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Home Energy Monitoring, Part 1: Knowledge Is Power

The first step in doing something about the energy consumption of your home is to know what it consumes and how it consumes

Posted on Jan 18 2011 by Christopher Briley

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For this episode, Phil and I are joined by Peter Troast of Energy Circle to discuss home energy monitoring. Most people, I think, live their lives without much thought given to the power they are consuming when they turn on a device. They're more focused on the task at hand.

The generation, transmission, and environmental impact of those electrons streaming into the home is a matter to ponder, on occasion, but what if you had a dashboard for your home that could give you real-time and historical data on how much power you are consuming, or how much power each circuit is consuming and when? That is exactly what home energy monitoring does. And with this knowledge comes the opportunity to change your behavior, and maybe a few fixtures and appliances while you're at it.

In Part One of the podcast, we discuss:

  • Peter Troast and what he does for a living
  • The recipe for the Pomini (remember to relax—this stuff is easy)
  • Why to monitor your home
  • How Peter himself reduced his own household consumption by roughly 29% just by an increased awareness of his home's energy consumption
  • How much the average house would save (between 5% and 15%, but there's no precise study on which to base a claim)
  • What you learn by monitoring
  • Whether success is dependent on human behavior
  • Enjoy the show. If you have your own home energy monitoring experience, be sure to share it with us in the comments section at the end of the blog. Cheers.

    OFFICIAL TRANSCRIPT

    Phil Kaplan: We have a special guest today. We’re very excited to have Energy Circle’s own Peter Troast. His Energy Circle website is well known in many circles, not just around here. The tagline is: Your Complete Home Energy Resource—Tested Tools, Smart Advice. That kind of says it all. His website is a wonderful wealth of information and knowledge—not just about energy tools and products but also air sealing, insulation, and the strategies we talk about all the time as architects. And he is a king tweeter extraordinaire.

    Peter Troast: Chris, Phil, it’s great to be here.

    Phil: Welcome!

    Chris Briley: It’s our pleasure. We chose this topic because it’s one we want to learn more about. I want to get into home energy monitoring and use it as a management system and an education tool for the client.

    Phil: It is important for the client. When we talk about it from an architectural standpoint, you may think we’re just talking about pretty buildings and energy performance. But it’s the whole package. The idea that these things come in after the fact…people want to know “OK, how’d I screw up? How much better could I have done if I had thought about it before instead of after?” We’re trying to get people’s attention on energy from day one, so the idea of integrating and having these conversations as architects instead of building forensics guys or energy auditors is important.

    Peter: You guys can only go so far, right? You can build a fantastic building with a great envelope that’s great from a thermal standpoint, but at some point you turn that building over to the owners, and it’s that plug load piece—that day in, day out electricity use—that you really don’t have any control over. You can spec LED lighting or a really efficient air-conditioning system, great appliances, but it’s out of your control at that point. That becomes a really big opportunity, that whole plug load selection that is in the hands of the homeowner. Part of what this whole monitoring thing is about is giving them the tools to understand what they’re using and then behaviorally start to change how they use electricity on a day-to-day basis.

    "There's less information in your monthly statement from the power company than you get from a teenager arriving home after midnight."

    Chris: Cause it can be like a year before you see the client again to ask how the house is performing, how much oil did they burn…

    [Before getting down to brass tacks, the guys break to talk about the Pomini.]

    Phil: So, Peter, tell us about Energy Circle.

    Peter: Well, we need to address energy use in the residential sector. Buildings are just taking up way too much energy and contributing way too much to global warming, and it’s a big task to take on 124 million U.S. homes, all of which are very ripe for energy reductions of various kinds. Our approach is to arm the homeowner with good information—to take the complexities of what you guys know intimately about architecture and building science and building design, and try to boil that down into something digestible and understandable at the homeowner level. And push people toward that starting engagement point for taking on their energy use—and that might be an energy audit or starting to monitor what their energy use is, in real time, on a day in and day out basis. We find that when people achieve that threshold and start to think about it, there’s a whole series of snowball effects that may result in a real retrofit and a reduction, or we may sell them some smart strips or programmable thermostats or address their lighting issues—all of those things that are relatively easy to do, once you get started.

