Many products on the market these days can monitor your electricity consumption and save money on your power bills. The tough question is which one will work the best for you. While monitors do not save energy, they give you the knowledge of what you are using and what appliances are wasting electricity while turned off. When looking at devices that measure the electricity (electricity monitors) there are three main types: whole house meters, circuit meters, and plug meters. Any way you go, the first step in saving energy is finding out what you are spending and where you are spending it. Knowledge is power and knowledge is savings.
When deciding on which type of electricity monitor to use you should first determine what you want to focus on. If you are just looking at overall energy costs then a whole house meter is the smart choice. If you are renovating or are renting a space with a low number of circuits then a circuit meter will work best. If you are interested in saving money on your energy bill by finding what appliances are wasting the most or trying to determine if it is cost effective to replace an older appliance then a plug meter is the type of monitor you are looking for. My recommendation is a Watts Up? PRO because the computer software that comes with it allows for the most in-depth look at your electricity usage.
Whole house meters measure just what the name implies, the power flowing into the entire house. The electricity is typically measured at the utility meter. Circuit meters measure the power flowing through a single circuit, such as a kitchen or office, and is measured at the electrical panel. Plug meters plug into a wall socket and measure the power flowing through a single plug. Each type of electricity monitors has benefits and limitations. Depending on your goals and needs, you probably will only need one type of monitor.
Whole house meters display the electricity that the entire house uses. They are generally attached to the outdoor utility meter and send the readings wirelessly to a display located inside the home. These are great for looking at overall energy usage and calculating what your monthly energy bill will to be. You will know, in real time, how much electricity you are wasting or saving. The most popular models of whole house meters are: The Energy Detector, Energy Monitors, The Meter Reader, Cent-A-Meter, and the Blue Line Power Cost Meter. Typically this type of electricity monitor run about $150-300.
Some whole house meters use clip on sensors that attach to an electrical panel and will allow you to use them as a circuit meter as well as a whole house meter. Some models also provide computer software that allows you to record the data and take a more in-depth look at your electricity usage. Some models require expert installation while others are almost as simple as “plug and play.”
The plug meter is the most common type of electricity monitor. They are often just outlets that display the electricity flowing through a single plug in that outlet. This allows for a lot more targeted measurement of power usage. Specific types differ greatly from those that just plug into a wall outlet and measure a single plug to types that act as power strips or extension cords to offer more flexibility. The most popular models are made by Kill-A-Watt and Watts Up?. Each brand has multiple models that are as cheap as $20 and go upwards of $250 for models that allow for remote monitoring as well as on/off switching via the web.
Plug meters provide the most specific monitoring of energy usage of the electricity monitor types. They can be easily moved around any home and plugged into any devices that use a standard outlet. Plug meters are the most flexible type of electricity monitors. Any electronic device can be measured as well as all devices plugged into a power strip. Older appliances are usually much less efficient. By measuring each appliance’s energy usage you can find out if it is cost effective to replace it with newer Energy Star models. Often kitchen appliances older than 15 years can be replaced and pay for themselves within 3-10 years.
Plug meters work perfectly to find, and eliminate, phantom usage. Most electronics continually draw power while they are off. This is because they are more accurately in a “standby” mode waiting to be turned on. An example of this is a computer monitor, the monitor still draws electricity even when not in use, and almost as much when turned off. Just by unplugging the monitor while not in use you can reduce its electricity usage by up to 0.5 kilowatts a month.
The circuit meter is the least common type of electricity monitors. Circuit meters use the same principle as a whole house meter, but allow for a more focused measurement of energy usage. Circuit meters are usually connected at the electrical panel in order to measure exactly how much electricity a particular circuit uses (usually requires professional installation). This means you can focus in on a single area of energy usage, such as a kitchen or office, to determine the efficiency of all the appliances plugged into that circuit. This type of monitor is the most expensive, coming in at just above a whole house meter ($150-300) for each circuit monitored, but generally offer additional features for that price.
The most popular circuit meter is the Smart Circuit which allows for reporting and controlling of the circuit usage over the internet. You can schedule when to turn off the outlet remotely. When you are not home the entire circuit can be turned off, thus eliminating the constant drawing of electricity by most electronics even when they are “off.” The Smart Circuit also has software to record and track energy usage on your computer to find out your usage patterns and when you are using the most power.
Electricity monitors also range in sophistication. The cheapest models only measure the basic data like the minimum, maximum, average, and current wattage usage. Most models also can calculate monthly usage and cost. More sophisticated models come with software packages that allows for more specific recording of data. With the recorded data, energy usage patterns are much easier to detect. Things like the amount of time it takes an old refrigerator to cool your food down after having the door open while putting away the groceries or the power drain of a computer throughout the day, when it is in use as well as when it is turned off.
Another great function that the more sophisticated monitors have is the ability to control power usage. The Kill-A-Watt Graphic Timer can turn the plug’s power on/off 96 times a day. It combines the functions of an outlet timer with an electricity monitor do display and control the electricity usage of the plug where it is located. The Watts Up?.NET also gives the ability to control an outlet. Moreover the Watts Up? model allows for monitoring usage over the internet. You can view how much power is being used and turn on/off the flow of electricity to the plug that the monitor is placed. The Smart Circuit 20 has all the same capabilities as the Watts Up?.NET model but in the form of a circuit meter instead of a plug meter.
At the end of the day it does not make sense to buy all three types of electricity monitors. Each type has specific strengths and weaknesses. You can find out how much electricity you are using as a whole, as a section of your home (by circuit), or by device (by plug). The whole house meter tells you how fast you are using energy. The circuit meter gives more detail about energy usage in a single outlet. The plug meter is the most flexible type since it can be moved around to measure each appliance. Each gives you information that will help reduce usage but it depends on where you want to focus when deciding which type to use.