Smart Home

Is Your Home Energy Efficient? 7 Things You’ve Overlooked

Joel Lee 08-01-2016

Some people are adamant that 2016 will be the year of the smart home The Internet of Things: How It'll Change Your Life Next Year Internet of Things has undergone its own Cambrian Explosion, and it promises to make your life much more convenient in the years to come. Here's why. Read More , which is just an uppity way to say that home automation is on the verge of becoming mainstream. A revolution is coming, and it’s going to be so much more than simple gimmick devices.


One of the driving forces behind home automation is improved energy efficiency. Even the most shrewd person’s home has leaks and inefficiencies that need to be plugged and fixed. Fortunately, there are devices out there that make it easy to do so.

Worried that this will be too expensive for you? Fear not, because the true cost of a smart home How Much Does a Smart Home Really Cost? A smart home could change your life – freeing up time in your day and regulating your routine so you don't have to remember what needs to be done. But how expensive is it, really? Read More is far cheaper than you think. In fact, there are many home automation devices that everyone can afford 6 Types of Home Automation You Can Actually Afford Are you ready to join the smart home revolution but worried that it's beyond your budget? Smart homes aren't that expensive, and there are plenty of components that the average homeowner can afford. Read More , and many of them will feature in this article. You’ll be pleasantly surprised.

Note: In most cases, energy efficiency is an investment — short-term expenses for long-term returns. Some of these offer immediate savings, but others may take months or years to recoup. Keep that in mind!

1. Turn Off Plugged-In Devices Overnight

Think about all of the devices and appliances that are currently plugged into an outlet at your home. You probably don’t worry about them much because they’re switched off and therefore aren’t using any power, right? Well, not exactly.

Even when electronic devices are shut off, they still have something called standby power. The truth is, when you turn a device off, you’re only turning off its primary function. Most devices actually have secondary functions that still run even when the primary function is off.


For example, some devices are slow to turn on if they start from a zero energy state, so these devices keep a small electrical current which allows for “instantly” turning on. Another example is when a device has a receiver that needs constant power in order to respond to things like remote controls.

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Regular household devices that consume standby power can include, but aren’t limited to, the following: televisions, computers, microwaves, media centers, cable boxes, modems, routers, coffee makers, slow cookers, rice cookers, chargers and charging stations, and anything with an always-on display (such as a digital clock).

Roughly speaking, every 1W that a device consumes in standby mode translates into 9 kWh per year. Standby power usage per device can range from 1W to 15W depending on the device’s age and features. As such, plugging this leak could save you between $50 and $100 per year.


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The easiest way to do this would be to use smart plugs (also known as smart outlets) Which Smart Plug Is the Best One for You? Even if you aren't into the whole smart home automation trend, you really should get yourself a few smart plugs. They're one of the easiest smart home products to use. Read More . Smart plugs can be turned on/off from your smartphone, but more importantly, they can be put on a timed schedule, allowing you to automatically shut off standby power draw on devices overnight.

The Belkin WeMo Switch is a great choice for a first timer. The Aeon Labs Energy Switch and the SmartThings Outlet are also worth considering if the WeMo Switch doesn’t seem like a good fit for you.

2. Turn Devices Off When You’re Away

Have you ever left home for work only to remember that you forgot to turn off your TV, your lights, or even your air conditioner? Most of time, you can’t just rush home to turn them off manually, so you just have to suck it up and eat the costs of wasted energy.


This is an issue that could be solved with one or two smart home devices. As mentioned above, if your TV or air conditioner was connected to a smart plug, you could just shut the plug off with your smartphone and be done with it. But there are some other solutions that are more elegant.

Consider the fact that many smart devices can be triggered by your smartphone’s GPS location How to Use GPS Location to Make Your House Welcome You Home Setting up your GPS technologies to welcome you home is a great way to save time on lots of things, from turning on the air conditioning to starting dinner. Read More . This triggering can often work both ways, too: your devices can know when you’ve left your home and when you’ve arrived at home. Wouldn’t it be great if all of the lights in your house automatically turned off the moment you left 9 Smartphone IFTTT Tricks to Make Your Life 100x Easier IFTTT lets you automate aspects of your life without requiring any technical knowledge whatsoever. Here are some quick IFTTT smartphone tricks that can ease the stresses of everyday life. Read More ?

