Green Technology Featured Articles
November 29, 2012

Smartphones Get Ringing Endorsement for Home Energy Audits



A home energy audit can help determine whether a house is losing power and money—sometimes, literally, through the cracks. Now, instead of calling a professional technician to inspect the premises, homeowners may be able to adopt a do-it-yourself approach that can provide similar results—and all for the price of a smartphone (which 49 percent of U.S. mobile phone users own already, according to Nielsen).

Four researchers from Canada, Patrick Leslie, Joshua M. Pearce, Rob Harrap and Sylvie Daniel, have published a paper in the “International Journal of Sustainable Energy” that suggests that smartphones provide a convenient and accurate way for homeowners to identify where they are losing energy; and to independently implement energy conservation measures (ECMs) that will reduce emissions, conserve resources and cut operating costs.

One potential approach for providing ECMs to the average consumer is through the use of software tools that guide decision making. Although such tools could be used on a desktop computer or a laptop, it would be inconvenient, at best, to deploy them around the house. That’s where smartphones come in. Smartphones are cellular phones that combine, but are not limited to, voice functionality, Internet connectivity, and the ability to add local or web-based applications.

In addition, today’s smartphones often come equipped with features such as cameras, GPS, accelerometers, compasses, high-end processors, high-speed Internet connections, and intuitive user interfaces. The researchers propose that, using these advanced features, smartphones could be programmed to:

  • Record existing conditions;
  • Use directed questions to guide more detailed evaluation;
  • Offer instant feedback;  and
  •  Provide an estimate of projected energy savings for a specific upgrade, or aggregate of individual upgrades, in real time as the audit is performed.

Combining built-in educational materials to guide audit data collection and retrofit suggestions, along with the ability to deliver advanced economic projections, this approach would put significant individualized decision support in the hands of users. Such smartphone tools would both inform users and help guide them to environmentally and economically sound decisions about ECMs.

The authors envision an intuitive tool that would help the untrained user to choose his or her house type, energy source and payment method; choose an ECM; and input data as instructed. For example, a user might provide the type and number of light fittings in a home; then, receive suggestions for energy saving replacements in real time. 

Indeed, the researchers posit that a versatile, easy-to-use program, designed to run on smartphones—and distributed free-of-charge—could end up increasing the effectiveness of government-sponsored energy efficiency initiatives and provide the ability to instantly respond to changing conditions within the home retrofitting market.

With widespread, free availability, a smartphone home energy audit program could catch on quickly. In fact, the researchers promise, that’s its biggest advantage: In their Southern Ontario area alone, the researchers estimated that it would take auditors 55 years to cover all 157,000 dwellings professionally. With smartphone technology, all the homes could, in theory, be audited concurrently, enabling homeowners to make ECMs much sooner. Cumulative carbon dioxide savings from smartphones would surpass those from traditional audits in 13 to 17 years, even using conservative assumptions.

For a full copy of the original paper, click here.

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Edited by Brooke Neuman

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