by Krista Rausch
A decade ago, the idea of controlling your home’s thermostat, lights and security systems remotely via smartphone would have seemed like futuristic science fiction. Today, home automation systems are placing the power of control into the hands of co-op members. Smart technologies are helping members save energy, while providing security, comfort and convenience.
Home automation relies on a principle of conservation so low-tech that your parents probably had it instilled in you long before you had a computer or a smartphone. Don’t leave the lights on when you leave a room and turn down the heat when you go out for the day. If you’re not using your electronics, turn them off. And, the less energy you use, the more money you’ll save. Simple enough, right?
But like most things in life, the devil is in the details. Yes, you could manage your energy usage manually with a conventional thermostat, light switches and appliances, but the trouble is, it’s not always an easy routine to sustain. We get rushed and forget to hit the lights as we leave, or a winter storm arrives while we’re on vacation, and suddenly, a setting of 68 degrees is no longer the money-saving maneuver it once was. Home automation devices compensate for these gaps in control.
Brian Sloboda, program and product line manager for the National Rural Electric Cooperatives Association (NRECA), has watched home automation systems evolve over the years. He’s particularly interested in identifying ways to enhance efficiency and potential savings for co-op members. Sloboda says members interested in saving money on monthly energy purchases should look at internet-connected thermostats first.
"Around half of all thermostats sold today are smart thermostats," says Sloboda. "These devices can learn your preferences and adjust the thermostat when you’re not home. They also have the potential to reduce air conditioning energy consumption by up to 10 percent. During winter months, the thermostats could save 7 percent on energy used in the home."
Most people have already heard of smart thermostats, of course. And while it’s true that heating and cooling costs make up the bulk of energy expenditures, lighting is second highest category of energy use. And, about a third of that light may be unnecessary, according to the International Dark-Sky Association. But that number could soon change, thanks to home automation. Occupancy sensors can tell when rooms are left empty and turn the lights off automatically, helping drive down lighting costs.
And, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Home automation systems can also be used to schedule significant energy consuming tasks, such as laundry, dishwashing and water heating, to occur outside of the co-op’s peak demand periods, which typically fall during weekday business hours.
Chad Moldenhauer, owner of K & L Homes, says he can’t put a dollar amount on the energy he’s saved since adding an automation system to his home, but it’s comforting to know his home is more energy efficient.
"I’m not afraid to make an investment in my home, but for whatever reason, it’s those monthly bills that stay in my mind," says Moldenhauer. "If I can click one button and turn off all of the lights and TVs before bed and check the thermostat to make sure it’s set properly, I’m saving money and giving myself a little more peace of mind."
With thousands of home automation products on the market, the biggest challenge for consumers is to decide which features meet their expectations and justify the added investment. For those looking to fully embrace the technology, the possibilities are endless – and for some – life changing.
Jason Bauman, custom salesman at Pacific Sound and Video, recently installed a home automation system into the home of a 29-year-old woman who is unable to use her arms or legs.
"She was so excited," says Bauman. "Imagine going 29 years without being able to do something. Now, she’s able to see who is at her front door and talk to them, lock and unlock the doors, and control the lighting, heating and air. She can control her TV and audio system. She can even turn on the sprinklers. She’s independent now for the first time in her life. It gives me goosebumps."
While the best time to install a home automation system is during the building process, it can often be installed in an existing home with little or no rewiring.
"It used to be that adding smart technology to your home was very expensive," says Bauman. "Now, it’s much more affordable. It can be as simple as replacing your doorbell, thermostat or light switches. It doesn’t always require rewiring. Sometimes, it’s as simple as replacing what you have."
Energy advisors agree that controlling smart devices through a single system enhances the home automation experience. For those looking for a true smart home, Bauman says a security system is a good first step.
"We can do so much through a security system," says Bauman. "Our main system that we use is called Control 4. It can control every smart feature in the home, whether it’s your lighting, your ceiling fan, your tv or your audio. With Control 4, you hit the app, and you’re virtually in your home. It’s like you’re standing there touching every button in your house. And, it’s very simple. We can set it up so when you go to sleep at night, you can arm your security system, turn off all of the lights and TVs, and adjust the temperature with the push of a button, which is energy saving."
For Moldenhauer, who uses the Control 4 system in his home, safety was a major motivator in the shift to home automation.
"My biggest priority is the safety and security of my family and the largest investment that I’ve made in my life, which is my home," says Moldenhauer. "I want to know that my thermostats are working properly. I want to know that all of my doors are locked, and my alarm system is on. I want to be able to check what’s going on around my house through the cameras we’ve set up. As a person with a young family, it’s important for me to know that my home is secure."
Whether you’re looking to secure your home, lower your utility bill or improve your quality of life, there is a smart technology to fit your needs. Home automation stands at the forefront of tremendous advancement to empower a whole new level of practical, intuitive operation and create positive changes for our future.
"Home automation is not going away," says Moldenhauer. "We are going to see more and more technology going into homes in the future."