Energy Meters: The What and How (and a few hacks)

Energy Meters: The What and How (and a few hacks)

Z-Wave Home Energy Monitors and Meters probably have the gold medal for most misunderstood Z-Wave device.

Our energy meters were featured on our Monday special recently, and that has churned up a lot of questions. Some visitors thought the meter could be viewed with a special phone App. A few thought that the device could regulate voltage. One thought it tied into the energy company.

The answers to the above: The devices could be read through a phone App, if your gateway controller has one, the energy meters cannot directly regulate voltage (despite being installed in the electric box) and as far as I know, the energy company is not peeking into your energy monitor. There are no stupid questions when it comes to some of these devices, because there is no one set of rules that tell the laymen what to do. Questions are good; keep them coming (no matter how crazy you think they are).

The various versions of energy monitors and meters (and appliance switches) are made to work with your Z-Wave network. You install the device as recommended in the instructions, include it into your Z-Wave network, and it gives you the energy consumption of your home in real time. (Battery operated devices report every so often; plug in or wire-in devices report almost instantaneously). The data ends up shown on your gateway. If it’s a whole house meter, you’ll get 3 data points; Phase A, Phase B, and total. If it’s an Appliance Switch (like an Aeon Labs DSC6106)  then you get the ability to switch on/off AND read energy usage of any device plugged into it. There are many other versions of smart energy on our website, including receptacles, micro switches, and wall switches.


There are many gateways and hubs that will support the data provided from these smart energy switches, but I will focus on the Vera Edge for many reasons which I'll group into two: 1. The Vera Edge is a great all-around gateway that is perfect for adding home automation to your home in increments, it supports smart energy devices very well, and it is a gateway we sell a lot of and 2. The Vera Edge works with Ergy, which is an energy management plug in/support program, that takes the data from these devices and does something with it. We plan to have Vera/Ergy/Smart Energy device kits available in the upcoming months, plus another blog on what exactly that means. Details to come.

Without Ergy or another smart-energy program, you can still view the raw data for an individual device (like a refrigerator) and use that to determine energy goals for future devices, or use a whole house energy monitor to set goals for yourself. With an individual appliance switch, once you know the output of that device, it’s nice to still have the usability to turn the device on or off (as opposed to a simple meter that has little use once you measure the output of your toaster). However, for your house meter/monitor, you can set alerts in a Vera scene so that if your power consumption rises over a certain level, you can get a notification via text or email. There are a lot of other programs that can use this data to generate cost-cutting energy audits, but that’s outside the realm of this little blog.

So that’s that long, drawn-out explanation of energy meters. But you’re here for the hacks, right? There are some really cool hacks you can do with energy switches and meters. I’m sure you could use a few of these right now.

I recently got my man-cave setup with a Z-Wave remote, which controlled all of my Z-Wave lights, my TV, surround sound, but not my cable box (They made them so they’re no longer using RF. I was so close!). The remote for the cable box will control my TV and home theater, but not my lights. So instead of having two remotes, I plugged in a DSC6106 appliance switch into my cable box. I created a scene that if current is sensed flowing through the TV/cable box power feed, then turn on the scene in my Vera Edge for "watching TV.” The lights dim, the backlights come up; automatically. When I turn off the TV, the appliance switch senses that the current has stopped, and turns on my “Walking away” scene, which puts my basement and stair lighting full 100% on for 15 minutes (so I can leave, walk guests to the door, or pick up my Z-Wave remote for more comprehensive lighting scenes). The goal is to never control my TV from the appliance switch, just use it to meter the current and turn that into a scene trigger.

I live in a Cape Cod style home and seems small, until you try to work and keep it clean at the same time. A lot of time I get busy on a Z-Wave project, and I forget all about the load of clothing in the dryer. Almost the same concept as the TV, I put one of the clamps of an energy monitor around the electric cable that feeds my electric dryer. When the load is done, the current stops, and the meter (powered by a 110V receptacle) triggers a scene to blink a Z-Wave bulb on the 2nd floor. I also have the other clamp around my electric stove. I was going to create an alert to warn me if the stove is on for an extended period of time, but I decided I want these triggers to be convenience orientated, and not a safety concern. Right now the stove clamp just monitors energy usage; a fairly nice plus.

Look into your Z-Wave controller to see how you can use energy meters in all kinds of ways. If it’s to save energy, time, or footsteps, I think you can find multiple uses for these misunderstood devices.
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