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Understanding Home Energy Monitors

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A blue house made of numbers and an electricity flow diagram, with the words "Home Energy Monitors" over top, representing how energy monitoring systems can provide more visibility into a home’s energy management, production, and consumption.
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Electricity is expensive! That’s why gaining more control over the energy that flows through your house is one way to lower your power bill and save money over time. In addition to going solar, one of the best ways to take control of your energy usage is with a home energy monitor. These devices can track the consumption of electricity in your home, and provide you with tips and advice on how to reduce your energy demand.

If you want more visibility into your home’s energy management, we’ll review what a home energy monitor is, how these devices work, the benefits of monitoring your home’s energy, and how to choose the best home energy monitor for your family’s needs.

What Is A Home Energy Monitor?

A home energy monitor is a device that measures and tracks the electricity usage in your home, giving you feedback about what circuits are using electricity, how much energy is being used, when that power is used, and how much that energy costs. Home energy monitors are also known as home electricity monitors, consumption monitors, or power monitors.

Whole-home energy monitors can be placed directly in your electrical panel, and identify usage by specific circuits or appliances. Smaller forms of this technology can also be plugged into the electrical outlets in your home to measure usage directly.

How Does A Home Energy Monitor Work?

Home energy monitors come in two varieties - whole-home and individual appliance - and each uses different technology to provide energy usage information to the homeowner.

Whole-Home Energy Monitor

A whole-home energy monitor is typically attached to your home’s electrical panel, allowing it to track energy usage past the energy meter as it flows throughout the entire house. The monitor collects detailed data about the power consumption performance of everything attached to the panel, and it can also detect the activity of individual appliances attached to a specific circuit.

Whole-house monitors work by either attaching sensors to the main electrical input of your home and detecting the unique energy signature of each device as it turns on and off over time, or by attaching separate sensors onto individual circuits.

Not only do these sensors gather information about your energy usage, but they can also analyze the data and send insights to a connected smartphone app, or through a regular report delivered by email or in an online portal. By connecting your energy monitor to Wi-Fi, you can get real-time data on what appliances are using the most electricity, so you can make adjustments to lower your energy usage and save money.

Individual Appliance Energy Monitor

While the whole-home monitor can be a great tool, it can be difficult to determine which appliance is using the most energy if you have multiple appliances on one circuit. That situation is a common issue in kitchens, as several small appliances can be connected to one circuit.

An individual appliance energy monitor (sometimes called an outlet monitor) can be extremely useful if you need to monitor a few specific devices. For example, if you suspect that certain appliances are using vampire energy, you can use an energy monitor to track their specific electricity data when they’re supposed to be “off”.

When you turn on an appliance with an attached monitor, alternating current (AC) energy is sent from the outlet through the monitor and then through the power cord. The energy monitor probe on the power cable sends secondary AC information to the energy monitor so you can learn how much electricity is being used.

There are some limitations to these individual appliance monitors. You cannot use them for larger 220v appliances like clothes dryers and oven ranges. They are only intended to be used with smaller appliances like blenders or lights. Also, if you aren't sure where most of your electrical energy is being used before you begin testing, you may end up having to buy quite a few monitors to figure out the problem, or measure outlets individually over a long period of time.

Smart Plug Outlet

A smart plug is a specific type of energy monitor that is typically used to provide advanced real-time data for smaller appliances like electronics, cooking gadgets, or bathroom tools. Just like an individual appliance energy monitor, smart plugs are plugged into the outlet first, and then you plug the targeted appliance into the smart plug. The plug monitors how the attached appliance uses electricity and sends you data on how much energy is being used and when.

In addition to tracking energy usage, smart plugs can also be used to disconnect the power from the device that’s attached to it, which is helpful for electronics like cable boxes that can be turned off at night to save power without losing functionality.

Comparing Whole-Home and Individual Appliance Energy Monitors

Depending on your needs, you might be better off with a whole-home monitor or an individual appliance energy monitor.

You should choose a whole-house monitor if:

  • You aren't sure where, when, and how your home uses electricity.
  • You want to keep an eye on the energy usage of all your appliances.
  • You don't have a lot of different appliances on one circuit.
  • You want to monitor large appliances like your washer and dryer or oven.

You should choose an individual appliance monitor if:

  • You want to target specific appliances rather than monitor all appliances.
  • The appliances you wish to monitor are smaller, like a toaster, rather than large, like a washing machine.

