Energy-saving solutions let homeowners cut costs while helping the environment

Key Points
  • There are tools on the market that let you monitor remotely how much water and electricity your home is using and can even turn your sprinkler on and off.
  • The new technologies can potentially save you hundreds to thousands of dollars per year, while helping to conserve natural resources.
Sprinklers water the lawns of a housing development in Hesperia, California. (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
David McNew | Getty Images News | Getty Images

You probably have a rough idea of how much energy and water your home uses, based on your utility bills.

But new technologies aim to turn the tables, letting you see just how much in resources you are using in advance of those bills so that your bottom line is lower. And that goes for everything from everyday appliances to your sprinkler system.

If you want to get smart about your home's energy efficiency, perhaps it's time to upgrade.

Making smart upgrades in a home — electricity, water usage, heating and air-conditioning — could save a homeowner from 5% to 30% on annual utility bills, according to energy.gov.

There are a variety of in-home technology products that will save a homeowner money on their utility bills and help the environment at the same time. These technologies aim to help conserve resources — and potentially save you hundreds to thousands of dollars in unanticipated costs.

Flo Technologies
Flo Technologies

The idea for Flo Technologies' products was inspired by a disaster.

Company CEO Gabriel Halimi's family had catastrophic water damage to their home, which resulted in a $300,000 insurance claim. Some of the losses, such as family heirlooms, were irreplaceable.

Halimi's father, Henry, a mechanical engineer by training, was inspired to come up with a solution. The result is the company's water monitoring and control technology for the home.

The technology is installed on the home's main water supply. It works by tracking the flow, temperature and pressure of your home's water system. Some insurance plans will give you a rebate for using the technology, Halimi said.

It also shows you in real time via an app how much water you're using. If your water usage requires attention, it can also send push notifications, text messages or emails. If you don't respond, it can call you by phone.

The technology can turn off your water in severe situations. You can also turn it off yourself by pushing a button.

The key to the technology is that it can help a homeowner save by alerting them to a problem that needs to be addressed that they might not know about, like a broken sprinkler or water pipe.

"Unless you have something like this, you have no way of knowing between the times that you get your water bill that you have something wrong with your home," Halimi said.

Unless you have something like this, you have no way of knowing between the times that you get your water bill that you have something wrong with your home.
Gabriel Halimi
CEO of Flo Technologies

The product sells for $499, plus the cost of having a plumber install it.

Sense

Another company, called Sense, also lets you monitor your home remotely via an app, but this one is for electricity usage.

The technology works through a home monitor that helps to identify the biggest energy drains. The technology is installed inside the electrical panel in your home. It then lets you measure how much energy is used in real time.

That can be especially convenient if you're away from home. If you have a vacation house, for example, you can see if the hot tub has been shut off.

The technology can also identify which routine appliances are driving up your energy bills. Old refrigerators or TVs are typically some of the big culprits, according to Mike Phillips, co-founder and CEO of Sense.

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Switching from incandescent lights to LED lights is another big energy saver, he said. In a large house that had not yet changed over to LEDs, the move could save about $500 per year, Phillips estimated.

The average annual energy bill for a typical single-family home is about $2,060, according to Energy Star, a government-run program. Heating and electronics account for about half of those costs.

If you do a home-energy audit, you can shave an average of $105 to $627 off your annual utility bills, according to estimates from the Department of Energy.

Sense's technology costs $299 for the hardware and access to its applications. You also have to pay to have an electrician install it.

The technology can help you eliminate energy guzzlers and troubleshoot for possible new drains that could drive up your bills, Phillips said.

"It's all of these bits of visibility into what's going on in your home that you just didn't have visibility into before," Phillips said.

Rachio
Rachio

If you're still using an old sprinkler system, you could be wasting water — and paying an unnecessarily high water bill.

Rachio, a smart sprinkler company, offers technology that is installed directly into your home irrigation system. Once the hardware is in place, you can connect to it through your Wi-Fi.

From there, you can control how the different zones of your lawn are watered. If you have tomato plants or a section of your lawn you want watered more frequently, for example, you can program the system to make those areas a priority.

Rachio's technology gives you a few options for scheduling your lawn's watering.

A fixed schedule lets you schedule watering on certain days, at certain times, for certain lengths of times and in certain areas of your lawn.

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A flexible monthly schedule lets you schedule your watering for every month, based on climate data and your geographic location. A flexible daily schedule updates every day based on the soil's moisture.

Through an app, you can control the system remotely. That means you can check your phone to track your water usage, skip a scheduled watering or turn your sprinklers on.

The system is voice-enabled, so you can ask Google or Alexa to turn off the sprinkler if you have visitors coming and you do not want them to get drenched.

The company recently launched its third-generation product. The price ranges from $229.99 to $279.99, based on how many zones you want it to cover.

The company estimates its customers have saved more than 36 billion gallons of water. That can lead to lower water bills. Some municipalities will offer a rebate for purchase of the product.

"Across the board, all of our customers are seeing some sort of savings after using Rachio," a company spokeswoman said.

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Key Points
  • New research from Morningstar finds that 72% of all investors are at least moderately interested in sustainable investments.
  • While younger investors have a reputation for investing with environmental and social causes in mind, interest in these investments actually spans generations, research shows.
  • One key distinction in how different generations view sustainable investments: They are keeping different causes and time horizons in mind.