Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Measuring Your Home Energy Use

Any effort to cut back on home energy use quickly runs into a problem: our homes are designed to keep us in the dark about the consequences of our energy consumption habits.

Though foods are labeled for caloric content, you'll have a hard time finding any label on your computer, dishwasher, water heater, or any other household item that will tell you how much energy it uses.

Go on a diet, and you can get instant feedback on your progress by standing on a scale. Newer cars will tell you how many miles/gallon you're getting at any moment. But in a house, the most expensive item you're ever likely to own, feedback on energy use comes in tiny print, once a month in the mail. The electric meter is outside somewhere in the bushes, the gas meter is in a cramped corner of the basement, and their dials are hard to make any sense of.

For the highly motivated, it's possible to track down devices to measure energy consumption on the internet. To measure my own use, I bought a Kill-a-Watt, which is a $25 handheld device that will tell you what most plug-in appliances in your home are consuming at any moment or over a period of time. It's very helpful, but not for measuring the big consumers, like the central A/C, furnace, dishwasher and clothes dryer. For those, I had to buy a $150 device that tells me how many watts my whole house is consuming at any moment. Though a number of home energy monitors are available on the internet, I ended up buying The Energy Detective--TED for short. Now I can turn on the dryer or any other item and see immediately how much my energy use jumps.

I'm surprised how many people shrug at the notion that this sort of knowledge and instant feedback could have any impact on behavior. It certainly has changed mine.

Note: Another post may go into this more, but the TED monitor requires either an electrician or some electrical knowledge to install on the circuit breaker board. Other whole house energy monitors, such as the one sold by Wattvision, can be easily and safely installed by anyone. The photo shows how the Wattvision meter wraps around an existing electric meter.

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