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The Wild West of Smart Home Gadgetry   

Smart Home Tech

You’ve heard the buzz: Smart homes. Connected homes. Home automation. Internet of Things (IoT). What “things” in homes are growing in intelligence? Virtually everything — doorbells, alarms, cameras, shades, appliances, lighting, water bottles, vacuum cleaners, mattresses, toilets, and more. 

Today, the smart home device landscape is littered with overused, ill-defined terms and low-quality, low-value products. It’s easy to become jaded listening to the hype. But that doesn’t mean the promise of this emergent technology isn’t real.

Throughout the 20th century and the beginning of this century, there have been three primary (and problematic) ways for homeowners to understand how their home performs:

  1. For energy use, utility bills are the only source of information. These provide little to no insight or control for occupants
  2. For comfort, a thermostat is the only source of measured data and provides a very limited sense of controlling the temperature in some of a home’s rooms.
  3. For everything else, we have just used our own physical senses. Eyes to see water leaks or flooding, nose to smell odors, skin to feel discomfort, and our mouths and ears to talk with our neighbors to compare bills and home issues.

Like the Internet of the mid-1990s or “green” in the early 2000s, there is certainly a “Wild West” feel to the smart home revolution. But that’s a natural reaction to any seismic shift in the market, especially one that involves rapidly changing consumer preferences and how manufacturers, retailers, and contractors engage their customers.

There’s a New Sheriff In Town

Smart Home Tech 2

Ok, not really. But there is some sense of law and order coming to the “Wild West” of smart home devices. Organizations like ENERGY STAR and the Northeast Energy Efficiency Partnerships (NEEP) are collaborating with the smart home industry to establish voluntary standards and develop frameworks to define the boundaries of home energy management systems (HEMS) and other systems. 

For example, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency describes ENERGY STAR certified smart thermostats as delivering three key benefits:

  • Convenience
  • Control
  • Insight

Most smart thermostats provide actionable information for a homeowner to easily control their home’s equipment, and many also have the ability to learn occupant behavior and make adjustments without homeowner intervention. NEEP describes smart home energy devices as having 4 key functionalities:

  • Collect usable data
  • Provide timely information
  • Control/automate
  • Provide two-way communication with the grid

These functionalities are critical to modernize our nation’s electrical grid and reliably manage supply and demand, while reducing costs for both homeowners and utilities.

A Pearl Priority: Home is Where the (Smart) Hearth Is  

Yes, your home is your castle — and security systems, alarms, door locks, and video doorbells are great to protect that castle. But Pearl’s primary focus is on the more familial features of a home — a place that is comfortable, healthy, and affordable to operate. To that end, Pearl recognizes the value of smart home devices and systems that directly or indirectly relate to a home’s:

  • Building shell
  • Heating and cooling systems
  • Baseload (water heaters, appliances, lighting, or fresh air systems)
  • Energy systems (renewables, batteries, etc.)
  • Interconnectivity with the electrical grid
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Pearl makes home value visible. 

We engage, educate and communicate with homeowners on the value of working with high-quality contractors and the importance of investing in high-performing goods and services like insulation, air sealing, heating and cooling equipment, mechanical ventilation, and more. 

Smart home devices are no different. Devices that are better than average, more “intelligent” and/or have a greater impact on home performance are recognized by Pearl’s Scoring System and will help a home progress from Silver, to Gold, to Platinum. Pearl’s minimum “intelligence test” for a smart home device is that it must:

  1. Collect usable data about a home’s energy, indoor air quality (IAQ), durability, and/or comfort.
  2. Provide timely information about their home’s performance.

From there, Pearl recognizes additional smart features such as active control, monitoring, reporting, and interconnectivity with the grid.

Here are some of the smart home devices, features, and functions recognized by Pearl’s Certification and Scoring System: 

Smart Home Tech diversity
  • Wifi thermostats that provide better information and control to homeowners, or smart thermostats that go beyond with predictive or learning capabilities.
  • Real-time remote monitoring of HVAC systems that communicate directly with a qualified professional. These might be manufacturer installed capabilities, capabilities embedded in a smart thermostat, or an after-market solution.
  • Devices that monitor and report on three or more indoor air quality pollutants, some of which might include carbon monoxide (CO), carbon dioxide (CO2), humidity levels, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and/or small particulate matter (PM2.5).
  • Dedicated systems to monitor and control excessive humidity or dryness.
  • Lighting controls, including but not limited to geofencing capabilities, occupancy sensors, ability to schedule, and automatic dimming based on ambient light conditions.
  • Sensors that monitor and report on bulk water threats such as flooding or leaks in a home’s water lines.
  • Energy consumption monitoring of plug loads, water heaters, and other loads. These devices are often connected to the home’s electrical panel.
  • Interconnectivity with the grid, whereby appliances or other devices respond to price signals or demand side management programs
  • Energy production such as solar panels, storage (e.g., batteries), and the presence of electric vehicle chargers.

Reaching the Promised Land: Are We There Yet?

The vision of the “home of the future” remains just that -— something on the horizon, part mirage and part reality. But the next steps are clear, if uneven. Pearl will continue to work with homeowners, well-qualified members of the Pearl Network (contractors, builders, real estate agents, appraisers, raters, and inspectors) as well as our national Pearl partners to advance the understanding and adoption of high-performing home features — including the emerging smart technology that will transform how we design, construct, maintain, and improve our families’ homes.