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If GPS-tracking is something you’d rather avoid, you could opt for something like a motion sensor instead, which would detect your physical arrival at home and react accordingly. Note that this route may require investing in a smart hub Which Smart Hub for Home Automation Is Best for You? For a while, people thought of the idea as nothing more than a gimmick, but recent product releases have shown that smart home automation is starting to live up to its promises. Read More that’s compatible with said motion sensor.


Two solid options for beginners are the SmartThings Motion Sensor and the Aeon Labs Multi-Wave Sensor.

As an aside, you could also tie this in with home security. With the right devices, you could set up wireless home surveillance cameras 6 Creative Uses for Wireless Surveillance Cameras in Your Home Security cameras are useful for more than just surveillance. With a dash of creativity and elbow grease, you can kick your quality of life up a notch with these atypical ideas for your security cameras. Read More that automatically start capturing footage when you leave home and stop when you come back. No need to waste energy recording 24/7 during those times you’re already at home.

3. Measure Energy Used by Devices

In personal finance, there’s one core principle that acts as the foundation of all things related to money: if you want to fix your money problems, the first thing you have to do is figure out where all of your money is going. (This is especially true when struggling to get out of debt How to Get Rich: The Fastest Way to Get Out of Debt Imagine being debt free. No overdrawn balances or unpaid bills. There is a foolproof way of getting yourself out of debt. It starts with a plan and some discipline. Let's visit the other ingredients. Read More .)

The same principle applies to energy efficiency: if you want to cut back on energy consumption and really make a difference, the most important thing you can do is measure and track which devices and appliances are using the most energy. You’ve never actually measured your energy usage, have you? Most people haven’t.

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The Belkin Insight Energy Use Monitor plugs right into any outlet, allowing you to plug devices into the monitor’s outlet instead of the actual wall outlet. The monitor will then track energy usage and predict what those devices will cost you over time.

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Another option is the Enerwave Smart Meter Energy Monitor, which replaces the wall outlet altogether. Not only does it monitor energy usage, but it can also be turned on/off remotely. It’s also more compact than the Belkin, which is aesthetically nicer to the eyes.

By using one of these, you can physically measure how much energy is being used by your computer How Much Power Is Your PC Using? Computer power consumption can be estimated. Most of the components inside a PC have specific minimum and maximum power draw figures and, because quality control is so tight, it’s rare of a part to break... Read More or whatever other oft-used devices you may have, such as space heaters, air conditioners, toaster ovens, etc.

Once you know which devices are consuming the most energy, you can then decide what to do about it. For instance, maybe you’ll realize that your incandescent bulbs are costing you too much and finally upgrade to LED bulbs (a change that comes with many security benefits 4 Ways a Smart LED Bulb Can Keep Your Home Safe & Secure Did you know that a few LED bulbs could be the difference between a home robbery and peace of mind? Sounds weird, but it's true. Read More ).

4. Upgrade to Energy-Efficient Appliances

Let’s say you’ve determined that a certain device or appliance is being an energy hog. You’ve done your best to eliminate standby power waste, and you’re only using it when you need to, but it’s still sucking electricity like crazy. What then?

In that case, it’s time to upgrade to something more modern.

The first thing to know is that there are several eco labels for electronics that you should know 5 Eco Labels For Electronics You Should Know Eco labels can help you identify greener and more energy efficient devices. They enable you -- the consumer -- to take sustainability concerns into account when buying new electronics. But what do the various labels... Read More . If a device or appliance has one of these labels, then you know it meets the energy standards of those labels, and these are important because it’s the only reliable way to gauge energy efficiency Energy Saving Tips For Buying & Using Electronics Electronics make up a significant portion of your household energy costs. Computers, printers, and WiFi routers alone account for around 25% of your electricity bill. While electronics are becoming more efficient, their increased use offsets... Read More prior to purchase.

When upgrading, you may even want to consider something smart instead of something traditional.

