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News / Life / Clark County Life

Energy Adviser: Home automation chips in to save energy

By Energy Adviser
Published: April 21, 2016, 5:59am

Ask how to do something and it seems someone will respond, “There’s an app for that.” Just search your smartphone store for “home automation” and you’ll find that’s true.

“In the near future, smartphone apps will play a big role in managing your home’s energy use,” said Matt Babbitts, energy services project manager for Clark Public Utilities.

It wasn’t long ago that contractors had to build automation controls into a house. Homeowners could switch indoor and outdoor lights on or off, adjust their home’s temperature, lock the doors, open the garage door, check the nanny cam and set the house alarm. Such a monolithic approach provided convenience, but it was spendy. Also, it tied homeowners to one vendor and when things went awry, they called a technician.

This solution used its own computer, proprietary protocols and controllers so you could summon them from a remote, or sometimes a smartphone. The ubiquity of Internet and wireless connectivity, however, shifted home automation away from this solution. Now many of the wires are gone and manufacturers use fewer specialized protocols. Increasingly manufacturers’ devices connect with the Bluetooth used by your phone.

Today with Wi-Fi and Internet connectivity, everything works together to turn your smartphone into a “magic wand” for activating your home’s automation. This means you no longer need to tie yourself to one company. Instead, you can mix and match your control devices and select the ones you think can deliver the home energy savings or security you want, while allowing you to add other conveniences later.

“Consider starting small and growing,” Babbitts said. “Because heating and cooling is the largest slice of your energy expense, you might want to start there.” For about $250, the Nest thermostat learns your family’s comings and goings in about a week. After work, when you head home, simply tap the Nest app on your smartphone to move the temperature back to where you like it. If you leave and forget to turn off the lights, the Nest can do that for you. And, it’s compatible with many other products. Belkin and other companies make easy to install devices that give you control over your lighting and over any equipment you have plugged into the wall.

Smart security

Families with teens coming and going may like the security of the August Smart Lock. An electronic door lock, it reads your phone’s Bluetooth connection to identify it’s you at the door and then unlocks it. If you’re not home when the kids are out of school, you know who’s coming and going from the house because you’ve assigned each child a unique digital key.

Several manufacturers offer cameras for security, including Nest and Belkin. Cameras transmit indoor and outdoor views of your home when you’re gone. However, August offers a slightly different idea, a doorbell camera. With it, you can see who’s at the door without having to be at home.

In the past, the hardest part about saving energy was remembering — turning off lights, shutting down heaters and equipment not in use, dialing down the thermometer when you leave.

“Taking human behavior out of the equation, as home automation intends to do, will help reduce energy waste in your home,” Babbitts said.

To take a look at some of the newest home automation technologies in person, visit the Clark Public Utilities Home & Garden Idea Fair this weekend at the Clark County Event Center. Admission is free and parking is $6. www.homeandgardenideafair.com


Energy Adviser is written by Clark Public Utilities. Send questions to ecod@clarkpud.com or to Energy Adviser, c/o Clark Public Utilities, P.O. Box 8900, Vancouver, WA 98668.