Like many other energy audit programs, CEE has begun to integrate smart phones and tablets into home energy audits. These devices will soon be essential pieces of the home energy auditor's tool kit. Their advantages include data collection and organization, reference for technical info, and integrated camera and notetaking. Several apps have been developed to help save energy, but auditors could also use a number of non-energy apps to track and store information.
In this review, we will examine how you can use mobile devices and on-the-market apps in the field. We focus specifically on apps for iPhones and iPads, but Android devices support similar apps. Our discussion is not meant to endorse a particular app or device, but to survey the market, share our program activities, and explore possibilities. The apps below were not designed specifically for residential energy programs, but each can help with a single step. A user-friendly comprehensive app for auditors would help streamline inspections, organize data, and share and access information
House information: Finding a house’s location is as easy as typing the address into Google Maps, free and easily accessible through the Safari browser on the iPhone/iPad. As an added benefit, Google Maps also provides an overhead and a 45° view of the house. We particularly like the free app for Microsoft’s Bing search engine. Its Maps feature provides directions like Google Maps and also provides “bird’s eye” aerial photos of the house from the four cardinal directions. These views help determine the type of house and enable a virtual walk-around inspection of the roof, exterior walls, surroundings. The free real estate information app by Zillow draws from publicly accessible building assessment information. Zillow provides information including the year built, floor area, number of bedrooms and bathrooms, and market value of the house.
House photos: Auditors carry digital cameras as a standard tool. The latest models of the iPhone and iPads come with a Camera app that takes high quality digital phots. iPhones even have a flash! Panoramatic 360 (99¢) allows you to take panoramic photos on your iPhone camera. The app stitches together several photos into a wide angle image. It can help you shoot interior rooms or other desired images that a single photo could not capture. Photo editing apps perform touch-ups and add annotations to audit photos. My Measures and Dimensions ($2.99) inserts measurements onto photos. Photo Measures ($4.99) annotates each measurement and allows you to zoom in and magnify details.
House plans: Drawing floor plans by hand is time consuming and sketches can be difficult to read and review. The Home 3D ($6.99) home design app helps you assemble floor plans more quickly. One time-saving feature even allows you to trace new floors over existing ones. The app also renders the room plans in 3D visualizations that can be saved in its photo album or emailed. You can then use a photo-editing app to annotate the plans and pinpoint specific details or concerns.
Other mobile tools: The built-in calculator app is handy in a pinch. For auditors who dictate notes during inspections, the free voice recognition app Dragon Dictation converts speech to text, then saves the notes as an editable file. For traditional note-taking, Notability (99¢) for the iPad automatically links handwritten notes with audio recordings and supports word processing. And if you plan to have others read your notes, the WritePad ($9.99) handwriting recognition app for iPad converts handwritten into an editable text document. It includes a spellchecker. Dropbox , a free service to upload files to the “cloud,” serves as backup storage and allows access from other devices. A number of turn by turn navigation apps take advance of smart phone GPS capabilities. Our favorite is Navigon, which costs $59.99.
Smart tech: New smart technologies create additional opportunities for energy auditors using smart phones and tablets. Add-on accessories and adaptors multiply the functions of smart phone cameras. iPhone Lens Dial ($249.99) and the olloclip ($69.99) clip onto the iPhone 4 and 4s. These camera lens add-ons give you more flexibility when taking photos, and you can also use them to shoot video. The iPhone Lens Dial lets you select from three types of lens: wide-angle, telephoto or macro. The olloclip allows you to choose between wide-angle and fish-eye. You can create 360° panoramic videos with two camera adapter lenses - Kogeto Dot and GoPano micro. As the video plays, viewers can click and drag to spin the view through its entire 360° range: front, rear, and sides. And the Parrot AR.Drone is a controllable quadicopter you can pilot from your smartphone or tablet. It flies indoors and outdoors, has a front-viewing camera with a live video feed, and generates its own wifi network. You could use the drone during building investigations to gain and improve visual access.
Several other exciting technologies are under development or available for use with smart phones or tablets. For example, when wifi-connected, the FLIR IR camera E-series can enable connectivity to Apple and Android smartphones and tablets. You use these devices to analyze images and publish reports on-site. Finally, new enhanced devices use smart phones and tablets as display devices, controllers, or both. On the diagnostic side, smart devices could work with smart phones and tablets to improve home inspections. And after the audit, residential consumers could use smart thermostats, appliances, and in-home displays to monitor and control home energy use.
Contributing Author: Anna Jursik
Apps developed by:
Bing © 2011 Microsoft; Zillow © 2011 Zillow; Panoramatic 360 © floaty; My Measures & Dimensions © 2009-2011, SIS software; Photo Measures © Big Blue Pixel; Home 3D © Black Mana Studios; Dragon Dictation © 2011 Nuance Communications, Inc.; Notability © 2012, Ginger Labs, Inc.; WritePad:© PhatWare Corp.; NAVIGON © 2012 Garmin Würzburg GmbH; Dropbox © 2011 Dropbox; iPhone Lens Dial © Photojojo; Kogeto Dot © 2010–2012 Kogeto Inc.; GoPano micro © Copyright 2011 EyeSee360; Parrot AR.Drone © 2012 Parrot SA.; FLIR IR camera E-series © 1999-2012 FLIR Systems, Inc.