With the recent passage of the federal Inflation Reduction Act, which includes substantial incentives for homeowners to become more energy-efficient, it’s the perfect time to learn how you can make your home smarter with solar and other modern technologies.
Just as our cell phones have transformed from mere calling devices into cameras, calendar planning tools, entertainment consoles, weather stations, and bank tellers, the typical American home is being transformed into something better. As when smartphones first came out, you may wonder if you need such sophisticated technology. The choices can seem overwhelming. Where do you even start?
You start slowly, as we explain. Solar and smart homes are a logical combination. Solar energy makes a smart home more sustainable. Smart home technologies deliver greater value from your solar and storage. So make the transition one step at a time.
The substantial benefits of smart homes are sure to draw you in sooner or later. At a high level, they are:
- Lower energy bills
- Lower carbon footprint
- Greater convenience
- Increased home comfort
- Greater home security.
Let us take you through definitions of the smart home and the “Internet of Things”, examples of smart home functionality, smart home benefits (and drawbacks), combining a smart home with solar and storage, smart home tools and technologies, and even how the Inflation Reduction Act makes smart homes more attractive.
This information is relevant to:
- People with smart homes looking to add solar panels and/or battery storage
- People with solar and/or storage already who want to make their homes smarter
- People who want to make their homes smart and install solar/batteries at the same time.
What is a Smart Home?
The concept of a smart home is simple. It breaks down like this:
- Smart devices and appliances are installed in your home.
- These devices are connected through the Internet so they can share information.
- You can monitor and control the devices locally or remotely, from a computer, tablet or smart phone app and/or through a smart home hub like Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri or Google Assistant.
- As you use them, the devices gather data on what in your home is using energy, how much and when. This allows you to adjust your usage for energy efficiency and cost savings.
- The devices are intelligent and learn the homeowner’s habits over time, allowing them to automate their functions, which also saves energy and money.
Almost any house or apartment can be a smart home, as long as you have reliable wifi. Smart homes come in an endless number of configurations, and can be relatively basic or highly sophisticated.
What is the Internet of Things (IoT)?
In the context of smart homes, the Internet of Things (IoT) is simply a quirky buzzword describing the network of appliances and devices that collect and share usage data and make your home smart.
What are Examples of Smart Home Functionality?
To put this in real-life terms, consider three examples of how a smart home can enhance your lifestyle:
- You have to work later than expected but worry about your dog needing a bathroom break. You contact a neighbor and unlock your front door remotely when he arrives. No key required. One happy puppy.
- You were counting on the forecasted morning rain, but the storm never came. Rather than wait until after work when your vegetables will be parched and wilted, you turn on the sprinkler remotely to save your garden.
- A family emergency arises and you head from work to the airport with no time to stop at home. While you wait to board the plane, you use your smartphone to check your door and window locks, and to set the lights and heat or A/C at the desired settings.
Smart homes aren’t just about the unexpected. They make everyday life easier too. Imagine waking to the perfectly cozy home with lights that pop on as you approach, and coffee brewed and waiting.
You don’t always have to take control. In fact, the goal of many smart devices is that you never have to think about them. These devices have artificial intelligence (AI) so they learn from your habits and schedule, and adjust automatically. So the light over your reading chair turns on when it knows you’re preparing to settle in for your 8 PM read.
What are the Benefits of a Smart Home?
Smart home benefits include lower energy bills, a lower carbon footprint, increased comfort and convenience in your home, and greater home security.
Let’s break that down into more detail.
Information: You’ve heard the saying, “Information is power.” The more you know about your energy use, the better you can manage it.
Control & Customization: Smart homes give you an unprecedented level of control over your home systems and appliances.
Convenience: Your phone is your smart home’s portable controller, giving you remote access whenever you need it. You can use one system to control many or all of the appliances, lights, thermostats and other devices in your home.
Savings: Smart devices and appliances are designed to maximize energy efficiency while keeping you comfortable. They do this by tracking your energy use, which gives you the information you need to better manage that use. And they do that by intelligently adapting based on your lifestyle. Energy efficiency usually translates into lower electric bills (especially if you power your smart home with solar).
Security: Between smart locks, lights and security systems, your home will be that much safer.