For example, smart refrigerators are growing in popularity 3 Best Smart Refrigerators You Can Buy Right Now There is currently a set of new smart fridge models, as manufacturers attempt to give their next generation of products a new appeal. There are some great products on the market. Read More and it’s not hard to see why. Compared to the usual fare, they have better controls for temperature and humidity for different compartments, they can improve shelf life of produce, are energy-efficient, and can even interact with your smartphone.

The Samsung 4-Door Smart Refrigerator is one of the better offerings available today. Not only does it do all of the above, but all of its lighting is done with LEDs and, overall, greatly surpasses ENERGY STAR requirements across the board.

Other smart appliance options 5 Amazing Home Appliances That'll Change Your Life There's no denying it, smart home appliances will save you time and money, enabling you to spend more time doing the things you love. Here are some of the best smart appliances available today. Read More include washers, dryers, and dishwashers.

5. Solar Panels Have Many Benefits

Solar panels are an obvious choice for anyone who wants to improve home efficiency. They may take a while to pay for themselves, but it’s undeniable that they do pay for themselves — especially once you factor in long-term increases in fossil fuel costs. In particular, solar is good for heating air and water 3 Alternative Energy Home Projects That Could Slash Your Electric Bill Let’s take a look at how we can take on some simple alternative energy DIY projects and save tons of money. Read More .

Fortunately, there are companies that can help you get started 4 Companies That Will Help You Run Your House On Free Solar Energy With all the electronics that are running in your smart home, you need some juice to power it all. And there's nothing better than not worrying about climbing utility bills by using solar energy. Read More . They’ll step you through the process and make sure you don’t make any catastrophic errors, such as ensuring your roof can withstand the weight of solar panels and calculating overall costs.


Solar energy still has some flaws to overcome Is Solar Energy Sustainable? 4 Problems to Solve Before the Solar Revolution Read More , but also comes with several benefits you may not have even realized 6 Advantages of Solar Panels You Probably Haven't Considered Solar power is becoming increasingly common among middle class consumers, with more and more people realizing the advantages of solar panels. Read More . At this point, installing solar energy for your home is still a risk, but the severity of that risk is shrinking with every month that passes.

If you want to try it out but without the huge commitment, you could wet your feet with these solar-powered household gadgets 8 Awesome Solar-Powered Gadgets Every Home Should Be Using Solar power is a free resource that can help reduce your household bills. Here are the best solar-powered gadgets for your home. Read More instead. Since they’re powered solely by the sun, you can still end up saving on your energy bill.

6. Smart Thermostats Pay for Themselves

We can’t forget about smart thermostats. In fact, one might even argue that the smart home movement never would’ve taken off if it weren’t for the sudden boost in popularity of the Nest Thermostat a few years back.

Unsurprisingly, the Nest Thermostat is still the most popular option of all the smart thermostats available today. That can be attributed to a couple of factors: how easy it is to install one How to Install and Use the Nest Thermostat to Automate Energy Savings If you've ever considered getting started with home automation, purchasing a Nest thermostat is the perfect way to start. In just a week of using it, we cut our energy consumption in half. Read More , how much energy it can save 5 Smart Hacks To Save Electricity In Your Smart Home he trick to saving electricity is in knowing where most of your energy is consumed. Read More , and all of its amazingly cool features 13 Things You Didn't Know You Could Do With a Nest Thermostat You may be surprised just how many little tricks you can accomplish with your new Nest thermostat! Read More .

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Of course, if you want to avoid the Nest for some reason, or if it’s simply not available to you, there are several Nest alternatives worth exploring Looking to Buy a Smart Thermostat? 5 Nest Alternatives When it comes to controlling the temperature of your home, the Nest smart thermostat is king, but there are plenty of options out there. Here are 5 you should consider if you're looking to buy. Read More . The Ecobee3 Wi-Fi Thermostat and the Sensi Wi-Fi Thermostat are both well-regarded by consumers.

In the end, it doesn’t really matter which one you get as long as you get one that works with your home’s climate control. A smart thermostat can save 10-15% on heating and cooling costs, which means $100-$150 per year for the average home. These things pay for themselves in no time.

