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Simple Home Energy Monitors Help Reduce Electricity Usage

by Chad Ludeman on August 14, 2008 · 14 comments

in Design,home automation

A couple weeks ago I tweeted about The Energy Detective or TED that monitors whole house energy usage. This led me to do a bit more research on what else is out there that is similar to this device.  Below is what I found on a couple of inexpensive devices available to monitor energy or electrical usage at the home. All of these devices monitor the electrical usage of the entire home by connecting to the main electrical panel. They claim to save anywhere from 10% – 25% on your electric utility bill by measuring and displaying your energy usage in real time so that you can learn to manage your power usage more responsibly.

This is a great concept that I knew right away would fit perfectly with the 100K philosophy. Educate the home owner on energy usage, give them the tools to measure it and empower them to manually reduce their energy usage via low-tech methods. The alternative would be high-end “green” systems that would fully automate the home to reduce energy usage. Cool, but pricey and not fitting for our project.

TED – The Energy Detective [$145]

TED’s cleverness does not stop at it’s name, but also extends to its ease of installation and use. TED comes with two main parts. One part quickly and easily attached to the electrical panel in such a way that if you have ever changed a fuse on your panel, you would have more than enough experience to install TED (I love this name more and more as I type it).

The second piece is a wireless display unit that can be placed anywhere in the house. The display will show in real time what your energy consumption is in kiloWatts as well as dollars per hour. TED also has alarm settings and other tools to alert you when you are really sucking up energy  in order to help keep you on a desired monthly budget.

Lastly I found this informative YouTube Video Review on The Energy Detective. An add-on is a software package called TED Footprints for $45 that allows you to hook up your display unit to a PC to record, track and graph your energy usage in even more detail. This is lovely, but currenly does not work on Macs which make me sad inside. [Aside: Do tech companies really believe that "early adopters" are using PC's over Macs? Product Marketers need to do more homework be smarter.]

The Meter Reader EM-2500 [$215]

The Meter Reader EM-2500 is very similar to TED except that it is more expensive and the display must be hard-wired to the electric service panel and can not be wirelessly placed in the home. It’s a nice product, but honestly I don’t know why you would buy it when the TED is available for less cash.

Web Energy Logger (WEL) [$375]

Web Energy Logger WEL Image Another interesting option is the Web Energy Logger (WEL). This takes energy monitoring a big step further and also allows you to add temperature sensors throughout your home to monitor how effectively your HVAC and ventilation systems are working. This looks pretty cool but has a couple of drawbacks for me. One is that it would require a lot of hardwiring throughout the house for the temp sensors. Two is that is is not really a fully commercial product as it was designed by some guy that built his own energy efficient house. Many kudos to him, but I would be a bit nervous. If you are very technically inclined and have some time on your hands, I say go for it.

Final thoughts

I think it’s clear that we plan to go with the TED for our homes. It’s simple, effective, cheap and I can install myself if needed. What could be better? In the future it would be great to see a device like this that could be hooked up to a web application to monitor and maintain all of your information. This could be compared to others around the world using the same web interface. This type of info could also mix well with home automation programs out there and it would be really cool if you could also monitor the usage of other fuel types (gas, oil, pellets…) with a similar device to have the results collected and reported all in one place. I saw hints of people working on this during my search but didn’t find anything concrete. If you see something out there, throw it in the comments for all of us to benefit.

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Alternative Energy | How To Fix America!
November 18, 2008 at 8:18 pm

{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Scott Sanders August 14, 2008 at 8:07 pm

During your research did you find out if you can program TED for variable utility rates during the day? Nowhere in the TED FAQ or website does it talk about programming in your utility rates during setup/installation.


2 chad August 14, 2008 at 8:10 pm


I recall reading that they were working on being able to incorporate variable rates from utility companies in a future version or add-on product. Good point and I just started research on separate products for that issue…


3 Tim August 14, 2008 at 9:15 pm

Did you try the Blue Line Powercost Monitor? I think they retail for about $150.

4 chad August 14, 2008 at 9:22 pm

I did not find that in my search but like the looks of it. Here is the link. Retails for $150 and connects to your external meter which is kind of handy.

Thanks for the heads up! Now I might have to amend the post.

5 Tim August 14, 2008 at 9:39 pm

No problem. I wish someone could make a nicer looking wall-mountable interface/display. They are all quite awful.

I’m wondering if anyone has installed one of these energy monitors on a home with a photovoltaic system. Will these monitors be able to distinguish when the home is consuming (buying) or producing (selling) power? And how does this affect the cumulative figures displayed by the energy monitors? I’ve actually asked Blue Line this question a while back and they had no idea. But this was over a year ago. Anyone with experience, please chime in.

6 chad August 14, 2008 at 9:47 pm

For a sleek looking model, check out the Wattson from the UK. Very nice!

From what I remember today the models in this post can not accommodate power generation from Solar or other yet.

7 Tim August 14, 2008 at 10:12 pm

Interesting… but will this work in the US? I like graphs and such and wonder if this can accomodate? 28 days internal memory storage seems very low.

Nice looking? YES!

8 Ray August 15, 2008 at 6:05 pm

I have the Blueline Monitor and it works fairly well.
It would be nice to be able to hook it up to the computer to record the data, as well as have the option to plug it into anything other than batteries (a small solar panel would be great).

It is pretty flexible in letting you set rates. Downside is that it doesn’t record under 0.3 watts.

9 Albo August 17, 2008 at 4:05 am

We have TED running for our place, and have been very happy with it. Electrician installed it when finishing up his work, and it’s been very accurate over the last 10 months.

You can program for different rates at different times, but the unit isn’t wireless – it needs to be plugged into a socket in order to read the MTU in the breaker box.
It can also have communication issues depending on which circuit it is plugged into, so be aware of that.

It’s very quick in updating, almost instantly, and you can immediately tell what a particular item’s power consumption is. Right now it’s telling me I’m using $0.11/hr, and I know that it’s the HRV, fridge, my Mac Pro etc.

Another downside to the TED Footprints software is that the PC has to be on ALL THE TIME in order to capture data from the unit. I called the company about this recently. You can definitely get a lot of interesting data from the unit, but it’s not worth adding a dedicated machine to do it. Plus, you then have even more electricity usage to deal with!

It’s a great unit though, would get it again. My projected total this month, for the whole house, is $90, and it makes me happy that I can look over at this unit and see that at anytime.

10 chad August 27, 2008 at 2:34 am

Thanks for the review Albo. I am looking forward to testing it ourselves when we move into the house also.

11 Gabe March 11, 2009 at 10:31 am

A note about TED: their customer support sucks. Emailing them seldom generates replies.

Otherwise, a nice and quite accurate product. Footprints software is a bit weak though.

12 Tim March 12, 2009 at 4:39 pm

Big problem is that none of these work with grid tied inverters (none can accurately read in reverse). Which is amazing being that a big chunk of their customer base are renewable energy producers. Brultech just came out with an interface that looks like it’s capable, but no compatible LCD monitor or interface to work with – strictly computer/web based. Does ANYONE out there make a product (with LCD interface) that works for RE producers???

13 Rusty Nail Workshop January 17, 2010 at 4:06 pm

I run the Rusty Nail Workshop web site that you link to for the WEL (Web Energy Logger) device review. The link you have is outdated. The current review of this device is at:

It really isn’t that hard to set up, and the device is very well made. I am a really happy user and would encourage it to anyone who is interested in sensing conditions of their home or business.

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