The second largest energy suck in residential homes is the water heater -- nearly one-fifth of your monthly power bill, according to one study. Turns out it takes a lot of energy to keep hot water on standby for when you need it.
Enter Aquanta. At $150, it's a retrofit gadget that connects to your water heater to make it more energy efficient. How? By learning user patterns -- like when you tend to shower or fill up the dishwasher. The result? Hot water when you need it, less wasted energy when you don't.
It's a simple idea, and one that's been applied successfully to other parts of the smart home, like thermostats. If it works, Aquanta could have a shot at.
How it works
Aquanta Inc. (the company and the product share a name) says water heaters are simpler in some ways to automate than thermostats. The simplicity is a result of their binary nature. Either they're on or off. So the Aquanta device doesn't have to do much automation other than control the power switch or ignition.
Where the smarts come in is with energy monitoring and device scheduling. Aquanta Inc. uses what they call an Enthalpy Sensor, which measures the changes in energy inside the water heater. This sensor lets the device gauge how much energy is lost by maintaining the heat of standing water. Aquanta also tracks water entering the water heater to help measure how many gallons of water are being used.
Together, these two sensors help Aquanta learn your hot water usage, and over time lower your energy waste. Ideally, that could mean plenty of hot water for showers in the morning, but during the day with kids at school and parents at work, hot water will be kept at a reasonable minimum -- enough for an impromptu shower, but not an excessive amount, according to the developer.
How it could go right (or wrong)
Adding smarts to water heaters is a patently good idea. Especially if, as the company claims, Aquanta really works with up to 85 percent of American water heaters, and if it really cuts enough wasted energy to significantly affect your electricity bill. That said, Aquanta has me asking a few questions.
First off, the app to control the device isn't an app at all. It's a website you have to access via Web browser. Sure, users shouldn't have to log into the control center often if everything works as planned. But if something does go wrong, I want solutions and control at my fingertips in seconds.
The other question I've got is about performance. Nest, the thermostat that popularized learning algorithms in smart home tech, worked well -- but when it didn't work, it wasn't a huge deal. If Nest turned the temperature too low during the evening, you could just adjust the thermostat in the hallway. If Aquanta runs low on hot water when you stop at home to shower before an afternoon meeting, it could be a lot more inconvenient.
Both of these problems could be minor, though, depending on the execution of the product. And I can afford Aquanta a little breathing room on some of these features, because nobody else is attempting what it is. If this device can surmount these flaws, it could be a must-buy for the eco-conscious smart home owner.