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A wide and ever-evolving range of these products can deliver real-time data on any home’s energy use.

Photograph by Realimage/Alamy

By Brian Handwerk

for National Geographic

Shopping Tips

Energy meters and smart home devices help homeowners take control of their energy use with a simple concept—knowledge is power.

A wide and ever-evolving range of these products can deliver real-time data on any home’s energy use. Users get information in instant, easy-to-understand reports that summarize the total amount of electricity your home is using at any given moment—and what it might cost you on next month’s bill.

Studies show that once consumers get a clear look at the energy they waste, and learn where and when savings can be made, they’re usually inspired to trim energy use, and costs, by up to 15 percent.

When shopping for a meter, here are a couple of things to keep in mind:

  • Plug and play: Devices like smart plugs are a quick, easy, and relatively inexpensive way to get started. Just grab one and plug it into any outlet, then plug energy-hogging appliances into the device.

    These plugs deliver real-time reports on the energy use of any appliances being powered by that source. They’re a great way to find out just how thirsty your biggest energy users are—and to manage them efficiently. Wifi-controlled smart plugs also offer the ability to turn these appliances on or off from any PC or smart phone. You’ll be able to turn your home air conditioner on while you’re at work, powering it up just before returning home.

  • Home energy monitors: Home energy monitors take this concept a step further to create a footprint of your home’s total electricity use, delivered in real-time reports that show just how much juice you’re consuming and what it’s costing you.

    This information is a valuable tool when giving your house, and lifestyle, a green makeover. When you turn on a light, turn off a DVD player, or plug in a cell phone charger, you’ll immediately see the difference—and the expense. Discover just how often your water heater runs and what it costs each time—then set the water heater thermostat five degrees Fahrenheit lower and watch the costs drop.

    A suite of software programs allow you to slice and dice energy monitor data in many different ways.

  • Clean water: A rain barrel topped with a fine-mesh screen will keep out insects and debris.

  • Smarter homes: On technology’s cutting-edge, an array of home monitoring and control systems, often bundled with other applications like home security or entertainment, allow homeowners to monitor and control some of their home’s biggest energy hogs from anywhere in the world with handheld devices or smart phones.

    These systems install control devices to guide thermostats, lights, HVAC, and other home appliances and systems so that owners can more easily carve out a green lifestyle—with enormous energy savings.

  • Keep up with the technology: Buyers should be aware that smart-home and energy-meter technologies are evolving at a staggering pace.

  • Commitment: Those hoping to shrink their home energy costs should be realistic about what they need—which is based not only on budget but on how actively involved they plan to be in the process. Whole-home systems come with big price tags and, while they typically offer potentially greater savings, they may not be the best choice for those who aren’t dedicated to using them to their fullest.

  • For the long haul: One environmental category in which these devices may fall short is longevity. The dizzying pace of technological advancement may make you think twice about an investment in a system today that may seem antiquated in just a few years.

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