Smart Devices to Help Save Energy and Money

By Tracey Dowdy

When I was a kid, my dad would get after us for leaving the lights on or my mom would, ahem, gently remind us that we weren’t trying to air condition God’s green earth. I didn’t get it; what’s the big deal? Now, as an adult paying utility bills, I get it. I so get it.

The average U.S. household spends approximately $2,200 per year on energy. About half of that goes on heating and cooling, 14 percent for heating water, 12 percent on lighting, and 13 percent for large appliances such as refrigerators or washers and dryers.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Consumer Expenditure Survey suggests allocating at least 21 percent of your household budget to utilities. That’s second only to your rent or mortgage payment and likely more than many of us will spend on groceries. With a winter like we just experienced and summer AC bills looming, this is a great time to look at some energy saving devices to help stretch your budget – and be kinder to the environment while you’re at it.

Lightbulbs

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, LED lightbulbs use up to 80% less energy and last 25 times longer than regular lightbulbs. LED’s have dropped in price since they were first introduced, with many now available for $10-$15 including this bulb from Cree that comes with a full 10-year warranty.

If you’re not a fan of LED’s, there are plenty of other options, including smart bulbs like these from Alba which dim or shine brighter based on the amount of ambient light in the room, the time of day, or whether someone’s at home.

Verizon offers the Belkin WeMo Insight Switch that allows you to program when lamps or other appliances turn on or off using your smartphone or tablet. The switch even tells you how much energy the appliance is using, so you can manage your energy consumption from anywhere.

Water Savers

Although I may feel self-righteous about not buying bottled water, I’ve had to re-evaluate how much water I waste at home. Whether it’s letting the water run in the shower while I stand at the sink and brush my teeth, running the dishwasher when it isn’t really full, or throwing a small load in the wash because I want a specific pair of jeans, I waste a lot of water. If you stop and consider the fact that 750 million people around the world lack access to clean water, that helps you view your water consumption differently.

Aside from waiting until the dishwasher is full or simply choosing a different pair of jeans, there are plenty of devices that can help save water. The Delta 75152 Adjustable Water-Amplifying® showerhead reduces water use by up to 36% without compromising water pressure. (On a side note, unless your hair is exceptionally dirty you don’t need to “lather, rinse, repeat.” That’s just a marketing ploy designed to get you to buy more shampoo.)

You can also get high efficiency aerators for your taps; a toilet tank bag to reduce the amount of water needed to refill the tank after you flush; water flow valves that reduce the amount of water you use in the shower by 75 percent; or a dual flush converter that promises to pay for itself 5 times over every year.

Thermostats

Depending where you call home, temperatures can hit extremes at both ends of the thermometer and heating and cooling costs can be a significant part of your budget.

The Nest Home Thermostat is a perennial favorite, allowing you to not just program settings when you’re home but also change settings via your mobile device. This intuitive thermostat learns your habits over time and displays energy use on a dashboard allowing you to monitor consumption. Not only can you program the thermostat to kick on while you’re driving home, you can reset it if you get stuck at the office or decide to go out with friends.

If you don’t have central air, the Quirky + GE Aros Smart Window Air Conditioner “learns from your budget, location, schedule, and usage to automatically maintain the perfect temperature and maximize savings for your home.” When you factor in the ability to control it from your cell phone, the reason for its popularity is obvious.

Power Strips

Did you know your phone charger is drawing energy even if your phone isn’t plugged in? Every device – your TV, hair dryer, coffee maker, microwave, refrigerator – pulls energy and costs you money. The easiest fix for these devices is a smart power strip that enables you to turn off several devices at once. The Smart Strip turns off your peripherals when you turn off a key device, so if you turn off the TV, Smart Strip turns off your cable box, surround sound, and the game system that’s attached.

Aside from all these devices, there are plenty of apps that can also help you get a grip on your energy and water consumption. WattBuddy lets you Track, Graph and Save by tracking electricity use directly from your GreenButton or electricity meter, and Dropcountr connects with your water utility company through your smartphone to track water usage in real time as well as set up a customized water budget and notify you of leaks.

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Toronto, ON. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances and researches on subjects from family and education to pop culture and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

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