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With the proliferation of smart home devices, it can be hard to know where you get your best bang for your buck. In this post, we provide a rundown on the 10 best smart home devices to save money and electricity.
From thermostats that learn household patterns, to light bulbs that can be controlled via an app or even your voice, to all-in-one systems that allow residents to remotely monitor pretty much every device in their homes, the smart home market is diverse — and growing. In fact, it’s expected to reach $53.5 billion by 2022. More than double the size of the market in 2016!
Smart gadgets are growing in popularity. And the desire to be on the cutting edge of technology is a big contributor. One survey found that about 1 in 3 consumers said their interest in smart home products was driven by how cool they think the technology is.
Smart home gadgets are of course cutting-edge and futuristic. But one of their biggest benefits is the potential for major savings when it comes to household electricity consumption. So which devices offer the greatest potential for homeowners to reduce consumption while keeping their budgets intact?
Which are the best smart home devices to save money?
To answer that, we’ve analyzed 10 of the most popular smart device categories. We assigned each product values in three categories — their potential for energy savings; how much electricity that equates to (based on the electricity consumption in a typical home of 10,972 kWh per year); and how expensive they are to purchase and/or install. We then ranked those combined values across device types to see which products provide the biggest bang for the buck.
There’s one big area you won’t see included in our analysis — smart speakers. They are among the most commonly purchased smart devices (about one-quarter of Americans have one). But for the typical home that isn’t already outfitted with a full slate of smart gadgets, Amazon Echo and similar devices can often add at least as much electricity consumption as they eliminate.
Estimated Electricity Savings: 340 kWh | Installation cost: Low
Thermostats are the most ubiquitous smart home devices. They are also the best smart home devices to save money. Because they balance high potential electricity savings and a low cost of installation. That puts them at the very top of our list.
Combined, heating and cooling make up the single most electricity-drawing activity in homes. They account for about 31% of all residential electricity consumption—more than any other single use. According to an analysis by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE), smart thermostats can save about 10% of heating and cooling costs compared to a manual thermostat and as much as 6.5% over a standard programmable thermostat.
Estimated Electricity Savings: 93 kWh | Installation cost: Low
Lighting accounts for about 5% of all residential electricity consumption, putting it in the top five electricity-consuming activities, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA). Smart bulbs, lamps and switches come with functions like remote control, automation and even motion detection.
Smart LED light bulbs, in particular, have become quite popular. And most people can pick them up at their neighborhood hardware store, which makes them very accessible. Energy savings from smart lighting options will be variable depending on how much lighting the home uses. The ACEEE indicates that on the high side, homeowners could cut their lighting energy consumption by 27%.
It’s true that smart bulbs are considerably more expensive relative to regular bulbs (about three times the cost, in our analysis). And while their automation provides significant savings on a home’s lighting-related electricity costs, smart bulbs can continue drawing power even when they’re not on. But with costs for typical models under $10 per bulb, it’s easy to add one or two to the home and experiment with their usefulness. So for that reason, smart lightbulbs earn the runner up in our rundown of the best smart home devices to save money.
3. Window Coverings
Estimated Electricity Savings: 157 kWh | Installation cost: Medium
Products like smart blinds and tinted film can provide energy savings in multiple areas, including heating and cooling, and lighting. The ACEEE finds that HVAC-related savings from smart window technology averaged between 11% and 20%. However, specific benefits will also depend on other factors like a home’s design.
Installation costs are middle-of-the-road when compared to other smart home products. But this will also depend on a variety of factors. For example, whether residents are able to install products themselves (i.e. smart film) or if they’ll need to hire a professional (i.e. full-blown smart windows).
4. Ceiling Fan
Estimated Electricity Savings: 131 kWh | Installation cost: Medium
Another product that’s related to temperature regulation, smart ceiling fans allow for remote control as well as programmability, depending on the model. We’ve already discussed the enormous energy consumed by heating and cooling a space. And ceiling fans—especially smart ceiling fans—can significantly decrease that consumption.
According to the ACEEE, smart fans could save a typical home as much as 11% in cooling energy costs. That said, their benefits may be blunted in homes that already have some automatic temperature control, such as with a smart or programmable thermostat. So we assumed slightly lower savings in our calculations.
Like window coverings, smart ceiling fans have a cost, between their price tag and installation. That makes a smart ceiling fan a great choice if you’re looking at replacements.
5. Outlets & Power Strips
Estimated Electricity Savings: 53 kWh | Installation cost: Low
The electricity required to power the various devices plugged into electrical outlets—“vampire load” or “phantom load”—can account for up to 20% of home energy consumption. Smart plugs and power strips can help residents save enormous amounts of electricity consumption. Smart plugs have been estimated to provide savings in the range of 1-4.5% of a home’s electricity use. And for home entertainment setups specifically, smart plugs and strips can range from 16% to 50%
Especially as people continue working from home and using their household electricity to conduct business, products like smart power strips and smart plugs can be helpful. For example, those with a home office setup could add a smart strip to the mix to automatically cut power to monitors, keyboards, printers and other office devices when they power down their computers for the day.
Smart strips are similar to large-capacity power strips, but they are several times the cost of a regular power strip. But in the scheme of smart technology investment, they provide one of the best ROIs, especially when you factor in the minimal time required to set them up! That makes them one of the best smart home devices to save money, especially if you’re looking at low-hanging fruits.
