Temperature Monitoring to Save Energy
I bought an investment/vacation house in Colorado in October 2010. This is a high alpine environment, the house is at 2800 Meters (9200 Feet). It gets very cold, especially at night. During the day it can be somewhat warm and VERY sunny.
My first full months energy bill (electric and gas, but mostly electric) bill was US$200. Decembers bill was $300. Both of these months the basement was occupied with a tenant, but the main floor and loft were not. I was a bit worried as the coldest months are January and February.
My energy use is about 90% heating, with the remaining 10% split between hot water, lights and appliances. There is no need for cooling. So, I am going to focus on heating.
In order to understand the problem I installed 9 Digi Xbee Temperature sensors throughout the house. Using a Digi ConnectPort X2e gateway and the Device Cloud by Digi (formerly iDigi) I am able to capture the data and monitor it from wherever I am in the world. With this information, I was able to get a pretty good idea of how heat is distributed around the house.
I also installed a Digi ERT meter gateway to capture electric usage. Unfortunately, this is no longer sold. Mine still works though.
I have had this system in place since 2011 and it has been worth every penny. Acting on this information, I have been able to cut my bill significantly! The biggest savings are when I am not there, as I am able to run the temperatures much colder knowing that I can keep an eye on it. But I have also been able modify how I heat the house, as well as caught some issues that could have been disastrous. I will go into more specifics, but first here is an overview of the house.
The house is built on the side of a mountain, and has three levels:
I am usually there, but sometimes gone for days at a time. Heat is provided primarily by baseboard electric, with 11 separate thermostats. There is also a natural gas fireplace in the lower level. Freezing water pipes is a big concern, so I have to be careful in certain rooms.
After doing some basics (weather sealing doors, etc.) I did some assessments and guessing, and came up with a set of theories on where the energy wasters were and some schemes to implement them without risking frozen pipes. All of this required temperature sensors to measure it and validate my theories before making any large changes, as well as measuring the success of any changes I do make.
Stratification is the effect created by heat rising. Heat gets trapped near the ceiling and in lofts, while the occupants are cold as they are closer to the floor. This is considered one of the biggest wastes of energy, as the heating system must run more to keep the lower levels of the room warm.
I had the perception that my loft was trapping heat, as it can get pretty hot up there. My thought was to install a ventilation duct and fan to drive the heat down to the main floor bath and kitchen (directly underneath the loft). That would likely cost around $1500. A ceiling fan could help too, but would not be as effective.
When I analyzed the data, I was quite surprised to find that the problem was not as significant as I thought. Here is a graph of the past week showing the temperatures of my loft and the living room.
What I found is that the only times there was a notable difference was on sunny days, and a bit when the living room was above 10C (50F). The sun was the major influencer. Even on those days, the difference was about 1-2 degrees Celsius, 3 at most.
I made a few conclusions from this:
With individual heat and thermostats in each room, and some rooms that do not have any plumbing, zoning is an obvious thing to do. With sensors in place I can run this much tighter. For example, I have had guests and a cleaning crew leave the bedroom doors open, which defeats the zoning. I am able to monitor that, and have my tenant go up and close the doors.
I created this graph to monitor the zones I want to avoid heating:
Making sure I do not freeze water pipes
A single water pipe freezing and bursting would be a major problem, all the energy savings for several years could be wiped out. Being able to watch the temperatures remotely allows me to be much more aggressive at keeping the house temperatures low when I am not there, while removing the risk of pipes freezing.
The most susceptible to freezing pipes are in the ceiling the basement kitchen, and I also want to keep an eye on the bathrooms. I created this graph to monitor the zones I am most concerned about.
Keep an eye on the electric meter
I monitor the electric meter using a Digi ERT Gateway. This way I can watch the electric usage and detect any anomalies (an oven left on for example) well before the bill comes in.
I created this graph to monitor electric usage.
Use the gas fireplace and keep the Lower Level warm
One thing I realized is the gas fireplace is integral to the house being efficient and warm. Not only is gas roughly half the cost per BTU than electricity, but I also found the house difficult to warm on super-cold days using only the electric baseboard heaters. Making a point of keeping the lower level heated by the fireplace and at about 20C (68F), even if I am not there. I also put a cheap thermostat controlled register fan on a vent above the fireplace to pull heat up to the upper level.
This alone has saved me over $100/month in the winter, so about $600/year! Another benefit is that most of the water pipes are in the ceiling and walls near the fireplace, so they are kept from freezing.
Incidents I detected using this system
There were a couple incidents that occurred over the past five years that I was able to mitigate as a result of using this system:
Other simple things