Automating lighting HVAC and fans. Are you seeing a drop in energy use?

So here’s the idea. I am working toward automating my lighting, fans, and HVAC in the house, not to mention a couple of dehumidifiers, all in the name of reducing our energy use by as much as possible.

The thought is, when I lived in Arizona, I would keep my place at 77 deg F cooling and run the fans, and be perfectly comfortable. Here in coastal Texas with the steamy humidity, I get pretty uncomfortable if the AC isn’t set below 72, and it is costing me a fortune to run.

The idea is, at a given RH level indoors, kick on the dehumidifiers, at a given temp, turn on the ceiling fan to low, then a couple of deg higher, medium, and so on, until the AC has to kick on to maintain comfort. I know ceiling fans are a LOT cheaper to run than an air conditioner…

Likewise, in certian spaces, kitchen, laundry room, garage workshop, bathroms, they are short time use spaces that should have some sort of motion detectable by motion detectors to control the lighting.

For those of you that are doing automations like this, or for energy efficiency, what kind of results are you getting?

Right now, my house is energy leaky, with a 35 year old AC unit that is being replaced. My high electric bills have been upwards of $500.00, I NEED to put a stop to this. Insulation and weather stripping are going in, automations are going in, and the AC replacement is scheduled for the next few weeks (My AC guy is trying to get me on the schedule)…

I am looking to get the leaks stopped, the AC fixed, which should get my bad months under $150.00, and with automations, I am hoping to get my bad month usage closer to $100.00 if at all possible…

We have a small house, 1800 ft.², in Northern California where temperatures are moderate most of the year. But we still had excessive electricity costs.

Step one: leased solar

The first thing we did was go to solar power with leased equipment. We immediately started saving over $100 a month. We pay a monthly fee to the solar company, but the cost per kilowatt is lower than the local energy company so that was an easy decision. We also sell some power to the local utility through a feedback grid which cost nothing to set up and tends to return around $200 a year. Not a lot, but it helps offset some of our heating costs in the winter.

Step two: dumb LEDs

Next up was going to energy efficient LED’s for lighting. That saved us another 20 or $25 a month. We didn’t even have smart schedules for the lighting at that point, it was just the bulbs themselves that were lower draw. ( our lighting costs were very high because since I could not turn the lights off myself they often remained on all night)

Step three: Smart lighting including schedules and voice controls

Next we went to truly smart lighting with motion sensors and schedules. I don’t know how much more we saved, that one was trickier to estimate precisely, but now none of the lights stayed on all night. It’s just that these were already the less expensive LEDs. I’m going to guess it was an additional $10 a month, but it might’ve been even higher than that.

Step four: HVAC, including establishing virtual zones

Finally, HVAC. We replaced one ceiling fan and added one window air-conditioner, both controllable by voice which means I can turn them on and off as the rooms are being used. Previously, they would have to run all day.

We also added an ecobee smart thermostat at the same time, With room sensors. We had had a problem because one of the three bedrooms was always much colder than the others and we tended to either overheat the house or that housemate would use a space heater which was very expensive in the winter.

The ecobee utility estimates we save around $15 a month in the winter, but it’s actually more than that because we are not running the space heater as much. So I would guess it may be as much as $25 a month from September through March.

Similarly in the summer, just the fact that we now only run the air conditioner in one room and only part of the day should save us maybe $30 a month for July and August.

All in all, our smart home equipment plus the solar system have saved us around $1900 a year. But most of that is from the solar. If you don’t count the solar, we save about $500 a year. That’s not enough to pay for all the smart home devices that we have, but it did pay for the thermostat and the window air-conditioner. :sunglasses:

Solar requires some quirky permitting here in TX, and HOA waivers of course… not impossible, and certainly on the to do list. Initial buy in looks awfully painful cost wise…

I am painfully aware of how worn out, inefficient and power sucking my old AC is, and the replacement unit should theoretically buy me most of the savings I am looking for, between that, and the insulation / weather sealing I should see a considerable cost savings.

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This was about 10 years ago now, but we went with Leased equipment. :sunglasses: Zero buy-in. It also meant we didn’t get any of the tax savings, but it made sense for us.

However, at that time our solar panels would continue to run even if the local neighborhood power was out even though we don’t have a storage battery.

That set up is no longer doable because the government became concerned about the safety of first responders. So now our system automatically shuts off if there’s no power on the local grid. We would have to switch to storage batteries and an independent grid system to be able to operate continuously, which is more money than we want to spend now.

So there are a lot of different possible solar configurations and a lot of different companies, and you just have to do research to see what works best for you.

ive always been interested in using Solar energy but can’t seem to get straightforward information about it here in Michigan.

when i research and google about it, i get hits for some sites that seem (to me) bogus and just more spam for me.

ive noticed a drop on my energy consumption as a whole though since ive used smart thermostat, lights. i just need to have our windows replaced or get better sealing to maximize energy savings.

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That is my biggest problem with solar, I can’t get a straight answer from anyone, at least anyone not wanting me to remortgage my home, on what it would take to get solar done correctly.

I live in Coastal Texas, technically I am in the tropics. Availability of sunlight is plentiful pretty much year round. There are areas of the country Solar makes no sense, but here, it is absolutely sensible…

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There are definitely bogus ones out there. :disappointed_relieved:

Check your local Better Business Bureau for high rated ones which have been in business for at least five years.

