Archive for the ‘Energy Monitors/Meters’ Category

Is It Getting Smart in Here or Is It Just Me?

June 12, 2012

It used to be that thermostats sat on the wall waiting to be turned.  It was a very manual affair.  A simple dial to turn or lever to push and if you left the house and forgot to change it, you kept it warm for the cat and houseplants at least.  And with that, we did not think much about our energy bill, kind of dumb.

The nest thermostat is elegant in design but also learns in a sense.  The little leaf guides you (it’s lets you know you’ve set the temperature to one that is efficient) and you guide it, as it learns your behavior.

Another thermostat is the Ecobee, somewhat more conventional looking, but just as “smart”.   Both of these devices, as well others on the market, are wireless enabled and allow you to connect to your phone, tablet or computer.

You can also get weather information or be alerted when things aren’t working at home (good to know if your pipes could freeze in the winter, or you do butter sculpture in your living room in the summer).

I like these but I’ll say it again, monitoring our usage isn’t worth much unless we change our behavior, and I think devices like this might help.  Maybe it won’t really make me smarter, but it reminds me when I’m not being smart about energy, and that can only help.



In home electric monitoring, Real Time Data and Age Old Adages

May 24, 2012

By U.S. Air Force photo by Edward Aspera Jr. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

NYT reported last month that although there are some early adopters of monitors of electric use in our homes, it is predicted that more than half will have them in the next ten years.    Notable in the Times article is a quote from Dan Yates, CEO of Opower: “Simply making energy usage visible can have an impact”.   I can believe that; after all, “knowledge is power”, right?

Blending physics, and metaphor, with this age old adage (I can’t resist throwing in some physics), power implies transformation.  It is a function of using energy to do work.  My point is that energy monitors aren’t worth squat unless we change our behavior based on what they tell us.  In fact, since you plug them in, they use electricity, they don’t save it.

Local utilities are offering energy data with things like the green button which we’ve written about in the past. Changing light bulbs to CFLs or LEDs can make a big impact with electric loads.  When you use electricity—for A/C or to heat water for example—more efficient systems can make a difference; and so can improving the home in other ways.   The gains in insulating and air sealing, proper shading, and good windows can really make an impact on your energy usage as well as your comfort.

I wonder if the adage “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing” is relevant?  Don’t get me wrong, it’s good to keep an eye on your electrical usage, but don’t get caught watching and not acting. Or maybe, “a fool and his money will soon part” fits too.



What’s all the hubbub about the “green button”?

January 20, 2012

White House PGE announce the Green ButtonThe White House announced that PG&E, and San Diego Gas & Electric have launched the “green button”, an online tool that allows customers to download their own energy data.

[Watch California utilities PG&E, and San Diego Gas & Electric in the video of the Green Button launch.]

That is certainly good news.  We’ve long used a good look an utility bill history and energy usage to help figure out what going on in a home.  Something that makes it easier for a homeowner to track down that history is a good thing.  And we look forward to a host of third-party aps that can help consumers save energy and money.

But from the hoopla, you’d think our energy woes are over.

Not so fast.  Access to household energy use data is really important.  And Facebook aps might be fun.  But when it’s 105 degrees out and you have a poorly insulated house, with south- and west-facing glass, and an old air-conditioner, are you going to be able to stay comfortable without paying a lot of money to the utilities?  No.  Good information helps, but it doesn’t change physics.  To make your home more comfortable and not break the bank with utility bills, you’ve got to make actual improvements!

And the fundamentals still apply.  You need good insulation and air-sealing, tight duct work, efficient heating and cooling equipment, efficient lighting.  And you also need to know if your water heater, furnace, or any other combustion appliance in your home is operating safely and efficiently.  The green button won’t don’t that for you.

Energy Upgrade CaliforniaFortunately, for California residents, the statewide Energy Upgrade California (EUC) program can provide up to $4,000 in rebates to help make smart improvements (some cities and counties are offering even more in matching rebates).  And certified contractors can give you access to these incentives. GreenHomes America partners have BPI-certified staff, and can provide access to the EUC incentives.

