Benefits of Home Energy Monitors & Smart Electrical Panels

Here’s what we’ll cover in this guide – feel free to jump to the section you’re interested in.

  1. Why Use a Smart Home Energy Monitor?
  2. What is a Home Energy Monitor?
  3. How Does a “Smart” Home Energy Monitor Work?
  4. What Energy Monitor Features Are Important to Consider?
  5. How Much Does a Home Energy Monitor Cost?
  6. Once I have a Home Energy Monitor, How Should I Use It?
  7. Where Should I Start? What Should I Look for?

Why Use a Smart Home Energy Monitor?

While eliminating fossil fuel-burning appliances and fully electrifying our homes is crucial to the goal of reaching net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, it’s important to remember that our local electricity grids are not carbon neutral yet either. There is still much more energy demand than there is clean energy generation. As we scale up clean energy generation around the world, we can also speed up our path to net zero emissions by reducing that energy demand. In the home, that means eliminating wasted energy.

Increasingly, people are turning to smart home energy monitoring devices to help identify the sources of that wasted energy in the home. These home energy monitors can give homeowners a plan to reduce their environmental impact and save some money along the way. Smart electrical panels or monitors hooked up to your existing electrical panel are a powerful way to track your entire home. This guide will take you through how those technologies work and how you can use them in your own home.

What is a Home Energy Monitor?

“You can’t manage what you don’t measure” is a popular saying in the business world, and it holds just as true in your own home. When trying to reduce your home’s energy consumption, it’s important to know where your energy usage comes from. Your power bills may tell you how much total energy you use, but they won’t tell you which of your appliances are sucking up all your energy, or what times of day you’re racking up the most kilowatt-hours. But as industries transition more home appliances to electric power, and as more and more devices requiring electricity find a place in our homes, there is one hub in every household that can measure all those things: your electrical panel.

Electrical panel energy monitoring comes in two main categories:

  1. Fully smart electrical panels (to replace your current panel)
  2. Separate monitoring devices that attach to your existing electrical panel

Smart electrical panel energy monitors give you the power to track the energy usage in your home down to the specific breaker, outlet, or even appliance, and see when and how that energy is consumed. If you ever wondered how much energy you use when lights get left on, or when your air conditioning is in use, those numbers can be available to you right on your phone. As an alternative to completely upgrading to a new smart electrical panel, there are a variety of other options on the market that will allow you to track your energy usage by linking a device to your current electrical panel. This usually involves small sensors attached to each separate breaker in the panel which is all wired back to a small hub device that can be fit in the corner of your electrical panel.

How Does a “Smart” Home Energy Monitor Work?

The most basic home energy monitors will simply track how much electricity is used by each breaker in your panel. This may provide you with enough detail for some basic identification and allow you to do some experimentation with reducing the usage of one room or appliance at a time. However, newer “smart” home energy monitors will look for unique energy use patterns even within the same breaker to try to recognize appliances. If your water heater and your washing machine are on the same breaker, by recognizing the distinct ways each one uses power, a smart energy monitor can learn to differentiate the two in the usage data you’ll see.

In addition, smart home energy monitors go beyond just recording the data, and many will even make recommendations or alert you based on the performance of your home. They may identify appliances that begin consuming unusually high amounts of energy, or even warn you when appliances show signs that they are near failing. Some smart monitors will also add insights from external sources, like calculating the carbon intensity of the energy you consume and making recommendations about the times of day when your local grid’s energy will be the cleanest.

What Energy Monitor Features Are Important to Consider?


Home coverage

Are you interested in tracking energy usage across your entire home? Or are you specifically interested in tracking the usage of one or two appliances in particular? Smart electrical panels or full home energy monitors are obviously more costly options, but give you the complete picture for your home. However, there are also lower-cost options that will allow you to track the usage for only one or two breakers, or even smart plugs that will allow you to track the energy right at the outlet. These can be effective options if you know exactly what appliances you want to track. Though beware that some larger appliances (dryers, for example) will use 220 or 240 voltage plugs, which will be incompatible with most of these smart plugs.

Appliance recognition

As we mentioned earlier when talking about what separates “smart” home energy monitors, if you have many appliances sharing the same breakers in your home, it may be worthwhile for you to take advantage of one of these monitors with smart appliance recognition.

Energy generation (solar) compatibility

For some homes, electricity may not be a one-way calculation. For homes with solar panels (or residential wind or geothermal energy generation), you may also want to track the energy that your home creates as well. Only certain home energy monitors have the functionality to incorporate that input, so if you have (or plan to have) a source of energy generation for your home, make sure to look for monitors with that capability.

Smart recommendations & alerts

Some smart electrical panels and even a few top-of-the-line panel-connected monitors can help you by making smart energy-saving recommendations based on the energy usage patterns of the appliances in your home. Many smart home energy monitors even can help you avoid disaster by identifying appliances that might be degrading in performance and in need of a checkup or replacement. At a simpler level, many of the monitors will also allow you to set up energy alerts, to let you know when certain appliances are consuming unusually high amounts of energy.