Yeah, we were lucky. When we got ours 10 years ago, we were in a high density area for solar which lowered the companies’ costs and the bigger companies were all trying to get as many homes as possible as part of attracting investors. So there were several companies offering the zero down leasing options. We went with solar city, which is now owned by Tesla, and now offers fancier equipment but only as a purchase option.

Now I think almost all of the reputable ones have switched over to Regular financing. And consumer reports now says the best way is to buy the system and finance it with a regular home improvement loan because the rates will be lower:

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Oh, and yes, I agree on the whole going with LED lighting to save energy. Flourescents are better than incandescent, HOWEVER, Floursecents produce WAY more heat than LEDs do. Maybe in Michigan or Montana that is a good thing, but here in the south, no thank you! That heat has to be removed by my AC!

Not to mention the mercury in those tubes. Yuck…

This part has always baffled me. The system can sense no power and shut itself off until the power is back on. They have systems that sense power and disconnect from the mains for generators. Why is it again that they can’t do the same for solar? Is it really about safety? Or are the power companies afraid people will see the guy with Solar has power and their customers do not and then maybe more people will switch to solar leading to less revenue?

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So I went through and figured fixtures, bulbs, switches etc… for my build out / conversion to LED smart lighting. If I were to remove all of my current lighting, including smart LED bulbs, and go entirely with LEDs with smart switches…

A19 bulbs 59. Currently 35 in place. The remainder are smart bulbs to be replaced and switched.
CR30 bulbs 4. Already in place.
24" T12 LED tubes 0. Replace with LED RGBW strips. Pending update.
48" T12 LED tubes 16. Pending update.

Zooz Zen22 3 Have them, working on install.
Zooz Zen27 11. Have 3 of them, working on install. The remaining 8 pending.
TBD, most likely GE 1000w Zwave switch for circuit with 14 of the T12s, 1. (GE and Honeywell seem to be the only offerings with the capacity to handle this load). Pending.
Ceiling fan / light controllers. 6 1 in place, 5 pending.
Independent Smart Ceiling fan speed controller. 1 Pending.

Once I complete this project, chances are if Arcus is well workable, I am going to flash my Iris hub to Arcus and help a family member set up using that and give them the smart bulbs…

I assume you’ve shopped for the lowest kwh rate you could find?

Every May. Coming close to due… No matter the kw/hr rate, I still have line access fees that are kind of painful…

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My gut tells me I use more electricity now than before I started building out the smart home, but my quality of life has improved. I no longer worry about locked doors, opening and closing all the blinds, my house vacuums itself, and everything is voice controlled from anywhere. I did replace my bulbs with LED so maybe it will balance out. :slight_smile: Unfortunately, I don’t think there’s much I can do to lower my HVAC power consumption and stay comfortable. The house is fairly recent construction with energy efficiency in mind. It’s not that big, and I’m always home. So I don’t think there’s much I can do. I have wondered about smart vents to concentrate air flow to the rooms being occupied. Or maybe something as simple as adjusting the temp setting based on the floor being occupied. (I have only one thermostat upstairs and the first floor is always cooler.) But smart vents are controversial and my wife likes to be downstairs while I’m working upstairs…so adjusting the thermostat based on the floor occupancy won’t work most of the time. So since the bill is reasonable each month and I ultimately want to move to a bigger house, I’ve not dived too deeply into this challenge.


You have a good point. My home is 35 years old (1984 construction), small but not tiny (1975sq/ft) and my wife is at home during the day. I have tried setting an AC schedule to bump the AC up a couple of degrees, but she keeps setting it back down.

I know where I live, newer construction means MUCH more insulation than these old houses had, double pane hurricane rated insulated windows for energy efficiency and storm resistance, radiant barriers on the roofs, ridge vents etc… all of which add up to a good amount of energy savings.

I have a neighbor with the same floorplan house as mine, he is finished with the remodel. Same AC unit I am going with, insulation, smart thermostats etc… and he did the radiant barrier and hurricane rated insulated windows as per current code. His wife works from home as well, and they have 2 kids and their electric bill is averaging $125.00 / month during peak season. His lowest was I think $75.00 during December / January, and that is with all the lights. Of course he heated, what little he needed to with the fireplace…

I currently live in downtown Houston and grew up in the northern suburbs. My parents still live north of Houston and went through the same energy efficiency issue with the older house they purchased (1970s build I think). I think they may have had as high as a $700 monthly bill at one point. I can’t recall everything they did, but I know they did some sort of window film, possibly some radiant barrier and venting, and maybe a smaller (or larger) AC system. I’ll have to ask them what they got the bill down to, and what all they exactly tried. But I don’t think they got it down below the $200-$300 range, but I might be surprised. I think to get it any lower my father would have to stop running the pool pump, keep it warmer than 72 degrees, and throw away that 40 year old refrigerator running in the garage.

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I’m down here in Galveston county close to NASA, so similar climate, however if you watch the morning news weather reports, my area is generally 2 -3 degrees warmer, and more humid due to the proximity to the gulf.

There are several factors I am hoping will help me out with this bill issue.

#1. No pool, or related expenses / energy use.
#2. In my remodeling project, I am planning on replaceing my masonite siding with Hardi Panel and redo insulation in the process. I am also replacing the 1980s aluminum frame single pane windows with Hurricane rated insulated windows. The attic will be getting more blown in insulation, a radiant barrier, and a ridge vent.

There is potential at some point, down the road, if it makes financial sense, for me adding Solar to the house, but as it sits now it is so painfully expensive to implement it just makes no financial sense.