The term “smart home” can easily conjure up ideas of automated convenience functions that most people could live without—spas that heat to the perfect temperature while you're driving home from work or a refrigerator that calls the grocery store when it runs out of milk. In reality, the “smarts” in smart homes are nothing more than clever software programs written to meet the lifestyle needs of homeowners. Today more and more luxury homeowners want to put that brainpower to work on energy-efficient abodes that manage a home's daily functions in the most earth-friendly way possible.

To have a smart home—in which subsystems like lighting and HVAC team up to automatically respond to certain conditions—you need subsystems that have the ability to communicate their status. Some do that independently and others work best with a master control system that manages the tech chat.

A Crestron TPMC-15 touchpanel is the go-to device in EcoManor, an Atlanta-based real-world home that is doubling as an educational resource for area builders, architects, designers, manufacturers, and homeowners. David Hardy, president of Interior Media, programmed the touch-panel to control Crestron's own lighting system, three controllable thermostats, an array of Philips TVs, a Niles Audio multi-room music system, and a theater full of audio/video gear.

“A single Crestron box can do video and surround sound and be the brain for a complete home automation system,” Hardy says. “That's integral to making this whole concept work because once you have the brain, you can do monitoring.” Monitoring isn't essential to the process, Hardy notes, because an automated home is by definition self-sufficient. But monitoring is what brings efficient smart home control out of the abstract and home to consumers, he says.

The Crestron touchpanel controls and monitors HVAC, lighting, and home entertainment while providing feedback about energy usage and taking action to bring consumption in line with set parameters. “Monitoring provides what architects and control experts have wanted for years,” Hardy says. “It turns the meter to the inside of the house. When people see how fast the meter is clicking, they might take steps to modify their behavior.” At EcoManor, the Crestron system provides feedback and takes action to bring energy use in line. Sensors read usage data and feed it to the control system.

“If the meter is in the red zone, we use automation to bring energy down to the green zone,” he says. “We determine what the house can automatically do in the way of regulating thermostats and turning off lights to bring it into the green zone. If the house still isn't meeting the energy-savings criteria, you could have it go to the next level. All of this is easy to do once you've defined the parameters.”

Sustainable Luxury. Monitoring is used at the National Homebuilder Mainstream GreenHome in Raleigh, N.C., as well. Built as a real-world smart home, GreenHome is designed to appeal to mainstream American home buyers by incorporating green and sustainable features without sacrificing the amenities and aesthetics consumers expect.

BlueLine Innovations supplied real-time energy feedback devices in the GreenHome. The handheld wireless devices communicate with a sensor on the electric meter, display real-time readings of kilowatt usage, and translate that usage into dollar-per-hour utility rates. “It's the same concept as biofeedback,” says Jonathan Philips, senior director with Cherokee Investment Partners, which is heading up the GreenHome project. “If you know what's going on with a complex system then you can adjust your behavior in a way that suits your lifestyle.”

The Blue Line meters have turned out to be a surprise hit among visitors who appreciate the cost savings of energy management in action. “If you can see that it's costing you $2 per hour when you're cranking the AC and every light is on,” Philips says, “you can do something about it if you want.” GreenHome is about adapting to consumers' lifestyles rather than forcing behavior that consumers might resist. “We'd never install something that makes you do something. We're about providing options and choice,” Philips says.

Programmed Savings. Custom installation specialists say when it comes to energy management, the most popular areas of home control are lighting and climate. Programmable thermostats have been available for years but ergonomics have been an obstacle to widespread consumer use.

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