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Smart-home devices don’t just make it easier to close the garage door or secure your home. They can also help you save energy and money, if you use them properly. And seeing how Americans spend $130 billion a year on wasted energy, people can use all the help they can get.
You set up smart-home devices using a smartphone, and you can control them remotely, put them on a schedule, connect them to a smart speaker, or even set them up to perform actions on their own. By giving you more control over the things in your home that use energy, smart-home devices can be part of an energy-saving plan. Here are a few ways to use smart-home devices to cut down on energy and water waste while also saving money.
To turn off lights
When someone in my house leaves the lights on, I can almost feel my energy bill going up. (Maybe it’s just my blood pressure.) Smart lighting foils energy hogs by adding remote control, scheduling, and automation to an everyday fixture.
Smart bulbs are the simplest way to save money because all you have to do is screw in a light bulb. And all smart bulbs are LED bulbs, which use at least 75 percent less energy than incandescents yet last 25 times longer. They also bring extra savings by adding dimming, which can save another 40 percent. Smart bulbs can trigger in reaction to other smart devices, motion sensors, or your location (aka geofencing), so they’ll operate efficiently without you having to turn them off. We like the Philips Hue line, which offers a number of smart-bulb kits for both inside and outside the home.
Another option, for the person who knows how to wire an outlet, is a smart in-wall light switch, which replaces your existing light switch to control lighting fixtures. My husband leaves in the dark every morning, so we use a Lutron Caséta in-wall dimmer (Wirecutter’s upgrade pick) to automatically make sure he has a lighted path—and then turn it off when he’s gone, so it doesn’t stay lit all day.
If you’re clinging to the bulbs and switches you already own, a smart plug tackles the same on/off and scheduling functions for lamps and small appliances, and you can still add regular money-saving LED bulbs. A smart plug offers an inexpensive way to control lights: Our favorite, the Wyze Plug, costs under $30 per lamp. Smart plugs are also great for controlling holiday lights.
To conserve water
According to the EPA, everyday household leaks account for about 1 trillion gallons of wasted water annually. That’s equivalent to over 1,500 Olympic-size swimming pools.
Adding a smart leak sensor is an easy way to monitor under sinks, behind toilets, around washing machines, and other potentially leaky points. When the sensor detects a leak, it sends a smartphone alert so you can tend to the issue before things get out of hand.
If you want more comprehensive control, or if you have a second home, the Flo by Moen and the Phyn Plus are smart water valves that install on your water main and can sense and alert you to leaks as small as a drippy faucet. When they detect a burst pipe or cycling toilet, they can turn off the water to prevent a catastrophe. (Note that we haven’t yet tested smart water valves, which are costly and require a plumber to install.)
Smart sprinkler controllers can control water waste outside by regulating the amount you use to irrigate your lawn or garden, based on your specific soil moisture and even plant types. We recommend the Rachio 3 Smart Sprinkler Controller because it uses hyper-local Web-based weather information to adjust schedules automatically, so you won’t be one of those people who water their lawn right before (or during) a rainstorm. If you don’t have an in-ground sprinkler system, a smart faucet controller works for standard sprinklers or soaker hoses.
To curb cooling and heating
The US Energy Information Administration says that the largest single use of electricity by US households is in fans and air conditioning, with some households spending more than $525 a year. A smart thermostat optimizes your home’s heating and cooling so that you never waste electricity or fuel. Our pick, the Google Nest Learning Thermostat (third generation), is a learning thermostat that can automatically adjust temperatures to optimal levels based on your habits, the location, and the time it takes to cool your home. When you leave home, it adjusts the temperature so you aren’t blasting the AC or heat all day. And it turns the system back on before you get home, so in the summer you don’t arrive to an oven (and regret being energy-conscious). If you don’t have central air, either a smart air conditioner or a standard window unit with a smart plug can give you additional control so you’re not wasting cool air when no one is home to appreciate it.
A smart ceiling fan can be another great option. The US Department of Energy says ceiling fans let you raise thermostats about 4 degrees without noticing a difference. And smart fans like those from Big Ass Fans and Hunter include motion sensors so they run only when you’re in the room; they can also integrate with a thermostat to maximize savings (note that we haven’t tested such models yet). Or, instead of going for a smart fan, consider the Lutron Caséta Smart Fan Control, which works with most existing fans (it requires the Caséta Smart Bridge) and can respond to triggers from an app or other smart devices such as thermostats or temperature sensors. And if a ceiling fan just isn’t a good fit, a room fan with a smart plug can be an easy and affordable option too.
A lot of heat passes through windows, resulting in overheating in the summer and heat loss in the winter. Shades can help prevent that, but smart shades, although expensive to install, can make it easier. Set either at specific times or on schedules, smart shades and blinds (by companies such as Hunter Douglas, IKEA, and Lutron) can open and close to allow light (and energy) to pass though only when you want it. We plan to review this category soon.
Kill vampire power
Many electrical appliances and gadgets—including computer speakers, TVs, coffee makers, and more—continue to draw power even when they aren’t in use, a phenomenon referred to as phantom or “vampire” energy.
According to a 2016 article in The New York Times (Wirecutter’s parent company), the annual tally for all these vampires is the equivalent of 50 large power plants’ worth of electricity. Smart plugs like our pick the Wyze Plug (and most of our other smart plug picks) monitor, in real time, the energy use of any device you plug in. If you need to power several things, you can try a smart power strip like the TP-Link HS300 Kasa Smart Wi-Fi Power Strip, which can track up to six devices individually. Just plug in whichever energy hog you wish—your old plasma TV, an audio system, a space heater—and schedule the strip to cut the power completely when the device isn’t in use. The individual cost savings won’t be dramatic, but along with other energy savings, they will add up.
1. Chris Mooney, The incredibly stupid way that Americans waste 1 trillion gallons of water each year, The Washington Post, March 17, 2015
2. Spooky Statistics About Energy And Water Waste, Energy Resource Center, October 29, 2013
3. How Dimmers Save Energy, Lamps Plus
4. Fix a Leak Week, United States Environmental Protection Agency
5. LED Lighting, United States Department of Energy
6. Fans for Cooling, United States Department of Energy