    Phil: One thing that impresses me about your site is that’s not all you do—you’re not just there to sell stuff. Other people are interested—the New York Times found Energy Circle, Boing Boing found Energy Circle, and a bunch of others.

    Peter: Our notoriety started two Earth Days ago. We monitor our electricity, but we decided to put my family’s house online, live, on the Energy Circle website so that anyone can see what our electricity use is in real time. We figured that was the ultimate statement—we were willing to go public with it. We had a little family meeting to make sure we were ready to take this on, because the world was looking in—and will we be able to perform? That’s what got it started.

    Chris: Did you find that it changed the way you and your family use electricity and energy in general?

    Peter: Absolutely. Since two Aprils ago, a 29% reduction in household electricity…

    Chris: Wow! Just because you’re watching it?

    Peter: I think so. We did not reach 29% by running out and buying a whole house full of LED lights. We’re not huddled around a Bunsen burner; we’re not living in squalor. We are a pretty typical household. We’re gadget lovers. That was the New York Times lede: Here’s a family of four, two kids, more iPods than you can shake a stick at, there are multiple computers, a home office—we are not light users of electricity. Now let me pause a second. We’re gadget lovers. At the same time, we’re not, by typical national standards, an electricity-intensive house. We don’t have air-conditioning. We heat with oil. We bake with electricity, but our cooktop is propane. So we’re not a super electric-intensive house, but I think that’s what makes the 29% reduction that much more significant. When you’re ready, I can talk about why that happened to us.

    Phil: Well, it’s an interesting question. This is your business, you’re focused on it—29% is fantastic by any measure. But what about the typical homeowner? Are there statistics?

    Peter: I’ve spoken with Michael Blasnik from Boston, who is probably the world’s foremost energy statistician, and there are some studies about the impact of monitoring, but they’re small and in his words are deeply flawed. The results of those studies say the typical reduction when you start monitoring is between 5% and 15%. One that got written up in Home Energy magazine had a sample size of 20. Another is a little group of people on Cape Cod. So the bottom line is we really don’t have a great quantitative study to support this idea that active monitoring results in reductions. Now, we’ve got lots of anecdotal evidence—our story—and so forth, and our customers speak very highly about it, and we see the results constantly, but I don’t think it’s proven yet in a statistical way that we can say, “Absolutely, when you monitor, you’ll achieve a reduction.”

    Chris: If I’m your customer, what can I expect to monitor, what am I going to learn?

    Phil: What precisely are we measuring?

    Peter: One of the things I like to point out is that we’re talking primarily about electricity. Depending on where you are in the country, we know that electricity is one of the inputs. There’s a lot of work being done, and some of the devices we’ll talk about have a lot of promise in measuring the other forms of energy we’re using, like gas and oil that are being used for heating and cooking and domestic hot water. But right now we’re talking about electricity—and that’s a limitation, right?

    Phil: Do you think it’s disingenuous to talk about energy monitoring when it’s really just electricity?

    Peter: That’s a good point. We’ve done our best with the language on the Energy Circle website…

    Phil: It’s not just you guys. It’s kind of across the board.

    Peter: It is. What we try to focus on is those products that have a level of consumer acceptance, they’re ubiquitous, and they’re not too difficult to get up and running. Part of the game here is simplification, making it easy. You guys have seen the installations of HOBO monitors, jerry-rigged things, data monitoring—that tends to be out of reach of most homeowners. And what we’re really trying to do is offer a variety of products that are really quite simple.

    Phil: Really this is all about human behavior. We have a lot of talks internally in our office about how much you can control for people. Can you shut the windows automatically? Can you count on them firing up the woodstove if they need it? Well, not for generations down the line who don’t know as much as you know about the house. Things have to be dummy-proof. You’re taking a risk if you’re counting on people to act in a certain way. So, is it true to say the success of this is the behavior of the individual? There are personalities more suited to this, and how does one control that?

