Asking a consumer to purchase a new fridge is a bit more difficult than getting them to buy a new thermostat every few years. That’s been the truth weighing on major appliance manufacturers for the past few years, preventing them from investing heavily in smart products. But now, with IoT feeling more and more like an inevitability, these brands are beginning to open up to home automation, leaving some exciting new products and trends in their wake.
In particular, the home automation industry is growing alongside the burgeoning efforts to improve energy efficiency—and evolving to include these initiatives. The success of the Nest thermostat, for instance, which claims to offer a 9 to 17 percent reduction in energy spending, has lead many manufacturers to roll efficiency features into smart products—major appliances included. Nowhere is this more evident than in the appearance of hot water heaters, where startups like Aquanta have been attempting to position themselves as the “Nest of hot water heaters.”
Heating and cooling accounts for 40 percent of energy spendings in the average home. By comparison, water heating makes up about 20 percent—so there’s certainly room in this area for energy savings. Inefficiencies in water heating generally occur from electric heaters’ designs. Most units heat water even when they’re on standby, in order to have a surplus to draw from any time a resident needs it. Unfortunately, that doesn’t make for the most efficient system, since some 20 to 50 percent of that energy is wasted, at least according to Aquanta’s CEO, Mart Carlson.
Another contender, the Prestige Series Hybrid Electric Water Heater from Rheem, claims to achieve even better efficiency. Their unit meets and vastly exceeds ENERGY-STAR ratings, reaching a 3.50 Energy Factor, which is over 250 percent better than many electric units—adding up to a 73 percent overall energy savings. In addition, the heater can communicate with existing smart thermostats, like those produced by Nest and ecobee, emphasizing its compatibility. Likewise, the Aquanta system is gearing up to launch two-way communications with utility grid systems to balance energy loads using hot water heater controls, a move that should definitely advance machine-to-machine communications in the home.
Of course, compatibility remains an issue for many brands. Device interconnectivity has posed a huge challenge for the automation industry this year, with no less than Amazon and Google vying to be the link that connects homeowners’ various devices. With no standard communication protocol in place (although you could argue that WiFi is beginning to dominate), homeowners have struggled to find solutions that will accommodate a wide range of products.
In a move to modernize home appliances and reduce connectivity issues, Samsung has released a line of appliances, including a WiFi-connected refrigerator and range, which together form a family of units—and communicate with each other via Samsung’s “hub.” Both products are touted as energy efficient and focus on reducing food waste—and lost time—as the crux of their sales pitch. Given that homeowners are still struggling to find unified controls for devices, the move to pitch a network of kitchen appliances as a “hub” makes sense. It wouldn’t be shocking at all if Samsung’s next move would be to roll a dishwasher, microwave, and other kitchen devices into their family of products.
In fact, a water-saving dishwasher would fall neatly in line with current consumer trends. A recent survey by the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences showed that homeowners are interested in water-saving devices and appliances. But they’d be more likely to buy them if they were incentivized by reduced prices—and if they had an app to measure their water consumption. That certainly looks to be the next place for home automation to expand, particularly since automated devices like outdoor irrigation systems could make a huge impact here—and might easily stand to be automated.
In fact, it seems likely that appliances that better collaborate with utilities like electric and water will be the way the industry goes, especially given that market research shows that consumer interest in smart products is dying off. For homeowners, it’s not enough to have the latest and greatest—it needs to be worth the elevated price tag as well, particularly when it comes to major appliances. If manufacturers can work to lower device products and increase their usefulness by pairing with local utilities, the future of home automation will be all but written.
About Erin Vaughan
Erin Vaughan is a blogger, gardener and aspiring homeowner. She currently resides in Austin, TX where she writes full time for Modernize, with the goal of empowering homeowners with the expert guidance and educational tools they need to take on big home projects with confidence.