Once upon a time the idea of telling your home appliances what to do or expecting them to “know” what to do automatically (by talking to each other!) was science-fiction, magical, bordering on ludicrous. But it’s happened – the automated home is here and it’s becoming more and more popular as new products enter the market and prices become more competitive.
There’s no doubt that the technology is impressive, but can they make a difference to your home’s energy efficiency? We’ve taken a look at the most popular smart devices for home automation to find out.
What are smart thermostats?
A smart thermostat can be controlled via your smartphone, tablet, computer or even your voice through virtual home assistant devices. All you need is a connection to WiFi, 3G or 4G and you can control your heating from wherever you are in the world.
One of the main benefits for homeowners is obviously the convenience this delivers. For example, if you’re at work and realise you’ve left the heating on or you’ll be going home earlier, you can turn it on or off from your desk. Depending on which model you go for, you could receive a whole lot more functionality besides. Some thermostats include geolocation technology which can detect when you’re leaving or arriving home and will adjust the temperature accordingly. The Nest thermostat by Google can even learn your routine and programme itself automatically. Other thermostats such as the Honeywell evohome or Hive Active Heating 2 are available with smart radiator valves which enable you to set different temperatures for different rooms.
Which are the most popular smart thermostats?
|Smart Thermostat||Key Feature(s)||Voice Control Compatibility?||Multi-zone Heating?||Average Price (excluding installation)||Average Price per Smart Radiator Valve for Multi-zone heating|
|Nest||Learning capability, geofencing technology,||Google Home and Amazon Alexa||No||£150 – £200||N/A|
|Honeywell evohome||Multi-zone heating, hot water control||Google Home, Apple HomeKit and Amazon Alexa||Yes||£170 – £230||£55 – £60|
|Tado||Multi-zone heating, geofencing location technology||Google Home, Apple HomeKit and Amazon Alexa||Yes||£140 – £200||£30 – £60|
Can they actually reduce my energy bills?
Well, not automatically, but they certainly can. There are some things to think about before you go ahead. Firstly, a poorly insulated home will never be cost effective to heat so it’s important to get that sorted as soon as possible. Secondly, if you only use your thermostat to turn the heating off when you’re at work and on when you’re at home (and your current programmable thermostat does this effectively) a smart thermostat may not bring much more to the party.
There are lots of claims about how much money a smart thermostat could save you, but the majority of these statistics assume that before the smart thermostat you would set your heating at a constant temperature throughout the day. If your programmable thermostat works effectively, this is probably not the case. The difference here will be the convenience i.e. you’ll be using an intuitive app to control it from wherever you are in the house (or world) rather than having to manually programme it, which should make things easier and quicker.
If you have a more complicated or unpredictable routine, a smart thermostat will make managing your heating a whole lot easier and could reduce wasted energy. Maybe you’ve been invited out for drinks after work or have to run some unexpected errands? A tap of your finger tells the thermostat not to come on until later so you’re not wasting energy heating an empty house.
The main way a smart thermostat can help you to lower your energy bills is by telling you exactly how much energy your heating system is using and when via the app. Nest, for example, gives you a monthly report on your energy use compared to similar homes in your area. By understanding your energy usage you can identify where you can cut back, improve energy efficiency and potentially make savings.
What are smart light bulbs?
A smart light light bulb can be controlled and programmed by your smartphone, tablet, virtual home assistant or home hub. Turn them on or off, dim them, set them to follow a schedule or even change colour from wherever you are in the world. If you have a virtual home assistant they can also respond to voice commands. How could you use them? Just off the top of our heads…turn the bedroom light on or off without moving a muscle, schedule your lights to come on at specific times while you’re on holiday or set them to turn on when someone activates a motion sensor.
Some types of smart bulb need to be connected to a home hub like Amazon Echo or Google Home while others can be connected directly to your smart device. Most will work on any Wi-Fi, 3G or 4G connection but there are some which rely on Bluetooth which requires a relatively close proximity to work. Both screw-fit and bayonet bulbs are available or you can buy a bayonet adaptor.
Which are the most popular smart light bulbs?
|Brand||Smart Light Bulbs||Voice Control Compatibility?||Lifetime||Included in kit||Brightness||Fitting||Average Price|
|Philips Hue||White & Colour Ambiance Starter Kit||Amazon Alexa, Apple Homekit and Google Home||25,000 hours||3 x Bulbs, Bridge, Dimmer Switch||250 lumens @ 4000K||GU10 (PAR16)||£160 – £170|
|Hive||Active Light – 5 Pack Colour Changing||Amazon Echo and Google Home||25,000 hours||3 x bulbs*||806 lumens||Screw or Bayonet||£179 (excludes cost of Hive Hub)|
|LIFX||A60 LED Light 4 Pack||Amazon Alexa, Apple Homekit and Google Home||25,000 hours||4 x bulbs (no other hardware needed)||1100 lumens||E27 Screw or B22 Bayone||£190 – £215|
*To install Hive Active Lights and other Hive smart devices you will need to have a Hive Hub in your home which costs around £80 – £100.
