March, 2008
Inspection News and Views from the American Society of Home Inspectors

Automated for Efficiency


The following information is provided with permission by Smart HomeOwner, a consumer publication that describes itself as providing innovative solutions for creating efficient, healthy, eco-friendly homes. Here consumers were advised they could use home automation devices to shave dollars off their energy bills.

Automated energy-saving devices run the gamut from the basic (programmable thermostats and lighting controls) to the sophisticated (whole-house systems operated by a computer). They can monitor your home and make adjustments to the heating and cooling systems, as well as lighting, based on predetermined criteria or information provided by sensors located throughout the house.

Today, we see systems that are a fraction of what they cost even four years ago, yet they offer the same or even better functionality, says Craig Slawson, president of Convergent Living, a Colorado-based manufacturer of CorAccess Companion home management panels.

Options for managing energy

Since the HVAC system is the biggest energy consumer in the home, any device that automates its operation will translate to savings on your energy bill, says William T. Schafer, director of product and channel development for New Jersey-based Crestron Electronics, which manufacturers home automation equipment. He divides residential energy management systems into three categories:

1) Individual control devices
Essentially thermostats, these devices are programmable and inexpensive, but they don’t take advantage of data and events collected from other systems, nor do they react in concert with other systems. Without that interaction, the benefits of these devices are limited.

2) Distributed control systems

These systems enable the homeowner to program and manage multiple heating/cooling zones from a single controller. They offer more options than individual control devices, but lack the ability to communicate fully with other systems in the home.

3) Centrally controlled systems

These whole-house systems, managed via a touch pad, remote control, PC or similar device, integrate a variety of components and systems, such as lighting and irrigation in addition to the HVAC system, and they use data collected from sensors and systems throughout the home to make adjustments to maximize energy efficiency and comfort.

With automated systems, you can preset a certain temperature level or event to trigger system activity for HVAC and lighting on an as-needed basis for instance, programming the system to activate the uninhabited mode at a preset time.

At the same time, the built-in brain will monitor data recorded in the house and make any necessary adjustments to account for unexpected changes. Add remote operation, and homeowners can manage heating and cooling settings while at work or before they arrive home.

The cost factor

Even the most basic device, a programmable thermostat, can cut energy costs. Programming to set the temperature back 10 to 15 percent for eight hours a day (from 72 to 65 degrees F, for example), you can save up to 15 percent a year on your heating bill, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. Combining conditional events, like occupancy detectors and seasonal shifts of schedules with heating/cooling control can push that figure higher, says Bruce Wiens, Honeywell’s vice president of residential control systems.

Add automation to your irrigation system, and you can save even more, notes Joe Lautner, vice president of marketing and sales for HomeLogic. Lighting controls, although harder to quantify, support the overall energy savings goal by controlling lighting by time of day, as well as by events, such as sunrise and sunset.

Add it all up, and the financial returns on investment can range from 20 to 50 percent annually, which means a system would pay for itself in two to five years.

Typical systems

When integrating a home automation system into a new or existing home, you want to evaluate the initial cost, the expected return on investment, the ability to upgrade or expand the system, and ease of use. This last criterion is arguably the most important, because a system that’s too difficult or complicated to use will most likely be left in the off mode. Here’s a quick rundown of some of the systems available today.


The EnergyCite EMS-2020 system enables homeowners to establish an energy budget and then monitor energy use to stay within the budget. Using wireless remote sensors located in the power meter, natural gas meter, water meter or propane tank, the system displays electrical, natural gas or propane consumption on a control panel, which can be wall-mounted or set on a counter top.

Usage is displayed in accumulated dollars and cents, or real-time cents per minute. Homeowners can either manually adjust energy settings or install optional remote control devices, so the system can manage energy use automatically. Studies have shown that energy savings of 15 percent or more occur when homeowners have information that enables them to make informed decisions on how and when to use power, according to the company.


Climate control is an integral part of HAI’s home automation product line, which includes Omnistat programmable digital thermostats. You can use the thermostats to program your heating, cooling and ventilation system for maximum efficiency. Easy to install and use, the thermostats operate independently or as part of HAI’s OmniPro II home automation system, so they can be controlled locally or remotely.

Thermostats are available for controlling single- and two-stage heating and cooling systems, as well as heat pumps, and can be used with forced air, hydronic heat, radiant heat and steam systems. Both hard-wired and wireless options are available.

With additional options, you also can control lighting, irrigation, security, audio, home theater and more. HomeSeer With HomeSeer Technologies software and hardware like the Pro-100, an automation controller that can be configured and monitored with a standard Web browser on a PC, cell phone, personal digital assistant or Pocket PC,  homeowners can automate heating and cooling systems, as well as lighting, appliances, security and home theater. The automation of heating and cooling systems can be based on triggers, including the time of day, events such as dusk and dawn, or entering or leaving the house.

The system operates over X-10 (wired) or Z-Wave (wireless) protocols, and supports a variety of control and interface devices such as thermostats, remote controls and lamp modules. It also supports voice recognition through open-air microphones, headsets and telephones, so you can talk to your system and tell it what to do.

Convergent Living

Compatible with such devices as HAI’s Omnistat thermostats, the CorAccess Companion touchscreens and control devices are designed to integrate separate automation systems into an easily managed whole-house system. The touchscreen interface makes it simple to manage a multizone heating and cooling system and program energy-saver settings, as well as control lighting, security, multimedia and other systems.


Offering a wide range of hardware and software products, Crestron provides climate control as part of its centrally controlled, integrated automation systems. Using a color touch panel, remote or customized keypad, you can adjust the heating and cooling system, control multiple zones from one location and preset temperature levels. You also can use a PC or personal digital assistant to control the heating and cooling system remotely.

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