We’re living on a planet in crisis. There can be no doubt that every effort we can make (as individuals and as a species) to better manage our use of Earth’s dwindling resources should be grabbed with both hands. And while we tend to think of smart homes in terms of the convenience and ‘cool factor’ they deliver for their owners, they have huge potential for helping us live more sustainable lives too. We take a look at some of the ways smart homes, gadgets and the IoT can help us reduce our water and energy usage, lower our emissions, and live more eco-friendly lives.
What is a smart home?
At its most basic level, a smart home is one with devices that can be accessed and controlled remotely via the Internet. As AI becomes a bigger part of our lives, that definition will likely start to shift somewhat, including the ability for the home to make decisions on its own to improve the residents’ experience – while also (hopefully!) helping them better manage their use of natural resources.
Smart meets sustainable
There are many exciting prospects for home automation to make our homes more energy and water-efficient places. Only heating and cooling when and where necessary, reducing water wastage, and minimizing use of energy across the board are prime examples.
When you can see what devices are using the most power, (and costing you the most money) you immediately become more likely to use them sparingly and remember to turn them off when not in use. As in so many other ways, sustainability isn’t just better for the planet, it’s also better for your wallet.
If you could only ever have one smart ‘gadget’, then an energy monitor would be a great choice! At the most basic level, they let you monitor your overall household consumption in real time. When you notice a spike, you can take steps manually to bring it back down, or at least become more aware of the appliances that are the biggest drains.
More advanced models let you monitor individual appliances, connect with mobile applications, send you alerts about abnormal power usage, give tips and recommendations, and can even tie in with your solar panels to monitor your home’s power production against your consumption.
Smart power strips, which let you monitor the energy usage of the devices plugged into them, are a great budget option. They’re also easy to use, and of course don’t require the services of an electrician to install.
The advent of indoor heating and air conditioning changed the distribution of people on the planet forever. It allowed people to live comfortably in regions they would otherwise simply not be able to survive in. Unfortunately, it also now means that we’ve built homes and cities in places that are going to require heating and cooling (and therefore consume electricity) for the foreseeable future.
What smart homes, and more specifically smart thermostats, can help us do is make sure we use the least energy possible to maintain a comfortable indoor temperature. There are many great brands currently on the market, several of which are Energy Star certified. They can learn your habits and preferences, and be assessed remotely should you forget to turn them off before you leave on vacation! Some even use techniques such as geofencing to identify if the house is empty or not, and adjust the ambient temperature accordingly.
Of course the ideal solution is to get your smart house off the grid completely. And while this remains a pretty expensive undertaking for most folks, great strides are being made in the right direction.
Currently, Tesla’s Solar Roof and Powerwall combination is making waves in the industry. Rather than adding solar panels to an existing roof, in this product’s case, the solar panels are the roof! Paired with the company’s Powerwall, a state of the art rechargeable lithium ion battery to store solar energy for later use, households will be able to dramatically reduce (or even eliminate) their reliance on the grid for power.
A number of cities around the world – possibly even a quarter of humanity – are facing major challenges in supplying enough clean water for their residents. Here again, smart home technology can make a big difference, especially when combined with educational and behavioral changes on a societal scale.
For your average home, investing in low-flow faucets and showerheads can reduce your household water consumption by as much as 50%. Another technology which has great potential, especially for homes and apartment buildings with basements and attics, are smart home enabled leak detectors. These monitor moisture levels around pipes, and can alert the home owner at the first sign of a leak.
Green building and smart cities
Finally, by combining these technologies with green building techniques which take advantage of passive heating and natural light, we can start to make entire cities smarter and more sustainable too.