Melissa Baldridge, of GreenSpot, reviews smart, automated home products that can drive significant energy and water savings.
The Nest “learning” thermostat triggered its dawn in 2011, and ex-Apple engineers who founded Nest Labs the year prior jolted a nerdy industry like HVAC with Nest’s jewel-like design and cell phone control. Since the product burst on stage, even staid engineering companies, light designers and home automation providers have raced to win the hearts of consumers with sexy designs and smart phone interface.
One study shows that the industry is growing at a fast clip – predicted to be almost 30 percent between 2013 and 2020 with a market value of $35.3 billion. Another pegs the United States as the epicenter for smart-home systems with almost one quarter of U.S. homes predicted to have them by 2017. And yet another says that half a billion smart-home systems will be installed worldwide by 2018.
A recent Harvard Business Review article about Internet connectivity defines SMART products as “complex systems combining hardware, sensors, data storage, microprocessors and data storage.” And WIRED products are connected in various ways, many of which are now controllable via WiFi, and thus, smart phones.
In this article, I review some of these smart, wired systems that can drive significant energy and water savings. My survey isn’t exhaustive. I’ve chosen these systems below simply because I’m familiar with them or have seen them installed in my clients’ homes or buildings (and my clients love ‘em). Also, I look at residential applications here, though most of these systems also have commercial building equivalents.
HEATING, COOLING & VENTILATION (HVAC)
- Carrier Infinity Platform – Carrier’s bundled platform that’s both smart and ‘Provides for energy monitoring in real time, temperature and humidity sensing, an integrated “smart-saver” switch (like utilities provide), and (of course), super-high-efficiency heating and cooling (heat pump technology.)
- Big Ass Fans – Big Ass Fans is to ceiling fans what the Nest is to the t-stat – a reinventor with a keen design eye and a wry sense of humor. The Haiku fan with SenseME technology registers temperature rises and learns occupant preferences like the Nest does. The fans look great, too. Great designs are in alignment with 21st century technology.
- The Nest – I’ve seen studies that only 10 percent of homeowners actually program thermostats. Designers of the Nest saw it, too, and created intelligence into their jewel-like t-stat. ‘Saves homeowners the headache of having to program temps for heating and cooling. Gorgeous product, but not fab with complicated systems like heat pumps.
- Eco Bee – A Canadian precursor to the Nest (2007). Pretty temperature controller, AND it has temperature sensing room to room. Works with complex systems like heat pumps, HRVs and ERVs. Also heats and cools with input about outside temperatures (so it doesn’t trigger heating or cooling needlessly).
- Phillips hue – The hue package comes with a controller and LED light bulbs, with the capability of controlling up to 50 bulbs. Not only turns lights on/off and schedules, but also controls LED light color. hue makes LEDs fun and accessible.
- Lutron – Lighting that’s sensitive to daylight and dims accordingly. Smart and smart phone-enabled.
- Taco Hot Water Systems – On-demand hot water recirculation system triggered by push-button (kitchen) or occupancy sensor (baths). New SmartPlus learning feature uses a temperature sensor on the output of your hot water heater to learn when you use hot water, then adjusts its run schedule. This product gets great oohs and aahs from potential home buyers.
- Rainbird – Sprinkler systems that sense when the ground is already wet and adjust watering schedules accordingly, including skipping watering cycles during rainy periods. Eliminates needless lawn irrigation.
SOLAR PHOTOVOLTAIC (PV)
- SunPower – Many solar electric providers install some sort of real-time electricity production monitor so owners can see what’s being generated on roofs. SunPower makes one that shows TOTAL electric production and use. It’s also smart phone-enabled.
WHOLE-HOUSE SYSTEMS & ENERGY MONITORING
- E-Mon – – Some energy monitoring systems (like earlier versions of the TED) have whole-house measurement, with one big caliper that measures TOTAL energy use at the panel. The E-Mon monitors circuit by circuit (‘want to see how that hot tub’s running in February, or the garage beer fridge in August?) Creates the “Prius effect” – where people automatically lower use when presented with real-time feedback.
- Crestron – If you want everything bundled, this is the way to go. This high-end system ncludes HVAC, audio-visual, security and lighting.
While systems like these are amazing, it feels to me like so 20 years ago, with half a dozen remote controls running VHS, TV, Tivo, etc. I suspect we’ll see more systems like the Crestron encompassing everything, and providing real-time monitoring – system by system.
Or will it be the Nest? Google bought Nest early this year, and while the implications of that are a whole ‘nother “Oprah,” Nest (with its continuous unveiling of home-monitoring products) could own the whole enchilada.
Melissa Baldridge is a green building solutions provider with GreenSpot.