CONSERVING ENERGY in your home begins with an understanding of where it’s being used and overused. Cutting back is good for your wallet, unless you have to shell out a small fortune to buy a monitoring device, pay an electrician to install it, and then spend countless hours getting cozy with a spreadsheet to figure out what it all means.
Thankfully, technology is catching up with consumer desires. Individual systems can now help you root out your 20-year-old fridge as a primary energy culprit, or convince you to unplug a 60-inch TV that’s draining “vampire power” even when it’s off. With more knowledge about your home’s energy usage, you can start to replace energy hogs with energy stars.
There are now three relatively simple, cost-effective ways to pinpoint the power usage in your home:
1. Monitoring individual devices through an outlet
“Traditional” energy monitoring systems connect to your home’s electrical panel–something most homeowners aren’t comfortable pulling apart and fiddling with. Today, simple monitoring switches like the WeMo Insight Switch ($59.99) and the Kill A Watt EZ Electricity Usage Monitor ($39.99) go straight into an AC outlet, safely between the device’s plug and your home’s electric grid.
In real time, the Kill A Watt EZ calculates and projects the cost of continued use of whatever you plug it into: for example, a lamp, a refrigerator, or a window air conditioner. Once you’ve told it your cost per kWh (found on your electric bill), its built-in LED display shows how much it is costing to run that device hourly, daily, weekly, monthly and yearly. To get a figure that’s as accurate as possible, especially on devices that use power cycles and standby modes, plug it in for at least 48 hours or up to a week. I plugged my spare fridge in for a week and was not surprised to discover it was costing me $55 a year to run.
The WeMo Insight works on the same principle, only with added Wi-Fi smarts. Plug in the device, download the WeMo app, and get real-time readouts of energy use and projected monthly costs on your smartphone. You can also turn the device off and on remotely or set schedules to do so automatically.
The app provides at-a-glance info about current usage and projected monthly cost; if you want to do a deep dive, it will also send you your 45-day history. I tried it out with my Keurig Coffee Maker, and found out it costs about $11 a year, and my iMac, which at an average of $5 a month costs me $60 annually to run, 24/7 (that’s something I’ll be putting on my tax return next year).
2. Monitoring through a specialty surge strip
An energy monitoring surge strip offers similar functionality to an energy monitoring switch, but with the ability to monitor more devices. These are ideal for calculating consumption of a device-heavy home entertainment center or home office setup.
The Kill A Watt PS-10 ($99) is a power strip, surge protector, and energy monitor all in one. It monitors voltage, amperage, kWh, and current “leakage,” or the power that’s being used even when a device isn’t switched on. It also has a “no load” function to easily identify which devices draw power even when they are off.
I plugged my home media setup into the PS-10. A combination of a home office and home entertainment center with a Wii, Wii Remote charging station, all-in-one-wireless printer, DVD player, cable box, Apple TV, router, modem, and a far-too-large Samsung Smart TV essentially represents nearly every “always-on” device in my home. After three days of regular use, the LED display showed me the system was drawing 29.7 watts on idle and 189 watts on max.
The PS-10 works a little differently than its smaller Kill A Watt sibling in that it doesn’t show you hourly usage; instead, it displays a maximum and minimum draw. It also doesn’t convert its data into dollars—you have to do the math yourself. I calculated that the media center is costing a maximum of $215 a year and a minimum of $11 (assuming I never turned it on). Turning it off completely when not in use—via the big OFF switch on the PS-10—would definitely save me some money.
3. Monitoring the entire house
Smart switches and power strips will help you easily and inexpensively sniff out “problem children,” but if you are looking for a whole-home energy consumption makeover and want not only to monitor, but effectively adjust and adapt your use to save even more energy, then a whole-home solution works best. This type of setup is also useful if you are trying to discern the energy use of systems that affect your entire house, like the water heater and heating and cooling unit.
They do require more expertise than a switch or a surge strip to install —a licensed electrician really is a must. There are quite a few options in this category, but here are two at opposite ends of the feature and price spectrums:
The Energy Detective ($300) will monitor, collect, store, and analyze your electricity data in real time, project your monthly bills, and determine how much electricity certain appliances/activities are costing you. You can also view your data on any mobile device.
The iConserve ($120) is a wireless option that simply clamps on to your home’s electrical supply lines and uses sensors to detect the amount of power passing through them. It won’t supply details on individual appliances, but is an inexpensive option for taking charge of whole-home electricity use. It also comes with an added feature to estimate the carbon dioxide emissions of your home, which is an ideal teaching tool if your energy-saving motives are as environmental as they are economical. Another handy feature is the ability to set overage alarms when you have passed a kWh or CO2 threshold.
As we move toward fully integrated smart homes, the amount of power we consume will likely continue to escalate. Keeping tabs on where it’s going and how we are using it will be increasingly important. Get a head start on your energy monitoring today, so you’ll be ready for the home of tomorrow.
Jennifer Tuohy: is a tech geek who writes for The Home Depot on the latest smart home innovations. To view more info on: home automation and energy monitoring devices, visit www.homedepot.com.