    Peter: I think for our audience in the green architecture world, for homeowners who are taking the time to hire people like you guys to build a serious house from an energy standpoint—these are people who are predisposed to do something. What’s missing from the electric bill that shows up every month is enough information to be able to act. One of the great lines is “There’s less information in your monthly electric bill than you get from a teenager coming home at 12 o’clock at night.” You get how much you use each month and maybe 13 months of historical record, but the makeup of what happened that month isn’t there. So the view of those of us who believe in the real-time monitoring concept is your behavior will change with the information. Classic management line: If you can’t measure it, manage it. I think the number-one reduction we achieved when we started monitoring is basic awareness that we left something on. You’ve got this thing in your kitchen that says 1400 watts, and you have enough knowledge of what’s going on in your house to know you shouldn’t be at 1400 watts right now—who left the TV on? And that alone has really made a huge difference.

    Voiceover: That’s it for this part of the episode…


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    1.
    Jan 18, 2011 7:46 PM ET

    Edited Jan 18, 2011 7:47 PM ET.

    Call me a cynic...
    by Lucas Durand - 7A

    what if you had a dashboard for your home that could give you real-time and historical data on how much power you are consuming, or how much power each circuit is consuming and when?

    Maybe for the energy nerds out there (and I include myself in that category), home energy monitoring presents an opportunity...
    For most people however, after the novelty wears off, such a "dashboard" would likely end up being little more than the energy use equivelant of a glitzy bathroom scale.

    The reason I say this is that most people are "focused on the task at hand" - that is to say, it's unlikely that most people are going to not watch a movie on their mondo entertainment unit just because they've exceeded their self-imposed energy quota for the day. That would require self-discipline.
    Just sayin'...


    2.
    Jan 18, 2011 8:26 PM ET

    ...you're a cynic.
    by Christopher Briley

    ...but your point is very valid. I think the act of saying to one's self. "I want to start monitoring my energy usage" is a good indicator that you're ready to take on this measure and make it effective.

    On the other hand, if one is handed the new keys to one's new house and one says, "that's neat it comes with a little dashboard." Then maybe, just maybe, a change in behavior or appliance choice, or configuration might follow. But really this all boils down to human behavior. This is just one way to help those humans who want to behave.


    3.
    Jan 18, 2011 9:52 PM ET

    Edited Jan 18, 2011 10:04 PM ET.

    The savings are not significant or worse.
    by aj builder, Upstate NY Zone 6a

    Take the cost of owning a home, all costs including property taxes, mortgage, and upkeep. Reduce the energy costs with a monitor by any percent, say whatever, 25%.

    How much has your cost of owning a home gone down? 1% or 2%, maybe but not enough to even think about for a second let alone change one's course in life.

    Then, how much pleasure has one just tossed out the window to save 1%? Half or more? Lights turned on and off constantly, living in darkness, lowering the temperature and being cold, turning off the computer only to wait for it to reboot because you just thought of an edit you want to add to a GBA posting... etc, etc.

    Look, it's like owning a Lamborghini but not driving it to save money. You get no pleasure not driving it and you only save a tiny percent of the cost of ownership by not buy gas! To save real money, you just don't buy a car let alone a Countach.

    Economics 101. Why are you guys not understanding this basic fact of modern life?

    To truly go green means things that no one is taliking seriously about. Which is not having children, building mud huts, living locally, etc.

    Spending money on an energy monitor is not reducing one's impact, it is increasing it!

    This is GBA. What in does that mean to you bloggers here at GBA????


    4.
    Jan 18, 2011 9:56 PM ET

    Edited Jan 18, 2011 9:58 PM ET.

    tapping into the app generation
    by j chesnut

    I'm usually the skeptic but on this topic I am optimistic.
    I think a well designed energy monitoring app would do more to increase awareness of everyday lifestyle impacts than any other measures to date. It fits in seamlessly into our popular culture's fascination with the Apple spearheaded techy 'all info at your fingertips' lifestyle.
    If I were a programmer/graphic designer I would be investing my efforts in presenting energy consumption information in graphical formats and with ways to link to associated environmental issues to understand the relevance of the kWh burnt.
    It could even be turned into a net based competition - 'The Biggest Non-User'.


    5.
    Jan 18, 2011 10:03 PM ET

    spreading awareness
    by j chesnut

    AJ my friend,

    Spending money on an energy monitor is not reducing one's impact, it is increasing it!

    Same could be said for all of us frequenting this website.


    6.
    Jan 18, 2011 10:17 PM ET

    Edited Jan 19, 2011 5:16 AM ET.

