Tracking the electricity you use

Eat potato chips straight out of the bag and they’ll be gone in no time. Pour them into a bowl first and they disappear a little slower.

The same goes for electricity. Learning to track how much electricity your home consumes remains good way to start managing electric use―billed by your electric co-op in kilowatt-hours (kWh).

Devices are appearing in stores that provide a constant, digital reading of how much electricity your home or even individual appliances are using. One type, like the Kill A Watt™, fits between an electrical outlet and an appliance to give you an instant reading of how much electricity an appliance draws.

Another type connects to your electricity meter and wirelessly relays use information to a small screen inside. Called an in-home display, the device looks similar to a wireless weather monitor and can help make consumers more aware of energy being used day to day. Research conducted by the Arlington, VA-based Cooperative Research Network (CRN), the research arm of Arlington, Va.-based National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, shows that most consumers who have an in-home display use less energy than those without one. And even after homeowners stop paying attention to the devices, most still use 1 to 3 percent less energy than before.

“The question of whether in-home displays catch on and become permanent fixtures in the American home is still open,” explains Brian Sloboda, program manager with CRN. “However, for anyone wanting to take a proactive approach to understanding electric consumption, the in-home display may be worth exploring. You could use the knowledge that an in-house display provides to change the way you use electricity in your home and save some money.”

There’s also the old-fashioned way of tracking electricity use: reading your meter. As your home draws current from power lines, your electricity meter keeps a steady record of every watt being used. Many meters today are digital, replacing the older—though still reliable—design that uses spinning disks and dials.

Digital versions make tracking energy use a breeze: jot down the number you see, and check it again in a month. The difference between the two represents the amount of electricity that has been used for that month, or a typical billing period. Check it more frequently to get an idea of how you use electricity in a given week, or even day by day.

 To read an older model meter (with spinning dials), write down the numbers as shown on the small dials from left to right. Some of the dials spin clockwise, some counter-clockwise, but record each number closest to the dial hand. Once you have the full reading it can be compared to later readings, as described above.

If you have any questions about reading your meter or learning more about how much electricity your home uses, visit

Sources: Cooperative Research Network, U.S. Department of Energy

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