Not that long ago, the 1999 movie Smart House — which featured a fully-automated dream home run by a computer named Pat — seemed futuristic and farfetched. Fast forward to today, and there are voice-assisted devices you can talk to and ask to control anything from your television to your lights to your mood (okay, it can’t literally change your mood but you could ask it to tell you jokes or play upbeat music).
Using smart home devices doesn’t mean your digs will have a higher IQ, but it does mean your home could have a leaner energy budget. “Smart homes” are houses that have a number of interconnected devices and home appliances that perform certain actions or functions and many are designed to save money, time, and energy.
Here are some smart home devices — in no particular order that may or may not be interconnected — that could save some green:
Energy monitoring devices, which give real-time feedback on energy consumption and track your energy stats (kind of like a Fitbit for your home); these typically cost between $200 and $300 but can make a real difference in your energy bills if you make adjustments based on feedback.
The SmartThings Hub; think of it as the brains of your smart home. With it (and compatible items), you can open your garage door, turn on music, or start the coffee maker. When you leave, it can lock the doors, turn off the lights, adjust your smart thermostat, and activate a security camera.
A smart lighting outdoor module, such as GE Z-Wave, which works with Alexa. This allows you to control all your outdoor lighting and appliances, including seasonal and landscape lighting. Schedule or turn outdoor lights on or off from anywhere.
Smart bulbs, which are internet-capable LED bulbs that allow lighting to be controlled remotely. Many of them can even change color; some can play music, and specialty smart bulbs may help you sleep better by emitting colors designed to help regulate natural melatonin production or provide soothing light that doesn’t disrupt circadian rhythm.
Smart sprinkler systems that water your garden only when plants need it. They take local weather forecasts into account and will delay watering if rain is headed your way.
Water leak detectors and shut-off systems (some are SmartThings compatible but can be operated independently). The simplest versions sit on the floor and alert you when they get wet. More elaborate versions continually monitor the flow of your water system, informing you if water pressure changes and allowing you to shut off the water supply if a leak is detected.
If you don’t have a smart home command center, consider these ala carte options:
A smart thermostat — they learn your habits to keep your home comfortable and then do so in the most efficient way possible.
A moderately-priced smart plug (around $40; Belkin is one company that makes them) that turns your electronics on or off from anywhere using your phone or tablet.
Smart garage door openers—prevent thieves (and hot or cold air) from coming in your home if you forget to close your garage door. You can check it and close it from your smartphone with the companion app.
Wireless light switch and dimmers with remote control and scheduling. Some offer smart-home integration options so that you can hook them up to Alexa, Google Assistant, Nest and so on.
Motion sensors that shut off lights when there’s inactivity in a room.
A smart power strip that monitors and turns off power to plugged-in items when not in use.
Smart appliances and devices save money because in many cases they allow you to use less energy. They’re also convenient, fun to use and can give you peace of mind. In short, they may be worth it in the long run, but only if the initial outlay fits your budget.
For more information on electrical safety, go to SafeElectricity.org.