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Meter Messenger #122 -Energy Monitors and Power Strips Make Great Gifts
December 15, 2012

Issue #122
November-December 2012

Visit Home Energy

Table of Contents

Energy Monitors Make Great Gifts

Put Power Strips to Work

Alternative Energy Economics

Ten Energy Saving Tips

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Energy Monitors Make Great Gifts

Looking for that last minute gift for that special person? Consider an energy monitor - a unique gift that it is only educational and fun to use but can actually save money on your electric bill. Simple plug-in meters start as low as $20. Please visit our Energy Monitor Store where you can choose from over two dozen different models.

A simple plug-in meter is a great buy for someone just getting started with energy measurement. It can be used as a stand-alone device that can measure any 120 volt plug load. Use it to identify vampire loads associated with your computer or home entertainment system or simply measure how much energy is used to operate your refrigerator.

Moving up to a single point monitor or an energy meter reader will allow one to monitor the entire electrical load on their home. Prices for these units tend to fall in the $100 to $175 range. Remote displays can be placed in high traffic areas of the home to increase energy awareness amongst family members.

Multi-point monitors allow you to measure the entire load coming into the home but have additional channels to monitor large appliance loads such as the air conditioner, hot water heater or clothes dryer. These extra channels can also be used to measure energy generated by solar panels or wind turbines. Prices range from $250 to $750 depending upon how each system is configured.

At the top of home energy monitor line is the circuit level monitor. It has the ability to monitor and track up to every circuit in the electric service panel. Power is measured on the load side of each circuit breaker and tracked through online software that can give you information about your home energy use anytime anywhere. It can even control your thermostat remotely and text you alerts when preset conditions are met. Prices start around $500.

Keep in mind that as the price of energy monitors increases, so does the granularity of the information it provides. Putting this information to good use can increase the amount of energy dollars saved making the payback period for more expensive models on par with lower priced models.

As a guideline for pricing whole house energy monitoring systems we recommend capping your budget at twice the amount of your average monthly electric bill. This way, with a modest savings of 8-10%, you will recover your investment within two years.

Put Power Strips to Work

Power strips also make great gifts as they are a low cost way to eliminate vampire loads. These are small electrical loads from electronic equipment that run 24/7 regardless of whether the device is on or off. They slowly bleed money through your electric bill just like a leaky toilet valve hurts your water bill.

There are four basic types of power strips, namely standard, timer controlled, metered and smart switching. The standard units simply have an on-off switch that controls six to eight outlets and may include a surge supressor to protect electronics. Some units offer a remote switch so you can place it in a convenient location so you don't have to get down on your hands and knees to turn it on or off.

Timer controlled power strips allow you to cycle devices on and off so that power is only being drawn when needed. At this time of year, these types of power strips are very handy for controlling holiday lights. Some units even offer multiple on-off cycles within a 24-hour period. They also work well on electronics that are not used while you sleep but continue to draw those vampire loads if left unchecked.

Metered power strips actually show how much power is being drawn through them at any point in time and will log the amount of energy consumed over time. These can be very helpful when trying to figure out how much energy your home entertainment system uses each week or month.

Smart switching power strips devices cut power to certain outlets based upon the on/off state of a master outlet. For example, connect your computer to the master outlet and your printer and speakers to the slave outlets. When the computer is shut off, power to the peripherals is also switched off.

If you would like to learm more please check out the power strips page at Home Energy

Alternative Energy Economics

Alternative energy production using solar, wind and/or micro-hydro to free us from the grid is something just about every energy conscious person dreams about from time to time. A tiny or non-existent electric bill with a carbon footprint so small that even an experienced animal tracker couldn't find you would sure be nice. And so we dream on...

The harsh reality about alternative energy is that the numbers aren't there yet. The cost of alternative energy production remains well above that of conventional fossil fuels. Solar panel manufacturers are still working toward that dollar per watt target but still have a way to go. Wind generation requires a tall tower and a large rotor sweep area to extract enough energy from the breeze to make a difference. The cost of such structures plus local code restrictions tend to put these options beyond the reach of most home owners.

Electric vehicles are starting to be used by some for daily commutes to work but are still not practical for long trips unless configured as a hybrid. The electrical load required to charge such a vehicle is on par or greater than the energy it takes to heat or cool a home. Charging your electric vehicle with your solar array or wind generator alone won't happen anytime soon. The physics simply don't exist at a scale that is economically sound.

Consider the five gallon can of gasoline. It contains more Btu's per unit volume at atmospheric pressure and room temperature than any other comparably priced energy source. Trying to replace it with alternative energy and either performance is degraded or energy cost escalates.

Electricity generated by natural gas, coal, hydro or nuclear from the grid is used to charge the vehicle's battery which in turn powers a motor that converts electrical energy to mechanical, and ultimately to motion. A certain amount of energy is lost every time it is converted adding to the cost.

Now, all this is not to say that I am against alternative energy. In fact I am all for it, if it makes good economic sense. But, how many of you want to have a "Solyndra project" festering in your back yard?

If you have the hours of sunshine or the steady wind or enough fall in a nearby stream, then go for it. But, sharpen your pencil before committing funds so you know how long it will take to recover your investment. And, by all means, install an energy monitor to track the system's performance so you will know whether or not you get what you paid for.

Ten Energy Saving Tips

1. Use only one refrigerator or freezer as it can cost over $100 per year to keep a second one on all the time. If extra refrigeration is needed for a party or event, just turn it on a day or two before the event and shut it off afterwards.

2. 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.

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. 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.

5. Check the ceiling of your crawl space. Is it insulated? If not, consider doing so as significant radiant heat loss can occur through the first floor. If your bedroom is on the lower level, that barefoot walk to the bathroom first thing in the morning will be a bit more pleasant.

6. Use cold water when running your garbage disposal. Energy used to heat the water is not sent down the drain and the lower temperature solidifies grease so it moves through the disposal and pipes more easily.

7. Warm air rises. In rooms with high ceilings keep ceiling fans circulating that warm air back down into the inhabited space near the thermostat. Personal comfort increases and furnace run time decreases.

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

9. Keep south facing windows clean and free of obstructions during the day to maximize passive solar heat gain. Pull drapes at night to minimize heat loss, especially if windows are large.

10. Cold air can creep into your home through a variety paths; recessed lighting fixtures, sill plates, the attic entrance, door frames, electrical outlets and plumbing cutouts to name a few. Test for drafts on a windy day by tracing suspect areas with a candle. Any abnormal flicker on the flame will indicate a source of cold air entering the home. (Be careful not to catch the curtains on fire as you do this test.)

Forward a Copy...

If you found the Meter Messenger helpful please consider forwarding this email to a friend who may be interested in reducing his or her home energy costs. They can subscribe to future issues directly at Home Energy if they wish.

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