Smart Sensors and Controls for Residential Buildings



The rapid deployment of sensors; increasing development of Internet of Things (IoT) technologies (e.g., Wi-Fi thermostats, smart plugs, smart electrical appliances and smart meters); and penetration of solar photovoltaics (PV) and batteries in residential buildings are transforming energy use.1 Smart integrated systems enable the monitoring of equipment operating conditions and can provide real-time energy usage information. Device controllers process these measurements and can provide opportunities to reduce energy use and lower utility bills. These smart technologies, however, are underused in residential buildings. Even if homes have controllable technologies installed, they are often not integrated with one another and therefore operate independently, limiting their potential and effectiveness. For example, a home might have a smart thermostat that adjusts the set point temperature using a mobile phone application that communicates when the occupant is away through GPS location services. That same home may also have occupancy sensors that control lighting in various rooms. The two methods of detecting occupancy are redundant, as there is no integration between the smart thermostat and lighting controls. Another example is scheduling smart appliances to operate optimally with a home PV system. Without a central home management system or integrated communication between the appliances and the PV system, coordinated scheduling is impossible and could result in increased power consumption beyond what is being supplied by the PV. It may be more economical or energy-efficient to stagger the schedules to take advantage of the solar power generated by the home. This is especially economical if the homeowner is paid for the solar power at a rate lower than the retail rate for power sold to the grid.

The increased monitoring capabilities of sensors provide multiple opportunities for improved residential buildings controls. Sensors and control applications can decrease energy consumption (e.g., turning on and off lights using an occupancy sensor2), increase occupant comfort (e.g., precooling spaces before occupants arrive at home 3), and providing demand response services to the grid (e.g., turning off the heating, ventilating, and air-conditioning unit for demand response events 4 5). Although some of these applications exist, they are not integrated with each other and improvements could remedy that.

With the increased availability of sensors and IoT technologies, there is a growing need for integrated solutions and controls for improved building energy efficiency, occupant comfort, and grid responsiveness in homes.These solutions need to fully capture the benefits of these technologies as well as be convenient and intuitive for occupants.



Problem Definition

Identify a specific community impacted by this problem. Describe this stakeholder community and the specific challenges it faces. The community can be a subset of society with specific needs such as a marginalized population.


The Challenge

Develop an innovative solution that uses sensor data in residential buildings to reduce energy use, improve occupant comfort, and/or increase grid responsiveness. The solution should incorporate one or more of the following strategies:

  • Include existing data sources and control applications.
  • Propose new innovative technologies such as new sensor sets or new control strategies.
  • Propose additional data to be collected and develop a small example data set of these hypothetical data, which could be self-generated or a compilation of other data sources.
  • Provide a conceptual design of a platform that integrates data and interconnects devices (two-way communication and control signals across devices); the platform could use standard communication protocols for control signals (in order for devices to "talk" to one another, they need to speak a common language or have a translation process).
  • Develop an algorithm that will use sensor data to optimize a home.
  • Develop an algorithm that will optimize for a home that is at least 50% powered by PV.

Solutions may address either single family or multifamily housing and should include:

  • The proposed approach.
  • The type of sensor data.
  • Information about how the data will be used.
  • The expected impact of the proposed methodology; examples of impact include energy saving potential, demand reduction, and thermal comfort.
  • An explanation of how the solution will benefit the stakeholder community.
  • A demonstration of how to integrate the technology into a residential building (single family or multifamily, new construction or retrofit) by providing a design of the building that includes specific areas where sensors and other IoT technologies will be placed; teams could provide a layout or map of the building to address this requirement.
  • A tech-to-market plan for how to apply a solution on an aggregate scale; for example, if the proposal includes a new platform, how can partnerships with existing companies in the industry help launch the solution, engage homeowners, and motivate them to adopt the solution?



Competing in this challenge is open to student teams currently enrolled in U.S. universities and colleges. See the Terms and Conditions for eligibility requirements. Please note that you must complete your Building Technologies Internship Program (BTIP) application before or at the same time as you submit your idea in order to compete in the JUMP competition.

Teams are required to have representatives from at least two different majors.

Teams that have gender balance, such as an equal number of women and men, will receive more points in the Diversity of Thought category than teams of only one gender. However, gender balance is not required, and teams consisting of only one gender are welcome.

Written responses can be up to five pages, single-spaced, and may be attached as a PDF in the JUMP into STEM response form. Please include a list of references. Appendices are welcome but may not be reviewed by the judges. References and appendices do not count towards the five-page limit.

Submissions should include a project team statement. The statement should describe the perspective or skill that each team member brings to the project. The statement should include a note on the mix of majors, backgrounds, genders, etc., represented on the student team.


Evaluation Criteria

Technical (45%)

  • Impact to reduce energy consumption in buildings.
  • Ability to maximize occupant comfort and/or indoor air quality.
  • Technical potential and merit.
  • Response meets all technical requests of the challenge.

Innovation (35%)

  • Market characterization and readiness for proposed idea.
  • Replicability and scalability.
  • Is the idea unique and/or innovative?

Diversity of Thought (20%)

  • Multidisciplinary team approach (meets requirement for 2 of more majors on a team). Teams should comment on their majors in their project team statement.
  • Gender balance: More points will be awarded to teams that attain even male/female split.
  • Based on the idea submitted, do the students bring a unique perspective to the problem?
    • This includes whether the report presents students' perspective on how their solution will address a need for a society or a subset of society, such as a marginalized population. Do the students understand these stakeholders' needs?
    • This also includes whether the team members bring diverse perspectives to the problem, as identified in the project team statement.


Other Information

Everyone, including students, professors, individuals, innovators, entrepreneurs, or others, are encouraged to vote or comment on the challenge. A few guidelines to keep in mind:

  • All are welcome: All community members are welcome and encouraged to participate in the dialogue.
  • Be respectful: Please, no remarks that are off topic or offensive.
  • No solicitation: Please, no promotions or endorsements for specific commercial services or products.
  • Response time: Where applicable, a JUMP team member will respond to process and program related questions within two business days.



Webinar 1:Smart Sensors And Controls For Residential Buildings with Bethany Sparn, National Renewable Energy Laboratory

Webinar 2:Smart Sensors and Controls for Residential Buildings with Jim Leverette, Southern Company

Webinar 3:Occupant-centric Building Controls with Michael Kane, Northeastern University



1: Grid-Interactive Efficiency Buildings Overview -
2: Wireless Sensors for Lighting Energy Savings -
3: Smart Thermostats -
4: Buildings and The Grid Roundtable -
5: Electrification of buildings and industry in the United States -