If you want to save even more money in the winter, wear layers and set the temperature as low as comfortable. Then help fend off the cold weather with some of these warm household devices and gadgets How to Beat the Winter Cold With These 8 Home Gadgets If you're feeling extra cold this winter - or you just want to save on heating costs - there are lots of small gadgets and devices that may come in handy. Read More .

7. Don’t Forget About Smart Water Usage

Water usually doesn’t fall under the same heading as energy, but if you’re the kind of person who’s trying to cut back on energy usage (for whatever reason), then you probably want to cut back on water usage as well.

The good news is that there are smart devices for this, too.

For example, we recently covered reasons why you might want smart faucets 3 Reasons Why Your Next Faucet Should Be a Smart Faucet People tend to think of smart faucets as gimmicky and gratuitous. Is there really enough room for improvement to justify an upgrade? I'm here to convince you: yes! Read More in your kitchen and bathrooms. Long story short, smart faucets are easier to control, less prone to spreading germs, and more efficient with water — and that’s not even mentioning the coolness factor.

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The Delta Faucet Tesla is good one to start with. It isn’t the cheapest, but it’s WaterSense certified and can be operated in three ways: a manual handle, touch-based tap-on/tap-off, and a 4-inch proximity sensor.

Water conservation is also important when it comes to lawn maintenance and garden irrigation 5 Smart Devices To Help Manage Your Garden Turns out, a smart garden is completely possible, thanks to the devices we are going to take a look at today. Read More .

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The RainMachine Forecast Sprinkler is an amazing device that pulls real-time weather data from the Internet and uses that information to adjust your home sprinkler system for optimal water usage (it’s WaterSense certified).

An alternative to the RainMachine is the Rachio IRO Wi-Fi Lawn Sprinkler, which is one of the more impressive home automation gadgets 9 Impressive Home Automation Gadgets Family & Friends Will Love With the holidays just around the corner, now is the perfect time to snag one of these amazing smart home devices. Read More out there. It also pulls real-time weather data but comes in 8-zone and 16-zone variants depending on the size of your lawn. This WaterSense-certified device can save up to 30% on outdoor water costs.

One last thing to note: installing a smart irrigation system can actually increase the value of your home Installing These Smart Devices Can Increase Your Home's Value In this article, we take a look at which smart technology you should install that will let you add those extra few thousand dollars onto your asking price. Read More . Not only does it offer short-term benefits, but you can also view it as a long-term investment.

How Energy-Efficient Is Your Home?

All of the above may sound too good to be true. The truth is, yes, there are things to consider before smartening your home I Lived in a Smart Home for 20 Years. Here's What You Should Know. MakeUseOf spoke with one of our regular readers and commenters, Ben Stutt, of Rock Hill, South Carolina, USA, about his experiences living in a smart home. Read More , but we’ve gotten to the point where the benefits are really starting to shine. It won’t be long before every home becomes a smart home If These 4 Things Happen, Every Home Will Be a Smart Home In just a few years, smart homes have entered the mainstream consciousness. For the first time in ages, smart homes have a real, mass-market promise. But there's still a long way to go. Read More .

Now you tell us: have you smartened up your home yet? If so, in what ways? If not, what would convince you? Share with us in the comments below!

Image Credit: Solar Panels by Diyana Dimitrova via Shutterstock

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  1. Nick
    January 19, 2016 at 1:05 am

    Overall though, you are probably using the most power in heating and cooling. If you have an electric water heater, putting it on a timer (that can handle the high current) will probably save you more power than unplugging everything else combined. In addition, turning down your thermostat 1 degree in the winter will probably save you more than unplugging everything else combined unless the inside and outside temperature are extremely close.

    That is why the smart thermostat saves you money. It controls the single most power hungry appliances: heating and cooling.

  2. Nick
    January 19, 2016 at 1:04 am

    Overall though, you are probably using the most power in heating and cooling. If you have an electric water heater, putting it on a timer (that can handle the high current) will probably save you more power than unplugging everything else combined. In addition, turning down your thermostat 1 degree in the winter will probably save you more than unplugging everything else combined unless the inside and outside temperature are extremely close.