Flexibility: Manage your home remotely as needed, set up a schedule, let your device set a schedule, or revert to good old manual control. The choice is yours.
What are the Benefits of a Smart Home with Solar?
If you think about it, driving an emissions-free Electric Vehicle and then charging it with fossil-fueled, pollution-generating electricity from the utility negates to some extent the environmental benefit of using an EV in the first place. Similarly, the green and cost-saving benefits of installing devices and appliances that use less energy is reduced if you power those devices with dirty, expensive utility electricity.
A smart home powered by solar, on the other hand, is a clean, cost-effective and sustainable smart home. Powering your smart home with solar energy just makes sense. For starters, the solar will pay for itself over time while providing these standard benefits:
- Lower electric bills
- Energy independence
- Reduced carbon footprint
- Increased property value.
Residential solar, like smart home devices, is all about wise energy use, clean energy use, and greater control over your energy—where it comes from, what it costs and how you use it.
For many years now, home solar energy systems have come with monitoring for real-time and historical production data tracking. A communication device sends information from the home solar system over the Internet into the cloud where it is available for you to access.
Today, related technologies are offering even greater insight into your solar’s performance. Smarter communication devices like the Enphase IQ Gateway can deliver visualizations of statistics like your system’s environmental impact, and even some control over how the system is working.
Add a smart electrical panel like SPAN and your information and level of control increases again. SPAN tells you at a glance where your home’s energy is coming from (the utility grid, solar, battery), how much energy is being used and which appliances are using it. You can control your home’s electricity use down to the individual circuit breaker. And your home will be better equipped to accommodate additional electric appliances and EVs as the electrification of California’s homes moves forward.
What are the Benefits of a Smart Home with Solar & Storage?
For another leap in functionality, incorporate a battery or energy storage system into your smart home with solar. Citadel installs batteries from companies including Tesla and Enphase.
You’ll get the standard storage benefits of:
- Electricity during a utility power outage.
- Even lower electric bills.
- Reduced carbon footprint because you use less of the utility’s fossil-fueled electricity.
Plus, with the SPAN smart panel, you get improved monitoring and control of your battery’s performance, which translates into greater battery efficiency. During an outage, you can:
- Choose which items are being powered by your battery
- Rely on the smart panel and battery to automatically turn off non-essential appliances, extending your coverage during the outage
- See how long you can run your appliances on the remaining battery charge.
Further, some products like Enphase’s Storm GuardTM application and the Tesla Powerwall’s Storm Watch feature can adjust your solar battery mode in the event of a severe weather alert from the National Weather Service, thus ensuring you have full battery capacity if an outage occurs.
Are There Any Drawbacks of a Smart Home?
Cost can be an issue. Smart home technology ranges from relatively inexpensive DIY products you easily install yourself—like a Nest thermostat, Ring doorbell or Blink camera, to whole-house, custom systems costing tens of thousands of dollars.
HomeAdvisor says the average home automation project costs $791. This HomeAdvisor article gives much more detail on costs, from low to high, based on real homeowner experiences.
Smart homes, because they rely on an Internet connection, often via wifi, can be attractive targets for hackers. Protect yourself from that risk by choosing long, strong passwords and only connecting trusted smart devices to your home. You should also enable auto updates to keep your device software up-to-date as these updates often include security improvements.
What Smart Home Tools & Technologies Are Available?
The list of smart devices and appliances grows every day. The following are available now.
Clothes washers and dryers: We’ve been able to digitally program these household appliances for a while, but smart versions take that to a new level. Smart washers tell you when a load is done, and can initiate periodic spins to keep that horrible mildew smell from sneaking in until you can transfer the clothes to the dryer. Dryers can periodically tumble to minimize wrinkles. If your dryer integrates with the Nest thermostat, Nest will tell the dryer if you’re not home, so it knows to conduct occasional tumbles until you arrive.
Doorbells: A smart doorbell records video when someone approaches or other movement is detected. Not home? Use your phone to see who’s at your door and decide whether or not to let them in. With some devices, you can even talk to them remotely.
Garage doors: Whether a new smart garage door or a retrofit to your existing door, smart functionality includes the ability to check whether the door is open or shut, and to open and shut it remotely.
