DIY Home Energy Monitoring System

All the talk of the "smart grid" is increasing consumer awareness on the importance of home energy monitoring.

There are 4 ways to monitor your homes electricity consumption:

  1. The Old Fashioned "Read your meter" way
  2. A "smart meter" installed by your utility
  3. Buying a home energy monitor - see our complete list of home energy monitors.
  4. Building your own home energy monitor! - for the true energy geeks!

Building your own home energy monitor is not the easiest way, and after accounting for your time, it probably isn't the cheapest; but it is a really great way to get an understanding of how your home consumes energy (and comes in handy if you are really bad at finding hobbies).

I've found two excellent guides to building your own home electricity monitoring system.

The first system is actually better than a basic home energy monitoring system: A DIY circuit level monitoring system!  But I'll warn you, the person responsible for creating the circuit level home electricity monitoring system probably has a little more technical expertise that most of us.  The system was built by an employee of Kondra Systems, which provides "operating systems to virtual machines to distributed systems to web applications, every solution is carefully crafted and custom built."  And the circuit level system actually was based on a Kondra project to monitor electricity consumption in a data center, but the owner changed a few things for it to work in his home.   The system includes monitors for each circuit that interface with custom built software.  The software keeps historical data on how much electricity each circuit consumes.  Armed with this data a homeowner would be able to gain a great understanding on where (like the TV room, kitchen, or bedroom) and how they consume electricity!

The software is actually the tricky part, because I'm sure many people could manage the hardware (make sure to turn off your mains breaker!).  I'm not sure if the developer would be open to sharing the software, but if you are interested, it may be worth a shot to contact them and ask!

In any case, the DIY guide for circuit level home electricity monitoring is a great educational too.  If you want to check out an off the shelf circuit level home energy monitoring system check out our blog on Computerized Electricity Systems: Monitor and Control Each Outlet.  The system provided by Computerized Electricity Systems is slightly better in the fact that along with monitoring each outlet, you have the ability to control it as well!

The other system is a tad bit simpler (keep in mind this is a relative term when discussing DIY home electricity monitoring system) but still great.  It was built by Jason Winters and I saw it on his pico-project on real-time web based power monitoring.  It is basically a DIY version of TED 5000 or Efergy E2.

Jason's inspiration:

Ever since I started paying for my own utility bill, I’ve been interested in my household power usage. Years before the Kill-A-Watt was introduced, I was measuring the power consumption of individual appliances in an attempt to figure out exactly where my money was going. Of course, back then I used a very low-tech way of doing it. I turned off and unplugged everything in the house, then went outside and timed how long it took my power meter’s “wheel” to make one revolution. Then I turned on appliances, one at a time, and re-timed a power meter wheel revolution. With a little simple math, I was able to convert the time differences into watts and get a pretty good idea of power usage of every appliance.

Being able to monitor you electricity consumption provides extremely valuable insight in your effort to conserve energy.   Whether you take the time to build your own system, buy a home energy monitor, or just read up on this great DIY projects to further your electricity knowledge, you'll be taking a step in the direction of energy savings .  Good luck (and remember, always turn off your main (incoming) electricity breaker when messing around in your electrical panel)!

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I think A DIY monitoring the gas, water and electricity si nicely done here: You can do it if you have some knowledge about electronics.
If I wanted to make a NG monitor, I think the safest way would be to mount a web cam to watch the meter, then use OCR on the image. Modifying a meter at the point of manufacture would be trivial. You put a magnet on the moving parts so that every time you do a 'tick' it comes close to the outside case. Monitoring then is a matter of counting ticks.
Have you seen systems for tracking gas usage?
There is the Scan Gauge II: It plugs into the OBDII port (in all cars since 1995) and and sits on your dash, it displays a wealth of info on vehicle performance such as, real time MPG, MPG per trip or day, gallons per mile etc. It also shows the basics like engine temperature, oil temp. etc. Very useful and educational and at about $140 it is a major asset that can help you learn to drive more efficiently. I've had one for a few years and rely on it to keep me on my MPG toes.
I meant natural gas for household heating.
ckmapawatt's picture
I've heard rumors that some of the meter manufacturers will be coming out with natural gas monitoring, but it's trickier than measuring electrical current. I'm guessing it would have to be something your natural gas utility would provide. Definitely not a DIY (see recent explosion in California).
ckmapawatt's picture
George, are you referring to natural gas or gasoline? I assumed natural gas but Guy made me think otherwise.
george - re: monitoring nat gas usage. i have been speaking with a firm here in florida that offers a monitoring application that covers electricity, nat gas, and water. however, the latter two require installation of digital flow meters, definitely not a diy project. i'd be happy to connect you paul 813-334-8682
ckmapawatt's picture
I wonder how the natural gas utility would feel about that?

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