High tech gear to make old houses smart homes

Matthew Grocoff

September 7, 2012

By: Matthew Grocoff, Green Renovation Expert

In: ElectricalGreen LivingHeating and Cooling

Old houses leak energy. But much of the energy they leak has nothing to do with the age of the house. Lights are left on in empty rooms, the a/c cranks all day while no one is home, and the XBox and the printer suck power long after you turned off the TV and your computer. You pay 100% for the energy used, but you get ZERO benefit.

You can flip this model on it's head.

Aggressive use of smart controls ensures that all energy use delivers 100% of the benefit at the lowest possible cost. A light left on in an empty room provides zero value yet you pay full price.

Every point source of energy must be controlled with minimal effort by you. It is far easier to change the way energy is controlled than it is to change behavior.

Controls are affordable and represent a very small percentage of any renovation cost, yet they have an extraordinary impact on energy and operational costs. Best of all, they just make your life easier.

Lighting controls

Sixty percent of lighting energy typically is spent for unoccupied rooms. The State of California requires lighting controls in all new homes. Therefore, all installed interior and exterior lighting fixtures should be fitted with affordable, high-quality occupancy sensors. No light should ever consume electricity unless it is providing an immediate service to you.

The newest sensors have complete control and flexibility. Some offer both dimming and occupancy control. They can be adjusted for light level, manual or auto-on, and time delay after sensing vacancy.

Wireless remote sensors are available for controlling plug-in lamps. No lights should be left uncontrolled.

Read more about new lighting controls "3 Green Gadgets Steve Jobs Would've Loved"

Air conditioning and heating controls

Programmable thermostats have been recommended for over a decade. But, programming them is a step below setting the clock on a VCR. In 2009, after a study revealed that fewer than 10% of homeowners properly programmed their thermostats, the EPA withdrew the Energy Star certification for all programmable thermostats.

There are new smart thermostats from Nest (read "iPhone Godfathers Create Coolest Thermostat Ever") and Ecobee that use algorithms with data from indoor/outdoor temps, weather forecasts, humidity to improve efficiencies of heating and a/c systems by 20% - 40%. These thermostats are extremely easy to use.

Electronics controls

First, only the most efficient electronics (cordless phones, stereos, DVD players, games, televisions, etc.) should be used in the homes. A smart home is free from energy-hogging electronics that consume energy when not providing benefit to the user. The good news is that the best products are usually the most efficient ones -- it's just a matter of good design. Energy Star has a great Product Finder to search for the best electronics in every class. Make this your buying bible.

Second, your should be furnished with smart plugs and smart powerstrips that will eliminate phantom power loads. These devices automatically shut off peripherals (fax machines, printers, DVD players, speakers, games, etc) when the primary device (TV, computer, etc.) is shut off by the user. A Blue-ray player is useless when the TV is off -- so it should not be consuming any energy.

There are many affordable new products to ensure that energy is used only when necessary and is shut down when not in use. Many of these products also allow you to track the energy from each plug, which provides information for changing behavior.


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