An energy monitor for your home
Published on 24 Oct, 2018 by Michael Bishop
Categories: Energy efficiency
Would you like to better understand your home's energy usage? You're in luck — you can now connect an energy-monitoring device in your home to get a bird's eye view of your real-time energy usage. These energy monitors are sold by technology companies — not your local utility. This article will cover the what, why, and how of home energy monitoring.
Sense home energy monitor
How does it work?
It turns out that your dishwasher, air conditioner, and every other energy-using device in your home has a unique electrical "signature." The energy monitor reads your home's overall energy load millions of times per second to identify and track the distinct signatures of every running device. Wow!
The internet-connected energy monitor sends your home's energy data back to the energy-monitor company, which uses "machine learning" to better understand your home's unique devices and appliances over time.
Where do I see my energy data?
Fortunately, you're not expected to open your breaker box and read the energy-monitoring device's display.
The energy-monitor company provides a mobile app and companion web app, where your home's real-time energy usage is displayed in colorful interactive charts. You can hone in on a specific appliance (for example, your refrigerator), and you can check an appliance's total usage or your home's total usage over any period of time (today, this week, this month, this year, or whatever).
Sense energy-monitor app
This seems cool, but how will it help me?
Here are a few ways:
Cut your utility bill through better awareness
You might be surprised by how much energy some of your appliances use. An energy monitor can help you identify these "energy hogs" and swap them out or just turn them off.
Along with energy hogs, there are "vampire loads." These are devices that draw power 24x7, whether they're adding value for your family or not. One example is the TV cable box. If a vampire load is drawing too much power, it might be a good idea to swap it out or turn it off.
With most energy monitors, you can indicate the rate you pay for energy — the total cost to run each appliance will then show up next to its total usage (if you’re like me, you’re more motivated by dollars than energy kilowatt-hours).
Cut your utility bill through notifications
Here's a fun one — you can set up your energy monitor to notify you if a device is accidentally left on. For example, the better energy monitors can identify and track devices as tiny as the light bulb in your refrigerator. You can tell the energy-monitor app to notify you if the fridge light bulb is on for over 5 minutes (this light bulb is only on when the fridge is open, so 5+ minutes probably means the fridge got left open).
Improve your home security and safety
Energy usage is a clear sign that there's activity in your home. Did your garage door open when nobody's home? Did your backyard motion-detector light turn on when you're on vacation? Did your office light turn on? Pick your device and set up the logic to have your energy monitor alert you through a mobile push notification.
Gamify your home energy usage! Electricity is interesting, and your home would be a very different place without it. Better awareness of your home's energy profile could be a fun activity for the whole family. This improved awareness alone might bring about energy usage reductions (and a lower utility bill). You could set energy-reduction goals, and the energy-monitor app will show if you've met them.
How much do energy monitors cost?
Popular options cost as little as $219. The most popular option (Sense) is $299. These are one-time purchases — you buy the energy-monitor device and then get the data monitoring forever.
Are they easy to install?
Some are easier to install than others. Typically, a 240-volt breaker would be added to the breaker box. The energy monitor would be connected to that breaker, and current-measuring clamps would go around the two thick wires above. The energy monitor's Wi-Fi antenna would stick out of a breaker box "knock out" hole.
The popular Neurio energy monitor recently updated its breaker-box clamps to measure voltage as well, so the extra breaker is no longer necessary. Between this innovation and the relatively small size of the Neurio energy-monitor device and clamps, the Neurio energy monitor is the easiest option to install.
Some energy monitors, such as the popular CURB option, connect separately to each circuit. While these "multiple circuit" options could be more accurate, we don't think the potential accuracy improvement outweighs the additional installation complexity and breaker-box clutter. We recommend one of the single-circuit "machine learning" options.
Given the potential for electric shock, energy-monitor companies strongly recommend that their devices be installed by a licensed electrician. If you decide to handle the installation yourself, be sure to turn off the main breaker first. And follow the installation instructions carefully (both for your safety and for correct energy-monitor operation).
Which energy monitor should I choose?
As with all technology products, different energy monitors have different strengths and weaknesses. Overall, we recommend Sense. It's the most popular option. It's one of the most affordable options ($299). It’s software is updated regulary, and it has an active user community. And in our opinion, the Sense app offers the nicest user interface. (Sense hasn't paid us to say this.)
Here are some of the other popular options:
Stay tuned for the author’s personal experience with Sense
I just got my Sense energy monitor in the mail. I'll share a personal review in a future CutMyBill blog post.
Do the energy monitors work with solar too?
Most of them do, including Sense. This is a great way to track your solar system production and home usage through the same app. Note that the solar-enabled version of energy monitors are typically a little more expensive and a little more difficult to install.
Sense energy-monitor app, with solar
Many local solar installers have experience with the various energy monitors, and can help you find the best option (they might even be able to get you a deal on one). In any case, your local solar installer is also a licensed electrician and would probably be happy to install your energy monitor. You can find best-reviewed solar installers here. And you can learn more about going solar here.