Benefits of a Home Energy Monitor

Using a home energy monitor can help you achieve a lot of benefits in the long run. The key to lowering your electricity bill is to use less electricity - it’s as simple as that! But how can you tell what parts of your home are using the most energy?

Instead of just guessing, a smart home energy monitor can help you understand how your home uses energy, so you can create a plan to reduce your total electricity consumption and save money.

1. Provides Awareness of Energy Usage

A home energy monitor encourages you to pay attention to how much energy you’re using. It can regularly remind you about your usage habits, which can give you an incentive to correct them.

2. Helps You Understand the Cost of Energy

Many people just look at the amount due on their energy bill each month and pay it, without thinking about what makes the amount go up and down. They might want to understand where and how their home uses electricity, but the average bill doesn’t share that information. When you install a home energy monitor, you can see exactly what your energy costs are, so you can make better choices that could help lower your bills.

Some smart home energy monitors even provide real-time tracking of the actual cost of your energy consumption, by matching when energy is used with the cost of energy at that time. This may lead to increased insights into the effects of turning devices on and off, or shifting when they are used, which could be useful in areas with Time-of-Use rates where electricity costs vary based on the time of day.

3. Alerts You To Devices You Didn't Realize Were On

It is fairly common for people to accidentally leave a light on or leave something plugged in without thinking about it. Some home energy monitors can alert you that an appliance is still running because your energy readings will be higher than normal. Consider checking the data on your monitor app before leaving the house to ensure you aren't using more energy than expected.

4. Helps You Make Wise Decisions About Using Appliances

When you can see how much energy an individual device uses, and how much that electricity can cost, it’s easier to make more informed decisions about using that device. For example, if you are running several small loads in your dishwasher each week, you could instead run fewer loads with more dishes in hopes of lowering your overall electricity usage.

5. Guides You to Energy-Efficient Changes

When you can identify the amount of energy your home uses at the appliance level, it can help prompt you to find ways to reduce that energy usage. For example, if your lighting uses lots of energy, you could replace the old light bulbs with LEDs. Or, if your old microwave uses a ton of electricity, you can replace it with a newer energy-efficient ENERGY STAR model.

5. Prevents Issues Before They Become Problems

Home energy monitors can track the typical behavior of devices that are running in your home, which means they can also detect changes in that behavior that indicate a potential problem. For example, if the compressor in your refrigerator is starting to go bad, your monitor may detect it using more power than expected, before you even realize that something isn’t working as it should. This allows you to proactively check on that appliance and get it serviced, which can prevent further damage from occurring.

Home Energy Monitors and Solar Panels

One of the primary reasons people install solar panels on their homes is so they can generate their own electricity instead of drawing power from the utility grid. Generally, people who install a solar energy system would like to meet a majority of their energy needs using their solar panels. If that's your goal, it’s important to pay attention to how much energy your home uses, so you don't end up drawing from the grid and increasing your utility bill.

Take a look at your solar app to see how much energy your panels produce. Then, you can compare that number with the amount your energy monitor says your home is using. Some services like the Palmetto App even allow you to track both numbers together, so you can identify trends over time. If you use more electricity than your solar panel system generates, then you will need to pull more from the electrical grid, which can lead to a higher electricity bill.

You can use your home energy monitor to determine the areas where you are using the most energy and make a plan to decrease the amount being used. The ultimate goal should be for your energy usage to be lower than the amount of energy your solar panels produce, to maximize your solar offset.

What Are The Best Home Energy Monitors?

While several companies make home energy tracking devices, these are four of the more popular brands (in alphabetical order) that make some of the best home energy monitors:

Efergy - Created in 2006, Efergy aims to be a global leader in creating energy-saving products. One of the unique features of many of their home energy monitors is that they include a compact display that can be placed anywhere in the home, so you don’t need a mobile app to view your electricity data. That display can also be set to provide audible alerts if it detects excessive electricity usage.

Emporia - Emporia is building an energy-management ecosystem, including a home energy monitor that can track the usage of up to 16 individual circuits, and smart plugs that can monitor the energy use of an individual device, and control most home appliances.

The Emporia Vue energy monitor helps you identify appliances and circuits that waste energy and increase your monthly bills, and it’s solar-compatible so you can monitor your solar energy generation in real-time. Their product line also includes an EV charger and a bi-directional EV charger, and a home battery that can all work together through the Emporia app.