The best way to find out what you might qualify for is to have a real home energy audit conducted by a participating contractor—and then get the rebate by having the contractor make the improvements.  You can contact participating experts in the following areas to learn more:

So bring the green button on.  Check it out.  Easier access to utility information is great (after all, we’re paying the bills, aren’t we—shouldn’t we be able to get the information?)  Kudos to PG&E and SDGE for stepping up to lead the nation with this.  The rest of the country?  Well, a handful of additional uttilies have said they’re interested, so stay tuned.  And if GreenHomes has a location near you, we’ll help you find applicable rebates, incentives, and loans.

But if you want a more comfortable, healthier, and more energy-efficiency home, data alone won’t do it.  A good home assessment followed by the right, professionally installed, measures, will.


Lights, Vampires and Holiday Wishes!

December 6, 2011


nbc chicago image

Maybe you’ve seen this already, its’ been floating around the web, but I Love this picture.  Some of us go for broke when it comes to holiday decoration.  I’m only lightly (sorry) using the metaphor “going for broke”.

We celebrate this time of year as the skies grow darker earlier and the season shortens for cultural and religious reasons and just plain fun.    I’m more in the Ditto camp, but we do have a Christmas tree.     

Out of curiosity I used a nifty device called a Kill-A-Watt, and I metered my own Christmas tree at home.  We like the old school lights, the big bulbs and the bubbling ones. One year we left a strip plugged in lying on the couch and burned a hole in it.       

Well, my little tree with a few strips of lights big and small draws about 320watts.  I have an electric tea kettle that boils water with less wattage.  I can make coffee with that.   A co-worker’s tree with LED lights draws about 20watts. 

I’m probably not going to change. I like the light from the tree.  It makes me happy.   I suppose although it’s not efficient, it helps heat my house. (Yes, heating my house in Maine with light bulbs is not necessarily the smartest economic move I’ve made!)

Question I have now is “how about all the other things with clocks and lights, plugged in but not doing anything.”  Mike has mentioned “smart” power strips in the past.  This might be a good stocking stuffer for some (well if you have a big stocking I suppose).  Our TV’s and their electronic entourage, sit around waiting to entertain drawing power with their clocks lights and standby modes.  Set top boxes and DVR’s  can have a huge draw and can be worse than a good refrigerator!       

We make choices with our home and what we do to run the things in them, and it’s good to make informed ones.   Using energy costs money.  Wasting energy costs even more. Maybe the “Ditto” family has some extra cash for the presents under the tree instead, or a week in the Bahamas.  What would you do with the money you’re wasting needlessly on phantom loads?  Oh, don’t forget:  air leaks, spotty insulation, old inefficient heating equipment, leaky ductwork….What does your holiday wish list look like?



Energy-efficiency and “green” at the Consumer Electronics Show

January 16, 2011

Like most of you, I did not attend CES last week.  But I did scour the reports, blogs, and tweets for news of what might be coming down the pike from a green or energy-efficiency perspective.  And this is a real issue.  And we grow the number of gadgets (my Android phone is charging right now–and I do like it!)  in our homes and the size of our TVs, we gobble up increasing amounts of energy.  Over the last year we’ve talked about home electricity use, smart metersphantom loads, and a favorite, the CREE CR6 and LR6 LED lights.  Home electricity use is an issue that won’t go away.

As I mentioned, I wasn’t at the show.  And I haven’t seen most of the new stuff first hand.  Here, though, are a few links I found interesting, not so much for individual products but for the trends they hint at.

Some things to keep an eye on, anyway.


Check out this smart grid video

September 12, 2010

A few weeks ago, Kathryn wrote about her smart meter on the way it helps her impact the energy use in her own home.  Well, smart meters are but one piece of the overall smart grid concept.

Watch this Smart Grid Video

And although this video is clearly a piece of proganda, I think it does a nice job explaining the vision of what a smart grid might be and do for us.

And with the stress on our grid (or, really, grids), we’ve got to do something.  Of course, if we got a lot more serious about energy-effiiciency, and actually started significantly ratcheting back our energy usage, in buidlings and homes in particular, we could get by with a plain old dumb grid for a lot longer!   We are running out of time on this, though.  While it’s not something we talk about much, and we almost never here about it in the press (why would we?  The latest hubbub on Britney Spears is SO MUCH more important!), utilities know:  most of the country is headed toward serious issues with generation capacity and transmission.  Smart grid or not, we need to act soon.


