eMonitor from PowerHouse Dynamics

by Chris Hunt
(San Carlos, CA)

I've had the PowerHouse Dynamic’s eMonitor installed at my house for several months now and it looks to me to be the best system out there for monitoring your household electricity usage. And I know this area since I've tried tools from numerous vendors including the TED 5000 which has actually been installed at my house at the same time. The TED 5000 is still a terrific tool for monitoring total consumption but if you want to discover everything about your household usage the eMonitor is the way to go.

Click here to review the short video Chris put together on the eMonitor. Nice stuff! -Ed.

First off, the eMonitor is a robust and finished product. It's not just that it works once installed; it works flawlessly. I have not had a single gotcha, bug, UI display or data problem since I installed it and I can't tell you how rare that is. I've done product development for software companies and to have this system work like this out of the box is amazing.

Personally, the biggest issue I found with using the eMonitor is that it is an iterative process. I thought my service panel circuit labels were pretty accurate but once the eMonitor was running I found those labels were at best 3/4's on target. And this is after previous investigations, both from past electricians and even my own analysis. For example, more outlets and rooms were attached to specific circuits than I knew and I could only find that out when something didn't make sense by digging deeper until I found the culprit.

For example, the circuit that was wired "refrigerator” in our kitchen also had the dishwasher wired to it. So not only did that circuit show the circulating background of 285 watts every time the fridge cycled on, it would jump to 800+ watts whenever we turned on the dishwasher. Better yet, the circuit would show 27 watts constant background draw when both the fridge and dishwasher were off; it turned out the dishwasher had an “always on” feature after it had been run. Unless you unhooked the latch after the dishes had been cleaned, the washer would consume 27 watts 24/7. The machine is only about 7 years old and doesn’t have a “do not heat dry” feature so to stop the waste you literally have to open the door to prevent the dry-cycle and always-on feature from consuming.

Another example - although one we can do little about until we replace this unit too – is the stove top. We have a gas oven / stove top unit but with electronic ignition. Every time we would cook or heat something up in the gas oven it turns out we were using 300+ watts of electricity as well to power the clock, timer and temperature gauge.

That's the type of granularity you can't get with any total monitoring system because it just can't drill down far enough for that. I had previously gotten our nighttime power usage down to under 300 watts/hour from midnight to 5 am but I couldn't really figure out what was causing those 300 watts. The computers were off, the TV and DVR were power-stripped & off, the outside lights were off (our low voltage lights are 300 watts/hr - good to know). Turns out that various small things contribute all the time and while I can't eliminate all of them I can compensate in other areas or at least turn these things off now when we go away. The garage door-opener draws power 24/7, the add-on speakers to the kitchen computer draw power 24/7, the two gas heaters draw background electrical power around the clock as well. Who designs this stuff and how do we tell them to stop?

Regardless, the best part is that I know the exact energy footprint pattern of my entire house and can control it. I know what the draw should be during the day, during the night and what is waste vs. necessity. I have not lowered my living standards one whit, but I have completely eliminated expensive and unnecessary consumption.

Cons:
Installation. I am not an electrician and I did this myself but it is highly recommended that you have one install this monitor because your hands and fingers are inches deep inside the panel. If the thought of 220 volts sparking your hair with highlights doesn't bug you, it should.

But the biggest issue is not that the circuit CT clamps have to go on every circuit you want to monitor, it's that many service panels out there are just a mess. The original panel box is often too small and if you have dual-pole breakers like I do it is tough to get all the CT's (24 in the standard kit) in the circuit box and close the panel again. The CT wires coming out of the panel (through the knockout hole) are also a little unruly but if you know that going in you can avoid the possible Medusa effect.

The only other complaint is that I want even more now, a true power addict. I now know that the lights have been left on upstairs because it shows that that hallway is drawing 60 watts and no one is up there. And the two different programmed thermostats in my house are a pain to reprogram when daylight savings and the season change comes around because their controls are so bad - so getting UI controllable thermostats from PowerHouse Dynamics would resolve that. I'd also love to control major appliances from my laptop, either at home or away. For example, instead of a separate timer and controller box in my basement for the outside lights I could program the lights to come every day at 6 PM and off at 9PM by putting the lighting control plug into a pending PowerHouse socket module that enables the logic to do that. Or how about not using certain energy hog devices during punitive Time-of-Use pricing that will come along with the complete saturation of Smart Meters? That is true home energy management and I can't wait for some of those features to come online.

Disclaimer: My firm runs home electricity audits and I do use the TED 5000 in my audits now and will also use the eMonitor in the future for clients who want that granularity in the audit.

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