save in your home. Check out these seven smart tech choices with specific recommendations for each.
A smart thermostat is programmable so you can maximize efficiency with heating and cooling, but what’s more, it may include sensors to adjust the temperature in different areas of the house when they’re not being used. This device will learn your habits and make automatic adjustments. Smart thermostats are a good option for anyone who regularly forgets to turn the heat down at night or isn’t sure they’ve made full use of a regular programmable thermostat.
The Ecobee smart thermostat has emerged as the best you can buy. Rather than only monitoring the temperature in its own location, this device comes with sensors you can place in different areas of your home so the thermostat can efficiently control temperature in all these zones. Following that, Nest is the most reputable option, second to Ecobee only because it offers compatibility with fewer smart home systems than Ecobee does. Also worth considering: Nest studies have found that users save between 10 and 15 percent on heating and cooling costs, while Ecobee claims that their option can save you up to 23 percent on your energy bill.
Another way to reduce the energy bill is with smart light bulbs. These connect via either Wi-Fi, Zigbee, or (less commonly) Bluetooth so you can control lighting from your mobile device, program different lights to turn on or off at certain times, and connect them to sensors so they’ll respond to your movement about the house. Systems that use Zigbee or Wi-Fi are preferable since Bluetooth is less stable.
Philips Hue remains the gold standard of smart lighting systems due to extra features in the app — which include routines, sunrise/sunset automation, geofencing, and a vacation mode — as well as integration with a wide range of smart home systems. More affordable but still reliable options are bulb systems from Sengled or Lifx.
Smart home sensors are a must if you’re setting up a smart home system. They can be used with thermostats and lighting to optimize energy use, but also with security systems. Door/window sensors, for instance, will alert you whenever a door or window is opened. This has a dual purpose of providing security as well as helping you monitor airflow and temperature shifts in the home so you don’t lose precious cool or warm air.
It’s easy to stick a contact sensor almost anywhere — the fridge, a garage door, a cabinet, and so on—for both energy conservation and safety purposes. You can’t go wrong with Samsung sensors — motion and multipurpose.
We sometimes get so focused on energy saving in the home that we forget about another important conservation area: water. If you have a yard or garden, a smart sprinkler will optimize your water use to help reduce your water bill. They’re not the flashiest in smart tech, but they are well worth it. You’ll get the convenience of remote control and scheduling but also a system that will monitor local weather conditions and adjust in real-time. What’s more, a smart sprinkler can provide expert advice based on metrics about exactly how much water your yard needs and what schedule will result in the most absorption and least run-off, which will further reduce water use.
The Rachio 3 sprinkler system is widely considered the best option for most people. It offers control over eight zones, integration with many systems, and robust automation abilities. A good runner-up choice for those looking to spend less is the Orbit B-hyve.
Leak detectors, unlike some smart tech on this list, don’t do much to save you money on a monthly basis, but they can help you avoid thousands of dollars in repair bills from water damage. Leak sensors placed in key areas such as under washing machines, water heaters, or the kitchen sink will alert you to a new leak long before you’d find it yourself — and before it leads to a bigger problem.
The Honeywell Water Leak and Freeze Detector is easy to set up, operating directly with your home’s Wi-Fi. In addition to leaks, it will alert you to freezing temperatures and high humidity levels, which can lead to or be signs of a problem in your pipes.
A third type of smart home tech that’s a must for conserving water (and reducing your water bill) is a smart shower head. These devices are newer to the market than some other smart tech products, so there’s not a lot of consistency yet in what they each offer. But at a minimum, a smart shower head will monitor the water temperature and pressure to optimize both. Some have a built-in sensor and will pause the flow of water when you step away to lather up.
The Moen U Shower is a good option that offers water temperature and flow regulation through app or voice interaction and lets you set a timer to keep your showers short. A more affordable choice, the WaterHawk, includes a built-in hydroelectric motor, so all its features are powered by the water you’re already using rather than extra electricity. Its display will show you how much water you’re using, nudging you to adjust to reduce.
With all the focus on HVAC systems, it’s easy to forget that passive heating and cooling can make a big difference in your energy costs. The best way to optimize this is with smart shades that provide automation and respond to the position of the sun over the course of a day. (And a nifty bonus feature is that they can help you wake up in the morning.)
You have a couple of options when it comes to installing smart blinds: buy a new set or retrofit your existing shades. Somfy and Lutron are well-known names in custom smart shade systems. If you have blinds with a chain raise/lower mechanism, look into Soma, which provides a small unit you attach to the chain that can then be controlled from your mobile device or a smart home system.
With all these options (and more we haven’t mentioned), it can be hard to figure out where to start. If you’re setting up an entire smart home system, look for the devices that integrate best with your chosen ecosystem. If you’re not sure where to start with energy-saving products, consider first installing an energy monitor that will give you an overview of where energy is being used in your home and provide conservation tips. As you venture further into the territory of smart tech, you’ll realize there are changes you can make throughout your home to conserve both your cash and natural resources.
What many consumers prefer to do with smart home products these days is pair them with a home security system. Most home security companies offer affordable packages that pair top-of-the-line security equipment with home automation products, making your home not only a smarter home but a safer home.
Although you can purchase smart home products individually like the products mentioned above, it'll most likely save you money if you purchase them in a bundle with a home security provider, especially if you want more than one smart home product. That way you get more for your money.
Hilary Thompson is a freelance writer, small business owner, and mother of two. She loves to write about everything from business to parenting, sleep disorders, tech, and stress. She geeks out on digital marketing trends, weekend yoga, and will likely correct your grammar if given the chance. Coffee is her friend.
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