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How to save on utility bills with 4 smart home devices

You've seen it on the news, and at the store, and likely can feel it in your wallet: Times are tight. These gadgets will give a whole new meaning to being smart about your money, and help you save on utility bills.
Written by Maria Diaz, Staff Writer
Closeup of woman's hand holding smartphone and setting up intelligent home system, remote-controlling the thermostat of smart air-conditioner in the living room of her smart home. Smart living. Lifestyle and technology - stock photo
d3sign/Getty Images

It may sound counterintuitive that smart home devices could save you money. People associate smart devices with high expenses and, though it is true that many popular smart devices will initially cost more than a "dumb" alternative, the money you can save in utility bills can offset that cost in a matter of months. 

As of August, the price for utility gas had risen by 25% in the US compared with the year prior, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. And with electricity costs being up by 14% in the same time, inflation, and the prospect of a recession, not to mention increasing grocery costs, people are feeling the pressure.

There are small changes we can all make to ensure that we're saving as much energy as possible, both for the health of the planet and for the health of our bank accounts. Implementing these changes can have an impact on your utility bills within just a few months.

Also: The future of money. These innovations will change how we shop, spend, and save

How to save on utility bills with 4 smart home devices

1. A smart thermostat

Kiss the thermostat wars goodbye for good with a smart upgrade. The startup cost for a smart thermostat can range from around $100 to $300, but the return can easily make it well worth it. Besides, you may be able to get a rebate on an upgrade to a smart thermostat. 

A smart thermostat means you'll never have to worry if you forgot to turn down your AC before you left the house and instead will be able to do it right from your phone. Or take advantage of the option to set scenes and automations to run without you having to think about them.

Did you know a change as simple as setting your thermostat 7 to 10 degrees off its usual setting for 8 hours a day can save you up to 10% a year on gas and electric?

This doesn't have to translate to discomfort either. If you work outside the home during the day, you don't really need your home to stay at 72° while you're gone. Letting it go to 80° in the warm months and 62° in the winter while you're away from home can make a big difference at the bottom line. And a smart thermostat can do this for you automatically.

With AlexaGoogle, or HomeKit you can set your smart thermostat to adjust the temperature automatically on a schedule, or on a trigger such when you say, for example, "Alexa, I'm going to work."

Here are some good options to choose from:

Also: Nest Learning Thermostat vs Nest Thermostat: Which is right for you?

2. Smart lightbulbs

You may be familiar with that stereotype of the budget-conscious dad going around the house turning off the lights. It's me, I'm that dad. 

This is where smart lightbulbs truly shine, pun intended: LED lightbulbs are the most energy-conscious lighting option. All of the options below are LED bulbs, and can fit right in to replace a standard lightbulb in your home. 

Aside from upgrading to LED lights, a smart lightbulb means never forgetting what lights were left on, as this information is always on your phone. Smart lights can also be put on a schedule, so you can have them all turn off at 11 pm each night, for example, and never accidentally leave a light on.

Though different smart devices can be expensive, there are quite a lot of affordable smart lights on the market that perform extremely well. And if you don't want to spend too much to get started, you can also determine which lights are the most used -- or, in my case, which ones are the ones I always forget to turn off -- and start by replacing those with smart bulbs. 

Also: How to set up motion-triggered smart lights as an Alexa routine

Lumens and consumption

LED lights consume 75% less energy than standard incandescent bulbs on average. We used to look at wattage when buying an incandescent bulb to get an idea of the brightness we could expect from it. 

But for LEDs, the metric you want to keep an eye on is lumens, the unit that measures a bulb's brightness. The higher its lumens, the brighter the light. An incandescent bulb and an LED bulb can have the same lumen quantity, but the LED one can consume up to about 80% less watts for the same brightness.

A common 60W incandescent bulb typically has an 800-lumen brightness. But the same 800-lumen brightness can be achieved with an LED bulb that only consumes 9W. 

A wide gamut of smart bulbs can give you these benefits in different price ranges:

3. Smart outlets or plugs

Smart plugs or outlets can bring you the most control of energy consumption because they're attached straight at the source.

A smart outlet replaces the existing outlet in your home, but a smart plug you simply plug in, no wiring required.

Either way you go, the benefits of a smart plug or outlet are undeniable: You can set light schedules, triggers, and scenes and automations, and always see which lights are on right from your mobile device. 

And some of these devices offer energy monitoring options, so you can see historical and real-time data on how much energy is consumed by what you have plugged into it. 

Also: I got the $3.49 smart plug on Prime Day, here's how it went

Instead of smart outlets and plugs, you can also get smart switches and smart power strips to serve the same purpose.

4. An IR/RF blaster

This is one of those little devices that can make your existing dumb devices smarter at a low cost. An IR/IF blaster can connect to both your mobile device and your remote-controlled appliances like pedestal or ceiling fans, fireplaces, portable AC units, and blinds. 

With an app in your mobile device you can control these dumb devices from wherever you are, as the blaster will effectively replace the individual remote controls.

Review: Broadlink RM4 Pro: Make your home smarter for less than $50

And many blasters on the market can also set up scenes and automations, such as one to turn off any ceiling fans you may have forgotten to switch off in your living room each night.

I'm a fan of saving money whenever I can. As the family budgeter, I've seen how the prices of everything we buy at the store have risen, and don't even get me started on fuel, gas, and electric bills. Though these smart devices incur an upfront cost, the savings from using them could well be worth the investment.


Do smart thermostats save money if you are always home?

Smart thermostats can absolutely save you money even if you are always home. Though it's recommended people set up their thermostats down 7-10 degrees for 8 hours a day, typically while at work, you can also do this at night while you sleep.

Even having a setting to automatically turn it down a couple degrees every night can help you see some savings.

Do smart lights use energy when they're off?

There's good news and bad news on this. The bad news is that smart bulbs do consume energy even when they're off. This is because they need to stay connected to a hub or your phone in order to work on demand. The good news is that the energy consumption on stand-by mode is only a few cents a month: roughly 1 to 18 cents a month, depending on the brand.

Do smart thermostats know when I'm away?

Depending on the brand, a smart thermostat will likely have a setting in your phone where you can tell it to track your location and change settings or go into Eco mode when it detects you've left the house. This helps keep your heating and cooling system working efficiently, reducing your energy bills.

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