The Sane Mom’s Guide to Saving the Planet: Smart Appliances

From smart appliances, advice on getting cleaner drinking water, reusable food containers and more, we’re gonna tackle this one doable, non-crazy-making step at a time.

Find Your Power Players

What could make dialing down energy actually seem cool? Getting an assist from these “smart” appliances.

Refrigerators

What Makes Them Smart

You would swear that no one in your house can peer into the fridge and see the desired food right in front of them (when your son swore there was no more string cheese, there was, of course, an entire bag). Cue the hallelujah choir, because some new smart fridges have cameras you can access from your phone, so you can see what’s inside—even when you’re in the aisle at Kroger. Other fridge 2.0 features include chimes that alert your kids they’ve left the door open, or a door you can tap to see what’s inside without opening it.

Word to the Wise

Having a connected fridge doesn’t come cheap, so expect to pay a hefty premium. 

Try: LG InstaView Door-in-Door, lg.com, from $2,399; Samsung Family Hub, samsung.com, from $4,099.

Thermostats

Thermostat with plants 2019

What Makes Them Smart

Oh, how your kid makes a habit of cranking the air conditioning down to an Arctic setting, hanging for a few minutes—then heading out to meet his friends. Who cares that the bill is astronomical? (Um, you.) So all hail the smart thermostat that can not only turn itself down when the house is empty but sense when your phone and, presumably, you are back home (thanks to geo-fence technology) and kick in to the preferred temp. These next-gen thermostats play nicely with voice-controlled systems—Google Home and Amazon Alexa—so instead of screaming at your teen for futzing with the AC, you can yell at the thermostat to readjust instead. 

Word to the Wise

Most HVAC systems installed in the last decade or two will play nicely with a smart thermostat (just hire a pro to install it, unless you like juggling multicolored wires). 

Try: Nest Thermostat E, store.google.com, $169; Ecobee SmartThermostat, ecobee.com, $249. 

Washer & Dryer

What Makes Them Smart

High-efficiency bells and whistles can save water and detergent, doling out optimal amounts of both depending on load size and how dirty, say, your kids’ jeans are. Apps give you the option of remote-setting appliances so they run overnight, when electricity rates are lower, or kick on so that your arrival home is synchronized with the end of the wash cycle and you can toss stuff in the dryer. (Never again will you be jolted out of bed with the realization that a load is moldering in the washer.)

Word to the Wise

Like high-tech fridges, smart washers and dryers cost extra. But new Energy Star–rated models could save you in utility bills. 

Try: Whirlpool Smart All-In-One Washer Dryer, whirlpool.com, $1,700. GE Connected Washers and Dryers, geappliances.com, from $900 each. 

Water Heater Controller

What Makes It Smart

Even many old boilers can be retrofitted with a smart controller and app that will let you—and your Mom Eagle-Eye—set an energy-saving schedule and track hot water use. If your teen basks in endless showers (as if he’d spent the day in a coal mine, not 10th grade), this device could help stop that right quick.

Word to the Wise

The self-installable device sits between the tank water heater and power source and connects to Wi-Fi. It works with electric or gas models with an electronic control valve.

PSA: You may be able to buy one at a discount from your local utility. 

Try: Aquanta, aquanta.io, $149.

Home Energy Monitor

What Makes It Smart

This gizmo plugs into your electrical panel, measures the current flowing throughout your home and sends real-time reports to an app on your phone. It analyzes electrical patterns—so you can tell whether it’s Abigail’s hair dryer or Rebecca’s PlayStation that’s sending your electricity bills through the roof.

Word to the Wise

You’ll need to check that the electrical panel is within reach of your Wi-Fi. And if you have multiple panels, you’d need a separate monitor for each. Hire a licensed electrician on this one—shaving a few dollars off your bill is not worth frying for. 

Try: Sense Home Energy Monitor, sense.com, $299.

Lightbulbs

What Makes Them Smart

For one thing, they use energy-saving LEDs.

But they can also be scheduled to turn on and off, or connect to motion sensors so they go on only when someone’s nearby. No more having to holler like a cranky old coot, “Why is this place lit up like the Vegas Strip?!” 

Word to the Wise

You can buy stand-alone bulbs and control them via an app, but they’re most convenient when paired with smart-home systems. That way, you set up commands to control multiple lights and do one easy everyone’s-in-bed shut-down. 

Try: Philips Hue Starter Kit, meethue.com, from $70; LIFX smart lights, lifx.com, from $20.

Plugs & Switches

Coffee maker with plug 2019

What Makes Them Smart

Smart plugs or switches let you control lamps and small appliances—the coffeemaker, humidifier, fans—from an app, making it easy to set your devices to automatically turn on or shut down at specified times. (This is especially handy for the daughter who has never in her life remembered to turn off her curling iron). Some outlets let you monitor energy usage (aka, offer serious spying opps), as in “The Xbox has been on for how many hours straight? And is racking up how much of a bill?!”

Word to the Wise

These, too, are even handier when coordinated with a voice-controlled device, like an Amazon Echo Dot or Google Home Mini. 

Try: Belkin Wemo Plugs and Switches, belkin.com, from $35; Kasa Smart WiFi Plugs, kasasmart.com, from $24.