Heating and A/C: Smart thermostats know when to turn off and on based on the surrounding temperature and humidity. And they know what temperature to set themselves to. Those with AI learn when you tend to leave home and return, and your preferred temperature, and adjust accordingly. No more fighting with a programmable thermostat!
Lights: Set your smart lights to go on and off on a particular schedule, or based on the light coming into the home. Set them to turn on when you enter a room, and off when you leave. Smart light bulbs let you change the color they emit. And automatic blinds can open and closed based on the amount of sunlight hitting them.
Switches, outlets and plugs: Replace your light switches with smart ones to control your home lighting with your voice or phone app. Smart plugs that go into your existing outlets, and smart outlets that replace your existing outlets, offer automation, energy use monitoring, and voice commands.
Locks: Smart door and window locks can be set remotely. No more panicking that you left the front door open when you rushed out. Keyless locks use keypads; you can share your access code as you wish, and easily change it as needed, giving you greater control over who enters your home and when.
Ovens: Connecting your oven to Wifi may sound strange, but it allows you to control it remotely or by voice. Some can integrate with recipe sites, some offer multiple cooking spaces for different temperatures, and some offer different technologies like convection and infrared.
Refrigerators: A smart refrigerator offers greater control over temperatures and power consumption, reducing your risk of frozen lettuce and other undesirable outcomes. Some let you check what’s inside from your phone—a big help when you make an unplanned stop at the grocery store.
Security systems: Smart security cameras sense and track motion, capture that activity on video, and provide a live feed you can view remotely on a phone, tablet or computer. Some can be sync’d to turn on when someone rings your doorbell.
Smart Homes and the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA)
What does federal legislation have to do with you and your home? Some of the IRA’s provisions to combat climate change include discounts, rebates and tax credits making it easier for American homeowners to install energy-efficient appliances.
- Heat pump water heaters
- Heat pump air conditioners/heaters (also called air source heat pumps, or mini-splits)
- Heat pump clothes dryers
- Electric stoves and ovens including high-performance induction models
- Electrical panel upgrades like smart panels
- Electrical wiring related to these improvements
Some of these products now come in “smart” versions.
IRA incentives also apply to new and used electric cars. And the tax credit for solar energy and energy storage systems was bumped up to 30%.
Now, more than ever, it pays to be green.
Should My Smart Home be Wireless or Wired?
Smart home systems can operate wirelessly or they can be hardwired. Each has pros and cons.
Wireless is cost-effective and easier to install. But you’ll need excellent Wifi coverage throughout your house.
A hardwired system can be more reliable and more difficult to hack. Plus it can increase your home’s resale value. But it costs substantially more than a wireless system.
Making Your Home Smart Without Losing Your Mind
Start researching smart home products and you may feel you’ve dropped down a rabbit hole. So many options exist that it can be overwhelming. But never fear. Smart technology is a home improvement you can embark on piecemeal.
Nearly every expert out there recommends starting small, not only to minimize the initial cost, but also to give you time to learn at a manageable pace. If you’re one of those people who loves massive changes that require study and practice to master, by all means go for the whole enchilada now. But if you’re like most of us, learning curves can be annoying and time-consuming.
Dabble with a few individual products to start. Good options include a home assistant, thermostat, doorbell or security camera. Once you’re comfortable with that, add another device. This incremental approach will save you money and aggravation. Ultimately, it will help you get maximum benefit and enjoyment from your smart home.
Whether you’re adding solar to a smart home, or making your home with solar smarter, solar and smart home technologies are a great combination. Solar-related equipment like inverters, batteries and electrical panels get smarter all the time. Smart technologies including the SPAN smart panel and the Enphase IQ Gateway give you even greater insight into your solar production. Greater control over your home’s energy use helps you get maximum value from your solar energy and batteries. And solar makes your smart home clean and green as well.
Contact the solar professionals at Citadel Roofing & Solar to discuss your smart home solar goals. We’ll analyze not only your solar requirements but also the best way to integrate solar and batteries into your smart home.
Wherever you’re at in your solar or smart home journey, jump on in and get started. You’ll be amazed at what you can do, and manage, and save, with a smart home and solar. Once you get comfortable with one or two devices, the sky’s the limit.
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