Measure & Monitor Your Home Energy Use | The Electric Metric

It was Lord Kelvin  (William Thomson) who made the famous statement, “If you can not measure it, you can not improve it.”

Whether it’s sports, finance, or Google AdWords, tracking the numbers helps achieve better performance. Without good metrics, it’s difficult to know what progress you’re making.

Metrics are definitely fun when it comes to sports, but when it comes to energy efficiency, it can get downright tedious—unless you understand the benefits (i.e., more cash in your pocket). Then it  becomes a game worth playing.

Electricity is measured in kilowatt hours (kwh), and natural gas is measured in therms. You can’t control the cost per kwh or therm, but you can control the amount used in your home or office. How? First, you need to know how much energy each device is using. You can’t tell this from your utility bill because it only shows the total dollars spent each month. You need a metric that’s easy to see and understand—then you can change it.

Whole-House Energy Monitors

For measuring kwh, there are several excellent tools called whole-house energy monitors. Most are easy to set up and economical to implement. They show precisely how much energy (and money) you use in real time.

Once you see this on a computer screen, it’s fun to see how much kwh you can reduce or eliminate simply by turning off appliances, TVs, or lights. You simply turn off an item and watch the meter go down and savings go up.

On average, whole-house energy monitors can help you save 9 to 13 percent. For example, the Sondheim Center for Performing Arts in Fairfield reduced its overall energy usage by some 14 percent just by turning off lights when not needed.

A few models worth mentioning are TED (The Energy Detective), which is wired by an electrician into your electrical box, or Powercost Monitor, which works through a Wi-Fi network in your home and you can set up yourself. In both cases, accurate information about total energy consumption is displayed on a screen in real time. This information can be uploaded easily to other free applications such as PlotWatt or Google’s PowerMeter to create graphs and moving displays of your energy consumption.

Having used a PowerCost monitor for several years, I’ve discovered several phantom devices that were draining electricity in my home. Although we had turned everything off in the home, the monitor still showed a significant amount of energy consumption. Puzzled, we went through the house room by room until we finally figured it out: a sump pump in the basement was running 24/7 due to a cable that interfered with the shut-off switch. By fixing the problem, we saved hundreds of dollars per year. We also purchased several LED can light replacements and could see, in real time, how they lowered the energy consumption of our home.

Alliant’s Home Assessment

If this sounds too complicated for you, or you prefer to understand all the metrics affecting your energy costs, contact Alliant Energy and schedule a free energy assessment. If your home qualifies, Alliant Energy will send an energy expert to identify ways to reduce energy usage, estimate how much the upgrades will cost, and calculate how much you’ll save. The auditor may even install some energy-saving measures on the spot at no cost.

What Will They Audit?

• Building construction and tightness

• Heating and cooling systems (if applicable, the energy expert will install a programmable thermostat at no cost)

• Kitchen and laundry appliances

• Lighting (if applicable, the energy expert will install Energy-Star-rated compact fluorescent light bulbs at no cost)

• Water heating equipment (if applicable, the energy expert will install faucet aerators, a low-flow showerhead, and pipe insulation)

• Windows, doors, and insulation levels

How to Qualify

To qualify, Alliant Energy must supply your home’s primary heating energy. The primary heating source is the heating equipment permanently installed in your home (furnace, boiler, etc.); all other heating sources (space heater, corn stoves, etc.) are considered supplemental.

Your home must have been built before January 1, 2002. If you’re a renter, you must have the owner’s approval.

Signing up takes about 30 seconds online: energyassessment. Or call (866) 255-4268.

New Rebates for 2012

Alliant Energy offers a number of valuable rebates for 2012, including 70 percent of the total cost of insulation installation, $25 to $100 for Energy Star appliances, and $50 to $300 for water heaters. Many of these require an energy audit prior to installation. For full details, see Alliant

So don’t waste time. Sign up now for a free energy assessment. Depending upon their workload, it takes Alliant 1 to 3 weeks to visit your home, office, or commercial building to conduct the full audit. There is no obligation, and the report is yours to keep. 

Joel Hirschberg is the founder of Green Building Supply in Fairfield, IA.