Issue #107
November 2010

Visit Home Energy

Table of Contents

Energy Monitors Make Great Gifts

Selecting an Energy Monitor System for your Home

Energy Monitors and Home Automation

Ten Energy Saving Tips

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Energy Monitors Make Great Gifts
Looking for a fun and practical gift for that special someone in your home this year? Consider a home energy monitor. They inform and educate about your energy use and show where you can save money on your energy bills. Check out our Energy Monitor Store for a great selection of energy monitors. If you are looking for an inexpensive gift just visit our plug-in meters comparison page.

If you are that "someone" that would like to receive an energy monitor as a Christmas gift here's a handy way you drop a hint. Go too our Energy Monitor Store. Copy and paste the URL of this page into an email along with your suggestion and send it to that special person who is looking for a great gift idea for you. Sit back and wait for December 25th...

Here's a quick run down of pricing and features:

Plug-in Meters
These devices measure any 120 volt appliance by simply plugging the meter into the wall outlet and plugging the appliance into the meter. Power, voltage, current and frequency are displayed and energy is recorded. Most units can accept electric bill rate information so cost can be displayed as well. Measurement is limited to one appliance at a time. Prices fall in the $25 to $75 range for plug-in units. Corded units with additional features run higher.

Energy Meter Readers
Moving up a step, these units track whole house energy usage by employing a sensor that counts pulses on your utility's electric meter. The signal is transferred by wireless or hard-wire to a display where consumption can be monitored easily. Units simply provide a "whole-house" picture to the display but generally do not have a computer interface. Basic units start at less than $100.

Energy Monitors
Power and energy are measured independently using current transformers (CT's) located inside the main electrical panel of your home. Multiple channel models allow you to monitor large appliances or sub-panels in addition to the primary feed to your home. These energy monitors are IP based which allows you to view usage on any computer on your local home network or over the Web using vendor provided services or Google Power meter.

Prices start in the $200 to $300 range and go up based on the number circuits to be monitored. Because of the ability to monitor individual loads in addition to total load these energy monitors offer the greatest potential for energy savings. Check our our Energy Monitor Dashboard page to get an idea of what these systems can do.

When it comes to pricing an energy monitor for your home we recommend that you set your budget at twice the cost of your average monthly electric bill. This way, using a modest 8-10% savings per month, you will recover your energy monitor investment within two years.

Selecting an Energy Monitor System for your Home
Deciding how to monitor energy use in your home to maximize savings can be a challenge. The best place to start is to make a sketch of all the circuits in your main service entrance panel. If you have sub-panels, sketch out their circuit list as well. When making your sketch, list the amperage of each circuit breaker and note what appliances or circuits it serves. Also make a note of each double pole breaker as these serve the larger 240 volt appliances.

Our Power Panel Profiler makes a great template for your sketch. The circuit breaker panel is already built in a MS Excel spreadsheet so all you have to do is fill in the blanks. It is FREE when you sign up for our Meter Messenger E-zine subscription.

When your sketch or Power Panel Profiler is completed you will have a blueprint of how electric power is distributed in your home. From this blueprint you can select the points where you would like to measure energy consumption. First off, you will want to measure total energy entering the home at the main breaker. This will require 2 current transformers (CT's) to be mounted on the incoming lines from the utility's electric meter.

If you are only interested in getting the big picture, measurement at the incoming mains or on the utility meter itself will be all you will need. The benefit to this approach is a lower cost monitor. However, not measuring larger loads individually, may limit your ability to find sustained energy savings.

For a more accurate picture of your energy usage locate your largest loads. These will typically be the air conditioner, auxiliary electric heat strips, hot water heater, clothes dryer and the oven and/or range. All of these will be 240 volt loads that use double pole breakers. The next tier to consider are lighting circuits that have a lot of bulb-hours such as the kitchen or a home office. These will be single pole breakers. Some homes may carry additional loads of significance such as pool pumps, spa heaters or home automation/entertainment systems that should be considered.

Make a list of these larger loads and prioritize them by the estimated amount of energy they use. The air conditioner or heat pump will generally be first followed by the hot water heater. Consider run time and power levels carefully when prioritizing remaining large loads. When the list is complete, make a note of which circuits are served by single pole (1) and double pole (2) circuit breakers. Add up the "poles" to determine how many CT's will be required to capture the measurements.

Consult the multi-point energy monitor product comparison table to find how many channels (double = 2 poles, single = 1 pole) the various energy monitors provide (See 2nd Row of table). If you find your plan calls for more channels that are available you can either drop a measurement point from your plan or add channels by moving up to a circuit level monitor. To the best of our knowledge, only BrulTech, eMonitor and EcoDog offer more than 40 circuits of monitoring through modular expansion.

