Smart Savings at Home With Energy Sensors & HVAC Upgrades

With energy prices on the rise, it’s harder than ever for homeowners to balance comfort and budget. But what if you could pinpoint exactly how much electricity every appliance and device in your home used and see it all on an easy to use app?

That’s the solution energy sensors offer. You can get a running log of your electricity usage and use that information to reduce your consumption without making any big lifestyle changes.

And while there are plenty on the market, some brands offer much more than others.

Sure, swapping a light bulb here and there may not make a big difference. But making changes to your large appliances can, especially when it comes to your heating and cooling system. To explore this topic, we’re talking with Mike Gunderson of Compass Heating and Air in East Dundee, IL.

Mike has decades of experience in the Vasey industry and he and his wife have made their home as efficient and energy independent as possible without sacrificing comfort or overhauling their day to day activities.

In this episode, Mike talks about the Emporia view, Energy Monitor, energy monitoring in general, and how your HVAC system can save you money on your utility bills.

Features of Home Energy Monitors

You’ve been working with this product for a little while and you’ve identified some specific benefits to these in particular. Before we get to those, I want to talk a little about energy monitors in general. What will these do for homeowners?

It helps you to identify where you’re consuming your electricity, and it will have a pretty good impact when you’re making decisions as to what you’re running. You can identify circuits that are using more power, such as TVs when they’re powered on. Many of them are pulling nearly a hundred watts when they’re turned off, which is a surprise to most people.

With this monitor, it does help you to evaluate how and when you’re using electricity, and that allows you to essentially pay for the monitor itself by identifying things that are costing you money that you’re completely unaware.

A good example, we were playing around with our induction stoves at home and got a little nerdy. The kids bought kids, made a box of mac and cheese, and I told them it cost two cents to make, right? So you’re like, Yeah, that’s pretty cool. Just be able to see something like that.

Overall on your bigger appliances and the things that you use, it’s nice to be able to determine when it’s a good time to use those as well.

There are plenty of these out on the market. What makes the Emporia Vue stand out?

We really specialize in heat pump systems. We like to be as efficient as possible. And as far as the equipment itself being the highest efficiency.

So when you’re running variable speed, a lot of the monitors out there can’t tell you exactly what’s running. It just kind of puts it into a category with everything they don’t identify.

You see the power but you just can’t quite separate it specifically. With the Emporia Vue, you have a separate monitoring clamp on my outdoor heat pump unit as well as the furnace, which is, you’re using that blower to distribute the air through your ducted portion of the system.

And then there’s a separate ductless unit at our house that we have on our VRV system up in the bedroom. That is a separate circuit as well. So you kind of monitor everything and just kind of see where things are with regards to your energy consumption.

So it sounds like this shows you exactly what every appliance is using. If you have a dual fuel system, you’ll know when you switch from one to the other.

Depending on what system you have, you determine when you’re going to swap over. You’ll know at what temperature are you using more power with the heat pump versus how much it would cost you for gas.

It helps you to make those kinds of decisions when you’re using it and you can see each circuit that you’re monitoring.

So that’s a higher level of accuracy, especially for anyone who wants to conserve energy at home and has installed HVAC equipment that’s designed to do that.

There’s a lot of guessing that people tend to do. For instance, we have a steam humidifier, right? A dehumidifier, things like that, where people think they use a lot of electricity and while they do consume some short periods of the year.

So, for instance, on a steam humidifier, a lot of people would look at and say, wow, it’s 240 volts and pulling 11 or 16 amps. That’s only when it’s running.

And so when you see the actual cost of operation for the year, it’s not as scary. You know, you associate things with, oh, 240 volts. That’s like running my air conditioner, right?

Just like your parents used to say, Close the door. I’m not air conditioning me outside because it’s a lot of energy. And so you automatically assume that’s going to be the same.

And then you come to find out running a steam humidifier for the entire season is like $65. A big difference. I would wear a standard humidifier. You’re going to pay more than $65 just in the water consumption that you increase.
It kind of puts things into a realistic perspective. We know what you’re consuming on your power versus what you’re guessing you think it is.

Conserving Electricy at Home with Data from the Emporia Vue 

With this amount of precision in the reporting, does that also help the homeowner identify when there’s a problem in the home, when it comes to electricity?

