Smart homes combine networked interconnections with energy savings to provide convenience, improve the cleanliness of your clothes and dishes, keep your food fresh and help you cook your meals. Rather than opt for the complete smart-house treatment, with computerized control of everything from lights and locks to comfort systems and security, you can cut your energy use and enhance your quality of life with upgrades that don't require extensive wiring to operate.
If you're accustomed to thinking of household appliances as devices you control with knobs and buttons, you may be surprised at how smart these conveniences have become. Create a customized wash cycle on a high-efficiency washer with touchscreen controls, and start a load of laundry from a smartphone app that accesses the appliance through its Wi-Fi® connection. Monitor the time remaining on a batch of towels in a matching dryer, also tied in to your home's wireless network. Enter precise cooking temperatures for ranges that feature convection-oven roasting and baking, cooking modes that already reduce energy requirements. Set the temperatures on your refrigerator's chilled and frozen storage compartments from a touchscreen that also displays a food inventory, downloads recipes from the Internet and logs your upcoming grocery list. Some of these thinking helpers are ENERGY STAR qualified, showing they meet performance standards for energy use.
The U.S. Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 set up energy-efficiency standards for light bulbs, mandating at least a 25-percent cut in their use of electricity. The incandescent bulbs you no longer see in retail stores have disappeared because they can't comply with these requirements. Choose thrifty LED light sources and you can cut your usage up to 80 percent compared to the wattage required for incandescent bulbs, which expend 90 percent of their energy as heat. An LED light source can produce the same brightness as a 60-watt incandescent bulb with only 10.8 watts of power, and operate for 15,000 hours compared to the incandescent's 1,000-hour lifespan. Even fluorescent bulbs can't match LED lifespans, and fluorescents suffer from additional drawbacks, including the greenish tinge of their light output and the environmental hazard of the mercury they contain.
Intelligent TVs and home theater systems go beyond the entertainment input sources you expect them to accept—satellite, cable and antenna inputs—to display and play content from the Internet and from your wirelessly enabled devices, including smartphones, tablets, media players and computers. Thanks to Bluetooth and Wi-Fi networking, your entertainment options stream from room to room. This flexibility extends the performance of TVs that can present live or prerecorded 3D content, and home theater systems that include up to eight speakers for surround-sound audio that also presents 3D sound. Even TVs that measure 60 inches more diagonally can be ENERGY STAR qualified.
ENERGY STAR extends savings to water usage as well as electricity. Replacing a decade-old dishwasher with one that is ENERGY STAR qualified can save energy and water. The same heavy insulation that keeps these appliances quiet also helps them retain heat for better performance. A high-efficiency front-loading clothes washer can save water and help cut your electric bill.
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