Trying to figure out what electronics and behaviors are costing you the most each month is like groping around in the dark. Thankfully, there are some solutions that can help with this. Say hello to Sense.
In my previous video I talked about switching to a Ford Fusion Energi, and my soon to arrive Tesla Model 3, both of which are big energy sinks. When I originally got the Ford, we saw a jump in our electric bill, but we expected that. What we didn’t expect was to get shamed each month on our bill by showing how much more power we use compared to our neighbors. That’s when we started asking questions. Why is it so high? This isn’t just he car, but what is it?
Whole home energy monitors, like the Sense, use two magnetic clamps that fit around the mains of your electric panel. They also get tied into a 240 volt breaker in the panel, which allows the device to read exactly how much energy is being used. If you have Solar, you can also add clamps to the lines coming off of your panels, so you can factor energy generation into your mix.
Since you’re messing around with the mains and 240 volt breakers, you really should only install this if you’re a licensed electrician or have a lot of experience working with electrical panels in this way.
Since I valued by life, I thought it best to leave the install to the professionals. To save a little money, I had an electrical install the Sense Monitor at the same time as he was installing a Tesla Wall Charger for me. If I had done the Sense on its own, it probably would have cost around $150 – $200 to install, but I ended up paying less that $100 for the install since he was already here.
The sense box gets nestled into the electric panel itself and has a wifi antenna that you add through one of the panel holes. Once the 240 volt breaker is turned on, you’ll hear the Sense Monitor chime and boot up.
You load the Sense app onto your phone and following the setup instructions. It’s actually a pretty straightforward setup process and well designed user experience here. However, I ran into a snag that caused a lot of headache when it came to my wifi password. My wifi password was 64 characters long … yes, I know I’m a little nuts … but the Sense is only capable of handling a 58 character password. This isn’t stated in any of the online materials or the setup process, so my setup kept failing at the “connecting to wifi” stage. I figured out the problem when I was able to get the Sense to connect to the guest wifi without any issue. While frustrating, it was an easy fix and the Sense got up and running quickly after that.
At this point, your setup is basically done. You’re told to wait for up to 24 hours while your Sense calibrates itself.
How it works
Before I dive into the features I have to give you a word of advice with the Sense: have patience. This thing takes time to detect devices and give you insights into your usage.
Sense collects unique energy patterns from the devices in your home to try and identify them, and uses machine learning to match these patterns with other Sense users who have successfully identified something. What these means is that over the first weeks and months of using Sense, you’ll get notifications of a “new device has been detected!”
It’s pretty amazing that it can single out an individual device, but you’ll notice that it often guesses the type of device incorrectly. This is where you come in and have to do some sleuthing to verify the guess, and if it’s wrong, enter the correct information.
In my case it correctly marked our garbage disposal, microwave, and refrigerator. While it didn’t get these right on the first go, it also identified things like our dehumidifier, air conditioning, and several of the heating elements on our stove top.
If you give it permission, the Sense can also monitor your home network for recognizable networked connected devices to aid identification. I turned this on and it’s identified all my Philips Hue bulbs, as well as our two LG televisions.
The app interface is pretty and well designed. If Sense hasn’t identified something, It lumps it into either “always on” or “other.” While not as useful, it’s still enough to help you understand your energy usage and make some of your own guesses as to what’s contributing to those by the process of elimination. In my case, I have a couple of computers and HEPA filters that are running 24 hours a day, so I know they’re part of the “always on” grouping.
You can enter your cost per kWh and monthly bill schedule, as well as your desired monthly kWh goal and they app will let know if you’re on target or going way over. You can also see breakdowns for how much identified devices are costing you to run each month and year.
You can also tie Sense into IFTTT, which means it can become another resource in your home automation setup. You can set up alerts if a specific device turns on or off while you’re away from home, so you could get alerted if your left your stove on. You could have Philips Hue flash a light in the living room if your washing machine or drying turn off. There’s a lot of potential there.
At $300 for the Sense, and another $100+ for professional installation, is it worth it? That’s a little hard to answer because it really depends. I’d say for most people, no. For me, it’s a resounding yes. Based on the data it’s found, I’ve changed the way I run my computers and gaming consoles. I’ve changed my heating and cooling settings to further reduce my costs there as well. It’s allowed me to experiment with make minor tweaks to our refrigerator settings and see if there’s a decreeable difference before and after the change. I’m still only two months in, but I’d estimate that I’ve saved about 10% in energy costs so far.
Is that enough to pay for the Sense? No, it’ll take several years to earn enough from savings to pay for itself, but that’s not the only I reason I got it. With my Tesla Model 3 incoming, my home energy use is going to spike again, the Sense is helping me to trim the fat from my current usage to try and off set that a bit. We’re also getting solar panels installed soon, so I’ll be able to track our solar generation within the same app to see how everything is balancing out.
With knowledge comes power (sorry … bad dad pun there). I’m no longer fumbling around in the dark trying to understand where my power is going. I know exactly where it’s going, and how to be more efficient with its use. In the end, saving me money.
What do you all think? Are you using a home energy monitor like the Sense? There are bunch of options for this type of thing, like Neurio, Curb, Ecoisme, Engage. There’s also great open source options that you at Openenergymonitor.org. Do any of you use those? What do you think? Is this something you’d spend money on? If it is, be sure to hit the like button.
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