Oh, it definitely would help you. This will tell you like, hey, I’m really using this much electricity and all of a sudden now it’s consuming quite a bit more.Or it hasn’t turned on for a while. And you also can take a look at that as well.

Things start getting older and less efficient. It helps you to identify as well, like refrigerators. You might have a refrigerator that was there when you bought the house 20 years ago and it’s still great, except it uses a lot of electricity.

Now, something’s different in the house and you turn that on and you realize, wow, that’s a lot. Maybe it’s time to make a change as it will cost you more than what it would cost you for a new refrigerator, potentially.

And coming from the heating and cooling world, how can the Emporia Vue help a homeowner prevent breakdowns and poor heating and cooling and save money overall?

When you’re running a heat pump, for example, you know, everything was fine this year and next year you get into it and you’re like, Wow, this I’m consuming a lot more electricity.

Perhaps you have a refrigerant issue where you might have had a leak someplace. Some of the things that we use before in our home, we have areas in the country where you have Time Of Use for electricity, so it might be cheaper to run things at different times of the day.

So you can make those decisions as well based on the electricity that the equipment is using for us.

We’re enrolled in a program with our electric utility. It’s called hourly pricing. We tend to get pretty good pricing with it on average, but they also notify you of, hey, between the hours of four and six is going to be higher.

You look at it and see in advance, maybe I want to go ahead and run my higher-drawing appliances in the evening like your dishwasher or doing some extra load of laundry. You can do it when the hourly amount is a lower rate.

So you can make a few adjustments knowing what your equipment actually costs to operate.

Now, with this particular monitor, you can look at how many watts it’s using. The average calling you’re putting in your utility rates, and it will tell you exactly what it is costing you.Whether you want to know by the minute, the hour of the day, the month, it’ll tell you exactly what you’ll consumed with that and how much it is costing you.

In particular, with heating and cooling, it tells you specifically what you’re using with your heat pump and your blower, whether it’s an air handler or furnace. You’re just using the blower.
It gives you exact where other monitors can’t tell you specifically. This is your heat pump. We can see that now.

So, for instance, in this last season, we’ve had this one installed. Now we put it in the last day of January, so we were starting in February. As far as our monitoring on this particular system, it costs us $118 to heat our house for the month in February.

A lot of our coworkers and friends there are well over the 300 mark with gas because gas prices were so high. And of course, that’s not something we’re expecting to see go down any time soon.

And you said in particular the heat pump and the blower motor. So it sounds like you not only understand how much your heating and cooling system is using, you’re also splitting that into different components. So that gives you even better data and better ways to save money and make your system more efficient.

For instance, like I just talk to you inside and out at $18 for the heat to run the heat for that heat pump that’s coming in the house, it has to be circulated by the blower, that blower that that month to the same month was $28.

So overall, my cost was the $28 plus $18. It’s the same with the gas furnace: How much was using for gas? But you’re also using that same blower to distribute the heat that was generated by the gas furnace. So you’re also going to have those same costs when you’re looking at it.

From our point of interest with the heating side of things and the heating and cooling, the big difference is the way you’re getting the heat into the house with a gas furnace.

You’re paying for gas to generate heat where the heat pumps are simply moving heat from outside and you’re not really generating anything. So that’s that’s the difference in the type of heat that you’re getting and the cost that is required to produce that heat as it ages. V

As an HVAC expert, can homeowners use this data when they call you? Can you use the data from the Emporia view to help diagnose a problem with this monitor and the information it provides?

They would definitely be helpful, much in the same way that there are some thermostats out there that will say, Hey, you’ve been wanting the house to be heated or cooled and it’s been running for the last 16 hours. It has never shut off. Well, you know, there’s a problem with heat pumps specifically.

You can track things year after year and see if there has been differences or if you’re kind of getting what you would expect based on the outside temperature and run times.

Emporia Vue Energy Monitor: App and Installation

So, Mike, you’ve talked a lot about the great data you can get. What sort of app or program do you use to access the data?

There’s an app available from Emporia available for your Apple, iOS and Android devices. The app itself is actually very easy to use. It’s made with the consumer in mind. I

It’s not really something that a contractor necessarily has to be able to interpret for you . You can list everything. For instance, I have my garage my heat pump, my gas furnace, basement back light area, family rooms, the induction stove, things like that.