    J, run the numbers of my post.
    by aj builder, Upstate NY Zone 6a

    First of all, economy is everything. Second of all economy is everything. (Taxes and mortgage are not reduceable via an energy monitor and are the builk of ones costs of homeownership and therefore ultimately drive all decisions to do with owning a home, not energy use and saving a piddly amount of one's monthly costs)

    The number one problem with efficiency is that it enables. (a Prius. Then what? Well you saved money, so... you drive more and use the freed up money in your pocket to buy an Ipad and 3D TV and more and more. No planet saved in this Prius buying, nope, just personal economics changed which enabled more "lifestyle desired." Earth... you got nothin Earth from this deal.)

    The number two problem if efficiency did lead to reduction of energy use is reduction of economic activity (life, us living, doing, activity) An energy monitor reduces energy use but we know we can't just reduce economic activity in general or we are not going to exist. Existence, thriving existence requires robust activity not all of us sitting on mother Earth on our hands practicing yoga or less, at least for me and most people.

    There is a great TED discussion on how to transform our present day thinking so that we grow soon in the future in ways that are not as we think of growth today.

    Look we mostly all desire prosperity and living active life. To grow prosperous in the future we will need to learn how to do so with out doing harm to our environment, All that we do will need to benefit this planet in harmony like nature has done but with a new human intellect and ability interwoven.

    OK... say an energy monitor in every building gets the world to reduce Energy use by a tenth of a percent over a decade. Good. Now come up with the other 999 things we need to do to get to 100% there.

    The TED talk posting. Prosperity without growth;

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qe3pZdY-mdY&p=E5EC156E58B9BC41


    7.
    Jan 18, 2011 10:43 PM ET

    AJ Yes! and in the meantime . . .
    by j chesnut

    AJ Yes! The desired changes for a future with a restored environment sustaining the remaining extant species can only happen at the scale of national economies.
    Running the numbers in your text based post is not very engaging however especially to an American audience who takes the electrical transmission of multi-colored light diodes for granted. The visual expression of important information can make important topics more engaging to a wider audience.
    TED discussions include graphically presented information and require electricity to broadcast just like a dashboard for an energy monitoring system.


    8.
    Jan 18, 2011 10:49 PM ET

    Edited Jan 19, 2011 12:35 AM ET.

    GBA Advisors
    by aj builder, Upstate NY Zone 6a

    Something I see too often in the GBA blogs... they are nice, and talk in some general depth over a point. But... it seems often that you are seeing the "tree but not the forest." I don't know the exact phrase, but to just blog about energy monitors without really really thinking out if their actual impact is being just another consumer selling of the nature of "bottled water" verses real, good, useful, science; LIFE CHANGING IN A GOOD BENEFICIAL INFORMATIVE WAY. I have to say that this blog is no more good for any of us than a crappy McDonalds cheeseburger.(except that it did start a discussion in which I am taking the time to try to point out it's flawed logic and or misunderstandings and more)

    Not trying to be harsh, but am being real and to my point.

    What say all you GBAers?

    Great cocktail recipe by the way, Thanks gents for the entertainment value of your blogs at least.


    9.
    Jan 18, 2011 10:57 PM ET

    1 post, 1 watt, 3.4 btus?
    by aj builder, Upstate NY Zone 6a

    The BTUs that are going into the viral nature of passing on the way to a truly sustainable future as starting to be envisioned by the likes of people like Tim Jackson is worth many orders of magnitude more than the few BTUs used up to get us going in the right direction J.

    Tim Jackson is far far closer to leading us all to a green future compared to any blog telling us to get an energy monitor.

    IMO


    10.
    Jan 19, 2011 12:23 AM ET

    AJ actually has a point here
    by Michael Chandler

    I do own and use an energy monitor, I have the Power House Dynamics E-monitor, it has 24 ammeters that clip on every circuit in the panel and give minute by minute internet read-out on the consumption of every circuit.

