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IoT in the Home: Top Smart Products to Increase Efficiency

By Tobias RobertsRise Writer
Jan 21, 2019

As of 2016, over 76 percent of the U.S. population had a connection to the internet, and that percentage will only continue to grow in the coming years. The connectedness of our society is one of the defining hallmarks of modernity. Today, the internet's influence is moving behind our household computers and smartphones as the expansion of high-speed Wi-Fi connection is fundamentally changing how we interact with our environment. 

The Internet of Things (IoT) is defined as the interconnection via the Internet of computing devices embedded in everyday objects, enabling them to send and receive data. While communication via the internet is usually considered to occur between people, IoT allows different devices in our lives to also communicate and connect. From smart homes to smart cities, the possibilities associated with the Internet of Things continue to emerge. Below, we look at how computers, thermostats, lights, and other home technologies can share and correlate data and how this will affect sustainable home performance.

Smart HVAC Systems

Connecting your HVAC system to a computer essentially means that you don’t have to be at home to physically change the temperature inside the walls of your house. Since many households around the country are empty for long periods of the day while at work, school, or other activities, this means that you can adjust the heating and cooling needs in your home to correspond to when people are physically present. 

There are several different smart thermostats on the market, and some can even be connected to baseboard heaters for homes with electric heating options. Today these smart thermostats allow you to pre-program the temperature in your house depending on the times you plan to be at home. However, as more people begin to adopt smart thermostat technology, HVAC systems using IoT technology should progress to connect to real-time weather data provided by the internet and smart sensors located both inside and outside the home. This will allow your home heating and cooling systems to regulate the temperature depending on the current weather conditions automatically. 

Sensors that follow the sun’s movement will allow the home to react to how the sun interacts with your home. For example, air conditioning might be turned down in the warmest part of the building when sensors detect the hot summer sun entering your home in the afternoon. Alternatively, smart window shades might be activated by increasing temperature to automatically close to keep the home cooler by blocking out the sunlight. 

An MIT alumnus is also currently producing a smart vent technology that could increase the home HVAC system's efficiency. This system, called Ecovent, includes smart vents connected to sensors located in each room of a home. Through a smartphone app, the homeowner inputs the desired temperature for each room of a home during different hours of the day. The system automatically opens and closes individual vents depending on the monitored temperature. The Ecovent system also has the ability to learn behavior, meaning that it can learn the preferences and heating and cooling desires of homeowners.

Perhaps more importantly, the future IoT technology will also be able to gather and store large amounts of data that monitors the energy performance of HVAC systems. This will allow homeowners to discover the most efficient ways to keep their homes at a pleasant indoor temperature. 

Smart Lighting and Water

The United States collectively spends about a quarter of its electricity on lighting needs. While lighting technologies have become much more efficient in recent years with the development of LEDs, lights in our homes and offices still account for a substantial part of our energy use. Fortunately, several smart lighting systems rely on IoT technology.  These systems often include motion sensors to only turn on when movement is detected. Several apps allow you to manage the lights in your home while away. If your daughter forgot to turn out the light in her bedroom before heading off for a two-week vacation, these apps will let you know and allow you to turn off the light without having to be present to flick the switch. 

Studies have shown that the average home loses between 2,000 to 20,000 gallons of water per year due to household leaks in terms of water usage. Water leak detectors can help you avoid this unnecessary waste of water that is often otherwise undetectable. 

Smart water systems such as those offered by Sensus combine smart water meters, advanced sensors, and software analytics to help your home radically reduce your water usage.

Indoor Air Quality 

Different IoT devices can also measure the air quality inside your home, including CO2 levels and other common household VOCs. The Canary, for example, is one IoT technology that allows homeowners to track household humidity levels and air quality and let you know when problems arise. 

The Downside

While the Internet of Things certainly offers several potential advantages for sustainable homes, it is also worth looking at some of the potential drawbacks. 

IoT consumes energy and a lot of it. While many Internet of Things technologies are designed to help increase homes' energy efficiency while also developing new energy-saving technologies and strategies, many analyses fail to look at the “mega energy footprint” or how these savings compare to the energy used to generate them

According to one expert, while IoT devices and technologies are usually low-power devices, the sheer number of IoT devices in operation might be upwards of 50 billion by 2020. This is more than all of the smartphones and tablets currently used by the entire human population. The energy that these IoT devices will require to operate will increase our collective demand for energy sources. 

Because of this reality, how we use the Internet of Things in our homes is paramount when we analyze the potential net benefit of IoT. For example, a smart thermostat requires energy to operate. Suppose a homeowner routinely forgets to program the thermostat or only lowers the thermostat by a marginal amount during hours away from home. In that case, the net energy usage of the house might increase. For a smart thermostat to justify the extra energy required, it must be appropriately used to reduce the home's overall energy usage by lowering active heating or cooling needs when the house is unoccupied. 

The Internet of Things offers an opportunity for homeowners to increase their homes' energy efficiency and performance. However, as with all aspects of green building, IoT is not a panacea. The actual daily process of learning to live sustainably in the buildings we call home will allow homeowners to take full advantage of the possibilities that the Internet of Things promises.

Disclaimer: This article does not constitute a product endorsement however Rise does reserve the right to recommend relevant products based on the articles content to provide a more comprehensive experience for the reader.Last Modified: 2021-07-10T05:34:16+0000
Tobias Roberts

Article by:

Tobias Roberts

Tobias runs an agroecology farm and a natural building collective in the mountains of El Salvador. He specializes in earthen construction methods and uses permaculture design methods to integrate structures into the sustainability of the landscape.