So just if you’re curious as to where energy is being used. On a quick side note I grow hot peppers in my basement and I start that in January. So it’s kind of neat just to kind of monitor that as well, just for giggles to see what kind of power I’m using while doing my hobby. And that’s what the user sees.

How about the monitors themselves? What do they look like and how do you install them?

So the energy monitor itself is a small box that’s three inches wide by four inches high. It can be laid on a side as well and is an inch deep. It’s installed in your circuit breaker panel.

It does have 200 amp current sensors attached to the power coming into the house through the panel. And when you purchase them, you buy either eight or 16 current sensor models, which would be a little 50 amp current sensors that go on each circuit that you want to monitor.

They’re attached to the circuit breaker side of things in the panel itself. Once everything’s installed, you don’t see anything of the system inside the panel covered just like you would normally look at your circuit breaker panel is what you would see when it’s finished.

It’s definitely recommended to have an electrician put this in. I have folks who do that as well, but you definitely as a homeowner, unless you are an electrician or very well versed in that sort of thing.

In addition to the circuit. you can monitor inside of the panel if you have an appliance outside of the panel or a circuit such as your refrigerator, you have a whole kitchen circuit, but you want to monitor something specifically.

Then they have plug-ins. and you can attach those to the same app separately. That plugs right into your outlet and then you plug whatever you would have plugged into that outlet into this device. Very, very straightforward and very simple. And then when you are looking at your app, you can kind of see the app and list everything.

And you see these ones right here in the middle, how it looks like little duplex plugs. Those are the ones that you have that you can monitor separately. So you can say this is how much of that circuit that’s being used. So like at my place, I have my ERV, my energy recovery ventilator. It is on its own.

So when I want it to be on, I can turn it on and I can turn it on and off with this app as well as 100 degrees outside. I really don’t want to bring hot, humid air in. I just turn it off and it closes off dampers and shuts everything. Now it’s a separate piece that goes with this monitor.

Ways to Save Money With Your Heating and Cooling System 

So once the homeowner has this installed and is monitoring their energy use, I think it’d be helpful for you as an HVAC expert to let people know what they can do in general to keep the costs of their heating and cooling down.

Well, with heat pumps and air conditioning equipment, you’re keeping your coils clean. That’s a big one, particularly with your variable speed equipment. That outdoor fan runs a lot longer.

So just making sure that you’re checking on that and giving it a quick rinse, your back professional can tell you how to do that.

Keeping your filters changed. You have a one inch filter. Don’t be enticed to buy the 25 $30 one inch seltzer with high ratings because it’s just going to cost you more money. And many, many systems are not designed for that kind of restriction.

So you’ll keep the air cleaner, but at the same time, your system has to run that much harder and longer to push air through it. So you’re paying more to run it, and you’ll probably also experience breakdowns due to extra wear and tear.

That’s correct. Systems are designed based on the airflow that you’re using. When you get a MERV 16 filter, for instance, this is what they use in hospitals. If you don’t have a system that is designed for cooling air through a MERV 16 filter, it’s not going to help you.

That’s actually one of the number one things we have in the winter when it’s really cold, it’s running all the time, but it’s not keeping up. They’ve very likely recently put in a brand new filter that was 20,000 microns or something.

Any other general tips?

Having tune ups, making sure that your system is running properly, making sure that the components that are in your system are operating the way that they should.

A perfect example of that would be your capacitors. They’re storing and discharging electricity. They do have a micro fair rating and when they get outside of that, they are going to lose the ability to do what they want without cooling a higher amount of electricity to do that job.

So it is good to have everything tracked. You know, you want your system short cycling, whether it’s heating, cooling, either one.

Well, Mike, this all sounds great. Thanks so much for speaking with us today.

I appreciate your time today, Jack. Thank you.

If you’d like to learn more about energy independence and making your home more comfortable, visit Mike’s blog at Compass Heating and Air. And if you’re in the Fox River Valley region of Illinois, reach out to Compass Heating and Air for all your heating and cooling needs. You can call (630) 504-8688 or visit their website for a free consultation.