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New tech tools can help you become your own home energy auditor

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January 31, 2006

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February 1, 2006 So you called your local energy service company, scheduled a free home energy audit, and came away with some useful information on drafts to plug, light bulbs to use, and which areas of your home could be better insulated. Don't forget the programmable thermostats. All that is great, and hey, it didn't cost you a thing. But most of what the auditor told you, well, you already knew. As with health, love and war, there’s a plethora of complexity that needs addressing as there is no simple, magic answer. But if you’d like to comprehensively crunch your next energy bill and take greater control of your kilowatt destiny, there’s a way of building a detailed, visual profile of your household (or business) energy use on your home. With new computerized energy-tracking devices, getting a comprehensive snapshot of your building’s energy consumption is just a few mouse clicks away. Data loggers are simple battery-powered black boxes capable of recording temperature levels in various rooms in your house, light usage, and appliance cycling on a 24/7 basis.

According to Jack Sample, director of marketing for Onset, a Massachusetts-based company that makes data loggers, the devices are about as complex to use as a programmable thermostat. "An average homeowner with basic computer skills can set up and activate a data logger within minutes," says Sample. "Then, it's just a matter of disconnecting the logger from the PC and placing it wherever you want to investigate energy usage."

Once data has been collected for a certain period of time, accompanying software converts the data into time-stamped graphs so you can see what was happening and when. A graph detailing light usage and furnace activity, for example, may have two lines, one blue and the other red, that form various spikes and drops during the monitoring period.

The visual data, according to Sample, is the key to not only seeing energy consumption, but also discovering problems.

"The minute the graph pops up on your screen, you'll be able to see if things like furnaces and hot water heaters are cycling too much or too little," he explains. "You may also be able to see that your programmable thermostat settings are off based on how early the heat comes on in the morning or turns off at night. There are so many opportunities to reduce consumption that homeowners never get to see without real data."

More information about data logger technology can be found at Onset's website.

About the Author
Mike Hanlon Mike grew up thinking he would become a mathematician, accidentally started motorcycle racing, got a job writing road tests for a motorcycle magazine while at university, and became a writer. As a travelling photojournalist during his early career, his work was published in a dozen languages across 20+ countries. He went on to edit or manage over 50 print publications, with target audiences ranging from pensioners to plumbers, many different sports, many car and motorcycle magazines, with many more in the fields of communication - narrow subject magazines on topics such as advertising, marketing, visual communications, design, presentation and direct marketing. Then came the internet and Mike managed internet projects for Australia's largest multimedia company, Telstra.com.au (Australia's largest Telco), Seek.com.au (Australia's largest employment site), top100.com.au, hitwise.com, and a dozen other internet start-ups before founding Gizmag in 2002. Now he writes and thinks. All articles by Mike Hanlon
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