Save Energy with Automatic Switches

By Carl Seville, Networx

One of the biggest causes of excessive energy use in homes comes from the amount of electrical equipment, lighting, and electronics we have, and how often it is left on when not needed. I am a green building consultant in the Atlanta area and I work with Atlanta electricians and remodeling contractors to try to improve energy use in houses. Here are my suggestions for installing automatic switches to save energy at home:

Starting with lights, we often turn them on when we walk into rooms, even if there is enough light to see without them.† On top of that, they are too often left on when not needed.† If no one is in a room, then there isnít much point in having a light on.† A little lighting here and there for security Ė to make intruders think you are at home and to have enough light so you donít trip over something or fall down a flight of stairs Ė is fine, but donít leave on so many lights that someone walking down the street thinks that youíre filming a movie in your house.

If you have the old, soon to be discontinued incandescent light bulbs, they produce a lot of heat (about 90% of their energy is heat and only 10% is light), so in the summer, lights left on heat up your house, requiring more air conditioning to keep it cool.

If everyone was just responsible and turned things off, we wouldnít need to worry much, but we are a lazy bunch and, apparently, we need help operating light switches.† That is where occupancy controls come in.† There are many devices available that will control lights, fans, and electronic equipment: turning it off automatically when it isnít needed, saving energy in the process.

Next: Occupancy sensors and manual-on sensors

The most basic occupancy sensors turn on lights when someone enters a room, automatically turning them off a preset amount of time after they exit.† These sensors use a combination of motion detection and heat sensing technology so the lights donít go off if you are sitting and quietly reading.† The sensitivity is adjustable so things donít turn on every time your kitty walks through the room.

Although occupancy sensors do work well, a better solution is what is known as a manual-on sensor.† This type of switch requires someone to turn on the light manually, then turns it off automatically after they leave.† The good thing about this type of switch is that it doesnít turn lights on when you donít need them. During the day, many rooms have enough light for someone to walk through or get something they need without turning on a light, and manual-on sensors save energy by not automatically turning lights on when not needed. Occupancy sensors can also be used on ceiling fans, which are often left on after people leave the room, wasting more energy.

Electronics are big energy hogs, and most of them are in the on position all the time, usually just so we can turn them on using the remote control.† TVs, DVD players and audio equipment use power in the standby mode, so disconnecting the power when youíre not using them is another good energy saving strategy.† You probably donít want to turn off your DVR or cable box, because then it wonít record that episode of “Mad Men” that you missed, but the other stuff is fine.

If youíre building or renovating, you can put in what is known as a ďkill switch,Ē a regular switch that controls a set of receptacles that you can plug in all the things that you can turn off.† When youíre not watching, just flip the switch and watch the energy savings on your fancy energy monitor (if you have one).† When youíre ready to watch TV, just turn the switch on, sit back, and flip through the channels with your remote.

Next: Simpler energy-saving setups

For simpler setups, you can have a regular old power strip: one with a remote control, or something known as a “smart strip.”† Smart strips have a special receptacle that senses when the main piece of equipment (like a TV or computer) is turned off.† It then cuts the power to other receptacles in the power strip, saving energy by turning off your DVD player, printer, monitor, or other equipment that doesnít need to be on.

If youíre looking for something simple, you could use timer switches, kind of like the ones they used to have in college libraries.† Turn them on for a set amount of time and they automatically turn off when done.† This may not be your preference, but they do work well on bath fans, keeping them on long enough to exhaust the moisture but keeping you from leaving them on all day.† You can get timers that run up to eight hours Ė these are great for ceiling fans you like to have on at night to keep you cool in bed. You donít have to worry about turning them off in the morning so they donít run all day.

Finally, if youíre willing to be a responsible adult, you can just use regular old switches and train yourself to turn things on only when you need them and to turn them off when youíre done. I know thatís kind of tough, but how much effort does it really take?


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Warren Webber
Warren Webber3 years ago

Live long and prosper

Tanya W.
Tanya W4 years ago

Thank you. I have been brought up to turn off a light when leaving a room. Its not hard to get in to the habit; Your hip pocket will thank you.

Donna Hamilton
Donna Hamilton5 years ago


Michele Wilkinson

Thank you

Danuta Watola
Danuta W5 years ago

Great article thanks for sharing

Vicky Barman
Past Member 5 years ago

thanx for sharing

Donald M.
Donald M5 years ago

Great article, but factoring in the cost of some of those automatic switches make them much more expensive than the cost of the electricity you're using otherwise.

The old filament light bulbs we've always known may be going away, but until they come out with cost effective replacements that actually work with dimmers (CFL's don't, even the ones labeled 'DIMMABLE"), I'm sticking with them for the most part as I have dimmers installed throughout most of my home including on my table lamps. LED bulbs are great, but they have a long way to go in coming down on price.

Jordyn Seri
Jordyn Seri5 years ago

this is a great article, im going to look into one of the timers!

Angela N.
Angela N5 years ago


Carmen S.
Carmen S5 years ago

thanks, these would be a good thing for many people who forget to turn things off