Reducing Home Energy

February 27, 2009
The Integrator’s Integral Role In The Greening Of America

The residential systems industry, which has long been acclaimed for supplying expensive toys to rich people, has the opportunity to “take responsibility” and heed the call of our 44th president by contributing to the greening of America.

What can we do specifically to reduce our nation’s reliance on fossil fuels? Consider the opulent lifestyle of our wealthy
This touchscreen page
This touchscreen page provides a client with the ability to select different energy conservation modes within their home.
clients. I would venture a bet that the entire house is kept at a comfortable temperature even though our clients only live in only a few rooms at a time, if they are even home at all. Energy-sucking flat-panel displays provide nothing more than background noise in many rooms throughout the house on any given night. Yet, these are citizens who, given the opportunity to be environmentally conscious, will typically choose to reduce their carbon footprint. And it is our responsibility to show them the way, which may, in turn, lead to our survival and prosperity as a business.

There are three product categories that stand out as having the most impact on the environment. First, digital amplifiers are vastly more efficient than conventional class A/B amplifiers and convert up to 90 percent of the input power into output power. The net result is a reduction in power consumption by amplifiers in the home of 60 percent or more.

Second, flat-panel display technology continues its progression toward increasingly lower energy consumption levels, as well. While LCDs with a CCFL (cold cathode fluorescent) backlight source are about 50-percent more energy efficient than plasma displays, new LED-backlit LCD displays are an estimated 25 percent more efficient that that.

Last, we have the issue of energy vampires—all of those components, chargers, and power supplies in the home that continually draw power while not in use or in standby mode. A new category of smart power strips and IP-based power controllers allow us to minimize energy consumption resulting from unused electronics.

Those of us who are involved in systems integration already have a sensor and control network running throughout our clients’ homes. As an integral part of that network, the integrated controller maintains control of the on/off state and output level of the heating and cooling system, lights, motorized window treatments, audio and video equipment, pools, spas, fountains, and more. In fact, other than the appliances in the home, the integrated controller orchestrates what energy is consumed, when, and to what degree.

As a starting point, you may want to consider hiring a specialist to perform an energy audit. Acting as a consultant, it is then incumbent upon the systems integrator to inform his/her client of the control and automation options available to meet that objective and to work with them to establish energy conservation profiles (or modes) that are selectable from a touchscreen.

Because studies show that heating and cooling systems account for approximately 50 percent of the energy usage in the average American home, this is the logical place to start. In addition to programmable thermostats, the alarm system’s arm/disarm status and properly placed occupancy sensors throughout the house can serve as triggers for properly heating and cooling areas that are occupied, unoccupied, and
Randy Stearns

In addition to alarm status and occupancy, daylight sensors can contribute to the automation of lights and sunshades to optimally harvest daylight, dim or extinguish lights in unoccupied and unused areas of the home and property, and adjust sunshades to create desired solar (heat) gain in the winter and prevent it in the summer.

To complete your clients’ energy conservation profiles, TVs, audio zones, and other electronics should be programmed to not only turn off, but also be powered off, when the alarm system is armed or rooms become unoccupied for some designated period of time. Lastly, pool pumps, fountains, and other such motor loads should be programmed for minimal use when in conservation mode.

Before offering these solutions to your clients, take the precaution of developing sample code in-house (or through an outsourced programming firm) and performing ample testing to verify that what you plan to offer your clients is achievable. Unmet promises can result in damaging your client relationships and your firm’s reputation.

Randy Stearns (randys@ is president of Alameda, California-based Engineered Environments.

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