We live in a time where electricity usage has become a significant concern for everyone. Whether it's because of the rising cost of energy or climate change, we're constantly looking for ways to reduce our consumption. If you're interested in finding out exactly how much power you use every month, then read on.
How much energy do we use in our homes?
Homes use a lot of energy. Electricity usage varies depending on the type of appliances you have in your house. Some appliances such as air conditioners and washing machines consume a large amount of power. In contrast, other devices like lamps and fans use very little power. By knowing how much power each device uses, you'll be able to optimize your energy consumption and save some cash.
The Energy Information Administration (EIA) reports that the average electricity usage for a U.S. residential utility customer in 2020 was about 10,715 kilowatt hours (kWh) annually or about 893 kilowatt hours (kWh) per month. In 2021 the average cost of electricity in the U.S. was 13.72 cents per kWh which equates to the average annual home electricity bill being $1,470 a year.
How much carbon emissions do our homes generate from energy use?
The answer is complicated. The amount of carbon emissions that your home generates depends on the source of electricity generation in your region. In 2021, about 61% of the electricity generated in the United States came from fossil fuels, about 20% came from renewable energy sources, and about 19% came from nuclear energy. So not all electricity generation produces greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. However, the largest source of energy generation in the U.S., fossil fuels, do contribute to climate change. Your electricity utility company may have a different makeup of energy generation sources. You can usually find this information by contacting your utility company.
Vampire energy and phantom loads
Even when you think you have turned off an appliance, it may still be consuming electricity. "Vampire energy" or "phantom loads" is wasted electricity consumed when devices like computers, phones, and other electronics are in standby mode. According to a 2015 report by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), this always-on energy use by inactive devices translates to approximately $19 billion a year, about $165 per U.S. household on average, and 50 large (500-megawatt) power plants' worth of electricity. That's a staggering amount of energy just going to waste and creating greenhouse gases. Since NRDC issued this report, we have added more and more electronic devices and gadgets to our homes that consume electricity in their standby state.
How to reduce energy consumption and save money
There are several ways to reduce energy consumption in the home and save money at the same time. One way is to turn down the thermostat during the day while you're away from the house. Another is to install motion sensors on lights and appliances so that they automatically switch themselves off after a specific time. There are also online energy dashboards available through utility companies that allow customers to monitor their energy usage over time. These energy dashboards will help you identify areas where you could save energy and money. For example, how much you spend on heating and cooling each month. They'll then compare that with historical data and suggest ways to cut costs. Some energy dashboards will even send alerts if there's a spike in your monthly energy bills.
There are several ways to get further insight into your home's energy usage and monitor energy consumption.
1. Smart Plugs for Individual Appliances
Smart plugs offer a good balance of price and functionality. They're easy to install and come in a variety of sizes and styles. A smart plug can be placed in every electrical socket in the home to control and monitor a single appliance.
The best smart plugs also monitor how much energy each appliance uses, helping you keep track of your energy usage and record real-time electricity costs. Most smart plugs come with a mobile app to record the data. It is best to get a smart plug that lets you set up schedules to turn off lights automatically at night, saving money on utility bills. Adding an occupancy sensor to your smart plug setup can help you automatically turn off lights and equipment when no one is in a room.
You can find smart plugs for just $10 to $20, depending on size. It is best to choose one particular brand so that you don't have to have multiple apps controlling different smart plugs. Amazon Alexa, Apple Home, and Google Home automation systems can also control smart plugs. If you have one of these systems in your home, make sure it is compatible with your smart plug.
See our Guide to Smart Plugs
2. Whole-Home Electricity Monitoring
A whole-house electricity usage monitor can track the electricity consumption of all the appliances installed inside your house. The monitor is usually attached to the main electrical panel of the home. You can install it yourself or use a professional electrician to do it for you. A whole-home electricity usage monitor provides a comprehensive overview of your home's energy usage.
Most whole-house energy monitoring systems can identify appliances connected to the individual circuits of the electrical panel. Over time this type of energy monitoring can give you incredible insight into the energy usage of a house and help you determine where phantom loads may be coming from and which appliances are using the energy. Identifying and eliminating phantom loads can reduce energy consumption and energy costs in your home.
The benefits of having a whole-house energy monitor go beyond just knowing what's happening inside your home. They can even let you know if an appliance such as an oven is still on if you are on your way to the airport for a vacation - avoiding what could be a disaster.
By tracking your energy use over time, you'll gain insights into how you use electricity during different seasons of the year and alert you to old appliances that are consuming a lot of energy and replace them with more energy-efficient appliances.
See our Guide to Whole-Home Energy Monitoring
3. Energy Tracking Apps
There are many mobile apps you can use to track your energy usage by inputting data from utility bills. The apps will give you a breakdown of your total energy usage by hour, day, week, month, year, and more. This kind of tracking is an excellent place to start to get an overall view of how much and when you are using energy. Most modern electricity meters provided by utility companies can generally monitor energy consumption over time. Some even offer real-time monitoring and provide this information via an online energy dashboard. You may also be able to get similar mobile apps from your utility company.
See our Guide to Energy Tracking Apps
4. Smart Thermostats
Cooling or heating accounts for most of the energy usage in a home. One way to save energy used for cooling and heating is to invest in a smart thermostat. These devices connect to the internet and learn your habits. They can adjust the temperature according to your schedule. Some even include humidity sensors so they can automatically adjust the temperature to match the ambient conditions outside.
See our Guide to Smart Thermostats
What are the benefits of an energy monitor, and how much can they save you?
Energy monitoring tools allow consumers to track their energy usage over time. They let people see how much electricity appliances are consuming and help them make changes that lower their energy consumption and bills.
The best way to see how effective they are depends on your situation. Using one doesn't guarantee lower bills – there are many factors beyond your control that influence how much energy you use. But it does mean you'll know exactly how much energy you're consuming and if there are ways you can reduce your energy and limit your impact on climate change.