December 9, 2020
The lighting around your home is essential in terms of both practical and aesthetic applications. The simple light bulbs we often take for granted illuminate our homes at night, highlight points of beauty, provide security, and create ambiance.
However, Americans consume a lot of power in their homes, 91 billion kilowatt-hours (kWh) each year, in fact, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Lighting accounts for approximately 6% of a home’s energy consumption.
You can reduce your home energy usage dramatically, however, by taking advantage of smart lighting. While smart bulbs are a great starting point, they aren’t always the best fit for every smart home. This is especially true if you want to incorporate a smart home assistant into your energy-saving smart lighting system. You can program energy-saving light switches, dimmers, and energy-efficient timers via a smart hub or other home energy management system to save energy and increase home security.
Control your lights with smart switches
A smart light switch is an easy way to control home lighting and save energy. You can manage a hard-wired energy-saving light switch from a smartphone app or a smart hub. You can even use voice controls to toggle hard-wired smart light switches.
How smart light switches save energy
Energy-saving light switches typically come with their own smartphone app. Once you’ve installed the necessary app on your phone, you can then turn lights on and off from any location. If you’re unsure if you left a light on after you’ve pulled out of the driveway, all you need to do is check your phone.
The ideal light switches are ones you can program. Programmable lights allow you to set up a schedule that will turn your lights on and off automatically at certain points throughout the day or night. This feature is not only convenient, but it also saves a lot of energy since your lights won’t gobble up kilowatts when nobody is benefiting from the illumination.
How to choose a smart light switch
Single-Pole Smart Switch: Single-pole switches are the most common smart light switch style and are wired to a light fixture via a single physical location. Electricians often use this method in bedrooms and home offices.
Three-way or Four-way Smart Switch: The larger rooms throughout your home may have three- or four-way switches that control one fixture from multiple locations. If this is the case, you don’t need to replace all switches with smart switches. Replacing just one switch with an energy-saving switch will usually do the trick.
Plug-In Smart Switch: Since free-standing floor and table lamps are not typically wired directly into your home’s electrical grid but plugged into wall outlets, you can use a plug-in smart switch to give you control of the light at the outlet level.
Smart dimmer switches are an easy way to save electricity. As with smart light switches, you can pair smart dimmers with smart home assistants, which you can program or control simply by speaking.
How smart dimmers save energy
Without getting too technical, dimmers can adjust the voltage moving through the switch circuit. Higher voltage results in a brighter light. Lowering the voltage reduces the amount of power reaching the light bulb, so the bulb consumes less energy and produces less light.
What types of bulbs do dimmers work with?
Your choice of smart dimmer depends on several considerations. The number of switches controlling the light is a factor, as is the amount of wattage you need. You should also consider the type of dimmer control you prefer and the type of light bulb used in the fixture.
Can you dim all light bulbs?
Technically, yes, you can dim all light bulbs, though several types of bulbs don’t pair well with dimmer switches. Four of the most common types of light bulbs are well suited for use with dimmers. Choose carefully, as the amount of energy these types of bulbs consume varies significantly:
CFLs: Compact fluorescent light bulbs, or CFLs, are highly energy-efficient. However, if you’d like to use these with a dimmer switch, you’ll want to use dimmer-compatible CFLs. CFLs that are not designed for dimmer use will have a shorter life span and may flash or flicker. Non-compatible CFLs will have “not for use with dimmers” marked on the bulb or packaging. Using dimmer-compatible CFLs from the same manufacturer will provide the best results when pairing CFLs with dimmer switches.
LEDs: Light-emitting diode (LED) bulbs are some of the best bulbs for use with dimmer switches, especially if your goal is to reduce the amount of energy your lighting consumes. LEDs consume much less energy compared to other light bulbs. Furthermore, their lifespan extends into multiple decades. Look for LED bulbs designed for use with dimmers, and use them with LED-compatible dimmer switches.
Halogen bulbs: When used with dimmer switches, halogen bulbs consume up to 20% less energy when dimmed. There is, however, a downside: Dimmed halogen bulbs are less efficient, which potentially negates any benefits of using the dimmer switch. Instead of a halogen bulb and dimmer, most homeowners are better off simply replacing the halogen with a lower-wattage bulb.
