Stories & Features

7 things to know about smart home products

Image of person brewing coffee while using a tablet in bed
You could start your morning coffee from the comfort or your bed, but for most people, the "smart home" starts with a wireless hub and a few low-cost items such as a smart plug.

What's a smart hub? What makes a plug or appliance smart?

Mackenzie Sayer

In October, I attended the Vancouver Fall Home show and talked with hundreds of customers while demonstrating how smart home products work. Here are seven things I shared about smart homes.

1. Carefully select a smart hub

Most smart homes start with a smart hub, which allows you to control smart products from one application by using a wireless language such as Z-Wave or ZigBee. These hubs ideally give you the convenience of controlling your home centrally, while you're home or away. Some systems also work with IFTTT (if this, then that), which can allow you to coordinate the control of other devices that don't work directly with your hub.

There's lots of debate out there as to which smart hub is best. Do some research, focus on the devices you want to connect to a hub first, and then pick the most suitable hub.

2. For the newbie, a smart plug is a nice entry point

A common question we were asked at the Vancouver Fall Home Show, was: "Why do I need a smart plug?" You may not need one, but they are a relatively low-cost, practical solution for many households. They're easy to install and – some can even work without a hub – giving you the ability to control your outlets and devices while you're away from home.

For example, if you forget to turn a lamp off before you head out the door, turn it off with an app on your smart phone. Smart plugs can also help reduce the amount of standby power that your electronics and appliances are using, making them another good option if you're looking for ways to cut down your energy consumption.

Learn how a smart plug can control a kid's after-school TV access

3. Smart strips can help you save

Cut down on your standby power use with a smart strip, which we displayed in the living room at the home show to demonstrate how to eliminate standby power with your home entertainment system.

Smart strips look very similar to regular power surge bars, but they've got more game. They let you reduce your electricity use without the nuisance of manually unplugging all your gadgets. You can shut down your smart strip to kill power to most devices, while using an "always-on" plug in that smart strip to ensure that a device such as a DVR/PVR ensures you'll never miss your favourite show.

What is standby power? Also known as 'phantom power' or 'vampire power', it's the electricity that's being drawn even when your device is supposedly turned off. It's essentially wasted power than can add up to can 10% of your electricity bill without you even realizing it.

Install a smart strip for convenience and instant bill savings.

4. Smart thermostat savings can add up

Winter is here and it is time to start thinking about how you are going to cut down on your electricity usage without turning into a popsicle in your home. Heating uses about 24% of your energy use in your home on average, and during the winter that can increase up to 50% or more.

Smart thermostats automatically control your home's temperature to optimize savings you can set the thermostat at 21°C while in your home, or even in select areas of the home, then automatically have it adjust temperature to 17°C when you're sleeping or away at work or school.

Smart thermostats can be a considerable investment, but the payoff is a more comfortable home and an easier path to savings on your heating bills. Some smart thermostats "learn" how to best adjust temperature by learning how you like to have the temperature set in your home, and have the ability to be adjusted via a smartphone app. Some even display electricity use data on their app.

If you have baseboard electric heating, which is common on many areas of B.C., check to ensure the smart thermostat you're looking at is compatible with baseboards.

5. Smart LED lights keep you in control

Adapt your lighting to your lifestyle with smart LED bulb, which can be customized, scheduled and controlled remotely. That means you can operate key lights in your home from your smartphone or other device from most places in the world. Do you already have LED lights at home? You may be able to install a smart to make their current LED bulbs smart.

Another option is to set up a single system that can control all lights in your home automatically and/or remotely. Here's a first-person look at the Control4 system.

6. Smart appliances arrive

Our feature prize in BC Hydro's fall savings campaign, a Samsung Family Hub Fridge with a large display screen turned a lot of heads in our smart home at the Fall Home Show. A smart home hub, fridge and display monitor all in one (watch the game while cooking dinner!), the fridge also allows you to see inside the fridge while at the grocery store.

The Samsung Flexwash and Flexdry laundry pair was also featured at the home show. While one of our best tips is to always wash full loads of laundry, this wash unit cuts down on energy use when doing smaller loads. That's a big plus when appliances can add up to more than 20% of your home's energy usage.

And smart appliances aren't limited to the kitchen. Air conditioners and even sprinkler systems are now available as smart components.

7. Track your electricity use with smart home energy monitors

BC Hydro's online "MyHydro" tools are popular with our customers, but they're limited to data being shown down to the hour, and the earliest you can view it is a day later. To fully understand the impact of turning things on and off, energy monitors step in to provide real-time electricity use and cost impacts.

Learn more about home energy monitors

Mackenzie Sayer is a member of BC Hydro's community team.