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.