    BUT it's not monitoring my own house/

    Its on the last house I built and is part of the commissioning and information gathering I ma doing to ensure that the systems I put in that house are working at their full potential. Because I have this I can tell when the solar collector starts cycling in the morning, how long it collects and when it shuts down. It helped me find a poorly insulated thermister on one panel. it tells me how the HVAC air handler and compressor are cycling and interracting, I can see when the unit goes into defrost and drove over to the clients house one afternoon to explain to their kids about the difference between "heat" and "em heat" on the thermostat. It's helped me educate them about the power penalty of leaving the flood lights on when they go out for dinner (we have outdoor sconces on motion sensors to welcome you home after a night out) I can see the radiant floor kick on, the demand water heater and the well pump. I can tell them what their phantom load is, what their plug load is as compared to their heating and cooling load and how uch that electric dryer cost them last month. I wouldn't leave it there for more than a year but I think the major benefit is realized in three to six months.

    For a conscientious builder it's a very powerful tool. Energy modeling is just theory without energy monitoring. It's all about closing the loop. Plan, predict, build, measure, correct, plan again.

    Yesterday morning I was in my office with a new client and popped up the display on my computer and showed the current and past data on several circuits in the house. He said wow, but how much does it cost? I told him I'm not selling them, it's just part of what makes a house we build better than the competition, and better than the houses we built last year.


    11.
    Jan 19, 2011 12:55 AM ET

    Edited Jan 19, 2011 12:56 AM ET.

    Thank you Michael
    by Christopher Briley

    I was preparing an answer to AJ but stopped when I saw yours. Poetry.

    (Though mine was going to start with "do you want fries with your blog?" which I was pleased with at 11:30 PM.) So my post is just a nod in agreement. I think you are both right about energy monitors. They don't DO anything but inform. It's up to the informed to DO something with the information. Michael, your post is perfectly illustrative of this. Cheers!

    AJ, seriously? my blog post is a happy meal? Ouch. What green building topic would you like us to do a podcast on? (that's a genuine question, and I am braced for the answer).

    Also, I can not disagree more about "economy being everything" (otherwise PV panels wouldn't exist, except on NASA Satelites, but then NASA wouldn't exist either I suppose) but as this blog is about home energy monitors, I'll leave that to another blog, or if I run into you at a seminar sometime. (the beer's on me).


    12.
    Jan 19, 2011 6:54 AM ET

    Another GBA blogger chimes in
    by Martin Holladay

    AJ,
    GBA is a big site with lots of information and viewpoints. Among the goals of the site is to answer people's questions about choosing and building homes with a lower environmental impact than the typical U.S. home.

    Many GBA bloggers, myself included, regularly point out that homes should be small, that there is little reason to promote new construction, and that houses don't have to be durable to have a low environmental impact.

    There are many aspects to low-impact lifestyles. I'm not sure that GBA can take on all topics; we'll probably pass on the idea of focusing deeply on zero-population growth, although GBA readers are free to ask questions on the topic.

    When it comes to mud huts, I'm open. Anyone who wants to write an article about building a house out of mud (or rammed earth, or adobe) is free to contact me at martin [at] greenbuildingadvisor [dot] com.


    13.
    Jan 19, 2011 9:48 AM ET

    At AJ concerning saving the world
    by 5C8rvfuWev

    As the token consumer/owner, I appreciate GBA -- and especially its blogs -- because it shows me small, incremental steps toward a better building and lifestyle.

    I'm not a pro, but I've built 4 houses, and I've been paying my way forward for a whole lotta years, more than most here I'm sure. One bit of wisdom I've picked up -- there are a lot of people who spend their time yammering about what other people should do to save the world. My opinion is that they only make the problem seem so insurmountable that they give us -- and themselves -- the perfect excuse to do absolutely nothing.

    Meanwhile there are other people who break the problem into bits and pieces and bite off a bit of it each day. These are the people who make the world better, I think, even if they run the risk of "unintended consequences."

    One step at a time? Or "one true way"? Make it better? Or complain that no one's got it perfect?

    Me -- I'm suspicious of those dudes who knock at my front door to offer me "salvation." Why don't they get a job? Probably they can't find one that's "perfect."

    Just saying.

    Joe


    14.
    Jan 19, 2011 5:54 PM ET

    monitoring is good but need better feedback
    by Eric

    I built my own energy monitor and hooked it to google power meter. I really like it, although I don't know for sure how much it's changed my behavior. It certainly made me more aware of my use. Whether I'll take my cost savings and buy more junk, I dunno ;) I'd like to think the savings are helping to pay for my solar panels...