    • Joel Lee
      January 28, 2016 at 10:46 pm

      Yeah, you're right, heating and cooling expends a LOT of energy. It's astounding, really. And yes, even a difference of 1 degree can have a tangible impact on one's energy bill. It's definitely the first thing that should be addressed when thinking of energy efficiency.

  3. Anonymous
    January 10, 2016 at 8:20 pm

    OMG, fcd76218!

    What is your #3?!?!?

    WHAT DID YOU DO WITH 3?!?!?!

  4. Anonymous
    January 8, 2016 at 9:37 pm

    Thing about cutting off standby power... many appliances lose their settings (clock time, etc.). Few of us want to reset them every morning.

    • Joel Lee
      January 28, 2016 at 10:45 pm

      Oh, good point. That could be annoying for microwaves and such. Then again, I'm sure there are people who don't mind their microwave blinking 12:00 all the time lol.

  5. Anonymous
    January 8, 2016 at 4:16 pm

    "1. Turn Off Plugged-In Devices Overnight"
    Do you really want to be turning your PC, modem, router on and off all the time? Constant power on/power off cycling is noot healthy for electronic devices.
    How many people have coffee makers, slow cookers, rice cookers, chargers and charging stations permanently plugged in?
    Are you going back to a mechanical alarm clock to avoid a digital clock using a trickle of electricity?
    Timers and smart switches one would use to turn devices on and off also use electricity.

    "2. Turn Devices Off When You’re Away"
    Again, all these controllers and sensing devices use electricity. What's that you say? Batteries? Non-rechargeable ones are not very environment friendly. Electricity is needed for the rechargeable ones and they too have to be replaced every so often.
    If you go away for a vacation, unplug unneeded devices rather than turn them off. This avoids possible short circuits and fires.

    "4. Upgrade to Energy-Efficient Appliances"
    For the money that I will spend on upgrading to new, energy efficient appliances, I can run my old ones for at least 5 years or longer.

    "5. Solar Panels Have Many Benefits"
    Solar panels may be eco-friendly once they are installed on your roof. However, the process of making them and getting them to your roof is not environment friendly. In effect, with solar panels, you're moving the point of energy waste from you home up the line to the panel manufacturer.

    "6. Smart Thermostats Pay for Themselves"
    Only if smart people are using them. If you try to maintain a shirt sleeve environment in your house/home 24/7/365 even a smart thermostat will not save money or energy.
    In the long run it is cheaper to keep a steady temperature than it is to lower it at times and raise it at other times. It is a false economy because whatever you save during the lower temp period, you'll have to spend, and maybe even more, to heat it back up. Plus there is the cost of the smart thermostat.

    "7. Don’t Forget About Smart Water Usage"
    Before investing in smart faucets and other smart water devices, change your behavior. Take showers instead of baths. Take shorter showers. Lower the temperature on your water heater by 10-20 degrees. Install restrictors on all faucets and shower heads. Restrictors are available for free from utility companies.

    In an ideal world, I would agree with your article but we do not live in an ideal world. You article concentrates exclusively on energy efficiency of a dwelling. For many families energy conservation is not even in the top 10 of priorities. Not because they do not want to save energy/environment but because they have more important worries. If you are Bill Nye, Ed Begley Jr., Al Gore or any body with money, you can afford all the latest energy saving gizmos. To John Q. Public the question whether to buy a $1000 more efficient refrigerator or clothes for his family is academic. He will opt for the clothes every time. He does not have the luxury of waiting 3-5 years for the fridge to pay for itself. All he knows is that he will have $1000 less to spend for his every day expenses.

    I consider myself to be comfortably off. I also consider myself somewhat of a geek who likes to try new things. I would like to become less reliant on my utility companies. However, before I consider purchasing/installing any of the above gadgets, I have to pay my mortgage and taxes, I have to maintain my cars, buy food for the family, pay for all types of insurance, send my kids through college and pay for literally hundreds of miscellaneous expenses.

    Saving the environment and the planet is a noble sentiment. Most people agree with it in theory. But then daily life intrudes.