Smart home technology is convenient, state-of-the-art and undeniably cool. But does it help where it really matters—in consumers' pocket?
The growing market ranges from Wi-Fi thermometers to automated kitchen appliances and air conditioners. Yet a central question remains: Do these bells and whistles—and the technology that helps them run—actually help consumers save money at a time when heating and electricity bills are soaring?
Energy efficient homes are garnering more attention in the face of a wave of higher utility costs. Residential electricity prices are expected to rise nearly 4 percent this year, according to data from the Energy Information Administration, a function of a brutal winter that lit a fire under oil and natural gas costs.
Smart tech helps give consumers the ability to monitor their energy use, and downshift accordingly, thus helping save money in the long run. Still, the overall trappings of energy efficient homes and their initial investment costs don't come cheap, and certainly suggests energy efficient technology is out of reach of a broad swath of consumers.
Meanwhile, most smart tech providers have a built-in bias toward homeowners, who have the means to make upgrades that can easily cost buyers thousands of dollars. Although smart thermostats are relatively inexpensive, a user has to own a home—or at least be responsible for the electric meter—in order to get the benefits.
"Some people are motivated primarily by daily peace of mind and the convenience of a really great premium security system," said Jeremy Warren, vice president of innovation at Vivint, a company that provides energy saving applications, solar panels and home surveillance equipment.