    I think we need better feedback from these things. I'm not so interested in skipping a movie if I'm over budget, but I would like to know if I left the light in the basement on, or if my computer isn't sleeping properly. Something like this - http://alanmeany.net/ambientknowledge.html - coupled with enough smarts to know when usage patterns change unexpectedly, might just do the trick.


    15.
    Jan 19, 2011 10:27 PM ET

    A few screen shots from my E-monitor
    by Michael Chandler

    Here’s a shot of my radiant floor and solar pump circuit. The solar is a four-panel drain-back array with a big Wilo-Star 32 at 300 watts and a Wilo-Star 21 at 100 watts, the floor is two Wilo-Star 21s so it’s easy to pick out the 400 watt load of the four panel collector as compared to the 200 watt load of the radiant. This was a cold day and the radiant never turned off all day, the solar kicked in at 9 am and was done at 3 pm. We felt that we weren’t really getting a hot enough reading on the roof so this feed back caused us to adjust the position of our top-of-panel temp probe.

    E-mon Sol gd.JPG


    16.
    Jan 19, 2011 10:30 PM ET

    Edited Jan 19, 2011 11:05 PM ET.

    Using the e-Monitor to discover a problem
    by Michael Chandler

    Here’s what I don’t want to see, the sensor on our tempering tank was malfunctioning and not registering that the water was hot. So it was spinning hot water through our demand water heater, which causes the unit to fire at a very low burn and waste gas. We were able to get over there and make repairs.

    The system has a number of different ways to configure e-mail alerts. You don't need to check on it, you can set it to send you an e-mail when there is a problem.

    E-mon DHW-3.JPG


    17.
    Jan 19, 2011 10:57 PM ET

    Edited Jan 19, 2011 11:14 PM ET.

    All better now
    by Michael Chandler

    Here's what that previous circuit is supposed to look like; coasting through the day on the passive solar and four panel active solar, hits the demand water heater to spin up the tempering tank for five minutes at seven as the family cleans up after dinner and again a bit later one more shot around eight and now coasting into the night with the radiant floor sipping BTUs off the tempering tank. You can't fix what you don't know is broke.

    I don't really encourage my clients to watch the e-monitor. I prefer to give them reports as needed and the amount of info it gives is a little bit creepy, I can tell when they light a fire in the fireplace, when they leave for town and when they come home. The energy consumption is a lot different when the husband is on a business trip, (fewer lights, more radiant floor, no fire in the fireplace) I definately don't want too many people to know the password.

    The interface gives me a zillion different ways to go back in history and download minute by minute graphs on all 24 circuits by minute, day week or month as JPGs or excell files. It will read out in dollars, watts, KWH or lbs carbon.

    The DOE ought to put these things on all the EVHA award homes. We need to close the circle on the homes we are building.

    E-mon Rad gd.JPG


    18.
    Jan 23, 2011 4:50 PM ET

    Simple energy use reduction, no monitor or maybe a new one
    by aj builder, Upstate NY Zone 6a

    We are going to work as a planet wide community our group butts off to deal with the coming reduction of easy oil production.

    Question. How much energy does having biblical numbers of children use? Religious zealots think they should pop out kids till they stop dropping. I grew up with three families that as a group added up to 13+15+9=37 new humans replacing 6 parents.

    The number one policy needed worldwide starting yesterday is for communities to reduce their future populations to a sustainable number that this green planet of ours can thrive with.

    Maybe energy monitors will help. I could program an interface that besides showing the tons of CO^2 not produced, could have a cute little picture of a happy family with one child. With one child the meter is happy and sustainable, with 2, it gets murky and with 15 it looks like a Holocaust.


    19.
    Jan 24, 2011 10:40 PM ET

    One Family's Story on Energy Mgt
    by Tom

    I've been manually recording and trending my electric, gas, and water consumption for 10 years. Bought new, 3000 sq ft, 2-story house in northern Illinois. Current 12-month rolling average gas + electric consumption is about 42,000 btu / sq ft at a yearly cost of about $2500. My manually-recorded home energy consumption data tell me that is about as good as it's gonna get for us. Read on.

