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smartphone apps for the home

How Smartphone Can Help Design and Inhabit a Sustainable Home

By Tobias RobertsRise Writer
Jan 8, 2019

Over 95 percent of Americans own a cellphone of some kind, and well over three-fourths of the population uses (and probably depends on) a smartphone. While most people use their smartphones for texting, staying active on social media, reading the news, and making calls, there are over 6,000 new cell phone apps being developed each and every day. Many of those apps offer useful tools for homeowners who are planning on remodeling or looking to increase the sustainability and energy efficiency of their homes. Below, we review some of the most useful apps for green home design and livability.

Basic Mapping Apps

Knowing the landscape and terrain where your home is located is absolutely essential for designing a green and sustainable home. Google Earth is by far the most popular and widely used app for site analysis.  The newer version allows you to search for borders and photography of specific areas. For potential homeowners searching for a new home, the 3-D street view options offer a realistic view of the place. AcreValue is another free online resource/app that will allow you to view a free map of ownership boundaries delineated by tax parcel property lines as well as explore the total acreage of your yard or property.

The Planimeter app will help you to quickly and efficiently measure land area and GPS coordinates. With this, you can measure everything from the total size of your yard to the area of a room inside your home.

Contour and Elevation Apps

When designing the landscape around your home, finding ways to measure the contour and elevation changes around your property is essential for managing stormwater runoff, planting on contour hedges, or building bioswales to help maximize water infiltration.

The Clinometer app will help you to calculate the exact angle of a slope with the camera on your phone. It will calculate the level of your slope in either percentage, degree, or rise overrun, which is helpful if you are implementing a DIY greywater recycling system and want to make sure that the water will run through your pipes. The Clinometer app also includes a small bubble level which is helpful for projects around the home.

Landscaping Apps

The sustainable homeowner might want to substitute a manicured green lawn for a water-smart landscape that minimizes irrigation requirements while increasing biodiversity with native species. However, it can be hard to find the best plants for your landscaping plans.

Dirr’s Tree and Shrub Finder is a complete resource that will allow homeowners to search through 1,670 plant species by different criteria such as water requirements, light/shading needs, hardiness zones, growth characteristics, among others. For homes that already have trees, shrubs, and other vegetation well established, the Leaf Snap app developed by academics from Columbia University will help you to identify tree species with the simple snap of a picture. This app relies on visual recognition software, and a simple picture of the leaf of that unknown tree in your back yard will help you identify the tree and its characteristics.

Once you have settled on the different plants, trees, or shrubs that you want to plant, the PRO Landscape Contractor app is a great resource to help you drag and drop over 11,000 stock images of different plants so that you can envision the future landscape around your home. You can experiment with different planting ideas to find the best companion planting strategies for your yard.

Sun Surveyor Apps

Finding ways to utilize the free energy of the sun is one of the most essential aspects of the sustainable home. However, taking advantage of solar energy requires much more than simply placing a few solar panels on your roof. Passive solar design, to name just one example, allows your home to capture the heat from the sun and store that heat to radically reduce your heating bills.

Using a simple sun surveyor app such as Sunseeker will allow you to track the path of the sun on the horizon throughout the different seasons. The Sunseeker app offers both a realistic camera view and a flat compass view and allows you to visualize the location of the sun at different times of the day, during its winter and summer solstice path, along with the change in sunset and sunrise times throughout the year. With this information, you can easily determine how the sun will interact with your home and landscape throughout the year and you can thus design accordingly to either shade out the hot summer sun or let the warm winter sun in.

Thermal Imaging Devices for Smart Phones

Professional energy auditors want you to believe that heat loss and drafts in the home are essentially undetectable without hiring their services. However, new thermal imaging devices for smartphones allow the everyday homeowner to detect areas of weak insulation and drafts in the home. 

The Flir One offers a high-quality thermal camera that will help you scan your home for areas where insulation is lacking or where almost invisible holes around your door frame are letting cold air into the home. The infrared camera uses blue and red imaging so that you can detect the areas of the home that need to be optimized to increase the energy efficiency of your home.

Water-Saving Apps

There are also several important apps for homeowners who want to both cut back on their water usage and find ways to take advantage of the rainwater falling on their roof. The SamSamWater Rainwater Harvesting Tool is an easy to use app that will help you determine the optimum size of your rainwater harvesting reservoir depending on your local climatic conditions and the total area of your roof.

Another important app that can help you minimize your household water consumption is Dropcountr. This free app connects with the utility providers and provides you real-time data related to your household water usage and how you compare to nearby homes. It can also help you determine if a leak is detected in your household plumbing.

Interior Air Quality Apps

The majority of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) floating around your home are undetectable by the human sense of smell. While there are several air purification products on the market today, the IQAir app works with the IQ Air Hepa Air Purifier system and is a great tool to help you determine what exactly is in the air you breathe inside your home on a daily basis.

This air quality monitor will let alert you to the particulate matter, carbon dioxide, and VOCs that are affecting your indoor air quality. It will also give you real-time information on the indoor temperature and humidity rating and a 72-hour pollution and weather forecast to assist in planning how you to best ventilate your home.

Bottom Line

The apps reviewed above are just a few of the hundreds, if not thousands, of apps that can be useful to homeowners looking to maximize the sustainability of their homes. Of course, smart homes will also have other apps that are connected to the operation of their homes for everything from controlling the lights to detecting water leaks. As our society continues to increase our dependence on smartphones, using those phones for sustainability purposes can help change how we design, build and occupy our homes.

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: 2020-06-12T20:56:32+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.