Sense Home Energy Monitor

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In order to combat rising electricity costs, you first have to figure out which devices in your home are drawing the most power. One way to do this is with a smart plug like the Zuli, which plugs into your wall outlet and monitors the energy usage and cost of whatever is then plugged into it. But that can get expensive if you want to monitor every device in your home. Another option is to get yourself an ammeter and manually measure the draw on each circuit. Or, you can hook up a smart power monitor, like the Sense Home Energy Monitor ($299), that connects directly to your electricity panel and uses a cool mobile app to tell you what devices and appliances are drawing power and when. The Sense listens to the electronic signature of each device and uses algorithms to identify them and monitor their power consumption. It also presents real-time and historical usage for each device. It works wonderfully, but it has a couple of kinks to work out in order to earn our Editors' Choice.

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Design and Features

The Sense system consists of a brick-shaped monitor box, a Wi-Fi antenna, two current sensors, a power cable, an installation guide, and a mounting kit. The monitor is bright red and measures 5.5 by 2.5 by 1.7 inches (HWD). It has ports for plugging in the antenna, current sensors, and power cable, and is equipped with a 1GHz ARM processor as well as 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi and Bluetooth wireless radios.

The current sensors are similar to the ones you get with Eyedro Business Electricity Monitor; they each have a circular electromagnetic transformer that you attach to your main power lines and a 46-inch cord that connects to the monitor. The monitor works with Android and iOS mobile devices, and a Web-based app is on the way.

When you open the app you're greeted by a Now screen containing numerous bubbles of different sizes that represent devices or a group of devices. The bubble's size changes with the amount of power being used. When you tap a bubble you can see how much power is being used by that device or group in real time. Below the bubbles is a readout of total power being consumed in the house (in watts), and further down is a list of daily events such as when the microwave oven was on and for how long.

Tapping any event opens a page for that device that displays statistics such as average power consumption, how many times the device was on for the month, and total usage in KWh. The only stat it doesn't give you is how much the device is costing you while it's running, a handy feature that you get with the EyeDro monitor and with certain smart plugs such as the Belkin Wemo Insight Switch and the Zuli. The good news is that the folks at Sense are working on this now and will add a cost calculator at a later date.

In addition to the Now page there's a Usage page that lets you view daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly usage trends for each device and see what percentage of your total power consumption each device is responsible for. This information is presented in colorful bar graphs and includes a detailed list of devices. The Devices page displays a list of all named and unnamed devices and their real-time status. If a device is running you'll see how much power it's using and if it's off it will say so. As with the Now page, tapping any device brings up its average power consumption, how long the device was on for the month, and total usage in KWh. The Settings page is where you go to enable/disable sounds, configure Wi-Fi settings, check signal strength, and see how many total devices have been detected.

It is recommended that you have a qualified electrician install the Sense monitor, which means you may have to shell out another $50-$100. It is also requires an unused circuit breaker. For this review I performed the installation myself (under the guidance of a licensed electrician) using the included installation guide. First, I turned off the main breaker on my electrical panel and removed the panel cover. I had plenty of room to place the monitor on the bottom of the panel box, but if your panel is too crowded you can use the included kit to mount it on a wall outside of the enclosure.

Next, I installed the antenna on the outside of the panel box by snaking the cable through a knockout on the box and attaching the antenna to the box using the included insert. I connected the power, sensor, and antenna cables to the monitor, and clamped the sensors to the power main lines (keeping in mind that the main lines are always live). Finally, I connected the power cable to an open breaker by attaching the red and black wire directly to the breaker and the white wire to the neutral terminal. I replaced the panel cover, switched on the main breaker, and waited several seconds for a chime, signaling a successful installation. I downloaded the iOS app, created an account, and connected the monitor to my Wi-Fi network.

The monitor went right to work trying to figure out what devices were drawing power. I started out with a big Unknown bubble, but the following day it was joined by a fairly large Always On bubble. Always On refers to devices that are always drawing power such as TVs, routers, DVRs, set-top boxes, and anything that uses a standby mode, while Unknown devices have yet to be identified.

Over time, the Sense will try to learn the identity of each device and give it its own bubble, and as it does, the Unkown bubble begins to shrink. Over the course of a week or two I received email messages informing me that Sense had identified another device, and sure enough there were new bubbles on the app. During this time it identified several refrigerators (I have four), my microwave oven, my pool filter pump, all of my lights, the dishwasher, and the washing machine. However, it never was able to identify certain devices that are used regularly such as the clothes dryer, the toaster oven, the hair dryer, and the coffee maker. Fortunately, a bubble appears when you run an unknown device, at which point you can tap it, edit its name, and add it to the event timeline. Over time I was able to identify every device that the monitor missed.

The Sense did an awesome job of reporting power usage in real time. Within seconds of turning on my microwave oven a bubble appeared, accompanied by a popping sound, alerting me that the device was on and how much power it was drawing. When it was turned off again the event was listed below with a brief description of the activity (how long it was on). I went around the house turning things on and off and the monitor immediately responded every time. It was interesting (and a bit shocking) to watch the total wattage numbers rise whenever my son arrived home from school to begin his afternoon routine of Xbox, making snacks, and turning on every light in the house. Fortunately my house is almost entirely connected, so I can turn most things off from my phone.

With the Sense Home Energy Monitor you can keep track of how much power your electronic devices and appliances are using in real time and view daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly usage reports. It's recommended that you have the monitor installed by a licensed electrician, but if you know your way around your home's breaker panel you can install it yourself in a matter of minutes. While the monitor did a good job of correctly identifying many of the devices in my home, it was unable to identify all of them and it categorized several devices, such as TVs and routers, as Always On rather than as individual devices. Moreover, a cost calculator like the one built in to the Eyedro EBWEM1 is a glaring omission. That said, the Sense does an excellent job of letting you know how often a device is on or off and how much electricity it has used over a period of time, allowing you to manage your home's overall power consumption. And a cost calculator is on the way. Granted, $300 plus installation isn't cheap, but if it helps you lower your monthly utility bill by just $20 per month, the Sense will pay for itself in short order and may save you a bundle in the long run.

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