    Started out using EXCEL spreadsheet to record our monthly utility bill consumption, average temperature, days, cost of each utility, etc. Then used EXCEL to calculate HDDs, CDDs, cost / day, usage / day, btu / sq ft, 12-month rolling averages, etc. Plotted these indicators on simple displays to observe trends. These monthly trends offer insights of monthly patterns from one year to the next by comparing seasonal changes, if any, for different HDDs, CDDs, utility company rate changes, etc.

    Then a year ago, I decided to manually read my gas and electric meters daily ... same time each morning in order to trend consumption on a daily basis, which I could also then associate with household activities each day ... at least on a macro scale. Did we use the dryer? the oven? airconditioning? etc. What's the house energy baseload? My manually-recorded data are sufficient to be aware of these. More data (e.g. real-time monitoring data) would be overkill for me and my family.

    I've lived in the same house for 10 years and thus have 10 years of monthly utility data. I now have a year's worth of daily utility data. I know what is going on at my house. I can see in the data (daily) when my adult kids come home to wash and dry their clothes; when my wife uses the oven a lot; when my two refrigerators and one freezer are working hard on a hot summer day; etc. I'd say that we are frugal energy users, but when we want to, we use our appliances, etc. Our upstairs bedrooms are closed and the heating/cooling vents are closed. I set my programmable thermostat to 65 winter days with set back to 60 at night and 78 summer days. It is chilly in our home in the winter ... my wife and I wear heavy clothing inside. Our 12-month rolling average btu / sq ft runs about 42,000. That's about as good as we're gonna get without frostbite in winter or heat stroke in summer

    It was -11 deg F last Friday morning so I set the thermostat back to 63 all day, but we still used 8 gas therms during that 24 hour period. I had been trending at about 5 - 6 therms a day in December and up to last week. Similarly, when my kids come home to wash and dry their clothes, I know that the electric use will nearly double. So, my trending data has educated me to what is normal and what to expect when it is bitter cold out or when my adult kids come for 'washing and drying' visit. My trending also sensitized me to be a frugal energy consumer, much to my wife's consternation.

    Last thought ... just got my mid-Dec to mid-January gas + electric bill -- $306. That's money I'll never get back. Minimizing my utility costs is by far my biggest motivator to doing what I can to minimize electricity and gas use.

    My historic and current manual utility readings are sufficient for me to know when something has changed and to motivate us to continue to manage our energy ... and costs.


    20.
    Jan 24, 2011 10:55 PM ET

    Thanks Tom
    by Christopher Briley

    I just read your post, sat at attention at my desk, and gave you a salute.

    Thanks for sharing your manual approach to energy monitoring. In part two (that just posted today) we discuss the different types of home monitoring systems and we completely neglected to mention the "old fashioned way" of home energy monitoring. I'm sure your method is not for everyone, but I hope your spirit is infectious.

    Cheers.

    Chris


    21.
    Jan 25, 2011 1:51 PM ET

    Giving myself a good laugh
    by aj builder, Upstate NY Zone 6a

    I just ran with Tom's post combined with my three mega families.

    Tom, feel lucky you don't have 15 children with spouses and their kids coming home for holidays and running up the gas and electric!!!!


    22.
    Jan 29, 2011 5:42 AM ET

    Monitor your consumption, save the planet & your $$
    by jon schmid

    I agree with AJ that unfortunately in North American Society: “First of all, economy is everything.”

    But I disagree with his comment that: “energy use and saving [are] a piddly amount of one's monthly costs”

    After attending a conference on energy conservation several years ago, I decided to measure my homes electricity consumption for several months by recording the readings on my electricity meter regularly. Then I used a $25 meter to locate and track my phantom loads, lighting loads, heating loads etc, and validated the data by comparing it to my previous electricity bills from the year before. Nothing complicated, and the process was essentially free.

    The result – I turned off some lights, installed some power bars, adjusted my set back temperatures another few degrees, and I saved ~ $300/year. Electricity was my only utility as I lived in an old (and drafty) prairie farm house (geothermal heating, cooling and domestic H20) with coal fired electricity sourced at 12 cents/kwh.

    I can hear the golf clap from the tree huggers in the crowd.

    To the accountants and naysayers criticizing me for spending $$ on power bars and a meter, and depriving myself of civilized living conditions (which isn’t true) – here is how I capitalized on the situation:

    By investing the annual $300 savings into a Tax Free Savings Account (TSFA, a Canadian investment tool) at a 4% rate of return (current) over 25 years, I will save $12,896.00 (**based on a combination of current provincial & federal tax assumptions)!

