The Smarter Home on Earth Day 2017

How does Earth Day play into the message of making your home smarter with tons of connected gadgets and LED lights? It's a bit of a contradiction, really. But, actually there is some progress to be made in using energy-saving gadgets.

Earth Day was first celebrated in 1970, well before the term "smart home" was widely-used. Some might say that buying new shiny things that are made in factories that might potentially use materials not friendly to the environment is a bad thing. But there is another side to the story. If conservation, reuse, reduction of energy use, recycling, etc is taken to the nth degree, then ultimately how do we get there? By going back to living in caves and getting rid of the current state of civilization? Or is there some way to strike a balance?

In the "old days" of home automation, lighting usually played a big role. A main feature was creating lighting "scenes" to dim your lights, and schedule them to turn off at certain hours to mesh with your own personal schedule, or when away from home. In terms of incandescent and halogen lighting, use of those products can be anywhere from 13 to 18% of your electric bill. And thus, it made sense to reduce that use wherever you could, and lighting was one of the easiest ways to automate your home to save energy. The same goes with some of the original programmable thermostats. They weren't all necessarily easy to use, but they could save you power by scheduling temperature adjustments for on-peak and off-peak demand, ultimately reducing your utility bill somewhat. The list goes on for irrigation / sprinkler control, shades / blinds automation and so on. Eventually, some home automation categories become more of a conveience than an energy saver.

But my point is that home automation was originally thought of (and sold as) helping you to save energy. And to a certain extent in today's "smart home" market, that's still true. And, saving energy helps the world, since ultimately we have to produce less of it overall.

The magic question though, is really this: Can we get to a truly efficient future so we can live in a good level of harmony with the planet? Yes, but it takes progress...and some missteps.

Progress is inventing and using devices that can save energy, even though it takes energy and resources to make those devices. Progress is finding new ways to re-use our resources so that we can keep having new, shiny things in our hands. Progress is working toward using renewable resources as much as possible, while adapting the global economy so that we can still enjoy our modern world while using less.

That last example may be the biggest challenge of progress. Can we generate enough power from renewables and other clean power sources to satisfy everyone's demands? Yes. But that will potentially wipe out many current long-term jobs. I'm not going to comment on this as Smarter Home LIfe isn't the place for it. But suffice it to say that in a future where we live in harmony with the planet and we still have our modern, connected, electrified, mobile society, there will actually be less people working because there won't be the need for so many people to work.

The smarter home helps with conservation by using only as much power as is realistically needed. This is done with adaptive, smart scheduling of lighting, devices and appliances and with sensors to better understand us, our routines and the environment. Again, it's too much for this piece, but the smarter home goes beyond just gadgets and such, it's about design, materials and making a home truly efficient. This is just one way that we'll progress to living in a future of being in harmony with the planet while still having a modern lifestyle. We'll get there, one smarter home at a time.

Want to buy some gadgets while helping the planet? Head over to Amazon Smile and choose The Nature Conservancy, and Amazon will donate a portion of your purchases to the world's leading conservation organization.