Thursday, October 3, 2013

Home Automation and Being Green

I was flipping through Time Magazine today (The August 26/September 2, 2013 issue). I came across a one page article in the Tech Section titled Home, Smart Home. I've had a soft spot for home automation for a decade or so now. I was among the "early adopters" when I started playing around with X-10 modules which would allow you turn on and off lights with your TV remote. I'm telling you ten years ago that was mind blowing stuff! Especially when you used it to turn on and off the Christmas lights!

It was all kind of cool, but in it early days was a bit unreliable. And while it was cool to turn on and off lights without getting up it was more parlor trick then actually useful to be honest. So after a year or so of messing around with home automation stuff I kind of forget about it.

So this article reminded me of the coolness of it all again. And apparently in the last ten years things have really improved. Especially because we all now carry little wi-fi connected computers in our pockets called smart phones. Most of the technology for controlling and tracking all these new cool devices are in our pocket all ready. This makes adopting home automation cheaper and easier to learn as we are all ready familiar with the interface known as our phone.

One cool item the author (Harry McCracken) mentioned was a new door lock which you could install on your entry door and could be operated with your phone. It works with bluetooth on your phone and automatically unlocks the door when you arrive home. You can also grant temporary access to friends who you want to access your house. It of course makes me thing of the possible security issues should you lose your phone on the subway, but that aside you can't argue with the coolness or convenience of the idea!

He also mentions the Nest thermostat which is available in stores now (I saw it on an end cap in Lowes a couple of weeks ago). Apparently this new gizmo starts to keep track of when you are home and not and figures out patterns of when to raise and lower the temperature in your home to minimize your heating/cooling energy use. Sounds pretty cool. I don't know the exact price, but I think it's hundreds though. I tend to be really conscious of my energy use, and very rarely forget to turn down the thermostat when I got to bed or leave for work. I haven't done the math, but I feel like since I tend to be good about turning it down anyway, it would take quite a while before I recouped the cost of the the Nest thermostat in energy savings. With that said it looks cool, and that is what a lot of tech is all about really. So at some point I'm really going to look into it closely, do the math, and will likely write a post here as well.

All of this got me to thinking about the tie in between home automation and energy savings. Being green and Saving Green! In fairness much of home automation is more focused on the cool of technology. Changing the color or lights in different rooms to create mood settings (cool but in practice, you'll never use it). Changing the radio station that is playing through out your house from a touch screen which is located in the kitchen, living room, and upstairs hallway. All of that is definitely cool, but likely is only going to use more electricity then you would have otherwise.

The stuff that I'm thinking about are the gizmos whose main function is to use less energy. The Nest thermostat is a great example of that. Whether or not it would pay for itself installed in my house, it's main purpose is to save you money. So sure it took ten years to pay for itself, but in the mean time you were using less fossil fuels and where there for saving the planet, even if it did come out of your pocket. I'd love to see home automation devices which would serve a similar purpose for your hot water tank. Or maybe something that would open and close your blinds depending on the time of day, amount of sun, and time of year, to help warm your house or keep it cooler. These are the kinds of items which can pay for themselves and help save the planet.

So I'll be checking out the Nest, and I'll be on the look out for other items which can be installed to save energy. Additionally I'll be checking out these items to see what the potential payoff would be. In other words home long do they have to be installed before they save you enough money in energy usage to cover their cost of purchase and installation.