6. Water Heater
Estimated Electricity Savings: 98 kWh | Installation cost: Medium
Water heating accounts for about 12% of all residential electricity consumption. That means it ranks third for all sources of electricity consumption in a typical home. Replacing a traditional water heater with a smart device, or retrofitting an existing water heater, could save as much as 15% on that draw.
The typical cost difference between smart water heaters and non-connected models is relatively insignificant when compared to other big-ticket appliances. But this also varies depending on the fuel source, with gas heaters generally being more expensive to purchase overall.
Also, high-demand homes may see less benefit from smart water heaters. This is because the main way smart water heaters reduce consumption is by optimizing heating and shifting time spent heating water. In homes with a lot of people using hot water all day, there’s less room for improvement.
7. Washer & Dryer
Estimated Electricity Savings: 30 kWh | Installation cost: Medium
Laundry appliances are among the leaders in major household appliances when it comes to balancing energy savings and being affordable. Even low-cost versions of some of these models incorporate smart technologies that can save energy and money. For example, automatic load detection and sensor drying.
Smart washers and dryers can save about 4-7% of washing and drying electricity consumption, which account for about 5% of all residential consumption. Price differences between smart models and non-connected models are relatively insignificant. And, as previously mentioned, some of these technologies now come standard, depending on the manufacturer.
8. Energy Monitor
Estimated Electricity Savings: 27 kWh | Installation cost: High
Energy monitors like Sense and Curb promise double-digit energy consumption reduction based on identifying waste in electricity. For example, through devices that are always on or that are drawing huge amounts of power at unexpected times. And that can certainly be the case for some homes!
But the benefits for a typical home will depend largely on how many culprit devices are in the home. Once homeowners are able to reduce the power these devices consume, long-term benefits could level off at or below the initial 12% reduction claimed by Sense.
Still, for the typical home, always-on devices, or those drawing electricity even when they’re not being actively used, can be shockingly huge electricity vampires. In our analysis, we accounted for the most common devices that draw power in the home even when they’re off or in standby mode. Here’s a look at a conservative estimate of those devices’ phantom power draw, assuming 12 hours per day of off or standby operation:
- Cable modem (standby), 16.8 kWh
- Home office printer (off), 5.5 kWh
- Set-top DVR (off), 160 kWh
- Computer speakers (off), 7.8 kWh
- Coffee maker (off), 5 kWh
- Game console (off), 4.4 kWh
- Garage door opener (ready), 19.6 kWh
- Microwave (ready), 13.5 kWh
- Audio receiver (off), 12.8 kWh
The Sense energy monitor system is designed to be installed on a home’s electrical panel, which means it’s not something every homeowner can do him or herself. That could add to its upfront cost, depending on the expense of hiring an electrician.
Estimated Electricity Savings: 20 kWh | Installation cost: High
Refrigeration accounts for about 6% of the electricity consumed in a typical home. Smart fridges can help reduce this slightly. They are able to learn usage patterns to adjust operations like ice-making and defrosting. And they can allow residents to set the fridge to vacation mode to suspend certain functions while nobody is home.
But many smart refrigerators also include energy-consuming features like LCD screens, cameras, and WiFi connectivity. And these functions can easily negate the energy saving benefits they offer. In fact, the ACEEE’s analysis indicated that smart fridges save an average of about 3% as compared with standard models.
They are also much more expensive than traditional models in our analysis. It’s common to pay about 30% more for a smart fridge than a regular model. All that said, for families who need to replace an outdated or broken fridge, a smart model could be a worthwhile investment in order to save money on the electricity bill and add value to their kitchen. Upgrades like smart refrigerators can even increase your home’s resale value by more than its incremental cost.
Estimated Electricity Savings: 8 kWh | Installation Cost: High
Dishwashers account for about 1% of residential electricity consumption. This is quite minimal compared to other electricity draws that we’ve discussed. But smart dishwashers can reduce energy consumption by an average of 5% to 9%, according to the ACEEE’s analysis. And those savings can still add up!
Smart dishwashers reduce consumption by sensing load sizes and save money by shifting the time of day/night that they operate. In particular, they will run in the middle of the night when homeowners are sleeping and off-peak rates are in effect. Some models also include WiFi, letting users schedule and monitor cycles.
But these features come at an upfront price. And it’s common for feature-heavy smart dishwashers to cost 50% more than traditional models. So, as with refrigerators, replacing a perfectly good unit with a smart version is probably not in the budget. But if you are looking to replace your dishwasher anyway, an upgrade could provide overall value for your home in addition to cost savings over time.
Get Smart to Save Money
There are new smart home technologies available every day. And it can be hard to know which category of devices is the right starting point from cost- and energy-saving standpoints. Start with this list of the 10 best smart home devices to save money, and you’ll be off to the races! We’ll hit you with the summary matrix from earlier in the post, just for good measure!
For a deeper dive into top models within some of these device categories, check out some of our other posts:
- 7 Best Smart Thermostats for Energy Savings
- Let There Be Light: the best energy-efficient lighting for your home
- The Ins and Outs of Smart Windows for your Home
- The Best Energy-Efficient Kitchen Upgrades to Save Energy & Increase Your Home’s Resale Value
- Squeaky Clean: the best energy-efficient dishwashers for your kitchen
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