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How to do an ongoing energy self-audit

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Editor’s Note: Scientific American‘s George Musser will be chronicling his experiences installing solar panels in 60-Second Solar. Read his introduction here and see all posts here.

I mentioned in my last post that you really need to do energy audits on an ongoing basis. Luckily, you can, without hiring a consultant each time.

Fellow solar blogger Chris Kaiser commented on one of my blog posts that you can conduct your own ongoing energy audit with a power-monitoring device such as The Energy Detective (TED). This device (see photo, left) monitors your total power usage using wire coils that clamp around the incoming electric cables. The company says it’s coming out this month with a new version that will support home solar electric generation.

I bought a TED three years ago and initially had a lot of trouble with it. The data signals travel over the house power wiring and interfered with my home automation system, which uses signals sent over the power line to control lights and appliances.  When I plugged TED in, lights began coming going on and off at random.  The device had what we geeks call a low WAF: Wife Acceptance Factor.  I’ve since upgraded the automation system to a more robust signaling system and the interference is less of a problem.

A second stumbling block was psychological. Watching the TED estimate power bills had the opposite of the intended effect. It struck our family that electric power is actually fairly cheap—just a couple of dollars a day for the whole house. If I won’t stop to pick up a penny on the sidewalk, why should I stress over keeping lights on when it costs just pennies to run them?

We found the key is to mentally multiply the usage by 365 days a year and see how the savings can add up. Energy conservation isn’t just a project, but a lifelong avocation.

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  1. 1. Biodiversivist 3:57 pm 05/6/2009

    Thanks for the useful links. I have bookmarked them for later reference. I will be reducing our homes electrical usage this summer. Also want to thank your for the acronym, WAF. I’ve been calling this "Ain’t momma happy, ain’t nobody happy." I just finished a weatherization project that reduced my natural gas heating bill 60% for less than $400:

    The secret is called DIY.

    Link to this
  2. 2. ckmapawatt 5:38 pm 05/6/2009

    Great points George. Sometimes I too wonder why I’m so dedicated to turning off lights when leaving one on an hour or two longer will only cost me a few cents. But then I have to remember how many lights I have and like you said, how many days in a year. Plus, it’s a slippery slope. If you start slacking with lights, you might start slacking with big loads, like AC.

    The new TED device that is SUPPOSED to come out this month is the TED 5000. This device has internal memory so you can see how much power is used when you are asleep!

    Link to this
  3. 3. jbchlt 12:33 pm 05/12/2009

    The trick I use to realize the importance of my small savings is to multiply everything I do by a million. That tells me the impact that could result if a million people turned off their lights when not needed or sealed some small leaks in their homes. Maybe I’m deluding myself, but I’d like to think that there are at least a million of us out there who care…

    Link to this
  4. 4. WillyMars 6:29 am 09/9/2009

    Minor lifestyle adjustments can greatly improve an individual’s energy efficiency too. There are a lot of things a person can do that aren’t drastic adjustments to their daily routine, but impact his energy efficiency. For tips on how to improve your personal energy efficiency, visit and click the “Get Informed” tab.

    Link to this

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