Home Control
Energy Monitoring in the Home
New products give consumers a detailed view of home energy consumption.
Kill-a-Watt
The Kill-a-Watt is a low-cost device that reveals the energy consumption of appliances.
July 13, 2007 by Ben Hardy

We are living in a time when energy consumption and conservation is on many people’s minds. From the cars we drive to the light bulbs we use, energy usage, carbon expenditure, and environmental impact are considerations that are (or should be) weighed with every purchase and lifestyle choice we make.

Cutting unnecessary energy usage in and around the home is one way every individual can make a difference. Our outlets are packed with energy-sucking devices and systems –- but how to know which are the biggest culprits? The answer lies in energy monitoring. These solutions come by way of small and simple plug-in devices or through whole-home monitoring systems.

Plug In and Unplug
The easiest way to enter the world of energy monitoring is to purchase one of the smaller plug-in devices that can be used to monitor and measure energy consumption on a device-by-device or appliance-by-appliance basis. The Kill-a-Watt is one such unit—plug it into an outlet and then plug an appliance into the Kill-a-Watt and you can read the real-time energy consumption of that appliance. It’s great for determining the cost-benefit of, say, replacing an older model (and energy-sucking) fridge with an Energy-Star rated model. Better yet, homeowners can plug a home theater system into the Kill-a-Watt and see just how much energy is being consumed by the system even when it is turned off. You might then see the wisdom in unplugging these systems when not in use.

Whole-Home Energy Monitoring
The best energy-monitoring solutions think big. A true conservationist wants to know energy consumed by the whole home, right down to the last light bulb in the basement bathroom. Such solutions are available, though their detection, monitoring, and installation means all vary slightly.

Take the Wattson, for example. This UK product comes in two parts—a sensor and a display. The former gets clipped to one of the wires between the fuse box and the electric meter, and the latter is a wireless unit that displays real-time energy usage by the home. By turning appliances on and off the energy usage count changes, allowing homeowners to calculate usage by each appliance or fixture.

The “display and sensor” package is one shared by a few other solutions on the market. The PowerCost Monitor installs and operates just like the Wattson, with the display informing the user of consumption both in kilowatt hours and in dollars and cents.  The PowerCost will also alert the user to the highest amount spent on energy over a 24-hour period—crucial information to the homeowner looking to pinpoint and address peak usage hours of the day.

High-end versions of the whole-home monitoring solution include the EML 2020 Total Home Energy Monitor Kit, which comes with a meter, two sensors, and software and a USB cable to track and monitor usage on the home PC. The unit can plug into individual outlets to measure specific appliances and it also measures whole-home energy consumption by clamping to the electric panel. Information stored on the meter can then be downloaded to the home computer using the software, where homeowners can get a better look at usage over different periods of time.

Latest and Greatest Energy Monitoring Options
A new product in the energy monitoring industry is the Home Joule, an energy monitoring device that not only tells you how much energy you are consuming, but also how the cost of energy is changing throughout the day. A sort of partnership between ConsumerPowerline (CPLN) –- an energy assessment management firm –- and Ambient Devices – makers of wireless and plug-in devices that inform users of everything from weather forecasts to market trends –- the Home Joule is a plug-in device and monitoring service currently being tested in New York City, where energy usage and supply is closely monitored and assessed.

Featuring a color display, the Home Joule changes colors and flashes warnings when energy prices are on the rise, prompting the user/homeowner to use discretion. A red display indicates very high energy costs, while green means costs are low. Devices like these not only assist the individual home in lowering energy costs, but they also help large cities like New York avoid brownouts and power supply issues. 

Energy Monitoring Products at a Glance

  • Kill-a-Watt: Monitors individual appliance energy consumption. MSRP: $20-25
  • Wattson: Whole-home energy monitoring system. Available in UK. MSRP: £350
  • PowerCost Monitor: Whole-home energy monitoring system. $149
  • EML 2020: Whole-home and individual appliance energy monitoring. Includes software and USB cable for computer tracking of data. MSRP: $560
  • TED (The Energy Detective): Whole-home energy monitoring system. MSRP $140, $210, depending on model.
  • Home Joule: Not yet available to the public.
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Ben Hardy - Contributing Writer
Between watching re-runs of the The Jetsons and convincing his Insteon and Z-Wave controls to get along, Ben Hardy is immersed in the world of home automation, home control, and home networking.

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