By Chris Fruitrich, Gearbrain Contributor
Last Updated: September 8, 2016
Many shopping sprees end with things that just take up space or collect dust. Sure, sometimes they're fun. But what if consumers could binge on devices that actually pay them back many times over? They can.
The Internet of Things gives insight in how you use energy in your homes—letting you decide when to draw from the grid, or dial back on how much you want to tap. Energy companies too are teaming up with consumers to help them track, curb and save both money and energy in their own home. Interested? Here's how to understand the steps to take today.
Taking control of your energy usage
There are several ways to keep track of energy usage—some measure what's happening in your home, while others give results down to individual appliances or circuits. In fact, your local electric company may already have installed one of those at your house. About 50 million smart meters have been placed around the country, originally to make billing easier and meter reading instantaneous for energy companies by transmitting electric usage data directly to the companies for processing.
Now, with the advent of wireless and mobile devices, users can tap into that information as well. For instance, California's giant PG&E uses meters monitor use in the home and load on the power grid. Customers can tap into home use data and track energy usage in 15-minute segments if they choose—and once they see where less energy could be used, they can adjust. Don't have a smart meter yet? A quick call to your local utility company can uncover if your eligible.
However, if your utility does not offer smart meters , whole-house figures can be purchased from companies such as Blue Line Innovations or the Canadian company Eyedro. For those in apartments, the Digi ZigBee smart plug reads power use at an individual outlet.
Understanding how you use energy, can cut costsPhoto courtesy of Powerhouse Dynamics
Hungry for far more granular information? Consider installing an energy management system, which, depending on their sophistication, can give users information in macro or micro bytes.
At least two companies, Powerhouse Dynamics ($600-$900) and TED ($300-$450), offer residential monitoring systems to track electric use down to the circuit level. Both these systems work inside your circuit breaker box and track usage every minute of every day.
Ted Pro's Live Dashboard gives details to the minuteWhy monitor a single circuit? The draw from appliances such as refrigerators or televisions can be isolated, as well as the amount of electricity that flow to smaller units such as computers and printers—even when they are shut down. Home offices frequently use considerable power overnight and significant savings can be had by unplugging devices rather than simply turning them off.
How your energy use runs hot and cold
Besides running major appliances such as dishwashers and washer/dryers, the majority of residential energy is used to power just a few major systems including your heating and cooling systems. Anything a homeowner can do to regulate those elements is a plus on the bottom line.
According to the U.S. Department of Energy, smart and programmable thermostat's can save the average consumer about $180 per year—not including savings or potential rebates.
The best IoT product to trim power consumption? The smart thermostat, and arguably the clear leader in the field today is Nest —recently purchased for more than $2 billion by Google (Alphabet).
Nest technology, now in its third generation , actually "learns" your habits and temperature preferences and also detects when you are home or away. By tracking its owners, the Nest is able to set the temperature up or down depending on the situation. The IoT components use information from each other to signal how and when to communicate to their owners.
In addition, the "Works with Nest" network is attracting other manufacturers. Rheem, for example, has a smart hot water heater that works with Nest, and slips into energy efficient mode when you are not at home. Whirlpool, which saw a high-end ($1,700) smart washer-dryer set flounder, is also working with Nest, linking many of its products to Nest's devices as well. Some allow consumers to set products on timers—so they run when the energy grid is not at peak, and energy costs are cheaper.
Nest's most recent thermostat sells for about $250 which may sound like a lot to spend up front. But local utility rebates, plus rewards for other purchases, can drive the cost down by $75—or in some cases to free.
Nest is far from alone in the smart thermostat field. Also making a mark is Ecobee ($250), a Canadian company that offers a "learning" thermostat. Satellite sensors monitor the energy use to heat and cool your space, so they can be adjusted on demand.
Another smart thermostat option is Emerson (about $100), a 125-year-old company that offers a programmable thermostat that links to a mobile app to manage your temperature settings. Honeywell's Lyric ($120), one of three smart and programmable thermostats, can actually detect your movements, such as when you leave the home, and adjust settings.
Don't be in the dark on energy savings
Smart thermostats are one way to help you shave dollars from your electric bill. So too are smart bulbs. (See our review of Philips Hue smart bulbs here, and some tips on what to look for before buying one.) The shelves in your local Lowes or Home Depot are awash in energy saving light bulbs, and others can easily be found online.
Why is replacing your current light bulbs with energy efficient bulbs a smart move? The Department of Energy says that if you replace just five of the most frequently used light bulbs in your home with the newest LED bulbs your savings will be about $75 per year.
Smart bulbs can offer even more savings, by allowing users to control them from wireless devices. Some of the options are fun, such as changing the color of the bulb. But many choices have true energy, and money, savings potential by letting consumers adjust the intensity of the light, and the amount of time a lamp stays on drawing electricity.
So the next time you head out for a shopping expedition, consider making the trip a smart one. You'll feel good that most of the money going out today will likely boomerang back into your wallet tomorrow.
If you need help installing solar power or any type of new electrical system, you can visit HomeAdvisor.com to find a local trusted professional to help you.