Sense: Monitoring Your Home Energy Consumption

I’ve always been curious about energy consumption in my home. When I see my total electricity use on my power bill, I wonder how the total was calculated. The Sense home energy monitor was created for people who are curious about their energy consumption at home.

This product connects to the electric panel in the home and provides information on various electric loads.

This article reviews my experiences with the Sense home energy monitor. Sense provided the monitor to me to review.

Getting Started

An electrician visited my home a couple of months ago to connect the device to my service panel, and I downloaded the Sense app on my phone. Because I have solar panels on my house, I got the version of the Sense that includes solar monitoring capabilities. Right away after it’s connected, Sense gave me a running total of home energy use and solar energy production. It also begins guessing at loads, in other words, how appliances that consume energy, like the refrigerator. You can easily rename them if Sense guessed wrong.

Understandably, Sense can’t identify appliances that aren’t running. For example, I haven’t run the bedroom heaters since the device was connected, so they haven’t displayed as a load yet. It also hasn’t identified really small loads, like the aquarium filter. Sense knows my refrigerator and stove, but it doesn’t know my lights. I’d imagine this is because I have LED bulbs in most of the fixtures and they use very little energy.

Within several days, the app had made educated guesses about most of the major loads in my home. It had identified the stove, electric kettle, dishwasher, fridge, water heater, and space heaters.

I then showed the app to my two children, ages 9 and 11. They had a blast running around the house, trying to make the energy use spike and dip. They were also checking to see if the device was accurate in identifying loads. This was in the first days of the school closure from the COVID-19 pandemic, so we even used Sense as the foundation for a math lesson.

Sense Solar bundle with desktop

Sense Solar bundle. Image courtesy of Sense

Useful Information

One of the best uses of Sense is to pinpoint energy-draining malfunctions in the home that are boosting the electric bill. It can also help homeowners make informed decisions on replacing devices largely based on energy consumption. Gaining these insights does require spending some time with the app.

Sense has been on the market since 2016 and many members of their team have a background in speech recognition. Interestingly, Sense technology uses a similar approach to recognize loads using electrical load disaggregation. This allows the monitor to examine energy use in the home and separate out appliance-specific data. As more households join the Sense community and contribute their energy-use data, the technology can better detect specific loads.

Sense presents the data in several different ways. You can see real-time energy use, how much energy each device uses over time, and a graph showing how many times the device turned on. It also allows you to program in your electric rate, so it puts a dollar value for the energy use.

What I Like

What’s really fun about having Sense is you can compare how different ways of doing things affects your energy consumption. For example, I hand washed my dishes one day and then ran the dishwasher the next. My water heater ran a lot more on the day I hand-washed the dishes, causing my energy use to spike. Thus, I was able to see how much electricity the dishwasher saves, especially if I rinse the dishes in cold water instead of hot.

It is also a lot easier to remember which appliances are on with Sense. I typically have a chest freezer running (with produce from my garden) in the fall and winter, and I unplug it in the spring. One year, I didn’t remember to unplug it when it was nearly empty, but the app would help remind me of this additional load.

Sense made me much more aware of my energy use. Now I think twice before running the oven for an hour with just one or two potatoes inside or taking a long shower. If you embrace the concept that “ignorance is bliss,” this might not be the right product for you.

Sense app in smartphone

Image courtesy of Sense

Sense vs. Kill A Watt

Another alternative is a Kill A Watt monitor, which is a device that determines the electric load of appliances plugged into it. I find Sense and the Kill A Watt serve different purposes and complement each other well.

Sense gives a much better idea of overall electricity use, while the Kill A Watt is helpful for specific loads. For example, I have no idea how to plug my heaters into the Kill A Watt monitor and connecting my fridge would be a major undertaking. Likewise, Sense might not pinpoint that a printer is draining a few watts of power when in standby mode.

Sense With Solar

A wonderful feature of Sense for families with solar systems is that sense shows energy use and solar energy production on the same screen. It’s easy to understand if you are on track to be net-zero, where the solar system is producing the same amount of power as the home consumes. My kids enjoy checking on the difference between the solar energy production and household consumption, depending on the weather and what we are doing at home.

Understanding Your Home Energy Consumption

If you want to get to know your home in a new way and invest a bit of time and money in understanding it, the Sense home energy monitor is a great fit.

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