Is Energy Efficiency the Most Popular In-Home Automation?

A new study from the Consumer Electronics Association found that energy efficiency technologies are the most popular amongst home automation options in American houses.

Programmable and/or smart thermostats beat out home security and entertainment automation for the top honor, with 47 percent of households saying they had at least one.

The findings, which come from an online survey of about 1000 people, would seem to be a win for energy efficiency. But most of the homes had programmable thermostats, which are often used incorrectly, if at all.

One study from Lawrence Berkley National Laboratory [PDF] found that 89 percent of survey respondents rarely or never used the thermostat to set a weekday or weekend program. Seventy percent were not set at all.

Programmable thermostats have been around for more than 30 years, but a new generation of smart thermostats that connect with smartphones and the Internet make programming far easier. Not only is the interface easier to use but some have algorithms that can learn your household thermal characteristics and daily patterns to help fine-tune settings.

The energy savings for software-based, digital thermostats range from about 15 to 30 percent. But such smart thermostats are still in the minority, with only 12 percent of CEA respondents saying they had one, and even then it was often in conjunction with older thermostats in the home. When old-school programmable thermostats are taken out of consideration, automated home security becomes the most popular technology choice. 

The survey found that saving money was a key motivator when it comes to energy efficiency products, but most people don’t save anything with their programmable thermostats, and the smart thermostat market has been emerging slowly in the past few years despite the potential savings. Energy efficiency has historically been a hard sell, even if it makes sense financially over the long run.

The first generation of two-way digital smart thermostats was often sold through utility channels and the cost was too high. But with the proliferation of smartphones and lower costs, smart thermostats have started to catch on.

The recent popularity has also come from smart-thermostats makers partnering with other players, particularly home security companies and service providers, both of which want to provide end-to-end home automation services for a monthly fee.

Even Nest Labs, which has a smart thermostat that works on a proprietary system, has partnered with some utilities and just launched an application programming interface (API) for developers that want to create smart home apps that run on top of the thermostat. It is also reportedly developing a smoke detector as its second connected home product.

It’s hard to say if a smart smoke detector is the next wave in home automation, and the CEA survey gave mixed signals in terms of what segment will grow the fastest. The study found safety and security are the building blocks of home automation packages, with climate, lighting and appliance controls viewed as “very desirable” but not critical. But the survey also found smart and programmable thermostats were the items that people expressed the highest purchase intent for within the next two years.

Even though connected home offerings are growing, and everyone from your cable provider to your local big box store is selling them, CEA found most consumers still don’t think they have a need for the products. But for products that can provide convenience, peace of mind and a cool factor—just as a smartphone does—the sky could be the limit.

 

Photo: Randi Klett

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