Incandescent bulbs: You can use incandescent bulbs with dimmers, but don’t expect any energy savings with them: Dimming a 60-watt incandescent bulb to 40 watts requires more energy than merely switching to a 40-watt bulb.
You can also use motion sensors to save lighting energy. Some of the best light switches include smart motion detectors, which send notifications to smart home hubs when lights turn on. This feature increases your home security, as you can set your smart home assistant to push alerts to your phone should motion detectors register suspicious activity when you’re not home.
How motion sensors save energy
Motion sensor lights and light switches save energy by automatically turning off lighting in rooms where they don’t detect activity. You can set many of them to trigger lights in response to human activity so family pets won’t activate the lights.
As useful as motion detectors are, it can be more energy-efficient to switch to CFLs or LEDs in many cases. Even when left on continuously, CFLs and LEDs consume less energy than lights turned on by motion detectors. The U.S. Department of Energy recommends turning off CFLs only if you plan to be out of the room for more than 15 minutes. If you choose to combine CFLs with motion-detecting light switches, set the time limit on the motion detector to at least 15 minutes.
Where to place energy-saving motion sensors
Motion-sensing light switches offer the most energy savings when you use them in locations where family members often leave lights on by accident.
Appropriate places to use motion detectors:
Motion detectors are less useful in high-traffic areas such as kitchens and living rooms where lights tend to operate for extended periods.
Even the best light switches can’t control lights that aren’t wired into your home’s electrical system. If you want to control when the table and floor lamps turn on and off, you can use energy-efficient timers instead.
How smart timers save energy
You should place energy-efficient timers between a wall outlet and plug to turn off the plugged-in item at a specific time. Also known as timer switches, smart energy-efficient timers have multiple uses, but most homeowners use them to turn off devices and lights that have been left on by accident. You can also set timers to turn on lights at predetermined times, such as just before coming home from work.
How to use energy-efficient timer switches
Indoor timers also have a security component: they turn lights on and off in an empty house to scare off potential burglars. Some timers even have random settings so anyone watching the house can’t judge occupancy by repetitive, to-the-minute lighting changes.
Energy-efficient timers have outdoor energy-saving applications as well. They can turn off outdoor lights on set schedules, so lights are only on when you need them. For example, you can use outdoor timer switches to control holiday or patio lights.
Be sure to choose timer switches designed for outdoor use when using them to control outdoor applications — indoor timers won’t be able to resist rain, snow, and other elemental stressors.
Use energy-efficient timers to control:
Hot tubs and pool filters
Outdoor security lights
Small appliances (computers, radios, flatirons, etc.)
Smart plugs offer an easy introduction to smart home devices, even if you don’t own a smart assistant or hub. Turning a floor or table lamp into a smart device is one of the most common uses for smart plugs: Simply plug the smart plug into an outlet, and then plug the lamp into the smart plug.
How smart plugs save energy
Smart plugs control when and how connected appliances use power, allowing you to optimize appliance use and save energy. You can control a smart plug from an app on your phone so you can set timers for appliance use, turn devices on and off from anywhere, and even view how much energy the appliance consumes.
How to use smart plugs around your home
Connecting smart plugs to your most frequently used lights, you can control lighting directly from your phone. Other practical uses for smart plugs include monitoring the energy usage of appliances, turning on coffee pots at specific times, and controlling power flow to appliances that would otherwise continue to use power when not in use, such as gaming consoles and televisions.
Top-of-the-line light switches, smart plugs, timers, and motion detectors all offer smart homes’ energy-saving strategies. Combining intelligent lighting controls with LED or CFL bulbs will further increase your energy savings. As smart homes become the norm, home energy management systems allow homeowners to take full control of how much energy their homes consume while improving their quality of life and home security. Examining your habits and home can help determine which smart devices are best suited to your lifestyle.
For more information regarding the latest home automation equipment and how it works, contact Brinks Home™.
Allison Clark is a senior writer for Brinks Home. She enjoys educating others on the benefits of smart home security and using technology to simplify everyday life.
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