Once you find the monitor system that will meet your plan, check the price. Be sure to include the cost of extra CT's as these are generally priced separately. As mentioned above, try to keep your cost at or below twice that of your average monthly electric bill to ensure a reasonable payback on your investment.

Energy Monitors and Home Automation
Once you have identified ways to save money with your home energy monitor, how do you change the habits of those around you to make them stick? Some families have tried to put electric bill savings toward something fun like a new big screen TV or a Wii board. The bribery technique seems to work for several days and then everyone, especially the kids, forgets and returns to their old habits.

Automating reduction in energy usage has proven to be much more effective than trying to rely on a teenager to turn off the lights and TV every time they leave their room. It can be as simple as installing occupancy sensors in bedrooms and bathrooms or as complex as integrating an energy monitor into a home automation system.

We recommend starting simple. Install occupancy sensors, motion sensors and dimmers where it makes the most sense - high traffic areas where lights are often left on. Place dimmers on light circuits with multiple fixtures that get a lot of use. The kitchen, busy hallways, a home office or the kids bedrooms are good candidates. Reducing illumination levels by 10 to 20 percent goes almost unnoticed and extends bulb life considerably.

Another option is to consider lighting controls that can affect more than a single circuit. This can be done with simple remote lighting control kits. These kits allow you to replace three to four different wall switches with a set that is controlled remotely. Illumination levels and run time can be preset for convenience or to augment lighting security.

Looking beyond lighting alone, consider power line control using X-10 technology. X-10 uses existing household wiring to send control signals to devices controlled with switches that respond to X-10 signals. Window shades, home electronics and other 120 V. appliances as well as lighting can be controlled this way. Although X-10 provides a control path for the budget minded DIY (do-it-yourself) type person, its response rate and reliability level has restricted it from going mainstream over the last decade.

At the high end are the fully integrated home automation systems that control distributed audio and video, lighting, security and environmental controls with a single system. Control is managed with hand-held remotes and touchscreens located throughout the house. The intent of these systems is to provide entertainment and convenience to the homeowner more so than energy management.

However, the role of energy management is growing in these home automation systems. Many are developing interfaces to existing home energy monitors such as the TED 5000 or the higher end Agilewaves. Others are building energy monitor capabilities into their own systems such as Control4. This whole process is just in its infancy.

As new energy information standards emerge from the Smart Grid initiative over the next few years a whole new level of sophisticated control will emerge. The driving force behind this control system will be cost effective energy management. Home automation will most likely be the delivery system.

Ten Energy Saving Tips
1. Consider upgrading your holiday lighting to LED's this year. The pin-point light is bright and uses only a fraction of the energy conventional lighting consumes.

2. When shopping for appliances pay close attention to the yellow EnergyGuide rating label. Don't compare list prices but instead, compare life cycle cost. Multiply the annual energy cost times the number of years you expect the appliance to last and then add the purchase price. The total is what you can expect to pay for the appliance over its useful life, less maintenance.

3. Save energy on your dishwasher by choosing a cycle that does not dry the dishes or just advance the control knob through the dry cycle manually. Simply pop the door open and let the dishes air dry. Escaping heat and humidity are helpful indoors during the colder months.

4. When shopping for a refrigerator look for models with an automatic moisture control. These models are engineered to prevent moisture build-up on the cabinet exterior. Stay away from models with an anti-sweat heater which consume 5-10% more energy. Anti-sweat heaters are essentially "band-aids" that are added in lieu of good, up front moisture control engineering.

5. Refrigerator temperatures should be maintained between 37 and 40 degrees F. Freezers should be kept at 5 degrees F. or zero for long term storage. Measure the fridge with a thermometer in a glass of water for 24 hours. Place the thermometer between packages in the freezer for the same period before reading.

6. Defrost freezers before ice build-up exceeds a quarter of an inch. Ice is an insulator and increases energy costs when allowed to accumulate.

7. Side-by-side refrigerator freezers are less efficient then top freezer models. Ice makers and water dispensers add convenience but increase energy consumption.

8. When drawing small amounts of water, be sure to place the kitchen faucet in the cold position. Placing it in the hot position will deliver cold water for a short period. That cold water is replaced with hot which cools in the pipe before ever reaching the faucet. A circulating instant hot water system provides an exception to this recommendation.

9. 90% of the energy used by conventional top-load washers goes to heat the water. To save energy reduce water levels to match the load. If not facing oily stains, warm or cold water will generally do a good job of getting the clothes clean. Warm water saves 50% and cold water 90% of the energy used in a hot water load.

10. Consider front loading washing machines. They wash the same load in 15 gallons of water that top loaders use 32 gallons to clean.

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