Between homes festooned with holiday lights and turkeys roasting in the oven, December is a peak season in America for energy usage. Decorative lights alone consume 6.6 billion kilowatts of electricity. This holiday season, you can help friends and family save energy with home automation. From smart thermostats to programmable lighting and sprinklers, these holiday gift ideas can help your loved ones use less and save more over the course of the year. Consider learning how each type of tech works in the home and how much they can save.
According to the U.S. Department of Energy, the average household spends nearly $1,000 annually on heating and cooling and could save as much as $180 using a programmable thermostat. However, in practice, most homeowners who have such thermostats don't actually program them. A smart thermostat offers a simpler path to good energy habits, with a self-learning feature that logs your preferences in as little as one week. The clever device learns your routine by taking note when you turn down the thermostat before you leave for work or go to bed, then begins adjusting the temperature accordingly on its own.
Most brands include energy-saving settings to help you start off on the right foot. The thermostat connects to Wi-Fi for remote management from your smartphone, tablet or laptop, making it possible to turn off the air conditioner even if you aren't home. This streamlined approach to energy conservation seems to pay off big. According to a 2015 white paper by Nest Labs, households that install the company's smart thermostats save an average of 15 percent off their cooling bills and 10 to 12 percent off their heating bills, even if they used a programmable thermostat in the past.
Smart thermostats require some basic electrical wiring to install. You can offer to help install it, or hire a qualified electrician to do the job. You can include a note with your gift, then follow up to schedule an installation date.
Smart lighting is on the wish list for many, whether they're homeowners or renters. The technology gives users remote control over lighting via smartphones, making it easier to remember to turn off the lights when they're not in use. When synced to a voice assistant, users can control lighting with a simple voice command for even greater efficiency.
Three main types of smart lighting are available: switches, fixtures and bulbs. Switches and fixtures offer a permanent solution but require hard-wired installation, making them a moderate to major undertaking depending on how many rooms you tackle. Smart lightbulbs take seconds to screw in and can come with fun features, such as dimming and color-changes. Most smart bulbs rely on LEDs for increased energy savings and are available at different price points, so you can slip a starter bulb into a stocking or go all-out with a whole-home lighting upgrade.
For the energy-conscious person on your gift list, consider adding a motion sensor. Available for some smart lighting line systems, a standalone sensor syncs up with compatible smart lightbulbs in the room, turning them into motion-sensor lights. Lighting control features such as dimming and motion-sensing can cut electricity usage by as much as 30 percent, making this technology as cost-efficient as it is modern, according to the Department of Energy. 
A smart plug module can turn ordinary Christmas lights into smart lighting, making it a great gift for friends and family who go all out for the season. Just plug the device into any standard wall outlet, then plug in the string lights. Smart plugs connect to your smartphone via Wi-Fi, so you can program a holiday lighting display to come on at a designated hour to celebrate the season without wasting energy.
In warm climates, a lush green landscape requires regular watering. However, as much as half of that water may be going to waste with a conventional sprinkler system.  Smart sprinklers and irrigation systems let you create watering schedules from your smartphone or tablet, making it easier to keep lawns green without wasting resources. These systems are good gifts for older gardeners, eco-conscious households and professionals who frequently travel. You can give a basic kit to introduce the technology to your green-thumbed friend, or you can look into expansions with modules for multiple sprinklers on large properties. Most brands support multiple-zone use to program different watering schedules for different sprinklers, so your favorite gardener can give her roses or vegetable garden special attention.
Consider finding out if your friend or family member has a traditional sprinkler timer or controller before selecting a smart sprinkler. Many brands of smart sprinklers use the same wiring, making it easy to upgrade the technology. If your friend doesn't have a timer on her sprinklers, you may need to help with some basic electrical wiring to install the new smart system.
Consider checking for rebate programs to score a deal on smart technology. Some states offer rebates on specific energy-saving smart devices. You can enter your ZIP code into the ENERGY STAR rebate finder to see offers.  Your energy supplier may offer additional rebates. You can also search manufacturers' websites for rebate offers. Both Rachio and Nest let you look up rebates and special energy deals for their products based on your ZIP code.
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