Back to… Energy Science-SMART!

You’ve Got the Power (Electric & Gas)

Home Smart Home

It’s time to wake up for school. Music videos begin to play on your television screen. Your bedroom lights come on gradually, the curtains slide open to welcome the daylight, and a soft voice urges you out of dreamland. No need for an alarm clock to jolt you from bed, you’re gently awakened by an integrated home automation system!

You hurry to the bathroom, where the lights come on as soon as you enter. The tile floor has been pre-warmed for your arrival. When you finish showering, you dry off with automatically pre-heated towels.

Smart home concept with hand holding cell phone controlling appliances in kitchenIn the kitchen, your little brother says you’re out of milk, so you check your refrigerator to make sure. You don’t open the fridge—instead, you use a computer on the door to check its contents. At the push of a button, your refrigerator system automatically reorders milk via the Internet.

Does this sound familiar? Maybe not yet, but in the future it will be commonplace. Technology is now available to make lighting, heating, cooling, ventilation, appliances, entertainment, and security systems all operate automatically by computer, telephone, or touchpad.

These “smart home” systems will not only make home life more fun and convenient, but can enhance home safety as well. In today’s homes, electricity can be accessed from any outlet at any time. In smart homes, outlets will provide power only upon request by a qualified appliance. If the computer system determines that all is well, the power will be sent to that outlet. If the network senses potential danger, such as a frayed cord, short circuit, overloaded outlet, or appliance incompatibility, the system will deny power to the outlet.

Similar functions will be available for natural gas appliances. In today’s homes, natural gas waits in a pipe under pressure, and when you turn the appliance on, a valve opens to let more gas in. In smart homes, any appliance requiring gas (like a stove, outdoor grill, or clothes dryer) could be connected to a smart gas outlet that will constantly monitor for leaks, improper connections, and other malfunctions, and will shut off gas when the situation is unsafe.

Smart, safe homes are not as far off as you may imagine. By the time today’s high school seniors turn 25, most new homes will have these technologies. Meanwhile, you’ll just have to rely on that alarm clock to help you get up in the morning.

Do the Safe Thing

Home Safe Home

Two wall plug adapters plugged into electrical outlet with no plugs freeDo a simple inspection inside your home to keep yourself and your family safe. Look for these hazards:

  • Overloaded outlets
  • Worn or frayed power cords
  • Power cords running under rugs or furniture legs
  • Appliances used near water without GFCI protection
  • Circuit breakers that trip or fuses that blow often
  • Electric or gas heaters close to anything that can burn
  • Flammable liquids or other materials stored close to gas appliances
  • Kids playing near natural gas appliances or connector pipes

Remind your family to have natural gas-burning equipment and ventilation inspected by a qualified professional every year, preferably before the start of each heating season.

Paying for Power

Your local utility company sends your household a bill for the electricity and/or natural gas you use.

Light bulb on white backgroundFor electricity, you pay for the kilowatt-hours (kWh) used in your home during the billing period. What is a kWh? It is equal to 1,000 watts of electricity used for one hour. If you leave fifty 20-watt light bulbs on for an hour, you’ve used one kWh of electricity.

For natural gas, you pay for the therms you’ve used during the billing period. What is a therm? It is the number of cubic feet (cu. ft.) of natural gas used, multiplied by a therm factor. The therm factor is based on the energy content of the gas, which can vary. Some utilities simply assume an average therm factor.

Advanced Science Concept

Fantastic Facts

  • How many miles of electric transmission lines are there in the United States? The Edison Electric Institute reports there are about 200,000 miles of high-voltage transmission lines in the United States.”
  • How many miles of natural gas pipelines are there in the United States? About 2.4 million miles of underground pipelines deliver natural gas to more than 73 million customers in the U.S. (Source: American Gas Association).

Try these exciting activities and explorations:

Save a Watt Advanced Activity

Breaker, Breaker Exploration