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Automate Your Home Electricity Savings


Ecobee smart programmable thermostat

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Sometimes the simplest ideas are the best but often overlooked. When it comes to home efficiency, automating daily rituals like walking through the house turning off lights and bath exhaust fans can add up to nice savings as well as save you some time. Here are a few simple approaches that you can take to automate savings on your monthly electrical bill.

Simple money saving automation approaches for home efficiency include:

  • Occupancy light sensors in areas that are infrequently occupied such as bathrooms, hallways, and closets.
  • Humidity sensor for bathroom exhaust fans.
  • Smart Outlets
  • Smart Thermostats
  • Solar powered outdoor lighting with auto on at dusk feature.

Below is an overview of the benefits of each of these and how you can use them to save money on your monthly electric bill.


Motion Sensor light Switches (Occupancy Switch)

I can still remember the days of walking through the house turning off lights in every room where my kids had been several times a day. Bathrooms, hallways, closets…. lights on using electricity but no one in the room. It drove me crazy! I felt like I was the only one who was concerned about conserving energy. And there was a good reason for that… I was!

If you are wanting to ensure that rooms that are only occupied for a short time are not left with lights running all day or night, an occupancy switch is an easy and affordable solution. These switches replace your regular light switch on the wall and sense when there is motion in the room. They can be set to automatically turn on and off and the time-on is adjustable. They can also be set to only turn off automatically but require manual activation to turn on.

This idea originally came to me while visiting a doctor’s office. Each of the offices had these occupancy switches. After inquiring about them with the nurse, I learned that they use them to make sure that lights are not left on in rooms that are not occupied. Ingenious!

I have these in all closets, the pantry, the half bath, and the utility room. I also installed them in our hallways and stairway because, for whatever reason, these lights were always left on by my the kids.

It is amazing how simple and problem-solving these occupancy switches are. They aren’t perfect for every situation. For example, a living room where you spend a lot of time sitting and the motion sensor may not realize the room is occupied so it shuts the lights off. But for those rooms in the house that sit mostly unoccupied all day and where people go in for a few minutes and forget to turn the light off, these little devices are a lifesaver if you are obsessive about conserving energy and saving money on your electrical bills each month.

Occupancy Switch

This is the model that I purchased for my home. They have been installed for a couple of years and we have had zero issues with them. My wife has grown a little spoiled in fact expecting lights to turn on when she walks into a room 🙂


Humidity Sensor for Bathroom Exhaust Fans

If there is one area in your home that I would tell you that you need to get automated, it is the bathroom exhaust fans. These devices, by design, take conditioned air from inside your home and exhausts it out! Think about that. It uses electricity ($) to take conditioned air ($) and exhaust it from your home. $$$$$$$$$$$

Isn’t that crazy?

Granted, these serve an important purpose, especially when it comes to humidity. If a person is taking a shower, for example, the humidity level in the bathroom raises dramatically in the confined space. Exhaust fans are very effective at removing that moisture. The problem comes in when someone finishes their shower, leaves the bathroom, and forgets to turn the exhaust fan off. I actually woke up on more than one occasion to find the exhaust fan in my kids’ bathroom had been left on all night, taking my expensive conditioned air out of my home.

It’s like throwing dollar bills out the window.

But there is another side of this issue. If someone consistently fails to turn on the exhaust fan when taking a shower (something my daughter was repeatedly guilty of) then condensation and humidity stands to cause serious damage to the structure of the room and, ultimately, the home. So, an exhaust fan is definitely needed, but it only needs to be used at the right times or it is costing unnecessary expense in power consumption.

Humidity Swtich
The middle switch is an automatic Humidity Switch

I became obsessed with getting this under control and found a humidity sensing switch on Amazon. It automatically turns on the exhaust fan when humidity levels rise but what is great about this is that once the humidity level returns to normal, the fan turns off.

We just don’t realize how much money in conditioned air is flying out of these things when they are left to run for hours at a time. Can you image leaving a window or door open all day or night while your air conditioning or heating system was running? That’s what leaving a bathroom exhaust fan on is like… only worse! Because not only are you letting conditioned air out, you are actually using even more energy to push it out with a fan.

I am not an expert by any stretch but because of my obsession with home efficiency I have been asked by friends on multiple occassions to help them identify energy problems in their home and to make it more efficient. Time and again, the bathroom exhaust fan is one of the first places I recommend addressing using an automated humidity switch. It’s a quick and easy fix and it cuts down on so much energy waste.

I installed one of these in the kid’s bathroom and can tell you that this is literally a product that will pay for itself in energy savings.


Smart Outlets

It’s really astonishing the amount of power that our electrical devices throughout the home consume each day while we are not even using them. To really get a handle on this I suggest you read my article on how to determine if your home is energy efficient and the discussion in that post on phantom energy consumption.

The short and sweet of it though is this – electrical devices throughout your home are steadily drawing energy and costing you money at night while you sleep. Devices that have no business using electricity when they are turned off draw a small but steady electrical consumption that over the course of a year can really add up.

