Take control of rising home energy costs

Tech tools help you become your own home energy auditor

BOURNE, Mass.—So you called your local energy service company, scheduled a free home energy audit, and came away with some useful information about drafts to plug, light bulbs to use, and which areas of your home could be better insulated. Don’t forget the programmable thermostats.

All that is great, and hey, it didn’t cost you a thing. But most of what the auditor told you, well, you already knew. The magic answer never came, and the feelings of dread and helplessness about your next energy bill came rushing back with a vengeance.

Well, suppose that in addition to replacing light bulbs and weather-stripping windows, you could take greater control of your kilowatt destiny and see exactly where your energy dollars are going. Imagine having a detailed, visual profile of your own household’s energy use—on your home PC—that allows you to focus in on the real opportunities for energy savings in your home.

With new computerized energy-tracking devices, getting a comprehensive snapshot of your energy consumption at home is just a few mouse clicks away. Data loggers, for example, are simple battery-powered “black boxes” capable of recording temperature levels in various rooms in your house, light usage, and appliance cycling on a 24/7 basis.

According to Jack Sample, director of marketing for Onset, a Massachusetts-based company that makes data loggers, the devices are about as complex to use as a programmable thermostat.

“An average homeowner with basic computer skills can set up and activate a data logger within minutes,” says Sample. “Then, it’s just a matter of disconnecting the logger from the PC and placing it wherever you want to investigate energy usage.”

Once data have been collected for a certain period of time, accompanying software converts the data into time-stamped graphs so you can see what was happening and when. A graph detailing light usage and furnace activity, for example, may have two lines, one blue and the other red, that form various spikes and drops during the monitoring period.

The visual data, according to Sample, is the key to not only seeing energy consumption, but also discovering problems.

“The minute the graph pops up on your screen, you’ll be able to see if things like furnaces and hot water heaters are cycling too much or too little,” he explains. “You may also be able to see that your programmable thermostat settings are off based on how early the heat comes on in the morning or turns off at night. There are so many opportunities to reduce consumption that homeowners never get to see without real data.”

More information about data logger technology can be found at Onset’s Web site at http://www.onsetcomp.com/homepower.

From the Feb. 22-28, 2006, issue

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