PowerX - PowerX is one of the only companies to offer multiple utility monitoring solutions, in addition to home energy monitoring devices. This includes a water sensor that can monitor your water use and detect leaks and a water heater monitor that can optimize your water heater for peak efficiency and alert you if it detects any leaks or mechanical problems.

The PowerX energy monitor installs with 200A clamps that monitor the main power input. It then uses machine learning to measure which devices are the most wasteful and provide tips on how to improve your home’s energy efficiency. It also includes four 50A clamps to help monitor individual circuits where you want to track more advanced data.

Sense - Sense is one of the most popular home energy monitoring systems. While the Sense energy monitor doesn’t have separate sensors for individual circuits, it reads your electrical current over 1 million times each second and uses machine learning on that data to determine what devices are on and off.

Sense also has a solar-ready option that can track how much electricity you consume from solar and the grid, the excess electricity you sell back through net metering, and exactly what percent of your home is being powered by your solar system.

Other companies that make home energy monitors include Curb by Elevation, Eyedro, Lumin, and Wiser Energy from Square D by Schneider Electric.

How To Choose The Best Home Energy Monitor

When comparing home energy monitor options, these are a few of the features and benefits you should look out for:

Solar Power Tracking - If you have solar power, or you’re thinking about adding solar panels to your home, look for a monitor that can track solar production in addition to electricity consumption. Real-time energy production data can tell you exactly how much energy your solar panels generate, when they are most productive, and what’s using that solar power.

AI or ML Appliance Recognition - Every appliance uses electricity in a specific way, so monitors with appliance recognition track the energy usage in your home, and use artificial intelligence (AI) or machine learning (ML) to identify the “signature” of individual appliances, and report on their usage.

It can take weeks or even months for the monitor to recognize these patterns, but once detected, they can help you manage your energy usage on a more granular level.

Installation Complexity - Many home energy monitors promise easy DIY installation, but we recommend you always get a professional electrician to install them. Since these devices interact with the inner workings of your electric panel, they can pose a significant shock hazard if you don’t know what you’re doing.

You should also consider how complex the installation might be since whole-home monitors with multiple circuit probes are going to be a more involved installation compared to one that just attaches to the main input.

Mobile App and Notifications - Most energy monitors include a mobile app that allows you to view data about your home’s energy usage. Since you’ll be interacting with that app a lot when you’re actively tracking data, you should make sure it’s an interface that’s easy to understand and works for you.

You should also look at what kinds of notifications the system can provide since it should be able to do things like identify opportunities to save energy, or notify you when an appliance is behaving unusually.

Real-Time Cost Tracking - For homes with a Time-of-Use plan, you’ll want to look for an energy monitor that can match the time when energy is being used with the cost of that energy, based on peak and off-peak hours. This gives you a real-time look into the cost of electricity that’s being used and can help identify opportunities to shift that behavior to save more money on your monthly energy bill.

Smart Home Compatibility - Some home energy monitors include WiFi or Bluetooth connections that allow them to interact with other smart home devices in the home. This lets them do things like track when your HVAC turns on and off via the smart thermostat, or track when devices are turned on via smart plugs, and can even turn devices on or off to maximize their energy savings.

Voice Control - In addition to the mobile app, some house energy monitors are compatible with Apple HomeKit, Google Home, or Amazon Alexa, allowing you to get a status update on your home’s energy usage by simply asking your virtual assistant.

Guide to Home Energy Monitors

Many people commonly experience high electricity bills because they don’t know how much energy the devices and appliances in their home use. The more energy you use, the higher your bills can be, so a home energy monitor helps you gather data about how your home uses energy, so you can create strategies for using less.

A whole-home monitor attaches to your electrical panel and gathers data on your gadgets and appliances based on their circuit. An individual appliance energy monitor tracks the usage of specific electrical outlets. Each type of monitor has its benefits, so you just have to determine which is best for you.

Once you have used a smart home energy monitor and determined how you are using energy, you can make a plan on how to lower your overall energy usage. This could be small things like unplugging devices when they aren't being used or buying more energy-efficient appliances.

You can also compare your energy usage data with how much energy your home solar power system generates. The ultimate goal for many homeowners with solar panels is for your energy consumption to be lower than or equal to the amount of energy you are producing, so you don’t have to pay for electricity from the grid.

To learn more about how you can go solar and gain more control over your monthly electricity bill, get started today with a Free Solar Design and Savings Estimate from Palmetto.

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