Automated electrical “smart” plugs like this one on Amazon are great solutions for getting these phantom power consumption devices under control. This device works with the Amazon Alexa system and can be set up on your mobile phone to automatically turn on and off at certain times. I use plugs like this throughout my home to make sure that lamps and other devices turn off automatically when we go to bed as well as to prevent phantom power draws through the night.

Smart Plug – Turns off the lamp and TV automatically each night.

For a more complex situation such as a home theater system that has multiple devices, some of which can safely be disconnected from the grid at night while others require constant power for a clock or other needs, a timer-controlled power surge device like the Tripp Lite 7 Outlet (Timer Controlled) Surge Protector Power Strip may be a better option.

However you choose to take control of these phantom power consumption devices, I recommend being proactive. The sooner you get a handle on them the more you stand to save over the years to come.

For a more detailed explanation of phantom power consumption of devices, read this article.


Smart Thermostats

There is probably no single electrical device or mechanical system in a home that draws more energy each year that a central air-conditioning/heating system.

I replaced the stock non-programmable thermostats that came with my HVAC system with Ecobee smart thermostats and have had zero regrets.

One of My Ecobee Thermostats

I can control the device from my phone including programming it. I have it set to offset the temperature by 7 seven degrees while everyone is gone to school and work and then to return it to normal temps before we arrive home. It makes saving money on electricity so easy! It also displays the weather conditions outside (wireless internet connection required) and will even connect to an Amazon Alexa if you have one but that is not required.

People take the benefits of a programmable thermostat for granted but I can tell you that we saw immediate results on our electrical bill. The Energy Star website has some useful guidelines on taking advantage of programmable thermostats that you may find helpful.

Another benefit to these is that I actually receive an email alert reminding me to change my air filters and noting the last time they were changed.

Email from Ecobee reminding me to change the air filter.

There is also a handy “Vacation Mode” that can be activated that will keep the inside temperatures at levels that you determine but can save money significantly. Anytime we go on vacation I have the system set to a high of 80 degrees and a low of 50 degrees. That wouldn’t be comfortable to walk into after a trip but what’s really great is that I can turn that mode off from my phone when we are headed home and the system will resume its normal schedule so that the house is nice and comfy when we get back home!

Depending on your level of comfort and DIY fortitude, you may want to have this professionally installed. I can tell you that I ran into an issue with it not working despite having hooked it up exactly like I thought it needed to be based on the included wiring diagrams but after a quick call to Ecobee’s customer support I was gently informed of my error and within two minutes had the system up and running. I installed the second one upstairs without a hitch and since that time, they have served my family and our home well. The upstairs thermostat makes sure the room in comfortable after school and until the evening time and then backs off to more conservative settings through the night. That alone saves us a significant amount on our electrical bill each year.

A smart thermostat is an investment that pays dividends in its return on investment year after year. After over two years with ours, I can recommend converting your home to a smart thermostat system without reservation. Personally, I will never go back!


Solar Outdoor Lighting

I’ve written extensively on this in a previous post, and I highly recommend you take the time to read that article. What is nice about using solar lighting outdoors is that it makes the process completely automatic. Lights turn on at dusk as it darkens outside and there is no need to worry about remembering to turn them off. They aren’t using electricity from the grid that costs you money. They are simply exhausting the energy that they stored up during the day from the sun.

solar lighting outdoors
Solar Lighting Around Pool

I use solar lighting exclusively around my pool and we have been quite pleased by both the money savings on our electrical bill and the aesthetic quality that it adds to the ambiance of the pool deck area. I am particularly taken with the TomCare Flickering Solar Torches. From a reasonable distance, they look like real flame torches. Click here to read my full review complete with pictures and videos.


Conclusion

There are simple ways that you can automate saving money on your electrical bill each month. Getting a handle on these commonly neglected power consumption areas with an automated strategy like the ones outlined above can add up to significant savings in your monthly electrical bills.

These are not some hypothetical ideas that I’ve thrown together based on theory. These are actual approaches that I have used in my own home to automate the energy-saving strategy of my home. I benefit from these ideas every single day. I hope that at least some of these are worthy of consideration for your home as well.

Remember, that there is no magic bullet when it comes to creating an energy efficient home. Each “solution” is a piece to the puzzle. To truly create home efficiency, you should continuously look for innovative approaches to measure and control the energy consumption of your household.

If you want to really get a handle on the energy efficiency of your home, read Is My Home Energy Efficient? Here’s How To Know!

If you need simple solutions to get started benefiting from solar power, read this post: How To Get Started With Solar Power (Simple Solutions!)

Want to take your automated energy savings to the next level? Read What Can A Smart home Do? Complete Guide With Pictures!

Paul

As a homeowner, I am constantly experimenting with making the structure of my house more energy-efficient, eliminating pests, and taking on DIY home improvement projects. Over the past two decades, my family has rehabbed houses and contracted new home builds and I've learned a lot along the way. I share my hard-learned lessons so that you can save time and money by not repeating my mistakes.

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