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How to measure home energy use

From the neighborhood grid to the electrical supply panel in our basements, we’re using our home’s electricity more than ever before. From major appliances like washing machines and hot water heaters to outlets and lighting fixtures, the demand for solid power is always on the rise. While there are various tactics you can employ to keep the electric bill looking a bit friendlier, it becomes difficult to measure and monitor exactly what appliances and utilities are demanding the most power.

Fortunately, a rising number of green and eco-friendly solutions have appeared on the market for those who want to save both energy and money. Here’s a look at some of the most reliable options, what they’re best suited for, and where you can find them.

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Smart meters

Smart Meter
Flickr | Portland General Electric
Smart meters are highly adept energy trackers, but they are also outside of your control. These are digital utility meters that are installed by power companies, house by house. They send wireless signals (or sometimes power line signals) to show how much electricity the house is using as a whole. This makes it really easy for power companies to check your energy usage from a distance and often gives you access to regular reports on how much energy your home is using.

As part of upgrades to smarter grids, power companies around North America have switched to these smart meters. It’s taken some longer than others, some companies still balk at the change, and homeowners can refuse the new installation if they want. (There are a lot of very odd conspiracy theories out there about smart meters spying on people or poisoning homeowners.) In other words, there’s no guarantee that you have or can have a smart meter. The best way to find out is to either look on your power company’s website or call up your power company and talk about it.

If you have a new-looking electricity meter with a digital readout, you probably have a smart meter. Some of them even handily say “smart meter” somewhere on the box. If that’s the case, head to your power company websites, log in, and see how you can use that particular monitoring option to watch your total energy usage, typically from day to day. Many companies also provide guides on how to lower these numbers.

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Home monitoring systems

Curb

If you don’t have a smart meter or want a more customized look at your energy consumption around the home, you need a home monitoring system. These systems require a significant amount of setup, using a series of components that you install in your breaker box or around your house. A little bit of wiring experience is very useful here, but these are designed to be DIY projects for all types of homeowners, as long as you are careful. You’ll likely have to pay more for this solution than other options — prices are typically well above $100. Here are a few options:

  • TED Pro Home: TED Pro Home connects to your electrical panel and gauges how much electricity is entering your house. Expansions allow you to monitor individual circuits, alternative energy systems, and more. It can connect with current smart home protocols, and you can view individual appliances with the Spyder device. There are also several display options, including a wired display and a portable option.
  • Sense Energy Monitor : Sense lets you monitor your energy use in real-time through iOS, Android, and web apps. It integrates with Amazon Alexa and IFTTT, and it allows you to see the amount of electricity your household is using. You can also see what time people in your household arrive home, check whether or not your sump pump is on, and more.
  • Eyedro Home Solar & Energy Monitor : This multi-tool by Eyedro lets you monitor your home’s electrical and solar energy supply. Four clip-on modules attach to individual circuits in your breaker box that begins real-time monitoring as soon as you connect the system to Wi-Fi. Eyedro will even send you daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly energy reports to help you locate the areas where you can save the most on your energy consumption.

Smart plugs/outlets

Wemo Insight

These are single-appliance energy monitoring and control devices. It’s essential to note that not all smart plugs offer energy tracking. Typically, their focus is directed more towards device control and setting schedules. With that said, many also monitor electricity. The edge is that you can simply plug them into a normal outlet, plug in your appliance, and see how much energy it uses without any extra effort. You are also given the option to turn the appliance on and off on a schedule created to conserve energy. Note that this isn’t going to be ideal for every situation. This solution tends to work best if you only have a few energy-hungry appliances you desire to track, rather than whole-house monitoring. It’s a great option for renters or those who are unable to rewire their breaker boxes for a full system. However, smart plugs aren’t particularly great outside of normal NA-style outlets, so your washing machine, oven, and other big appliances probably won’t work with this. 

  • WeMo Insight Switch: From creating rules and schedules for your devices to monitoring energy use and changes over time, Insight does a little bit of everything. It’s useful not only for its relatively low price but for its ease of use. Plug it in, download the Wemo app, and you’re basically done.
  • Elgato Eve: Designed to work with Apple HomeKit, Eve is a suite of smart devices that help you monitor your home’s energy usage. The Energy device in particular is a handy smart plug that even provides graphs that chart out just how an appliance is being used from day to day and season to season. Siri voice controls are also enabled.
  • D-Link Wi-Fi Smart Plug: D-Link’s smart plug offering is a full-service device designed for protection and monitoring. This includes the ability to schedule an appliance to turn on and off, remote management, and protection against overheating. It’s ideal for managing a home office or similar types of electronic setups.

Smart energy apps

Ecoisme Energy Monitor app

Smart apps try to measure home energy usage with the absence of the separate components that home monitoring systems need. Some require you to measure and record individual appliances, while others try to tap into local smart meter readings, and some estimate home energy use based on available local data.

While the price of using these apps may sound good, they come with a downside. Their data is most often not as accurate as other options, and many require intense efforts to record electricity minutiae around your entire house before they even begin to work. With all of that to keep in mind, here are a few smart apps to check out if you prefer going this route in energy measurement:

  • Energy Consumption Analyzer: This analyzer is available across several platforms and allows you to program in meters for gas, electricity, and water into a database. Record your meter readings regularly, and the app guesses at your energy consumption with a few statistical tricks. It’s a nice, free app for those who don’t mind obsessing over the details.
  • Home Energy Saver: This is a government-sponsored web app that allows you to estimate your residential energy use and create a plan for upgrading your efficiency. If everything else on this list sounds like too much work but you still want to save, this is a good app to start with.
  • Smappee Infinity: Smappee Infinity uses a series of networked smart modules to record energy data. The info is then sent to the Smappee cloud, where energy readings are converted into info and various statistics you can access by the mobile app. The system also works with gas and water supply chains in your home. 

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