Summer is coming. As a homeowner, you know what summer means: increasing electric bills. While this may be a seasonal truism, it does not mean you have to roll over and surrender. In the summer months the sun’s rays travel for less than eight and a half minutes and over 94 million miles to grace your black, heat-absorbing rooftop. Your children, who should be enjoying the sunny day, complain about their discomfort and your spouse reminds you that you have air conditioning for a reason. You cave, blast the AC and since you aren’t the only one doing this in town, the utility company sees a higher demand for electricity and their rates go up. Your clamp meter will not help with the rate, but it can help crack down on your energy efficiency overall.
The most effective way to diagnose this electrical consumption issue is by first targeting and tracking the appliances that are the typical energy draining culprits. I’ve already mentioned your air conditioning unit, but refrigerators, dish washers, clothes dryers, and desktop computers can also be a heavy toll on your bill. I recommend testing these appliances directly, with the use of an AC line splitter (allows you to test current without pulling out the outlet).
Now, in order to check your air conditioning, it’s going to either have to be a 120 volt plug-in to test with an AC line splitter, or you’ll need to call an electrician to pull off your electrical panel and test it. Remember, you’re testing electrical currents with the potential to be dangerous, so do not perform measurements with a meter that cannot handle the load (always check your CAT rating). And certainly do not make measurements which you are uncomfortable or inexperienced with.
Plug your line splitter into the outlet, your appliance into the splitter, and use your clamp meter to test the current on the splitter. Record your measurement, or, if you have a datalogging meter, leave it on and measure the appliance’s energy use throughout the day.
Once you have recorded your energy use you can compare these readings and decide what devices should be monitored, and cut down on time of use or eliminate it completely. It may be the case that upgrading your appliances actually saves you money in the long run. Energy star refrigerators use around 10 percent less energy than the federal minimum standard. Your dryer could be using 20 percent more energy than an energy star model and your washing machine 25 percent more. Desktop computers and electronics, which many of us keep on over the course of the day, are actually more of an expense than you might think, so it may be advantageous to monitor these devices as well.
An electrical clamp meter and an AC line splitter will allow you to run around your house and audit your power use in order for you to make informed decisions about what you’re using, when, and how much it could cost (or save) in the long run. All in all, this powerful tool gives you options, but if all else fails, you’ll have the option of having sacrificed on your air conditioning, just like last year.