    The simple return on investment here is huge. My change in behavior (conserving energy) costs me nothing and actually improves my quality of life by contributing to my retirement fund; and I’m simultaneously combating climate change in a small way that ends up being quite large compounded over time. Upscale my example by applying it to a hospital, school, or industrial application and the savings in emissions and $$’s rises exponentially.

    Imagine the savings in $$ and energy demand if even ½ of the population adopted this mindset/behavior… would we need to build new multibillion dollar reactors, coal fired power plants, mega scale hydro projects, or transmission infrastructure? The answer is no. Imagine if this $$ was instead invested in building science & energy R&D... .

    $$ spent on monitoring/conservation will return much more to the investor, than if spent on generating/purchasing additional power to keep up with unnecessary demand.


    23.
    Mar 20, 2011 4:32 PM ET

    Thanks again for the podcast
    by Brian O' Hanlon

    I wish I had a lot more time to debate this subject and study it with you fine folk. I recently compiled together a very rushed study on this kind of subject as part of a college assignment - and ran out of time, just as I was getting my head properly around the whole subject.

    Phil stresses the point somewhere in the podcast series about the need, having invested a lot in a renewable installation, about gaining feedback on output etc - and whether or not the utilities will accept that info. It is a valid point, and could be one of the key 'limits to growth' of all renewable and energy efficiency measures in buildings - if it is not accompanied after the construction phase by reporting of some sort - including the oil, and including the gas - it is going to be hard to encourage those, other than 'early adopters' to jump on board.

    I have this article from Extremetech on a 6.0 kilowatt PV roof array in my file since last summer. It is somewhere in California, and the author of the article is having great results in beating the step up tariff type structure of his utility provider. That is, having the PV on site, he is able to avoid paying top rates for kilowatt hours over a certain level.

    Peter's comments on the smart meter, in relation to this in the third podcast episode were very interesting. But with the Extremetech article, I only recently saw that his annual consumption, before and after PV array installation is about 16,000 KWh per annum. Now he generates at least half from PV, with each installed kilowatt of PV panel, able to produce 1,200 KWh's p.a. I think. Anyhow, it is about double the output from the same amount of panel on a roof here in Ireland.

    But it is funny, only after doing more in depth research on this subject lately, as part of a feasibility study, I realised how high his annual demands for power were, for a household. He runs his business out of home, so it is really an office/commercial load combined with a domestic one. But still, whenever we try to look at any option, we should at least be cognisant of the type of user we are dealing with. If one were to apply the standard kind of demand requirements to the author of the Extremetech article, the solution in design terms would not be anywhere near appropriate.

    His power draw averaged at over 40 KWh per day. Mine might be somewhere nearer to 5 KWh/day, as I don't use at lot of power at home. But that could change tomorrow, if my lifestyle or situation were to change - or if I were to move to a different part of the world - with a different climate or culture or both. As Chris said I think in episode 3, in Maine is it all about heat. That is not to undermine electrical power. But relatively speaking the big wins are first of all on the heating end of the equation.

    I could go on and on, but I'm off to do more college work now. We don't even have a feed in tariff in Ireland yet btw, for micro-generation. The green party here were wiped out in the last election, owing to the financial collapse, and they drove a lot of agendas here. Britain just introduced one. About 40 pence or over, for installations less than or equal to 4 kilowatts wind, solar, CHP, hydro etc, seems to be the going rate, over 25 years. Italy is doing great guns in this area, and installations are a lot bigger. A lot of commercial roofs being used etc. Spain, to add to their financial problems have more generation than they can buy, owing to tariffs set too vigourously. Ah, yes, markets and economics. All the best.


    24.
    Jan 19, 2012 12:11 AM ET

    Monitoring
    by Mike Legge

    An English physics professor David Mackay gave an interesting talk at Harvard called"Sustainable Energy -without the hot air". It is on Youtube .He believes that being aware of your consumption of energy is a valuable tool. He recounts his experience with droll humour. He is one smart guy who sticks to the facts and I believe he makes eminent sense. Thank you for your excellent blog.


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