Review of Microsoft Hohm’s Blueline PowerCost Monitor

This week on Mothering Outside the Lines we’re talking about the sexy topics of energy conservation and conscientious living.

Yesterday I wrote about how conserving energy might actually promote happiness and last week I admitted being in love with No Impact Man.

Today, as promised, we have a technical report on Microsoft Hohm’s Blueline PowerCost Monitor, which James installed a few days ago, for your reading pleasure.

This monitor retails for $268.00 but we didn’t pay for ours. The manufacturer sent it to us for review.

Here’s more than you would like to know about this device, written by my husband, James di Properzio:

Blueline’s PowerCost Monitor is a system for monitoring your electricity use in real time.

There’s a sensor that attaches to the meter outside your home, and a wireless display that shows your current energy consumption in cents per hour, your total cost since the last reset, the time, and the outdoor temperature. It’s relatively easy to install it and to program it with your energy cost data.

There is also an optional wireless broadcaster that picks up a signal from the sensor and forwards it through your home wifi network to the Internet, where you can sign up for Microsoft’s Hohm program and graph your energy use over time.

However, this only works on PCs, and we’re a Mac-only household; so I can’t tell you how well it works, though I like the concept.

You can toggle between cents per hour and amount of power consumed in kilowatt-hours. Instead of showing your total consumption for the month, you can have it show your estimated monthly bill based on how you are using energy so far this month.

There’s a neat ‘Appliance’ button, which you can press before you start using an appliance when you want to measure how much juice it takes: the display zeros out all the other current consumption and shows only the extra power used by whatever you just turned on.

This was a fun function for testing how much our toaster or our electric kettle really suck up the electricity ($0.07/hour).

We were already pretty careful about our consumption, and local electric rates in southern Oregon are low, so our average so far has been about $0.02/hour, which seems to be the smallest rate the device can measure. We use some compact-florescent bulbs, we’ve been hanging our clothes to dry since the dryer motor broke this summer and we didn’t have the money to fix it. We don’t have a microwave and try to turn off the lights we’re not using; plus our heat, hot water and stove are gas. We’ve been seeing our energy use fluctuate between $0.02, $0.04, $0.08, a whooping $0.12 and $0.00/hour during typical usage.

Installation took an hour or two of fiddling with the sensor, getting it on the meter right, looking up our utility rate structure and punching it all in.

Seeing our usage has made conservation kind of like a video game, and we all keep trying to see if we can get it down to zero and keep it there. Installing the device inspired us to police the rooms to unplug any devices with always-on displays (like the printer and the stereo) or with transformers, because these bleed a constant trickle of power that does nothing and adds up over time.

Because our power use is already so low, it doesn’t seem possible to make drastic improvements (Editor’s Note: unless we turn off the power completely and light our way with beeswax candles, the way No Impact Man did during his year-long experiment), but we have become aware of how to keep our everyday usage to a minimum.

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7 thoughts on “Review of Microsoft Hohm’s Blueline PowerCost Monitor”

  1. This is interesting I wonder if the investment in this contraption would be worth it? Our electric bill is OUTRAGEOUS here in Hawaii. No heating bill, but the rest is ridiculous. Water heater is on a timer, but we’re talking about going solar with that.
    .-= Kris Bordessa´s last blog .. =-.

  2. The best thing is, once you figure out what your usage patterns are, you can pass it on to a neighbor. 1st dibs!!!

  3. I am a complete freak about conservation. I grew up in Northern California with a father who manufactured solar heating products and we conserved water and electricity and fossil fuels and everything else. When I was telling someone recently about how low our electricity bill is (okay, I may have been bragging…) the person asked our secret and my husband said, “What? You mean how she makes us use flashlights?” He was kidding, but it makes me feel GOOD to conserve!

  4. Has anyone used a “Smart Power Strip”? They are supposed to help you by turning off power to appliances when they are in the off mode. I wonder if they help reduce electricity consumed for things like stereos and televisions and such?

    In the thread of conservation, I really need to work on my water usage! I feel like we use way more water than we should. Any tips on how to use less water?

  5. I’ve never tried a Smart Power Strip, Myra, but I’d like to look into it. Now that we have this device, I realize how easy it is to get in the habit of unplugging appliances. I’ve thought about doing that before, but never bothered. A power strip that does that for you would make it that much easier.

    I think I should devote a whole post to water usage. But I probably need to invite a guest blogger to help me with this. Anyone out there care to volunteer? I feel like our family uses way too much water also. More than our share. After living for a year in West Africa, in a drought-ridden country, I am keenly aware of how precious water is. That said, I feel like our family could be doing so much better.

    A couple of things that have been helping us conserve water:

    1) We catch gray water in a bucket that we keep in the shower. We use this water to soak diapers. And we also use it to flush the toilet.

    2) We try to water the plants with bath water, as long as it’s not too soapy.

    3) No Impact Man talks about using a cup of water to brush his teeth, to save water. That seems like a good idea but I haven’t tried it.

    4) We replaced our dishwasher when it broke with an ultra low water one. Our washing machine is also ultra low water. So much so that when the Ashland energy auditor came to give us a rebate on a low-flow toilet we installed, she said that those appliances were eligible for city money too.
    .-= Jennifer Margulis´s last blog ..Noble Coffee Prospers in Ashland =-.

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