The Internet of Things
The phrase “Internet of Things(IoT),” coined as early as 1999, refers to “uniquely identifiable objects and their virtual representations in an Internet-like structure.” In plain English, this means that everyday objects, appliances, and other gadgets are obtaining the ability to connect to the internet and provide their users with valuable information about the nature of their use. As this technology matures, it is giving homeowners options in home automation that once only existed in the minds of science fiction authors or seen on “The Jetsons.” Gartner estimates that by 2020 the Internet of Things installed base will grow to 26 billion units. Add to this the fact that a recent survey(PDF) from the Home Industry Leadership Board found that 30% of homeowners requested green alternatives for their last remodeling project and that, to most homeowners, the phrase “going green” translates to energy efficient products.
Home automation systems that are coming onto the market include thermostats that learn a homeowner’s preferences and adjust the temperature accordingly, sensors that can be placed on plumbing pipes that alert homeowners of a leak, “smart” outlets that monitor electricity usage and calculate costs. These tools are giving homeowners the ability to fine-tune their resource use, improve their energy efficiency, and ultimately save money.
Here are several products and companies that are blazing the trail in home automation system technology:
Belkin is one of the first companies to enter home automation systems market. Their flagship product is the Wi-Fi enabled WeMo Insight Switch, which connects your home appliances and electronic devices to your Wi-Fi network, allowing you to turn your devices on or off, program customized notifications, or change its status from anywhere you have an internet connection. The WeMo Insight Switch will also send usage information about a device directly to your smartphone or tablet, enabling you to fine tune your devices usage even further, and save even more money on electricity use.
Smart thermostats can also help homeowners significantly increase their home’s energy efficiency. By “learning” about a homeowner’s preferences, smart thermostats can adjust the temperature based on the homeowner’s usage. A properly programmed thermostat has the potential of saving homeowners up to 20 percent on energy costs. The thing is, most “programmable” thermostats are too complicated, so much so that the majority of these units remain unprogrammed. Enter Nest. With the Nest Learning Thermostat, all one needs to do is turn it up and turn it down. In so doing, it will “learn” what temperatures you like and build a personalized schedule. Teach it efficient temperatures for a few days and, within a week, it’ll start setting them on its own. Then, if you forget to turn your thermostat down before you leave for the day, the Nest Learning Thermostat will automatically turn it down for you.
Wireless Home Sensors
Another type of home automation system that has recently entered the market is a wireless home sensor. Wireless home sensing systems help prevent mold growth, can sense changes in humidity, and can identify plumbing leaks. One such home sensing system is Wally, so named because it uses walls and the existing wiring of your home to create a sensor network that alerts you of water leaks and significant changes in humidity and temperature levels wherever its sensors are located. When Wally detects such changes, it alerts you on your smartphone or tablet via its app.
In addition to “smart” sensors available for homeowners, many new household appliances are also getting “smarter.” Smart ovens, such as the GE Brillion Smart Oven, enable users to adjust the temperature on whatever they are cooking and will alert you when your food is ready. If you need to get that pot roast into the oven before you get off work in order for it to be finished by the time you get home, “there’s an app for that.” Smart washing machines allow homeowners to monitor their wash cycle and be notified if any problems occur. Many new washing machines also have a shorter rinse cycle, which can make the overall cycle up to 25 percent shorter, enabling even more energy saving potential.
Wireless Home Automation
The rapid emergence of connected devices and systems are enabling homeowners to realize significant savings in both money and precious natural resources. Although some items can be pretty pricey (The GE Brillion Wall Oven can run upwards of $2,000), many are well within a discriminating remodeler’s budget. As with most energy efficiency investments, higher upfront costs are more than offset by energy and money savings over the lifetime of the product. Most of the items mentioned here run on electricity. Electric items are unique, in that they get older they become more efficient due to the fact that the electrical grid is continually becoming more efficient, as we move from coal and fossil fuel power plants to solar, wind and other renewable sources. For these reasons, if you are considering remodeling your home anytime in the future, you would do your pocket book and your environment a favor by incorporating one or more home automation systems into your design.