HydroHome app paves the way for the smart home
'It's almost like a video game... with all the information right in front of you'
Shervin Shoghian believes that sometime soon, most people in B.C. will understand the benefits of using a mobile app to monitor and schedule the electrical devices in their home. And as one of the early adopters, he's out to spread the word about the benefits.
"I've been telling a lot of my friends at work 'You've got to check out this app,' says Shoghian, who has spent two years on a BC Hydro trial in which he gets real-time electricity use information and controls heat, lights – and even his hot water heater – from an iPad. "I think most people in B.C. are going to gravitate towards this in a big way. It's just a great way of controlling the home."
Shoghian compares his use of the app in his Vancouver townhome to playing a video game. But this is no toy. When he sat down to do his taxes in April, he discovered electricity use savings this year at between $400 and $500. And he says he owes it all to the app and what it has taught him, something you can learn about in detail (below) from Shoghian and other customers in the first stage of the trial.
But first, here's a look at how you can join the trial and dip a toe into the waters of the smart home. For free.
Join a BC Hydro trial and get the app for free
For a limited time, we're offering BC Hydro customers a chance to try out the app for free. While the app itself offers helpful monitoring, tips, and feedback on home energy use, you'll have the option of adding a smart hub and/or connected devices to fully explore the potential of the smart home.
With a simple download of the app to your smartphone or tablet, you can start monitoring your electricity use from your mobile device. Use it regularly and you could reduce your energy use by 5% to 15% or more. For many customers, this can be savings of $150 a year, and for those who go all-in by adding an energy monitor and connected devices, the savings can multiply.
The app is the starting point. Where you go from there is up to you. Here are a few things you should know about the HydroHome app trial:
- With the app alone, you can see graphs with energy use information, get tips, in-app reports about your usage, set up alerts and notifications, and get estimates of your upcoming BC Hydro bills.
- If you choose to later add a smart hub, the app then gives you real-time energy use information. Plus you add the ability to control connected devices and track device-by-device usage like fridges, TVs, electronics, and baseboard heaters. You can track "always-on" usage, shop for connected devices from within the app, and set up enhanced alerts.
- The HydroHome system is compatible with a wide range of devices including thermostats, light switches/dimmers/motion detectors, water leak and smoke detectors and smart speakers (Amazon Alexa).
What's it like to use the app? Here's what others are saying
For Shervin Shoghian, the initial delight in using the app was in educating himself about his family's electricity usage patterns in the home. He loves how visual and intuitive the app is, and how it has taught him – among other things – that his aging hot water heater should be replaced.
The big payoff in terms of his BC Hydro bills has been his ability to schedule temperature changes for his baseboard heaters. They're all but shut down when both he and his wife are off at work and their young daughter's in daycare, and the house is warm and ready when they return home.
"Being able to use a programmable thermostat through the app was a game changer," says Shoghian, who lives in a townhome in Vancouver's Strathcona neighbourhood. "My daughter's room is set up like that. We know the temperature she likes, so we set it up so when she goes to bed around 8 o'clock the room's nice and warm for her."
Shoghian also uses the app to turn off the water heat when the family is away on vacation for extended periods. And through the integrated use of the app, a smart hub, and smart plugs attached to various devices, he keeps a close eye on what's using what.
"It almost becomes like a video game of some sort," he says. "It's like 'how much can I save, and reduce my power consumption?'. It puts all the information right in front of you. It's really cool."
'Always-on' feature popular in households on the trial
Steve Fairbrother got involved in the BC Hydro trial because he wanted to see if recent renovations to his Saanichton home, such as more energy-efficient windows, were paying off in energy savings. He has used the app's real-time information – collected through a smart hub - to see how much energy spikes during showers or using appliances big and small.
He was particularly surprised to see how significant his home's always-on energy usage is.
"You've got your iPhone chargers plugged in on all the time," he says. "You've got your TV, the fridge, the stove... and that background usage is nice to know. It shows you how much you're using when you're, shall we say, doing nothing."
App provides insights, plus the occasional heads-up to a problem
That always-on usage info, and tips provided by the app, have also been popular with Terrace's Matthew Raposo, even as his focus has been on ensuring a balance between the heating/cooling components of his home. He uses it to better schedule his heat pump, in-floor heating, and heat recovery ventilator (HRV) in what is a cold part of B.C. in winter.
And then there are those times when he leaves home and isn't sure whether he left something on.
"If you leave the house, you sometimes wonder, did I turn the stove off?" he says "On the app, you can instantly see the energy use and know whether it's on or not."
Raposo also discovered, by monitoring energy usage during and after a shower, just how much power is involved in that daily routine.
"It's common sense that the shower uses a lot of hot water, but it's nice to see that in-use," he says. "You can see how long it takes to reheat the cold water coming in – and it takes awhile. It's about understanding how it works."
For Shelley Johnson-Gould of Campbell River, using the app and hub to control lighting and heating has delivered energy savings in a home that also features a hot tub that gets used year-round. Since her family started the HydroHome trial, her BC Hydro bills have gone down about $30 a month, and the family delivered on a $50 reward for eclipsing the 10% Team Power Smart Reduction Challenge with a tidy 14% reduction in energy use over 12 months.
"I learned quickly that our heat, and the hot tub, are the biggest sources of energy use," she says. "The app even tipped us off to a problem with the hot tub once. We looked at the energy usage and saw these spikes every hour. It turns out the hot tub was doing something crazy, and I don't know if we would have ever figured that out without the app."
'You don't have to fiddle with the thermostat on the wall'
Curiosity drove Wilson Dau to the trial. A commercial lighting consultant, he wanted to see if the energy savings he helps deliver at B.C. businesses could be replicated at home.
He has discovered that connecting his app to devices in his home, including control and monitoring of five made-in-Canada Stelpro thermostats designed to work with baseboard heating, has been a huge payoff. He's happy that his days of fiddling with wall-mounted programmable thermostats in the effort to fine-tune daily schedules are over.
"With most thermostats, if you want different programs for different days, you have to spend a lot of time trying to figure out how it will work," he says. "With the app, it's simple . You set as many rules as you want and you get to put them in any order you want."
His advice to those embarking on the trial and opting for use of the thermostats is to take time to fine tune scheduling. He found that initially he thought 30 minutes was enough time to reheat the home before returning home in the evening. He now allows an hour in the cold of winter.
Dau also uses the app's daily energy reports to detect spikes in energy use, and likes to explore energy use one day to the next. And for fun, he offers one unexpected tip for anyone who tethers HydroHome to their lighting system. If he's travelling and can't contact his wife on the phone, he assumes her phone was left in a different room and she can't hear it. He then checks to see which lights are on.
"I can realize through the app – even if I'm 5,000 miles away – that the light in the basement family room is on, so I know she's there," he says, with a laugh. "So I turn the light on and off a few times, and she'll realize it's me. And she'll call me back."