In the residential custom installation business we typically think of ourselves as experts in audio/video, lighting, computer, and home control systems. Now many of our clients are beginning to ask how much electricity, gas, and water their family is using and how can they best monitor and control this usage. Providing a low-voltage solution to answer these questions can be an extension of the solutions that we now provide our clients, offering the custom electronics integrator an additional revenue source for our total home control solutions.
There are two key components that define these energy and water management solutions. First you need a software platform that can read and display the actual electrical, gas, and water usage in the home (and that properly ties into a home control system that can trigger events to cut the consumption of these services at appropriate times). Second, you need the proper control-wiring infrastructure to measure electrical current, gas, and water usage with a measurement sensor at each of these locations.
Typically, running Cat-5 wire from a control point back to a head-end rack is all the wiring you will needbut the challenge is knowing what points you want to measure. To gather this information accurately, you should develop a detailed questionnaire for your client that asks exactly how much and how detailed the information they want should be about their energy and water utilization. Sample questions about what your clients want to measure may include:
For water usage:
- The water consumption at each toilet, sink, and shower n The irrigation systems water consumption
- The water the pool and/or hot tubs are using
- Exterior hose bib usage
- The current usage at every electrical outlet or just each circuit
- The current supplied from solar PV panels if they are installed
- Lighting loads
- Car charging stations
- Backup generator output
Each of these locations will require running a Cat-5 wire from the head-end control processor to these various locations around the home; some of these will be indoor runs, some will have to be run outdoors. We normally dont think of running Cat-5 wire to toilets, sinks, and shower locations, but we may find ourselves re-thinking our standard wiring run schedules. Until they offer Cat-5 bundled plumbing pipes, we will have to run this wire ourselves.
Once the wiring and sensor infrastructure is in place, we need a control software platform to read, monitor, and display this information. Ideally this software would work with the existing home control platforms that we now install so that there would be a consistent user interface for the homeowner and energy conserving triggering events could be programmed. Two companies that now offer these software tools in the residential market include Agilewaves (www.agilewaves.com) and Lucid Design Group (www.luciddg.com).
Agilewaves now supports Crestron, AMX, and potentially other control companies in the near future. Agilewaves has developed the Resource Monitor, which continuously measures electric, gas, and water consumption of a home or business, calculates its carbon footprint in real-time and makes this information readily available on a wall-mounted touchscreen or a password protected Web page.
Lucid Design group supports Control4 and Crestron. Their Building Dashboard product offers a wide range of options for displaying the performance of a home. Electricity, water, and natural gas consumption, as well as solar electricity production, solar thermal production, rainwater use and grey-water recycling can be displayed in real time, in a single location on their Web-based portal.
At CEDIA EXPO this month I would expect to find a number of additional new entries in this space as our clients demand to know more about the electrical, water, and gas usage in their home and what they can do to control these rising costs. Its in our interest to provide these products and services, not only for our financial bottom line, but also to enhance our reputation as socially responsible companies.