Whole House Energy Control – Smarter Switches

When I was young (which was, like, EONS ago) my brother and I were the 
energy control devices. Mom and Dad were the energy controllers. Yeah...
 you know what I mean.<br><br><i>"Turn off those doggone lights!"</i> came the fervent instructions from the other room. <i>"Do you think money grows on trees? You're running up the electric bill, you know."</i> Leviton Manufacturing

Steve Maurer, IME

When I was young (which was, like, EONS ago) my brother and I were the energy control devices. Mom and Dad were the energy controllers. Yeah... you know what I mean.

"Turn off those doggone lights!" came the fervent instructions from the other room. "Do you think money grows on trees? You're running up the electric bill, you know."

That was usually Dad. It seemed like he could see through walls or something. Or maybe he just knew his boys. At any rate, we'd shut off the lights on command.

Mom, on the other hand, was different. She'd follow us around, shutting off lights and turning off radios and toys as we left the room.

That was then.

Now, it's much different when it comes to saving energy in the home. In fact, the house has evolved from being just energy efficient into the "smart home" of today. And by smart, I mean super intelligent!

Let's talk lighting, for example. (Dad's favorite issue.) Of course, the lamps' efficiency has increased with the invention of low energy CFLs and LEDs. But, that's not the whole picture any more.

The switches that control them have grown brains of enormous proportions! Sure, I was familiar with manual dimmer switches... have been for a long time. And yes, I understood that not all dimmers worked with the newer lighting technologies, such as LEDs.

Of course, dimming ballasts and drivers for CFLs and LEDs have eased that somewhat. But many dimmers still have to be rated for them.

Enter the next generation of universal dimmers. They work with all three bulb technologies — incandescents, and both dimming CFLs and LEDs.

But wait... there's more.

Even motion detection (the modern-day equivalent of Dad's 'voice commands') has gotten an amazing upgrade. I was familiar with the old-school motion sensors. Motion detection has been around a while. But today's sensor comes in two flavors — occupancy and vacancy.

Occupancy sensors are totally automatic. They turn lights on when you enter, and back off again when you leave. Simple, right?

But vacancy sensors are a whole other ballgame. You manually turn them on when you enter the room. You can even adjust the lighting to suit the activity with a dimming feature.

However, when you leave... they automatically turn them off. And that time can be adjusted, anywhere from 30 seconds to 30 minutes. (Great for those bathrooms breaks or snack runs during commercial breaks.)

If you're a contractor retrofitting an older home, check the specs. Some manufacturers' sensor switches don't even require a neutral wire to operate.

Three-way models allow you to place these occupancy sensors at multiple locations in a circuit. Great for lighting hallways and staircases safely, while still providing the energy savings of automation.

In the next article, we'll discuss even more "techy" automation. But right now, I've got to run to the store and get some of these smart-switches. My granddaughters are getting tall enough to reach up and turn the lights on...


Photo courtesy of Leviton Manufacturing