Saving money on your home’s utility bills: How tech can help

Saving money on your home’s utility bills: How tech can help

Forget the price of buying a home in this province; living in one can cost an arm and a leg!

Oh, and I’m not even referring to rising property taxes, insurance premiums, and how much inflation and shrinkflation sets you back to feed a family every week.

What you’re paying for utilities in Ontario can put a serious drain on your pocket.

Most Ontarians are understandably reluctant to rip open their electricity, gas and water bills each month.

You likely know about running your dishwasher and washing machine during off-peak hours whenever possible, upgrading to energy-efficient furnaces and air-conditioners (and taking advantage of rebates to offset the costs), and maybe even investing in solar to mitigate your reliance on the grid.

Off-the-shelf tech gadgets can also help make a difference to your pocket.

Here are a few hi- and low-tech moves to get you saving money on your home bills:

Smart LED lights often consume a lot less power than incandescent and florescent light bulbs, and can be scheduled to turn on and off and be controlled via app or voice.

Smart lighting works with your schedule

If you haven’t done so already, replace all your incandescent and fluorescent bulbs with LED lights, as they sip, rather than gulp, electricity.

Oh sure, they cost more, but you’ll save money in the long run. A 60-watt equivalent, for instance, might only be only 7.5 watts for comparable lumens with an LED light, and they can last considerably longer, which saves you even more.

There are also Wi-Fi-enabled Smart LED bulbs, which might save you even more, as you can set schedules and timers, remotely access your lights (such as turning lights off via an app), or, when coupled with room sensors, have the lights go off automatically when someone leaves the room.

Smart LEDs also let you use your voice to control them (via Amazon Alexa or Google). For as little as $70 apiece, smart speakers can be programmed with a “macro” command (sometimes referred to as a “routine”) to perform a few actions with one spoken phrase, such as “good night.” The simple command can lock your front door, set your alarm, turn off your lights, and lower your thermostat by a couple of degrees.

Smart thermostats give you greater control, and can also learn your schedule to optimize settings, saving you on your heating and cooling bills.

Wi-Fi thermostats optimize temperature automatically

Next-generation thermostats let you conveniently adjust heating and cooling settings on a phone, tablet or laptop, but they can also learn your schedule and optimize the temperature in your home automatically.

Starting at $179, a Google Nest thermostat can turn itself down when you leave the house, so you don’t waste energy on an empty home. A feature called Savings Finder suggests more ways to save by tweaking your schedule.

The upgraded Google Nest Learning Thermostat ($329) includes HVAC monitoring, which helps you identify potential issues with certain heating, ventilation and air-conditioning systems. If a potential issue is detected, an alert is sent by email or via the Google Home app. (Radiant systems, which have radiator or in-floor heating, are not supported.)

Ecobee, the Toronto-based company with the first smart thermostat on the market (back in 2007), is a major player in this space. Its smart thermostats, starting at $199 (ecobee3 lite), save you up to 26 per cent on your annual heating and cooling bill, the company says, and, so, the device pays for itself, over time.

Along with easily adjusting temperature and comfort settings from an app, a smart speaker, or via the thermostat’s 3.5-inch touchscreen, ecobee3 lite can be programmed to fit your schedule, or use wireless synced optional sensors for more precise (room-by-room) control.

You can monitor energy use in real-time, for a more efficient home.

Energy monitors keep you in the picture

The expression has it all wrong: ignorance is not bliss; information is.

After connecting it to the electrical panel, the Square D Wiser Energy Home Monitoring System from Schneider Electric (from $399) gives homeowners useful insights into activity and energy use … in real time.

Using the compatible Sense app (for iOS, Android), you can see a colour-coded view of your home’s energy use, create custom notifications (such as when devices are on or off), analyze trends, and set goals.

Even when you’re not at home, you can be alerted to leaving, say, the curling iron on in your home to assuage that fear when you go on vacation.

(There’s even a solar version of this kit.)

Plug an inexpensive smart plug into your wall's AC outlet, and then connect anything electric . . . now it can be controlled by an app, your voice, with timers and schedules.

Smart plugs put kibosh on ‘vampire’ power-suckers

You might have heard the term “vampire power,” which refers to plugged-in electronics that, while turned off, still “suck” electricity, and therefore cost you money.

Large appliances are often the culprits, but there are others, too, like televisions, sound systems, and video game consoles.

Instead, inexpensive smart plugs and power strips can give you greater control over all your devices.

For example, the TP-Link Kasa Smart Wi-Fi Plug (2-pack for $24) can switch appliances on and off with a tap on the Kasa app, plus you can set schedules and timers, or you can use your voice to ask your smart speaker to do it.

For example, set your dishwasher to run only during off-peak hours to save money on electricity costs. (Check your utility company’s rates based on on-, off- and mid-peak times, which often changes during the year.)


Similarly, a smart power strip lets you individually control outlets.

Some smart power strips can also cut off electricity to a couple of outlets — this is ideal for when you’re going on vacation — while other outlets on the power bar maintain the connection to the power source when turned off. For example, you don’t need power to your TV, but you’ll likely want your PVR running in the background to archive your favourite shows for you.

And, from the “duh” department, you need some appliances, such as fridges and chest freezers, to be plugged in all the time, but look for Energy Star-certified products. Appliances and consumer electronics branded with the cyan-and-white Energy Star logo have been tested and verified to be more energy efficient. You should see that familiar sticker on the box and product, itself. (When in doubt, ask a salesperson, or write to the manufacturer on their website.)

Water damage is one of the most common insurance claims. You can save money with a water sensor that can detect an issue and notify you immediately, to minimize damage.

Use these to prevent water damage

Water shut-off valves, such as Flo by Moen ($699), connect to your home’s water supply, and can detect flow rate, temperature and pressure throughout the entire home. It can detect an issue like a frozen or burst pipe, or if a child left a bathroom faucet running, and can turn it off for you and notify you via the app.

There are no monthly fees, and home insurance providers may give you a discount of you have it installed, says Moen.

If you don’t have the budget, another solution is the mydlink Whole Home Smart Wi-Fi Water Leak Sensor Starter Kit ($89), which includes two sensors in the box (expandable up to 16) to place around a water heater, washing machine, sump pump, or any spot there could be a potential water leak.

You’ll be immediately notified if a leak is detected, thanks to a loud 100-decibel alarm and flashing lights. A Google smart speaker can announce an issue, too.

If you’re not at home and it detects moisture, you’ll get a notification via an app.



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