On home automation and energy efficiency

posted by Jeff | Saturday, November 18, 2017, 9:14 PM | comments: 0

"Alexa, turn on Christmas."

It was about a year ago that I bought an Amazon Echo Dot, and promptly bought four more (well, actually I bought a six-pack, but sold two). About the same time I bought a Philips Hue starter pack, with a bridge and three color bulbs, plus a light strip, and that's where the fun began. I also bought a TP-LINK WiFi plug to turn the Christmas tree on and off remotely. The home automation bug hit me pretty hard.

A lot of the cooler stuff you can do requires hard-wiring stuff, so I never went too far in the last house. Also, as much as I wanted a Nest thermostat, the original version was too expensive. Once we moved, there were some great opportunities, with the Nest E's introduction (and the fact we have a two-zone HVAC house now), it seemed like a good idea to get those. We also did a WiFi switch to handle the bedroom lights, so we can turn them on and off by shouting into the air or using a phone app. (Seriously, I've only had one house where there was a switch next to the bed.) I installed a Ring doorbell at an insanely discounted sale price mostly because I wanted to see the way things are delivered, but also because my office is no longer near the front door, and it's convenient for a video screen to pop up on my computer when someone shows up without going to the door. I had a bunch of WiFi plugs previously, and these are what we use to plug in the Christmas tree and other lights.

None of this stuff is necessary, to be sure, but it sure is convenient. There's also a fantastic energy efficiency story, because you can set all of these lights to timers. Also, the Hue lights are all LED lamps, so what used to be 60w is now 9w. We can set our exterior lights to come on and turn off at the appropriate time. The Nest thermostats can react when we're home, though honestly, we always are because I work from home, but we can set the temperatures from anywhere and it logs the time the system is running, so we can see how often it's on (unsurprisingly, the downstairs runs more than upstairs).

There's also a staggering difference in general energy consumption, because the builder used LED bulbs in everything. This is a huge change. Our previous house, finished in 2014, was finished with CFL's in most cases, which used about 15w, while the recessed cans all had full on 60w incandescent bulbs. This time, just three and a half years later, the conventional bulbs are all 9w, the recessed can flood lights are all 9.5w. That's about a 35% reduction in just a few years between CFL's and LED's, and 85% reduction from incandescent to LED. Having a separate HVAC system for upstairs and downstairs, while more expensive up front, clearly makes a huge difference in efficiency. Mind you, it's fall, but so far our daily electricity consumption matches our previous house, even though this one is 55% larger.

I'm all in on energy efficiency. We've spent half as much on moving our cars around in the last two years, because they're electric, and now it's time to do the same for the house. As long as our previous house sells for what we're hoping, we'll roll some of that equity into doing solar. If I can reduce the electric bill by even 80%, that makes a massive difference in our carbon footprint. The economy of scale won't improve without early adopters, and I'm happy to be a part of that crowd.

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