Energy Star…a good starting point, but not the gold standard it once was.

September 9, 2010

While we’re on the topic of certification and the like, let’s talk about Energy Star.

The Energy Star program is a joint venture of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy that was introduced in 1992 with the goal of allowing consumers to easily identify energy-efficient products.

According to a recent Consumer Reports article, close to half of us must know and trust Energy Star because about 44% of Americans have purchased an Energy Star rated appliance.   Other surveys (such as that by CEE) indicate this awareness is even higher.  This is all well and good, but there have been rumblings from consumer advocate groups who complain that Energy Star accreditation has become too easy to attain.  They may have a point.

Like all things, technological advances make household appliances run faster, better and more efficiently.  For example, roughly three quarters of all dishwashers now have the Energy Star accreditation.  This does not mean that three quarters of the dishwashing machines on the market are created equal, but rather that the Energy Star standards no longer provides enough help to allow us to easily choose the most energy efficient models on the market with the Energy Star logo alone.

There are two proposals to rectify this situation: One camp believes in introducing a top tier of ‘Super Star’ ratings that would only be awarded to the top 5% of appliances in any given category.  The other camp believes that tightening Energy Star standards is the best way to go, as it would cause the least confusion to consumers.  Make no mistake–Energy Star is an example of one of the truly successful private-public partnerships.  It’s a great brand that we need to maintain and protect.  With some products, though, it’s time to substantial ratcheting up of the performance standards.

In the mean time consumers are left with a quandary.  You might think that choosing and installing household appliances is as easy as pie, but you would be wrong.  Smart people make mistakes (just read the article by Scott Adams that we’ve been discussing in previous blog entries).  Do it right the first time and get the help you need.  You won’t regret it.  You can do worse than using Energy Star as your default option.  But you can often do quite a bit better.  (And a good contractor such as GreenHomes America can help you sort it out.)


Is it time to replace that air-conditioner?

August 23, 2010

Scorching in the Central Valley again this week.  And with Calironia’s get-it-while-it lasts appliance rebates that Kathryn just mentioned, here’s a question we’re getting frequently.  And it’s actually a great question anywhere in the country.

How do you know when it’s time to replace your air-conditioner?

There are several warning signs.  First, any air-conditioner that is more the 10 years old is a candidate for replacement. Energy efficiencies have improved dramatically, and top contractors like GreenHomes can install this new equipment so that you can get the most out of it.  Age of the equipment alone, though, isn’t the only sign that you may be ready. ENERGY STAR offers some guidelines for homeowners that make a lot of sense.  It’s time to call for help if any of the following apply.

  • Your equipment needs frequent repairs and your energy bills are going up. There are a variety of problems that can creep in over time to make your cooling equipment less efficient.  Although some can be repaired, occasionally replacement can be more cost effective.
  • Some rooms in your home are too hot or too cold.  Improper equipment operation, duct problems or inadequate insulation could be the cause.
  • No one is home for long periods of the day and you do not have a programmable thermostat.  Install an ENERGY STAR qualified programmable thermostat or have a good contractor install one and instruct you on its use — to start saving energy and money while they’re away or sleeping.
  • Your home has humidity problems.  Poor equipment operation, inadequate or oversized equipment, and leaky ductwork can cause the air to be too dry in the winter or too humid in the summer. 
  • Your home has excessive dust.  Leaky ducts can pull particles and air from attics, crawl spaces and basements and distribute them throughout your house. Sealing your ducts may be a solution.
  • Your heating or cooling system is noisy.  You could have an undersized duct system or a problem with the indoor coil of your cooling equipment.  
  • Your score on the U.S. EPA’s Home Energy Yardstick is low.  The Yardstick helps you determine how your energy use compares to others in homes like yours.

