Home Sensors & Automated Smart Systems At Solar Decathlon

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The students from West Virginia University designed and built PEAK, a very cool net-zero energy log cabin for the Solar Decathlon 2013, you may remember my story: Have You Ever Wanted To Live In A Net-Zero Log Cabin? (VIDEO). While visiting their competition home, I noticed that the team members were wearing wrist bands and I asked about them. The decathletes said they were part of an automated home system combined with a health-monitoring system that included floor-integrated scales. The wrist bands calculated body mass index and helped monitor blood pressure and other health factors, integrating holistic health into the user-friendly, all-encompassing home automation system which was controlled using a smartphone or tablet.

Irene Ying and Alexis Powers of the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon communications team, have a new article about the smart home technologies used in past Solar Decathlon student homes and features we can benefit from in our own homes. Enjoy!

solar decathlon PEAK-2013-exterior-with-flowers
Solar photovoltaic panels on the carport and roof along with the green roof supported the energy efficiency of the house, which integrated a climate-control system enabling room-by-room temperature and lighting adjustments. Through smart HVAC technology, users could set different zoning preferences without disturbing the settings of other rooms. | Credit: Amber Archangel

Saving energy doesn’t require sacrifice. It also doesn’t have to be complicated, thanks to occupancy and vacancy sensors and home automation systems.

Both energy-efficient and affordable, occupancy and vacancy sensors can reduce the electricity used for home lighting by as much as 30%. Occupancy sensors automatically turn lights on in response to motion—for instance, someone entering a room—and off if no motion is detected for some time. In contrast, vacancy sensors must be turned on manually but automatically turn lights off when a space is unoccupied for a specified time. Ideal for homes with pets, vacancy sensors are activated only by human occupants.

solar decathlon 11 14 14 Occupancy-Sensor 350
Occupancy and vacancy sensors offer an energy-efficient way to manage home lighting use. | Credit: Alexis Powers| U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon

Both types of sensors use infrared technology to detect body heat and ultrasonic technology to detect movement. Some commercially available options also use photo sensors to detect daylight and keep lights off when there is sufficient natural light.

Residential sensors are available for less than $20 per switch. Installation is relatively simple, and setup involves only basic programming. Because occupancy and vacancy sensors work with many kinds of lightbulbs—incandescent, fluorescent, and LED, to name just a few—they can easily integrate into an existing home lighting system.

For those looking to save energy on a larger scale, home automation systems are a convenient way to manage home energy use. They can be controlled in the house or remotely via mobile devices and be programmed to maintain specific conditions to make energy savings even more convenient. By monitoring and displaying energy use, home automation systems can also teach homeowners about their energy habits and ways to improve efficiency.

Although a home automation system is likely to result in savings over time, it requires an initial investment of $5,000 to $15,000. This includes components such as the control box, monitor screen, individual subsystems, and computer software.

Many U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon teams have featured home automation systems in their competition houses. For example, in 2013, the Stanford University team installed a home automation system in its Start.Home. The system gathered electricity and water use data and provided continuous feedback to educate and inform the decathletes and visitors. The Solar Decathlon 2013 Southern California Institute of Architecture and California Institute of Technology team also installed a home monitoring and automation system in DALE. This system monitored energy and water consumption while collecting energy-generation data from the house’s photovoltaic array.

Are you a fan? The next Solar Decathlon will take place October 8–18, 2015, at the Orange County Great Park in Irvine, California. The Solar Decathlon competition houses will be open to visitors from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily on eight days over two weekends:

  • Thursday, Oct. 8–Sunday, October 11, 2015
  • Thursday, Oct. 15–Sunday, October 18, 2015.

Source: 1Sun4All. Reproduced with permission.

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Amber Archangel

-- I am an artist, painter, writer, interior designer, graphic designer, and constant student of many studies. Living with respect for the environment close at hand, the food chain, natural remedies for healing the earth, people and animals is a life-long expression and commitment. As half of a home-building team, I helped design and build harmonious, sustainable and net-zero homes that incorporate clean air systems, passive and active solar energy as well as rainwater collection systems. Private aviation stirs a special appeal, I would love to fly in the solar airplane and install a wind turbine in my yard. I am a peace-loving, courageous soul, and I am passionate about contributing to the clean energy revolution. I formerly designed and managed a clean energy website, 1Sun4All.com.

Amber Archangel has 195 posts and counting. See all posts by Amber Archangel