To help clients understand their house as a system that’s affected by how they live, Frank Wickstead, of WicksteadWorks, in Decatur, Ga., installs an energy consumption monitor on the main circuit of all the company’s projects. “It’s part of living consciously,” he says. “The [client] can see how their house responds to their behavior.”
About half his clients actively use the monitor, which enables them to experiment with products and behavioral changes and see the effect. For example, homeowners can raise the thermostat on their air conditioning by two degrees and see how much money that saves. Wickstead used the monitor he has on his own home to measure energy savings resulting from changing six porch light bulbs from incandescent to LED: There was a noticeable savings of 71 cents per day, or $20 per month.
Wickstead’s The Energy Detective (TED) installations cost about $400. His electrician fits two clamps around the electrical wire feeds coming into the panel. The homeowner installs the software on his or her computer and the TED unit sends out signals to a wireless router.
Wickstead chose the TED product because it lets clients monitor energy use using Google’s free PowerMeter. “For me it was about accessibility and ease of use. You can check it anywhere,” he says.
Wickstead does not have access to this data — TED is a tool for his clients. When he completes a project, he asks the homeowner for their before-and-after utility bills so that he can track the difference in energy use. “I like to prove, on a utility basis, that I can double the square footage of a home but that the homeowner’s utility bills stay the same,” he says.
Lee Odess, president of energy consulting company Energy + Light + Control (ELC), in Washington D.C., says that although energy monitors are common in commercial and industrial buildings, he’s now seeing more residential interest in the products. Homeowners who choose renewable energy systems are more likely to install an energy monitor because they have more disposable income and have a keen interest in reducing energy consumption.
In a recent whole-house remodel, ELC installed PowerHouse Dynamics’ eMonitor, which lets homeowners track energy use for up to 100 circuits on multiple circuit panels. Odess says clients are likely to monitor circuits for specific rooms such as kitchens and home offices, or for large appliances such as the refrigerator, washer, dryer, and flat-panel TV. “It gives you quantitative data per circuit,” he says. “If you know your habits, you can change them.”
ELC staff install the product and configure the client’s computer so the client can track energy use. Odess charges $1,000 for a “starter” system that covers 22 circuits plus the main circuit, along with a $12 monthly monitoring fee, which he bills annually. (Unlike eMonitor, TED doesn’t track individual circuits.)
Odess expects consumption monitoring in residential projects to increase, and says that it’s ideal for LEED houses. “If you put in a system like this, you’ll have hard data on how the homeowner is using the house and how it’s working,” he says.
—Nina Patel, senior editor, REMODELING.