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May 31, 2011
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Energy-Use Monitoring a Trend to Watch in Green Home Technologies

Providing technology that enables home owners to monitor their residential energy usage is a growing trend for electronics systems contractors (ESCs) who are working with builders and remodelers on the installation of new green home technologies, according to panelists at NAHB’s National Green Building Conference & Expo earlier this month in Salt Lake City.


Products such as sensors that turn off the lights when a room is not occupied and programmable thermostats that reduce energy for heating and cooling during times of the day when nobody’s home can “dramatically cut costs,” said Ken Erdmann, an ESC and co-founder and president of Erdmann Electric in Springville, Utah.

Energy management and monitoring devices are simple for a qualified electrician to install, Erdmann said, and they are a proven way to focus the attention of home owners on what it is costing them to operate their home.

A study by Stanford University, he said, found that home owners reduced their energy consumption by as much as 10% by being able to see how much energy they were using.

Consumers themselves are increasingly aware of green-tech product offerings that can help them cut costs and improve how their homes function.

The 9th Annual State of the Builder Technology Market Study published recently by the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) and sponsored by the NAHB Research Center reports that 43% of consumers agree that monitoring their electricity, water and gas consumption would help them use these resources more efficiently.

Among other trends in green technology to watch, Erdmann cited the benefits of smart grid integration that enables residents to control their electrical usage for heating, air conditioning and hot water and reduce their consumption during peak demand periods.

There are a number of beneficial applications of sensors in the home, he said.

Sensors in an elderly home owner’s bedroom floor can send information to a monitor confirming that the person successfully got out of bed for the day or took their medication.

By reducing the need for on-site supervision, this technology enables the elderly to dwell in their homes longer, he said. At the cost of a few thousand dollars, the elderly resident profits by being able to avoid moving to  a nursing home, a far more expensive and personally less welcome proposition than aging in place.

Home security, an issue that is on the minds of significant segments of the population, can also be well-served by sensors, and 42% of consumers in the CEA report say they would be willing to pay more for devices such as home security systems that allow them to monitor their home wirelessly.

In the CEA study, 34% of consumers said they would derive peace of mind from being able to lock their home’s doors and windows from a computer or wireless device.

With the cost of driving to a job climbing with the upward trend in gasoline prices, Erdmann also noted the growing value of Tele-Presence systems that can give telecommuters face time with their co-workers or plug them into business meetings.

Starting Out With Energy Efficiency

Panelists at the Green Building Conference agreed that consumers do need some encouragement and education about the value of adopting green technologies and that they are most receptive to products related to energy efficiency.

“Clients are looking how to get lower energy costs,” said Ken Adams, division manager for Magleby Construction in Pleasant Grove, Utah.

Existing home owners “may not have changed out mechanical systems,” Adams said, “and they are looking for tax credits and rebates” available from the government, utilities and manufacturers.

There is definitely a growing market for energy-efficient retrofits, he indicated, and the prospect of reducing monthly costs by 60% to 70% “is what starts them down the path,” he said.

The role for electronic systems contractors in the remodeling sector, Adams said, “is to educate consumers about what will provide them with the most benefit. They know there are some tax credits out there, but not much else.”

Paul Magleby, chairman and founder of Magleby Companies, sees his job as “educating clients on what will make the structure perform better.”

Updating HVAC and hot water systems and making the thermal envelope efficient are at the top of the list of possible jobs because they get the most bang for the buck, Magleby said.

Magleby said that in his experience “you can get your customers to invest in these things.”

But convincing new home buyers to pay for green technologies can be challenging, Adams added, when it becomes a question of expense and whether paying a premium for green will leave enough in the buyer’s budget to include the expensive countertops that are high on the priority list.

Unfortunately, how an appliance looks can be more important to the home owner or buyer than how well it performs, he said, although there are some efficient models that do now come in stainless steel finishes.

There are some technological advances in smart appliances, including Internet connectivity, that do have the ability to wow the customer, Erdmann added, including a refrigerator equipped with a bar code scanner that lets it keep track of what is in the refrigerator and know what can be prepared with those ingredients.

There are also self-monitoring appliances with the ability to report they are using more energy than they should be, an indication that there may be a malfunction that needs to be checked.

When working with an ESC, Erdmann said that builders and remodelers should treat them like any other contractor, and that ESCs should be brought in for the design phase of the project.

“We’re not just the stereo guys,” Erdmann said.

“A good ESC understands the flow of the project,” he said, has “management expertise,” a good working relationship with the manufacturers of the products he is recommending and should be available on the job “to educate the buyer about the value proposition.”

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