Sunday, May 20 , 2018, 2:57 am | Fair 53º


Home Energy Monitors Can Help You Reclaim the Power at Your House

Leave it to these easy-to-use devices to find out just which appliances are costing you the most each month

Like many appliances, a microwave oven uses some standy-by power even when it’s turned off. A typical microwave costs between $12 and $13 a year to operate. Click to view larger
Like many appliances, a microwave oven uses some standy-by power even when it’s turned off. A typical microwave costs between $12 and $13 a year to operate. (Dave Bemis / Noozhawk photo)

Whether your goal is to save money or save the planet, one effective step is to use less electricity. Like calories, however, the kilowatts we consume aren’t something we like to think about, and they may be hard for most of us to measure.

The monthly bill from our utility company carries a lot of information, but it can’t tell us which appliance is a real energy hog. Getting that bill is like being told we consumed 60,000 calories in the past month. How does that help us lose weight?

A more helpful tool for putting your house on an energy diet is a home electricity monitor. These devices fall into two basic types: systems that monitor your entire home at once, or simpler little boxes that plug into an outlet to monitor one appliance at a time.

Single-outlet monitors, sometimes called Smart Plugs, are simple to use with any 110-volt device (but not for larger appliances such as electric clothes dryers or ovens, which use 220 volts).

Unplug the appliance, plug the monitor box into the outlet, and plug the appliance into the monitor box. A read-out on the device tells you how much power is being consumed — even when the appliance is turned off — for as long as it’s plugged in.

With names like Kill-A-Watt, Greenswitch and Wattson, these devices sell for as little as $25 for the most basic models.

Whole-house monitoring systems are more expensive — ranging from perhaps $200 to $700 — but they are less trouble than moving a single-outlet monitor from place to place.

The TED (The Energy Detective) by Energy Inc. is a whole-house monitor to track your juice use.
The TED (The Energy Detective) by Energy Inc. is a whole-house monitor to track your juice use.

Despite a number of design differences, these systems all take the information from the electric meter outside your house and display it on an easy-to-view screen indoors. Some have sensors that plug into an outlet; others clamp onto the meter, and some may require an electrician’s help to install.

An advocate for a whole-house monitor called TED (The Energy Detective) at says that his family could tell immediately what was using the most electricity because of what was running at the time the TED screen showed intense power use. (In a masterpiece of child motivation, he and his wife then told their kids that they could have half the money that the family saved on its electricity bill.)

Santa Barbara Home Improvement Center, 415 E. Gutierrez St., sells the Kill-A-Watt for less than $25. Mike Owens, the store’s operations manager, says the use of a home-energy monitor can be “a good learning experience” when, for example, “the TV is off but you can see that it’s still sucking energy out of the wall.”

For people who don’t want to make that much effort, however, he urges common-sense energy-saving steps such as replacing light bulbs with LED fixtures.

“LED lighting is exploding right now; they’ve improved it a lot,” Owens said, including the more pleasing color spectrum the newer diodes emit.

Despite recent publicity campaigns and even legislation against older-style incandescent bulbs, many people have resisted the switch to energy-saving compact fluorescent bulbs because of the flickering light they create and the disposal problems caused by their mercury content, he said.

Now, however, the price of a long-lasting, power-saving LED replacement light has fallen to a range that is comparable with a compact fluorescent bulb, he added.


» Click here for more details on home-energy monitoring from

» Click here for more information on electricity monitors from

» Click here for resources about energy use from

Noozhawk contributing writer Dave Bemis can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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