Smart Sensors and Controls

New Residential

What are Smart Sensors and Controls?

Smart sensors are devices that monitor conditions of the physical environment such as temperature, air flow, moisture, humidity, and lighting and daylighting levels, offer smoke and CO detection, and collect data about real-time occupancy, and energy and water use. Electronic actuators process these measurements, and smart controls utilize the data to adjust home conditions and optimize home performance in such areas as home entertainment, energy-efficiency, safety and security, and water and landscape irrigation.[1] A smart home system consists of an integrated network of sensors and controls that use a communications network through a hub or central interface to provide monitoring, programming, and scheduling capabilities remotely or through an automated system based on user preferences and sensor inputs.[2]

Figure 1. Illustration of a Smart Home Source: Connected Devices Alliance 2018.

Figure 1. Illustration of a Smart Home Source: Connected Devices Alliance 2018.

Controllable appliances and devices include heating and hot water systems, lighting, windows and shading devices, garage doors and locks, refrigerators and freezers, dishwashers and ovens, TVs and audio equipment, washing machines and clothes dryers, and sprinkler systems.[3] For example, smart thermostats contain sensors to measure and ensure proper humidity levels and temperature settings and can be controlled remotely by household members or automated to adjust the temperature according to occupancy patterns. Smart appliances such as refrigerators and freezers use sensors and controls to remotely track and manage variables such as temperature, humidity, and energy use. Demand response enabled devices, including smart thermostats and certain appliances, can be controlled remotely by an energy provider to reduce peak power demand.[4] Smart lights connected to smart home hubs allow users to dim lights and to schedule lights to turn on and off based on pre-programmed times, occupancy patterns or motion sensors (see High-Efficiency Lighting Systems and Networked Lighting Controls). Smart solar window films adjust window tints based on incoming daylight; window shading systems use auto-controlled devices that open and close at specific times of the day to manage light levels and solar heat gain (see Energy-Efficient Windows and Glare and Solar Heat Gain Reduction).[5] Smart plug load controls, including smart outlets and advanced power strips, use scheduling, motion sensing, or load detection to turn off electronics and equipment when not in use. Smoke detectors enable automated sprinkler systems to function correctly, and CO sensors trigger alarms to protect occupants before exposure to dangerous CO levels. Smart security systems automatically unlock doors for residents using different types of sensors such as facial recognition or mobile phone GPS and use motion sensors to detect movement in empty spaces. Smart water metering and irrigation systems use sensors to monitor water use, detect leaks, and prevent irrigation systems from running when it is raining or when unnecessary.

Smart home technologies can connect users to a smart grid (see Smart Metering). Smart metered homes utilize advanced meters that record and communicate electricity consumption in short-time intervals back to the utility, providing two-way communication, support for advance monitoring and payment systems, and remote disablement and enablement of supply.[6] Smart metered homes with in-home renewable energy generation (see Photovoltaic Systems and On-Site Wind Energy Generation Systems) and energy storage (see Energy Storage and Back-up Power Generation) can signal homeowners to use renewable electricity when available, store excess when not needed or sell excess electricity to the grid. Electric vehicles can provide energy storage for energy generated in-house or from the grid when other demand is low (see Alternative Transportation).[7] Demand response ready devices and appliances can be automatically controlled by energy providers or incentivized through demand response programs to motivate consumers to reduce or shift energy use to off-peak hours.[8]

How to Incorporate Smart Controls

A home can incorporate multiple smart home technologies or a single service such as a smart lighting system or smart security system depending on the needs and desires of the household. Look for devices with interoperability between smart home technologies and with demand response functionality to allow for changes and updates over time as new products, services and incentive programs become available.

While sensors and controls may require cabling and cable pathways, an increasing number of applications now offer wireless capabilities. While sensors that do not depend on external power are available and recommended, sensors and controls that do rely on the grid and network connections require backup options for electric power and network connection in case of a power or network failure.

Contact the NJ Office of Clean Energy to learn about current incentives and programs that support smart home technologies that increase energy-efficiency.


Intelligent Efficiency – A Case Study of Barriers and Solutions to Smart Homes

This case study conducted by the Connected Devices Alliance provides a glossary of definitions on smart home technologies as well as an overview of the current barriers and potential market drivers and policymaker solutions to widespread adoption of integrated and interoperable smart home technologies.


Smart home technologies provide tools to detect and manage home operations, home entertainment, safety and security, comfort, and energy and water performance, resulting in better equipment maintenance, higher occupant satisfaction, and reduced energy and water consumption and costs. For example, giving homeowners remote access to manually adjust schedules and settings or automatic controls based on prescribed settings potentially can save energy and costs by reducing resource consumption when spaces are unoccupied.[9]


Smart home devices cost more than traditional devices, and there are often installation costs and service costs. The initial cost, energy savings, and payback of smart technologies vary depending on the technology’s features and capabilities. Advances in wireless technologies have also lowered installation costs compared to wired devices.


Smart sensors and controls contribute to a home’s resiliency by providing real-time feedback on the status of a home’s heating, cooling, and safety and security systems, notifying homeowners when and where a problem exists, and providing remote access for turning systems on or off during potential power outages or other disruptive events. Smart sensors that do not rely on external power or wired networks can continue to provide feedback during power outages. Smart metering and smart devices and appliances with demand response ready equipment also benefit the energy system and promote resiliency by supporting grid stability, reducing peak energy demand, and increasing the use of renewable energy.

[1] Marina Sofos. 2018. “Sensor and Control Technologies: R&D Overview.” Building Technologies Office (BTO). U.S. Department of Energy: Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy. BTO Peer Review. April 30, 2018. (accessed Aug 13, 2018).

[2] Connected Devices Alliance (CDA). 2018. “Intelligent Efficiency –  A Case Study of Barriers and Solutions – Smart Homes.” March 2018. (accessed August 17, 2018).

[3] Charlie Wilson et al. 2017. “Benefits and Risks of Smart Home Technologies.” Energy Policy. Volume 103, April 2017, pages 72-83. (accessed August 16, 2018).

[4] Connected Devices Alliance (CDA). 2018. “Intelligent Efficiency –  A Case Study of Barriers and Solutions – Smart Homes.” March 2018. (accessed August 17, 2018).

[5] Christopher Perry. 2017. “Smart Buildings: A Deeper Dive into Market Segments.” December 2017. American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy. (accessed August 13, 2018).

[6] Connected Devices Alliance (CDA). 2018. “Intelligent Efficiency –  A Case Study of Barriers and Solutions – Smart Homes.” March 2018. (accessed August 17, 2018).

[7] Ibid.

[8] Smart Home. Home Automation Buying Guide.  (accessed May 3, 2018)