These slick new appliances can save energy and make your life easier, but how are they so smart?
The term "smart appliance" has become a common catchphrase for the next generation of home appliances designed to reduce energy use and change the way we live. Major manufacturers have introduced new lines of smart appliance products, but what exactly is a smart appliance and how does it save energy?
Two key concepts are important in understanding how smart appliances work — smart meters and time-of-use pricing.
Smart meters send detailed energy use data wirelessly at short intervals, allowing you to monitor and control your energy use in real time. Time-of-use pricing plans vary electric rates based on the time of day and the demand for electricity. Rates are higher during peak demand periods, typically in the afternoon and early evening, and lower late at night when demand is less.
Building on these concepts, the technology inside smart appliances allows you to control their energy use and costs. Microchips or controllers embedded in smart appliances enable them to communicate with smart meters or home automation systems, sending and receiving messages from mobile devices.
Smart appliance technology can also be integrated with sensors and other devices, which allow them to self-adjust and operate more efficiently.
Smart appliances vary in functionality, but in a nutshell, it works like this. The smart meter sends a signal to the appliance and the homeowner, notifying each when peak rates are in effect. The appliance is programmed to stop running or operate at a lower wattage during this period. The homeowner has the option to override this program.
How will this work in your home? Smart refrigerators can shift the defrost cycle to when it's cheaper or alert you if the door is ajar. Smart dishwashers air dry dishes automatically during peak periods and adjust the water temperature and cycle time to load size, cutting energy. Smart washing machines automatically default to the low-energy wash cycle when energy rates are higher.
Smart appliances do more than just save energy; they come with features that can improve appliance performance and make your life easier. Refrigerator touchscreens can display food inventory levels, recipes and reminders, or even play online radio. Smart washing machines alert you if a load is off balance and let you know it's finished. Your oven can text you when dinner is ready, and you can control the temperature remotely to keep food warm. There are even smart faucets that shut off automatically when accidentally left on to conserve both water and the energy used to heat it.
As with any newer technology, smart appliances may cost a little more. However, these brainy devices have the potential to make homes more energy-efficient, and save time and money.