Energy-Saving Tech for Your Home

Saving money on electricity costs becomes especially important in the summer, even when you have efficient Energy Star appliances, and outfitting your home with new, energy-saving technology could pay off sooner than you might think.

While solar panels at home may have previously been all the rage, helping consumers take advantage of a clean and renewable resource, their upfront costs can be prohibitive for some. And that’s where monitoring comes in.

Home energy monitoring systems can let homeowners keep track of their utility usage trends and help identify specific areas where conservation is possible.

Going on an Energy Diet

Home energy monitoring might be a bit like being on a diet. Once you identify your bad habits, it’s easier to tell where it makes sense to start improving first.

Systems like Microsoft’s HOHM, Powerhouse Dynamics’ eMonitor and other utility management tools can give you a snapshot of your energy usage, show you where you’re unnecessarily sapping electricity, and help you decide how to reduce your carbon footprint. Here are some of your options.

Microsoft HOHM

What you can track: With the Microsoft HOHM energy monitoring system, an online tool, you can find out how much energy you’re using based on the size of your home, the number of occupants and information on specific appliances you have.

For those homeowners who like to keep up with their neighbors, there’s a social aspect to the Microsoft (Stock Quote: MSFT) HOHM system. You can compare your energy consumption habits with those of your friends and neighbors, making your electricity use fodder for more friendly competition.

And owners of new electric cars from Ford will be able to use the HOHM system to monitor remotely how and when their cars are charged at home, as MainStreet previously reported from the New York International Auto Show.

How you can use it: When you see what your energy consumption has been, you can also see where you can cut it to save money.

The system will even suggest specific ways to reduce your energy consumption, for example, by sealing air leaks near windows and doors that might allow your precious air conditioning to escape on a sweltering day, and tell you about how much you could be saving.

Of course, by cutting your consumption, you’ll also help reduce environmental damage caused by the burning of fossil fuels.

Drivers of Ford Motors’ (Stock Quote: F) plug-in cars will even be able to use their iPhones (Stock Quote: AAPL) to control when and how to charge their vehicles, a handy tool if you live in an area where energy prices vary during the day and night.

The best thing about the system, however, may just be that it’s free.

hohm

Google Power

What you can track: Google’s (Stock Quote: GOOG) PowerMeter is also a free online tool, but it may actually be seen as the energy monitoring version of the search giant’s social networking attempt, Google Buzz.

It helps you track your energy usage down to the day, shows you how much electricity comes from appliances that are always on, predicts your annual energy costs and shows your progress toward a specific energy savings goal.

How you can use it: Google’s PowerMeter doesn’t appear to offer tailored suggestions about how you can reduce your energy use, but it does have a social networking aspect that lets users share their own energy-saving tips.

A Brick Powerhouse

What you can track: Using Powerhouse Dynamics’ eMonitor home energy management system, users can analyze individual appliances on individual circuits to see how much energy is being used, how much it’s costing them and how it affects their carbon footprint. It will even graph your usage habits minute-to-minute inside your home.

How you can use it: The system even suggests ways to lower your energy bill while still running your appliances safely. According to Powerhouse, using it can cut your energy bill by 15% to 30%. With a $799 price tag, however, the system may take a while to pay off.

powermeter

According to the company, you’ll start seeing a return on your investment in about two years.

It could be even sooner than that, however. According to the company, the system can send you an alert if any unusual usage is detected. If, for instance you’ve left your electric oven on, which is both wasteful, potentially dangerous and costly, the system will send you an email to let you know.

More Ways to Save

Honeywell (Stock Quote: HON) offers a simpler energy-saving appliance called the Prestige programmable thermostat.

The $300 to $400, contractor-installed device runs users through a questionnaire about what time each person at home wakes up and what temperature they want to wake up to and sets timers based on those responses.

The souped-up, full-color touch screen and high definition interfaced system also offers a device that allows for temperature adjustments anywhere in your home.

Honeywell says it can help owners save 33% or $200 a year on their home cooling and heating costs, meaning the programmable thermostat takes two years or more to pay for itself.

Sensing Rain

Homeowners with a lot of land can easily waste water when hydrating their lawns and gardens, and sprinkler maker Rain Bird has some gadgets that help prevent wasting water and money by overwatering.

powerhouse

Starting in the soil itself, Rain Bird’s SMART-Y Moisture Sensor can determine how saturated the ground is and use that information to control sprinkler timers. That means if it has rained, the sensor can tell, and your sprinklers won’t go off when they’re not needed.

Rain Bird says using the sensor could mean water savings of 40% or more. The sensor alone costs about $179, and that doesn’t include a timer or irrigation system. A Rain Bird SST Series Outdoor Timer would cost you about $100, but it could help you avoid water waste through runoff, and you can use different settings for different plants and soils.

rain bird

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