For years, the electric bill (from our electric baseboard heaters) in our vacation home was way too high, even when the house was unoccupied. There were obviously things that I didn’t understand, but nobody could offer any advice. Even though Sense could be better at detecting devices, I was able to monitor the overall usage, flip breakers, do some experiments, and determine that those unnecessary heating zones were making up a huge portion of my bill. It took a little bit of effort, but using Sense along with smart plugs, a Wi-Fi thermostat, Wi-Fi thermometers, and some oil-filled radiant heaters allowed me to cut my winter electric bill in half!
I had 10 can lights in the living room ceiling with old incandescents, and I turned them on while looking at the Sense monitor. Bam! 600 watts. I went through the entire house and checked every light bulb, then took the list to Lowes and spent $500 to replace every incandescent bulb with LEDs. That was another $40-$50 per month off the utility bill.
I found out our 20-year-old resistance electric water heater would run for an hour or 2 at 900 watts. I researched water heaters and found one that runs like a heat pump using about a third of the power – only 300W vs 9000W, with an energy sticker of $100 per year. I knew the old water heater would fail suddenly so I decided to plan ahead, buy the new one and install it. My hot water heating bill went from $200 to $160 per month.
My first impulse was to run out and buy a hybrid unit to replace the electric hog. I saw that the yellow and black stickers on the hybrid claimed $125 a year in electricity while the all electric is rated at $525. So, first instinct was wow I can save $400 a year by buying a unit that costs about $1,200, or a simple payback of three years. But then I took some time and got enough historical info from Sense to see that I was not actually using that much. Those ratings are based on an average family of four, and we are only two people.
My usage was trending at between $150 to $200 on an annualized basis, so the capital expense did not make sense. But I came up with a solution to fix another problem. Our master bath is very far from the hot water heater and it would take running the shower for about three minutes to get it to be hot for a shower, that was a lot of wasted water; and water and sewer are expensive here. Everyone told me to just install an instant unit for the bathroom, but they are not cheap and you have to cost of plumbing and electricity to the unit. So, I installed a re-circulating pump at the hot water heater. The Watts unit I installed requires no separate loop as it bleeds water from the hot to the cold line under a sink in the bathroom. It opens when the hot water drops below about 95 degrees, but does not do anything if the pump is not on as the pressures are just about equal. When the pump is on it pushes water from the hot line into the cold line and back to the heater until enough water flows to raise the temperature at that end of the house. Yes it dumps a trivial amount of heat into the cold, but no big deal as you only run it as needed. It comes with a timer that has I believe 5 minute segments for the entire day. While this is great for those on a fixed schedule it did not make sense for us. So the other thing I learned about from the Sense community and Facebook group was about the TP-Link HS110 energy plugs. I installed a TP-Link HS110 smart plug on the circulating pump that only uses like 25 watts. I then wrote a routine in Alexa that on command turns the pump on for six minutes. Next I installed an Alexa Button which looks like the famous Staples button that runs the routine when pushed. That sits on the counter in the bathroom and we just push it when we are getting ready for a shower. Now we run the hot water for about 10 seconds rather than three minutes saving a lot of money on water and sewer charges.
I reviewed the historical data for my water heater as it is my #2 winter energy draw. I found on the power meter many reheats of the tank during the hours when no one is awake or using hot water. Further investigation showed my hot water recirculating pump ran intermittently at all hours – triggering frequent middle of the night reheats on the water heater. Simply setting the water circulating pump not to operate during times when we are asleep stopped the excessive middle of the night reheats. I now start the circulating pump one hour before we normally arise to ensure hot showers.
Easy: just unscrew the incandescent or CFL bulb and screw in an LED bulb.
Replaced 120 W incandescent bulbs in my partner’s office ceiling fixture with 28 W of LED lights
Replaced 84 W of CFL lamps over bedroom lav with 10 W of LEDs
Replaced 60 W of incandescent lamps in entry hall with 28 W LEDs
Replaced 32 W of CFL lamps on both patios with 30W LEDs
Somewhat Less Easy; first unplug the fridge and remove the plastic covers over the old lamps in both the ‘refrigerator’ and ‘freezer’ compartments. Then replace 120 W of incandescent refrigerator bulbs with (much brighter) 18 W of LED bulbs. Covers back on, fridge plugged back in and you are set!
Even Less Easy; After turning off the associated breaker, rebuild each fluorescent fixture as an LED fixture by removing the ballast and replacing the tombstone connectors and wiring. Breaker back on and hey presto! This is a “Really Avid DIY’er” task, not something the average person could do easily:
Removed 148W of garage fluorescents. Replaced them with 56W of T-8 LED tubes.
Replaced 80 W of fluorescent lamps in my office with 36 W LEDs
Replaced 136 W of fluorescent lamps in kitchen with 32 W of LEDs
[Note: this story is from a Sense employee]
I put a TP-Link HS110 on the power strip that powers the whole office and turned things on/off one by one. To my surprise the room was using 80W at idle, 60W of which was the subwoofer. Switching the sub from ON to AUTO mode makes it use 10W when idle, but I now use Sense to turn on the HS110 whenever I’m using the office and turn it off when I’m not. I only use the office once a week for a few hours so this was about $80/yr I was wasting for no reason.