Home lighting has important practical and aesthetic applications. We use lighting to brighten our homes at night, to focus attention, for security and to create atmosphere. As a nation, Americans consume a significant amount of power to light our homes — about 91 billion kilowatt-hours (kWh) a year, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Lighting accounts for approximately 6% of a home’s energy consumption.
The emergence of the smart home has made it possible to take full control of home lighting while reducing energy use. Smart bulbs can control individual lights, but they aren’t the best solution for everyone, especially homeowners who want to integrate their energy-saving smart lighting with a smart home assistant. Luckily, there are alternatives.
Energy-efficient timers, dimmers and energy-saving light switches can be programmed through a smart hub or through a home energy management system, like Constellation Connect, to save energy and increase home security.
A smart light switch is an easy way to control home lighting and save energy. Once installed, a hard-wired energy-saving light switch can be controlled from a smartphone app or a smart hub. You can even use voice controls to toggle hard-wired smart light switches.
An energy-saving light switch comes with its own smartphone app. Once it’s installed on your phone, you can turn lights on and off from any location. Not sure whether you left the lights on when you left the house? Just check your phone!
The best light switches are programmable, allowing you to set up a schedule, turning lights on and off automatically at certain times of day. Not only is this convenient, but automatic settings also ensure that lights won’t waste energy when there’s no one around to need them.
Smart dimmer switches are an easy way to save electricity. Like smart light switches, smart dimmers can easily be paired with smart home assistants, and these can be programmed or controlled simply by speaking.
Without getting too technical, dimmers are able to adjust the amount of 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.
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.
Technically, yes, all light bulbs can be dimmed, although 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.
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Motion sensors can also be used 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.
Motion sensor lights and light switches save energy by automatically turning off lighting in rooms where no activity is detected. Many can be set to only trigger lights in response to human activity so the family cat won’t be turning on lights as she moves through the house.
As effective as motion detectors are, though, in many cases it’s more energy efficient to switch to CFLs or LEDs. Even when left on constantly, CFLs and LEDs consume less energy than motion detectors.
Pro Tip! 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 do choose to combine CFLs with motion-detecting light switches, set the time limit on the motion detector to at least 15 minutes.
Motion-sensing light switches offer the most energy savings when used in locations where lights are often left on by accident.
Appropriate places to use motion detectors:
Motion detectors are less useful in high-traffic areas such as kitchens and living rooms. Lights in these locations tend to be left on for extended periods of time, so the motion sensor won’t be activated often enough to be worthwhile.
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 table and floor lamps turn on and off, you can use energy-efficient timers instead.
Energy-efficient timers are placed between a wall outlet and plug and can be set to turn off the plugged-in item at a specific time. Also known as timer switches, smart energy-efficient timers have multiple uses, but they are most often used to turn off devices and lights that have been left on by accident. Timers can also be used to turn on lights at predetermined times, such as just before you come home from work.
In addition to turning off forgotten lights, indoor timers also have a security component: You can set them to turn lights on and off in an empty house to scare off potential burglars. Some timers even have randomized 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. Timers can turn off outdoor lights on set schedules, so lights are only on when you need them, and outdoor timer switches are often used 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.
Energy-efficient timers can be used to control:
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.
Smart plugs control when and how connected appliances use power, allowing you to optimize appliance use and save energy. A smart plug is controlled 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.
By connecting smart plugs to your most frequently used lights, you can control lighting directly from your phone. Other common 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.
The best light switches, smart plugs, timers and motion detectors all offer energy-saving strategies for smart homes. Combining smart lighting controls with LED or CFL bulbs further increases your energy savings. As smart homes become the norm, home energy management systems allow homeowners to take full control of how much energy their home consumes while improving their quality of life and home security. Examining your habits and home helps determine which smart devices are best suited to your lifestyle.
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