Carnegie Mellon University

Prof. Mario Berges, Hongrui Yu, and Prof. Mike Blackhurst

August 12, 2019

Summer Research: How Smartphones Can Make You More Energy Efficient

Imagine a future where individuals could use their smartphones to conduct energy efficiency audits on their homes and businesses.

CEE student Hongrui Yu, who is pursuing a master’s degree in Environmental Engineering, Science, and Sustainability, spent the summer conducting research into whether that would be possible.

Yu worked with Carnegie Mellon University CEE professor Mario Bergés and CEE alumnus Michael Blackhurst (BS ’99, PhD’11), professor at the University of Pittsburgh, on the project.

Yu says the idea makes sense because of the proliferation of smart phones. If a phone application allowed people to utilize a device already in their possession to monitor the energy efficiency in their house – especially given more extreme temperatures and increased utility costs – they could save hundreds of dollars in third-party inspections. Money could also be saved with early detection of a window or a door, for example, that are not retaining cold air when air conditioning is in use.

“You usually have to hire contractors to conduct energy audits,” Yu says, adding homeowners or building managers could use their smartphones to do the audit themselves, which is more cost-effective.

To conduct her research, Yu placed a smartphone equipped with “AndroSensor,” an existing phone app that uses the phone’s built-in sensors, on or near the air conditioner unit to detect and record changes in the ambient environmental noise caused by different operations of the unit. She then interpreted the data collected by the phone to determine – using the different sound levels of the air conditioner’s various operations – when the unit was cooling.

By plugging the data into the formula provided to her, Yu was able to determine whether walls, windows and doors were effectively retaining the cooled air inside the building.

Yu says with the first phase of her project finished, and the data showing promising results, she hopes to develop more detailed parameters for the research and continue to flesh out the possibilities of developing this concept this fall.

While she has participated in research prior to the smartphone project, she says this project has been especially gratifying.

“Research is fun and challenging,” Yu says, adding that research builds on the what is learned in the classroom and gives students the opportunity to create new knowledge.