Tracking Your Second Home From Afar

A sick parent, a vacation home, a rental property — insights from Sense can go beyond just where you live.

With many people staying home now, including Sense staff, we were reminded of an article we originally posted in early summer 2019. It was inspired by stories our customers shared with us about keeping track of a second home in the Sense app. One customer kept an eye on his parents’ home, and two AirBnB owners checked on their rental properties. We hope that Sense can contribute in some small way to your peace of mind as our lives seem to have changed overnight.

It’s odd how daily routines can become so automatic that ten minutes later, we can’t remember our actions. Rushing to get to work, you might ask yourself later, did I turn off the kettle after pouring water for tea? Or perhaps you wonder if the coffeemaker is still warming the coffee two hours after it brewed. Or it may be the iron you use in the morning that pops up in your mind an hour later. Did I unplug it after ironing my shirt?

Sense can help when you leave the house for work or vacation and wonder if you left something on. Sense is not just an energy monitor — it also tracks home activity. Once Sense has identified a particular device, you can see when it turns on and off in the Now screen in the Sense app. You’ll see when your microwave, toaster, electric kettle, fridge, and other devices are running (or have run recently). One Sense customer, Fred W, even detected an overheated pottery kiln in the Sense app while away from home. A major fire hazard!

But Sense isn't just for your home. Many of us have other properties that can benefit from real-time and historic energy monitoring. In other cases, Sense can be a great tool to help our older family members maintain the dignity of "aging-in-place," while still providing insights into their well being. 

Sense customer Mark K. built a house in Arkansas for his parents about 20 years ago. It’s powered entirely by electricity, which runs two refrigerators, an under-counter freezer, a Burnham boiler, hot water recirculation, a radiant hot water collector on the roof, and radiant floors. Not surprisingly, the home uses a lot of electricity. Using Sense, he identified several areas for energy and cost savings, then installed Wemo smart plugs to control the hot water recirculation system, the radiant hot water system, and outside landscaping lights, while making other efficiency improvements like switching ceiling lights to LEDs. Says Mark, "I've combined Sense with Nest and Wemo to cut $700-1000 from the annual electrical expense of my parents’ house in Arkansas."

Mark's Dad was diagnosed Alzheimers 5 years ago and the disease advanced rapidly. He and his mother decided to support his father in staying at home, so safety was important. Sense helps him determine the activity in the home and where it’s happening. For instance, says Mark, “The Sense app could tell me that my mom got up in the morning and turned on the coffee pot, which became a really important thing. As soon as you put a lanyard on a person, it changes their life, so Sense helps us avoid this.”

Sense can also be a great tool to monitor your rental and vacation properties. On the Sense Community, iansampaio shared the ways he checks on his AirBnB from 4,353 mi away — while being careful to respect his guests’ privacy. They include:

  • Confirming when guests have checked in using a lock box so he can help out with any issues, and being aware if guests check out late
  • Checking on AC usage during guest stays and making sure the AC is not wasting energy after they leave
  • Checking that the cleaners are spending enough time at the unit to clean it thoroughly, based on their activities tracked in Sense
  • Anticipating each month’s electric bill in Sense — no surprises!

Says Ian: “I purchased [Sense] to learn more about my apartment’s efficiency and to be aware when guests checked out leaving the AC on (once I noticed it was on after 3 days).”

Another user, BrownWoodRental, has an AirBnB where guests reset the thermostat on the HVAC system about 100 times annually. Guests routinely reset the thermostat for their own comfort levels or turn on the fan in the HVAC system. Settings that exceed 3 degree changes were triggering the resistance heat unit rather than the more efficient heat pump. Once Sense detected these changes, the owner disabled the trigger.

Another area for savings was the fan in the HVAC system. Says BrownWoodRental:  “Guests aren’t familiar with the effects of leaving the HVAC fan on all the time. In a Florida home with duct work in a 130 degree attic, leaving the fan on with even a 5% air leak brings in constant hot air to a cooled home.” The solution: disable the fan option so it only turns on automatically. Overall, through Sense insights and other home automations, BrownWoodRental is saving nearly 10% annually.

Do you have a story to share about using Sense in to watch your home while you’re away? Share it with us on Facebook and Twitter!