Can they save me money?
Smart light bulbs will cost more than traditional bulbs, but they last longer. While the average light bulb has a lifespan of between 1,000 – 2,000 hours, smart bulb manufacturers such as Philips Hue claim their bulbs could last as long as 25,000 hours. That means they could still be working in 20 years based on an average use of 3 hours a day.
The convenience of a smart bulb is a big factor when it comes to saving energy. Being able to control them via an app on your phone means that when you do leave a light on accidentally, you can sort it out instantly from wherever you are, even if you’re no longer at home. In some cases, you can set the lights to respond to motion sensors so if a room has been empty for some time it will switch off automatically. A smart bulb with a dimming function will mean you use less power.
What are smart plugs and sockets?
A smart plug or socket is plugged into a standard wall socket like a power adapter; any appliance you then plug into this smart socket can be controlled via an app like any other smart device. This means turning it on or off remotely, programming it to follow a schedule or respond to triggers. The plug can also automatically turn off appliances left in standby, like the TV, to help you save energy when they’re not in use.
You can use a smart plug or socket with lamps, TVs, fans, kettles and much more. Away from home at night and concerned about security? Turn on the lamp in the lounge. Fancy coming down in the morning to an already boiled kettle? Schedule it to turn on before you’ve stepped out of bed. Or, our favourite, prepare a slow cooker meal in the morning and turn it on at lunchtime from your desk at work.
Which brands are the most popular?
|Smart Plug||Voice Control Compatibility?||System Requirements||Average Price|
|Belkin Wemo Insight Switch||Amazon Echo||Wi-Fi® router Android 4.1 or later, iOS 8 or higher, Max power 15 A / 1800W||£40 – £90|
|Elgato Eve||Apple HomePod or Apple TV||iOS 11.2 or higher, Max power 13 A / 2500W||£35 – £85|
|Hive Active Plug||Amazon Echo and Google Home||Max power 13 A / 3000W||£25 – £40|
Can smart plugs and sockets save me money?
Smart plugs turn pretty much any appliance into a smart device so you can control it from an app anywhere in the world. They will also turn off appliances when they’re not in use so you don’t have appliances consuming energy in stand-by.
In addition, some types of smart plug such as the Belkin Wemo Insight Switch will tell you exactly how much energy your appliances use so you can identify the ones which cost you the most to use. You can then either try to use the appliance less or replace with a more energy efficient version.
Virtual home assistants are also referred to as home hubs or smart speakers and are becoming more and more affordable for the average homeowner. When combined with smart devices, they can add yet another level of convenience in your quest for home energy efficiency.
A virtual home assistant will respond to voice commands. Ask it a question, tell it to play a song or check your diary and it will oblige. If you have other compatible smart devices in your home you can tell it to dim the lights, turn the washing machine on or turn the heating down. It may see like a futuristic novelty, but these virtual assistants make controlling our appliances – and therefore our energy use – easier than ever before.
Which are the most popular virtual assistant options?
|Virtual Assistant / Smart Speaker||Supported Operating Systems||Audio||Average Price|
|Google Home||Android or iOS||High-excursion speaker with 2″ driver and dual 2″ passive radiators Dual microphones Far-field voice recognition supports hands-free use||£129|
|Google Mini||Android or iOS||360 sound with 40-mm driver speaker, Far-field voice recognition supports hands-free use||£49|
|Amazon Echo||Fire OS, Android and iOS||2.5” woofer and 0.6” tweeter||£65 – £90|
|Amazon Echo Dot||Fire OS, Android and iOS||0.6″ tweeter||£30 – £50|
The leading brands in voice control virtual assistants are Google Home and Amazon Echo. Google currently offers 2 speakers which use the simply named Google Voice Assistant: the Google Home or the smaller Google Mini. Amazon’s answer to the Google Home is the Amazon Echo which uses a voice control system called Alexa. The Echo Dot is a smaller, cheaper version of the Echo.
Amazon also offer the Echo Plus which has a built-in Zigbee hub, so any Zigbee enabled products you have can communicate with each other. Finally, there’s the Echo Show; this is a touchscreen which can be added on to an Echo for viewing visual content like a security camera feed.
Remember: Before you decide which smart speaker you want in your smart home, keep in mind that not all devices are compatible with all speakers.
It’s true that simply introducing smart technology into your home won’t improve your energy efficiency overnight. A large part of the appeal is the convenience of controlling all our technology from an app, wherever we are in the world, and programming our appliances to fit our schedule. Having an already boiled kettle ready for us when we get up, walking into an already toasty warm home after work and ‘telling’ our appliances what to do are all luxuries.
However, smart devices are also tools which, if we want to use them, can help us reduce our energy use by giving us a greater level of understanding and control. We can now track exactly how much energy is wasted when we forget to turn the bedroom light off, leave the heating on or the TV in standby, and can turn them off when we’re on the train to work. By automating lights, appliances and heating to respond to our movements we know they will only be using energy when we want them to.
We’ve always been in control of our energy use, but smart home automation has made it easier than ever before to use less. In short, we have no more excuses!