The Newest and Easiest Ways to Go Greener at Home

by Patrick HearnAugust 22, 2017

You’ve no doubt seen the dreary news about climate change; after all, it’s hard to turn on a television anywhere and not see a story about a piece of ice breaking off the ice caps or a rare species going extinct. It can start to make us feel helpless. But luckily for all of us, it’s easier than ever before to do our part and “go green” at home. Home automation has opened multiple potential avenues for monitoring your energy usage, reducing your carbon footprint, and helping to save money to boot! Here are the best ways to start.

1. Use a smart thermostat

According to the Energy Resource Center, homes in the United States waste the same amount of energy as 50 million gallons of oil. A huge portion of that is due to how we heat and cool our homes. Traditional thermostats are sorely ineffective, but a smart thermostat takes weather information from the internet and adjusts for temperature shifts before they actually happen.
Image of a home thermostat on energy saving mode
Think about how much energy it takes to cool your entire home just a few degrees. It’s easier for the thermostat to maintain a set temperature than it is to adjust for a new one. Smart thermostats also learn our usage patterns and reduce their power usage during periods when you aren’t around. For example, a thermostat might allow the interior temperature of your home to rise to uncomfortable (but not dangerous) levels during the workday, but then reduce the temperatures an hour before you arrive home from work.

So what else can you do? During colder months, set the temperature lower. At night or when you’re away from home during the winter, set the temperature to as low as you can stand. Studies show that humans sleep better between 60 and 67 degrees Fahrenheit, so lowering your temperature at night will not only help you save money, but it may help you catch a few more z’s too.

2. Switch to energy-saving appliances.

If you’ve shopped for appliances at any point in the last couple of decades, you may have noticed the “Energy Star” logo emblazoned on electronics throughout the country. This program was started by the EPA as a way to encourage manufacturers to produce products with lower greenhouse gas emissions.

The program became a runaway success, saving more than $24 billion in energy costs in 2012 alone. If you want a preview of how much you can save by switching to an energy-efficient appliance, take a look at Energy Star’s energy savings calculator.

Energy efficient appliances made by Panasonic.
via Flickr

3. Unplug appliances when not in use

Have you ever heard of phantom power drain? No, it’s not about a ghost using our electricity—not exactly. Certain appliances will drain power even when they aren’t in use. Maybe you don’t think your coffee pot’s clock uses that much energy (and the automatic coffee at 6 a.m. sharp is worth it), but that power usage adds up.

Combine the coffee pot’s phantom power use with that of a desktop computer, a game console, and your phone charger, and it starts to become significant. Rough estimates say that a plugged-in laptop uses 8 watts of power when off, and all together phantom power accounts for up to 10% of a home’s energy use. If you aren’t sure what appliances might be draining your home’s energy, look for any that have an LED light or a display. There’s a high chance those use phantom power.

4. Use smart lighting and motion sensors to reduce power usage.

The old advice to turn off the lights when you leave the room is almost comical now. It’s been brought up so often in conversations about saving energy that everyone knows they should do it, but few ever do. There are several arguments about why this is, and many make sense. Why turn off a light when it only costs roughly $0.01 per hour to run?

That’s a fair point, but it still requires energy from an external source. If even 1,000 people in a city leave their lights on, that’s $10 of power wasted. The amount adds up quickly when you begin to do the math. There are several steps you can take to ensure the lights aren’t on when they don’t need to be.

The first is to utilize geofencing (or using your phone’s GPS to track your location) in combination with a smart light system. For instance, by installing Philips Hue lights and setting them to turn off when you leave a certain range, you never again have to worry about whether you remembered to turn off the lights.

You can also try installing motion sensors or something like the Aeotec Multisensor, a multifunctional device that measures for six different types of input. These inputs can be programmed into a home automation system and used to automatically turn off the lights when someone leaves a room.

5. Keep your freezer full

Few things in life are as disappointing as an empty freezer when you have an empty stomach. Not only will keeping your freezer well-stocked ensure you have plenty of delicious food to cook when your stomach rumbles, but it will improve the device’s energy usage.

Full freezers are much more efficient than empty ones, because there is less air to keep cool between the products. Because the molecules in air are so spread apart, it is harder to cool empty air than it is to cool solid objects or liquids.

6. Shut the fridge door

How many times do you sit in front of the refrigerator with the door open while you decide what to get? Do you do the same with the freezer? Not only does leaving the freezer door open waste energy at nearly twice the rate of leaving the fridge door open, but it can make it much more difficult for the internal temperature to return to what it was.

If you aren’t sure what you want and need to look inside, consider purchasing something like the Samsung Smart Home Refrigerator. These refrigerators offer you the ability to look inside with the touch screen via three internal cameras. No more wasting energy while you decide what flavor of yogurt to have for breakfast. These also come with a variety of other features, like the ability to create shopping lists and automatically update them when a certain type of food is used up.

8. Measure your home’s energy usage

Maybe you’ve taken all of these steps and you aren’t sure what else you can do to help run a greener home. If your home still seems to use too much power despite your best efforts, you might want to consider installing a home energy monitor. These devices wire into your home’s electrical meter and allow you to measure the amount of power usage in your home via smartphone applications.

Sense is one type of monitor. It allows you to track individual appliances in your home to measure their energy usage. Best of all, it doesn’t require an overarching smart home system. If you’re new to the world of home automation, Sense can help you keep track of your energy use and potentially spot problems before they worsen.

Smart home, green home.

I know what you may be thinking — why use home automation when it uses more electricity than a “dumb” home? The benefits far outweigh the downsides in almost all instances. Not only does home automation improve the quality of your life, but it can make your environmental protection efforts that much easier. And with easy implementation (the internet service provider or cable company you already use can even help you get set up), it’s not a significant time investment to get started.

What’s the biggest impact your home or family has on the environment, and what can you do to reduce it? Energy monitors and smart home technology may be the key to going green while also improving your standards of living.

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About The Author
Patrick Hearn
Patrick Hearn is a writer for XFINITY Home who specializes in home security and home automation. When not at his desk, he can be found playing tennis or searching for the next best cup of coffee.