Smart Appliances

Get all the info you'll need on smart appliances, and get ready to install efficient, economic appliances that can communicate with your home's automation system.
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Photo by: Eric Perry

Eric Perry

By: Sean McEvoy

Smart appliances have been a long-promised feature of the "home of the future," held up as a way for homeowners to program their home's systems to operate automatically—with dinner ready the moment you arrive home, laundry done only during the most inexpensive operating times, and computers and TVs in sleep mode whenever not in use. The reality of smart appliances is different from this ideal, but major advances have been made both in terms of how smart appliances can communicate with other systems and devices in the home, and how they send and receive information to the electrical grid and power companies.

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Many major manufacturers have begun offering smart appliances in recent years, with varying degrees of success. Two major factors influence the effectiveness of any particularly smart appliance. First, the homeowner must be able to configure the home's computer network to communicate with the smart appliance—likely including setup to connect the appliance to the home's wireless network, and the use of a mobile device as a "controller" for the appliance. Secondly, in order for a smart device to communicate with the power company, the home must be located in an area where smart grid technology has been deployed—this enables the power company to send information to individual homes and receive information back from those homes. This information enables the power company to determine a home's usage patterns and recommend steps homeowners can take to reduce consumption and save energy and money.

One of the chief benefits of the latest smart appliances is the ability for the homeowner to remotely program the appliance to operate on a consistent schedule. For example, washing machines can be set to operate in the middle of the night during the summer, when the electrical grid is the least stressed. Additionally, appliances may be able to provide important information to the homeowner about energy usage during peaks times, as well as things like maintenance requirements or the need for more supplies or certain grocery items—there are refrigerators that can now tell you if you need milk, based on when you purchased your last gallon, for example. For appliances that are part of a larger network, manufacturers have begun to roll out smart devices that can communicate inside the network—ovens and microwaves that communicate with each other and start cooking meals at the same time are now available.

The bells and whistles offered by smart appliances may be convenient and impressive, but for many homeowners the greatest benefit of these devices will be cost and energy savings. To fully realize the benefits of smart appliance usage patterns, these appliances need to be part of a sophisticated smart grid that can provide information to consumers about their energy usage, and to power companies about those usage patterns. The smart grid infrastructure is in various stages of development throughout the world, so if you're contemplating smart appliances, it's important to check with your municipality to determine whether your home is smart grid eligible.

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