If any of these apply to you should have your system evaluated.  Make sure though, that you get a comprehensive energy audit of your home first.  Many problems that appear to be with your heating and cooling equipment are actually caused by poor insulation, air leaks, windows, or other issues.  Unfortunately, these problems can be found even in newly constructed homes, and regardless of when it was built your home should get a thorough evaluation.

Much of the above applies to your furnace as well.  New “ECM” furnace motors are much more efficient than standard models and can lead to huge savings your electric bill.  Because inefficient motors actually generate waste heat, equipment with these new motors saves you twice with your air conditioning!  But we’ll revisit furnaces as we head into the fall.


Be your own energy police

August 18, 2010

The energy police are here. That’s me, for precisely three days a month… the three days immediately following the receipt of my gas and electricity bill. I play the role of water police on a different three days of the month.

I think it is great to monitor and control your energy use, I just wish I was better at it. My problem is that I’m forgetful. Not forgetful in the sense that I leave the oven on and the dinner catches fire (although I wouldn’t put that past me either), but forgetful in the sense that an item of relatively low priority simply won’t get done if I’m not reminded of it frequently.

Don’t get me wrong, conserving energy should not be a low priority item, it’s just that my internal dialogue is so preoccupied with moment-to-moment problems that I forget about being good. Instead of thinking, “I should unplug the TV when I’m not using it,” I’m thinking, “Why aren’t my jogging shoes in the hallway closet? Who ate the last of the cereal and put the empty bag back in the box? Is there gas in the car? I’m probably going to be late for work again.”

Except for those three days after I get the bill, then a snapshot of my brain reveals a much more motivated consumer. Then I’m thinking, “I need to use the oven to roast a chicken for dinner, I should multi-task and make the brownies for my in-law’s potluck at the same time. Would that make the brownies taste like chicken? Who cares, I’m saving energy!”

Recently, my ‘27 days of forgetfulness followed by 3 days of frenzied energy saving’ model of living got a kick in the butt. PG&E, our energy company, installed SmartMeters on our gas and electric lines.

This is perhaps the best thing that has ever happened to my energy consumption habits. I found out that PG&E has an online tracking tool – a program that allows me to see our energy consumption by the hour with just a 24 hour lag time. I set the energy tracker log-on page as my homepage and now every time I launch my browser I check-up on how we’re doing and am reminded to be energy conscious, but more than that, for the first time I actually feel like I’m in control of my household energy use.

The number on my energy bill is no longer a mystery.

Of course, just looking at your SmartMeter won’t save you money any more than thumbing through Gourmet magazine will result in a delicious meal.  You need to take action with the simple tips I’ll discuss on this blog, and deeper recommendations you can review at GreenHomes America.

Now I keep a log of energy use and changes we make around the house, and correlate it to the changes I see on my SmartMeter energy tracker page. In the next few weeks I’ll be letting you in on the changes we’ve made both in our energy use habits and our energy-using hardware, and how they’ve affected our energy bill.

I’m hoping for great things. I’m hoping being more energy efficient will become a habit rather than something I have to think about. I’m hoping I’ll no longer freak out for 3 days a month and go into damage control mode, and thus,  to no longer have to sneak out of the room when I hear the words, “Who made these brownies? They taste kind of strange…”

Solar Energy Monitor Goes Wireless

February 9, 2009

One of the things many hybrid car drivers like is the monitor on their dashboard that show how many MPG they’re getting at that moment and averaging over time.  In fact, this monitor may actually help increase the MPG as it helps drivers adjust their habits slightly (or drastically!) to get better mileage.


tem-homepgThat same idea is being applied to home energy use.  I will save discussion of whole house dashboards for another day.  But it’s clear from the new monitor we use on our solar hot water, that this technology makes a lot of sense.  It allows you to see the savings you’re getting in real time, from anywhere in the house.  With the portable, hand-held device, you can see results such as daily, monthly, annual and lifetime dollar savings, the energy collected, and the reduction in CO2 emissions as solar energy displaces the gas or electric you would normally use to heat your water.  You can also read parameters like the temperature of water coming us the collector and of the water you’re heating.  Kind of neat to see the 140 degree reading on a day when the outside temperature is below freezing!  


As we’re seeing, solar hot water is ready for the big time!



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