Smart Home

Best energy saving devices to keep your utility bills down

People around the world are dealing with the effects of working from home and sheltering in place amid the coronavirus pandemic. If you’re home 24/7, your utilities could double or even triple, depending on how much time you’d spend at the office or out to dinner under normal circumstances. 

Chances are, you’re using more lights, electricity and climate control while you work, make lunch and binge terrible movies on Amazon Prime. All that adds up to higher bills. Whether it’s a smart light bulb or a water-saving, low-flow showerhead, there are devices that can help you save money across your utilities. Here are a few options we think are worth the Wi-Fi. 

Lights

With or without the smarts, LED bulbs are far more efficient than old-school incandescents. If you want to save big on your electric bill, LED bulbs are a great place to start. If you’re ready to jump into smart bulbs, there are plenty of affordable options out there these days. 

Use a schedule to make sure the right lights are on or off during the day. If you don’t need a schedule, you can still use Alexa and Google Assistant integrations to turn off that kitchen light you forgot about from your phone or smart speaker from anywhere in your house or where you have an internet connection. 

Philips Hue bridges and bulbs still set the standard for a reliable, scalable smart lighting. A starter kit with two white bulbs and the required Hue bridge costs $70 (you could also opt for the $100 four-bulb and bridge package). From there, you can add bulbs for as little as $15 each. 

The Hue app allows you to control these bulbs remotely, set schedules, create scenes and more. Read our complete guide to Philips Hue for a deeper dive into this robust collection of smart lights. 

Read more.

Thermostats

If this were Family Feud, smart thermostats would be the number one answer on the board when it comes to energy savings, and for good reason. These connected thermostats manage your HVAC system with several extra features you won’t get in an unconnected model.

You can set temperature thresholds appropriate for the season, as well as Home and Away temperatures that adjust automatically based on whether your mobile device is present via location data. If you can only do one thing to make your home smarter and more energy conscious, a thermostat is a great choice. 

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Google Nest is in its third round of smart thermostats. The $249 third-gen Nest Learning Thermostat boasts a larger display, a better resolution and a far-field sensor for viewing time and temperature from farther away than previous models.

This thermostat works with Google Assistant and Alexa for voice commands and smart-home integration. You can also pick up a battery-powered temperature sensor (sold-separately) to pinpoint the climate in your most frequently used rooms.

Read our Nest Learning Thermostat Third Generation review.

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Like Google Nest, Ecobee has continued to gradually improve its smart thermostats. The latest, the Ecobee SmartThermostat with Voice Control costs $249 including one temperature sensor.  

That price is high, but Ecobee added features like a nicer looking glass finish, support for 5GHz connectivity, better Alexa integration with digital microphones, improved speaker quality and a redesigned temperature sensor. 

This is the thermostat for you if you’re a fan of Alexa, because Amazon’s smart assistant is built right in. 

Read our Ecobee SmartThermostat with Voice Control review.

Smart plugs 

Like smart lights, smart plugs can automatically turn on and off on a schedule, monitor energy consumption and create scenes. Plug in any gadget or small appliance you’d normally use in a wall outlet, and a smart plug will bring it online. If you’re specifically interested in conserving power, not just automation, be sure to select a plug that includes energy monitoring. 

Chris Monroe/CNET

TP-Link’s Kasa Smart Wi-Fi Plug with Energy Monitoring is a bit bulky, I’ll admit. However, behind the bulk is a quality plug with great energy monitoring, scheduling, timing and customization options through the Kasa app. 

The app is easy to set up, simple to use and comes with every feature you would need to control a gadget or small appliance. You can buy plugs in two-packs for $40 and you won’t need a hub or bridge to get started, just a solid 2.4GHz wireless connection.

This isn’t CNET’s favorite TP-Link plug, but it has the best energy settings. For anyone who can live without energy consumption details, we’d recommend the smaller TP-Link Kasa Smart Wi-Fi Plug Mini.

Read our Kasa Smart Wi-Fi Plug with Energy Monitoring review.

Motion sensors

If you already own smart lights or are ready to set up your first bulbs, consider adding a compatible motion sensor. A good motion sensor, like the options below, can turn lights on or off. You’ll be able to turn on a hallway or bathroom light when someone walks by at night or turn off all the living room lights when no motion has been detected. 

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

The Philips Hue Motion Sensor works with the Hue line of smart lights via the Hue app for iOS or Android. What’s nice about this sensor is that Hue has included a daylight sensor. That means the device can detect when there’s still enough daylight to light a space and make sure there aren’t lights on unnecessarily.

The motion sensor runs on two AAA batteries and you can pair up to a dozen of them with your Philips Hue Bridge. Mount in a variety of ways, including an option magnet included in the box. 

Read our Philips Hue Motion Sensor preview.

Samsung SmartThings

The SmartThings system isn’t for everyone. You’ll really need to buy into it to get the full benefits. That means a $70 hub, this $25 motion sensor and any compatible bulbs and devices you’d like to turn on or off.

The motion sensor sits on a ball joint, so you can move it around for the perfect angle. As with the Hue sensor, it can turn lights on or off based on motion or lack thereof. With all SmartThings all the time, you can get a pretty good setup going. The system is also compatible with Google Assistant and Alexa for voice commands. 

Read more.

Smart routers

If everyone in your house is streaming games, moves, music, video conferences and school lessons, things are going to get rough. A router that can handle the load and help you manage specific devices is a great idea. 

With a built-in Google Assistant speaker, Nest Wifi is a great pick for family Wi-Fi management. It’s also a fast mesh system with a simple setup and plenty of controls in the Google Home app. The second generation costs $269 for a router and one mesh extender called a Point, and prices go up from there depending on how many you’ll need for your square footage. Those extenders are where you’ll find the built-in speaker.

You can ask Google to turn off Wi-Fi, set schedules, prioritize gaming traffic and more. If you’re looking for a mesh system with smarts and customization options galore, Nest Wifi is a solid choice. 

Read our Nest Wifi review.

Smart sprinklers

Spring is here and that means lawn care is probably back to the top of your to do list. Smart sprinklers are one way to save water when your grass gets thirsty. With connectivity and management apps you can schedule watering and even automatically delay it if rain is in the forecast. If water consumption in your home has gone up now that there are more people there during the day, putting some smarts around your lawn watering is a great way to help minimize usage.

Rachio

Rachio 3 replaces the controller for your in-ground sprinklers. It’s a great way to keep your lawn maintenance on a routine. Rachio watches your local weather, too. If you normally water your lawn on Tuesday mornings, but there is a forecasted thunderstorm this Tuesday, Rachio won’t run. That upgrade will keep you from using water when you don’t need it. 

Rachio 3 also has a flow meter built in that not only knows exactly how much water your lawn is getting, but will shut down the sprinkler if a leak is detected. 

Read our Rachio 3 Smart Sprinkler Controller preview.

Chris Monroe/CNET

This budget smart sprinkler system has an app that will watch the weather and schedule the sprinklers for you. You can also control sprinklers with Alexa voice controls through B-Hyve’s Alexa skill. 

Sure, the large dial, big buttons and clunky LCD display might not scream “smart home chic”, but for an affordable outdoor device, the Orbit B-Hyve gets the job done well. 

Read our Orbit B-hyve review.

Smart home products make our lives easier, more automated and in the case of these devices more energy efficient. Adding just a smart thermostat can make a big difference. Smart lights and plugs are a great way to go, too. No matter how you start your energy-saving smart home, the benefits are sure to add up. 

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