Smart Home & Smart Investment? Part 3

Furthering the journey towards a Smart Home, both the Nest and Ecobee thermostat options have very good reviews, and both have very cool technology behind them.  As an example I could adjust my home’s temperature while I am out of the house from a convenient app on my phone. The price of both is about the same (within $10).  It will come down to how I want to use them, and what will work best for my specific situation.  For instance, both have a motion sensing capability, and both will learn from how I adjust the temperature.  The motion sensing capability is particularly interesting to me as I only need my home to be cooled if I am currently using it, not while I am at the grocery store or out for a walk.  The challenge is that when I am at home, I often work from my office for hours at a time and that is not where my thermostat is located.  While I could schedule a walk by my thermostat every so often, that does not fulfill my desire to use technology to make my life easier rather than more complicated.  The EcoBee has a solution built in with remote sensors that I can place in different locations of my home.  That can provide the added benefit of helping keep the temperature consistent throughout the home.  I don’t have that issue with my home temperature, but I do want the motion detection of the remote sensor to eliminate having to walk by the thermostat or risk it thinking I am not home and trying to save some energy at the expense of my comfort.  Therefore, I will give the Ecobee a try and let you know how it goes.

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Save Water, Money and Time – Part I

My water usage and associated bill is about to go up.  It happens every year.  In the next several months, my water bill will more than double, costing me an extra $40 or $50 each month.  I want to continue my Smart Home exploration of options, but not necessarily limit my options if I come across something even easier than smart home solutions.  For instance, the vast majority of my extra water usage is based on maintaining the plants and grass around my home.  I will focus on this aspect of water saving for now, but I also realize there might be some options to further reduce my water usage inside my home.  Although we have already used low flush toilets, low flow shower heads and better dishwasher usage.  Thankfully there is good information to leverage through programs like Water Sense, an EPA program that certifies products which save water, from 20% to 50%.  The technology portion of Water Sense narrows down the discussion to the areas that are of most interest to me, the sprinkler related savings opportunities.  Again, I need a criteria to go about selecting what options I want to explore.  I will use the same criteria as I am using to curtail electricity usage:

  • Easy to understand and install myself
  • Proven benefit for my environmental impact
  • Financial benefit of reduced monthly bills (at least during the summer)

Given those criteria, there are two options that seem most appropriate to explore.  Rotary Spray Heads (Nozzle), and Smart Spinkler Controllers.  The Rotary spay heads deliver water in a stream instead of a mist and therefore reduce lost water due to evaporation and wind blowing the water where it isn’t needed.  Smart Sprinkler Controllers use better information about your landscaping and external factors (like weather forecasts) to make better watering decisions.  Rotary Spray heads are valuable, but not nearly as interesting to explore here as Smart Sprinkler Controllers, so that is what I will focus on here.

by Rob Rutledge

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Save Water, Time and Money – Part 2

Continuing the exploration of Smart Sprinkler controllers:  The goal is to save water, time and money but not have a dead lawn or landscaping.

There are many Smart Sprinkler controllers, and many definitions of what makes a sprinkler controller ‘smart’.  For instance, simply attaching a moisture sensor or rain sensor may qualify for some definitions of a Smart Sprinkler Controller.  However, I would like to think we can do better than simply attaching static sensors.  Therefore, I will limit my evaluation to those controllers that get weather data wirelessly and allow for control via mobile phone and computer, as well as allow for more intelligent watering by inputting landscaping and/or sprinkler information.  After all, I would like to think that better decision could be made rather than just automating the same binary decision of watering or not watering.  The final requirement is for the smart controller to adhere to the watering limitations of my water provider.  With these in mind, I return to the extensive list of Water Sense Smart Sprinkler Controllers.  Since most, if not all, of these controllers involve using the service associated with the controller (other than RainMachine which has a hybrid option), it seems as though there should be some consideration of the stability of the company.  After all, it would be unfortunate to make the investment in time and money to acquire and setup the controller, only to have it revert back to a normal controller or worse stop working all together due to the company providing the service going out of business.  Several of the companies are private, which limits the amount of due diligence that can be performed, so instead I will use longevity and multiple product offerings as a proxy for stability.  This is, of course, flawed.  But the best that can be done without extensive effort.  This only eliminates one that I thought looked intriguing, Skydrop.

by Rob Rutledge

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