Installation requirements

The smart electrical panels will obviously require complete removal and replacement of your old panel, which will certainly require hiring an electrician. And most of the whole-home energy monitors will require some installation that involves your electrical panel. If you are not already well-versed in home electrical work, it is usually recommended that you at least consult with an electrician for these installations. Be sure to factor this into your cost considerations when comparing energy monitoring options. As mentioned earlier, there are also options that do not involve your electrical panel, like smart plugs. Though they have their limitations, consider devices like those if you don’t want an option that will involve hiring a professional electrician.

How Much Does a Home Energy Monitor Cost?

Smart electrical panels are going to be the most comprehensive, but also far and way the priciest options. Smart panels (like ones from Span) can cost as much as $3,500, not including installation. Because the smart technology is a part of the entire panel with these, there are powerful features and benefits that you won’t get from any of the other solutions, but make sure to consider those features and what functionality you think will be important to you when comparing these options.

Electrical panel connected devices and other retrofit options are a considerable step down in price (though still may require an electrician to install). A top-of-the-line smart monitor that covers your whole home (like ones from Sense) has prices starting at $299.

There are also lower-cost options that still cover your entire home. If you don’t need features like “smart” appliance recognition, but still want a monitor that tracks your entire electrical panel, options like the Vue from Emporia can track up to 16 circuits and cost $150 (and there are lower-cost options if you have fewer circuits to track).

Emporia and a variety of other sellers also offer smart plugs or single circuit monitors if you only need very targeted monitoring of one or two appliances and want to keep a lower budget. Just like the electrical panel options, these plugs come with a mobile app that will let you track the energy going through that plug throughout the day, right on your phone. Emporia’s smart plugs start at $10 each.

Product Features Cost
Span Smart Electrical Panel Whole-home coverage

Smart appliance recognition

Smart recommendations

Wi-fi controlled electrical panel

Solar compatibility

Live mobile app tracking

Sense Smart Energy Monitor Whole-home coverage

Smart appliance recognition

Energy usage alerts

Solar compatibility

Live mobile app tracking

$299 – $349
Emporia Vue Energy Monitors Whole-home coverage ($150)

Partial-home coverage ($70)

Energy usage alerts

Solar compatibility

Live mobile app tracking

$70 – $150
Emporia Smart Plugs Single outlet coverage

Energy usage alerts

Live mobile app tracking


Once I have a Home Energy Monitor, How Should I Use It?

Understanding the output: what is a kWh (kilowatt-hour) and what does it mean for me in cost and environmental impact?

Your home energy monitor should report electricity usage to you in kilowatt-hours (kWh).

Kilowatt-hours take into account both the amount of energy needed to power an appliance, but also how long you powered it for. A kilowatt-hour is the energy equivalent of 1,000 watts of power being used for one hour. As an example, a 100-watt lightbulb being used for 10 hours is equivalent to a 1-kilowatt hour. But different appliances in your home may require different wattage to operate. Compare the 100-watt lightbulb to a clothes dryer, which can require as much as 4,000 watts to power. So one hour of running that dryer could use as much as 4 kilowatt-hours of electricity, where one hour of the lightbulb would only amount to 0.1 kilowatt-hours used.

Think of kilowatt-hours as the best counting number for the energy your home uses. It’s generally what electric utilities bill you by, and it’s often the best way to calculate the carbon footprint of your home. So, to save money on your electricity bill and to reduce your environmental impact, that’s the number you’ll want to reduce.

For reference, based on current estimates from the EPA, 1 kWh of electricity has the same environmental impact as burning 0.78 lbs of coal or driving 1.8 miles in an average passenger vehicle.

Where Should I Start? What Should I Look for?

Energy waste

Look for ways to reduce wasted energy in your home. Are there rooms in your home that rarely get used, but draw power around the clock? Outdoor appliances drawing power during times of year that you don’t actually use them? Do your kids have a habit of leaving lights on in every room of the house? Finding small ways to reduce that wasted energy can add up over time. And one of the benefits of having a home energy monitor is that you can measure the energy and cost saved by making each of those changes.

Energy leaking appliances (“energy vampires”)

Some appliances still consume electricity even when they are not in use (some, even when they are powered off). This function is often called “standby power”, “phantom load”, or “vampire power”. This is obviously an easy target for reducing your home’s energy usage without impacting your life and routines. With your monitor, you should be able to identify rooms, or even appliances, that are consuming significant amounts of power when not in use. Simple solutions can involve plugging those “energy vampire” devices into a power strip instead of directly into the wall outlet, and then getting into the habit of turning those power strips off when you leave the room (or when you leave your home).

Energy inefficient appliances

In the recent decades, there have been huge leaps in the energy efficiency of many appliances due to new technologies or just better design & manufacturing. Using your home energy monitor to detect the biggest energy hogs in your home, if you can calculate the kWh usage of those appliances, you can compare them to newer alternatives and identify which appliances should be your top priority to replace. When looking to make appliances replacements in the home, make sure to look for ENERGY STAR certified appliances.


Finding the right contractor can be the key to having a smart electrical panel installed correctly and safely. Beyond word-of-mouth recommendations, local building inspectors or trade groups may have a list of licensed contractors in your area.

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