“More than half of a home’s energy costs comes from heating and cooling. Fortunately, there are ways to control those costs and keep cool this summer—and they don’t involve removing your clothes.”
Managing a thermostat creates a certain rhythm in the house. In an attempt to save both energy and costs, we adjust the thermostat to one setting while we’re away and to another while we’re home. Thermostats that can be controlled through a smartphone, laptop, or tablet are a growing trend.
Programmable thermostats offer great bang for the buck in terms of the amount it can help homeowners save on energy costs over time. But for those with in-slab radiant-heat systems, the slow response time would lead some people to believe that a programmable thermostat might not have an integral role. Not so. Thankfully, today’s smart thermostats can track the performance of your heat system to determine when to turn it on in order to achieve comfortable temperatures at your programmed time, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.
The Nest thermostat, created by ex-Apple designers, retails for $250 and tracks the temperatures you set while guiding you to more energy-efficient ones. The Auto-Away feature can sense when you’re not home and will lower the temperature, saving energy. You can also check the ‘Energy History’ display to see how much you saved.
With heating and cooling accounting for approximately 50 percent—or more than $1,000 per year—of the average household energy bill, Nest can make a noticeable difference by helping reduce energy consumption. You can connect it to your home’s Wi-Fi to control it from your laptop, smartphone, or tablet. There’s something to be said about adjusting your home’s temperature to a comfortable setting when you’re on your way home from work.
Lennox’s new icomfort Wi-Fi thermostat (released in April 2012) sets temperature levels for various times of the day, pesters you when the filter needs changing or the furnace needs servicing, and provides a weather forecast. Cost without installation is about $350, compared with less than $100 for a traditional programmable thermostat.
Many homeowners are now automating their window coverings to help manage energy usage efficiently. In winter, for example, shades should be closed for insulation except when direct sunlight provides solar heat. Motorization and automation of window coverings makes accurate timing possible, which maximizes energy efficiency and related cost savings—and effectively reduces the home’s carbon footprint, as well, according to Bart San Diego, owner of Rebarts Interiors in Burlingame.
San Diego favors motorized window coverings by Hunter Douglas. The coverings can be controlled via a contemporary wall switch with an optional remote or through any home-automation system. Prices vary by the complexity of the system, the size and number of window treatments installed, and the fabric used on the window treatments.
There are a lot of theater-in-a-box systems available at electronic stores, but if you’re a movie junkie, your home’s audio-visual experience should be best left to the pros. They can make recommendations on the largest display your media room can comfortably handle (not many have the space or the stomach for a 152-inch Panasonic that retails for $499,000), how to hide that screen when it’s not in use, and how to create that earth-shaking surround-sound system.
The best home-theater system should be a breeze to operate, and that feature takes a bit of effort to get programmed correctly. If you don’t have a tech-savvy teenager or an AV geek in the family, your best bet is to hire out.
“Some of the popular mid- to high-end control options are Crestron, AMX, Control4, and Savant,” Christian says. “All four of these brands will also let you use your Apple iPhone, iPod Touch, or iPad as a touchscreen control, too, but there are some limitations of using these as your primary remote control.”