Want a True “Smart Home”? The Sense Power Monitor Gives You Energy Insights Using Machine Learning

Sense Power Monitor - coffee maker pattern
As it monitors your home energy consumption by device, the Sense power monitor uses Machine Learning to discover electrical devices magically.

Many of us have Smart Homes but are we actually smart about our homes? That is to say, while you may be able to interact with a variety of connected devices around your home, do you know when anything is on or off from anywhere? Or do you know how much energy a particular device you have is consuming? Or do you know how much energy is being consumed at your home all of the time? These are the very questions a new connected power device called Sense is trying to figure out, day and night. And Sense is using machine learning to do so. I recently install the Sense in my electrical panel and the insights I’m already getting are making me check the Sense app many times a day.

Sense Power Monitor - in the boxWhat’s really interesting is I got a preview of this type of technology back in 2010 as part of an Intel Influencers program. Deep in the Intel Labs, a few others and I saw how an electrical device could be “identified” by the electrical fingerprint it put out. Essentially, when any electrical device is powered on and running, it puts out a digital signature. You can think of it like a voice print that can not only identify what is being said, even contextually, but also who is saying it. The voice of a child saying “I want to go to the zoo” looks differently than an adult saying “the garage is dirty.” And even more precisely, one person saying “I went to the WHITE house” is contextually different than someone saying “I went to the white HOUSE.” These types of nuances can be differentiated in voice, pronunciation, emphasis, and other nuances.

Machine learning actually unlocks a lot of potential when it comes to interpreting huge sets of data. And this is exactly what Sense is trying to do. As more Sense devices are installed and start sucking in vast amounts of data, and that data is compared, it begins to identify patterns and signatures of electrical devices. The more data that is uploaded and analyzed, the smarter and more precise the data analytics becomes, and the more accurate the device identification also becomes.

But this is a long process if you think about the number of unique things that plug into the wall, old and new.

So that’s the idea anyway behind Sense. And I’m currently letting it take a deep dive into the HighTechDad home. This will be a lengthy journey I have a feeling. But I feel good about contributing. So I wanted to share my experiences with Sense thus far. I will be writing a follow-up in a few weeks or months as the insights come trickling in.

Installing the Sense

I’m not an electrician. I’ve run a few wires, replaced a few plugs, and installed some smart light switches. I also just had my entire home’s electrical replaced and upgraded (not by choice but to prevent a fire in my daughter’s wall). And I recently replaced all of my bulbs with LEDs.

Here’s my new panel.

Sense Power Monitor - new electrical panelEven with a nice clean and new electrical panel installed, I didn’t feel comfortable installing the Sense power monitor myself. So I had my electrician do it while I watched and asked a ton of questions.

I do not recommend you try installing the Sense yourself unless you are an electrical expert.

Don’t take any chances. You could really injure or even kill yourself.

According to the Sense installation instructions, you need to have an empty 240V breaker. You can, according to the instructions, connect to an existing 240V breaker but you shouldn’t use a tandem breaker unless it is 240V.

If you have any questions about the voltage, 20 versus 15 Amp circuits, paired versus un-paired or un-bonded breakers, DO NOT ASK ME, please. I won’t answer you, sorry. (I will answer other questions happily, though!) Please contact Sense Support for anything technical.

Sense Power Monitor - installation instructionsThe installation, if you know what you are doing, is actually extremely easy. The basic steps are:

  1. Turning off the power to your panel – after turning off the main, we also turned off individual breakers
  2. Removing the screw cover to expose access to the breakers
  3. Find a spot for the Sense unit
  4. Install the antenna
  5. Connect all of the cables (power, current sensors & antenna)
  6. Connect current sensor clamps around the service lines
  7. Connect black and red wires to breaker and white to neutral bar
  8. Close the panel
  9. Turn on Main Power
  10. Turn on circuit breakers (if you had turned them off individually) & wait for start-up chime
  11. Go to the app after hearing the successful chime

That’s it! It actually is pretty simple. As I noted, we did turn off the individual breakers once the power was off and then when we turned the main back on, we turned on the breakers one at a time and not all at once to prevent a surge in the house.

Here are a few pictures to help with the words. Below, we are installing the antenna. You knock out a plug in the bottom (or side) of your panel and then feed and connect the antenna through. We chose one at the bottom to better protect against rain. (One note, the Sense doesn’t support 5 GHz bands, only 2.4 GHz – you may have to play with the positioning of the antenna.)

Sense Power Monitor - installing antennaOnce the antenna is installed, you can position it for the best signal.

Sense Power Monitor - directional antennaWe decided to use the circuits indicated.

Sense Power Monitor - circuits usedHere you can see we have the red and black wires connected to those circuits (note: we shared a circuit since the Sense itself actually only consumes 0.1A, and the switches were already “locked” together with a metal bracket).

Sense Power Monitor - wires connectedThe white neutral was connected to the neutral bar (on the right side of the picture below).

Sense Power Monitor - neutral barWe found a nice, clear area to mount the Sense on the upper, left side of the panel. It was attached with strong, double-sided tape. We do wish the wires included with the Sense were slightly longer as the stretch from one side and down with the other cables and back up to the neutral bar was a bit tight. You can also see that we put the current sensor around the two service lines. You do have to be sure these sensors are facing the same direction for the current (there are labels on them to help you with that).

Sense Power Monitor - Sense installedThe sensor clamps don’t actually touch the service lines, they just encircle it. They are able to detect changes in current without physically touching them.

Sense Power Monitor - "clamps"This is the final product with everything properly connected and ready to be powered up.

Sense Power Monitor - final installOnce we turned the main circuit on and the individual breakers on, we waited to hear the startup and success chime from the Sense. It does take a minute or so for the Sense to boot up. Once I heard the chime, I started up the Sense iOS app.

Sense Power Monitor - iOS appThe Sense connects to your smartphone via Bluetooth initially, I believe. You have to have it in close proximity. It will then validate the install.

You then connect to the WiFi network you want. (You can change WiFi networks later but you have to do it with your smartphone next to the panel and you may have to turn off the circuit that has the Sense attached to it – I had to do that.)

Making “Sense” of Your Home’s Electricity

Now, your work is pretty much done. You just have to watch Sense as it records your electrical usage. Do note: it does take a lot of time for things to be discovered, especially devices. My install took place on 2/25/17 and as of this writing (3/6/17), it hasn’t discovered any devices.

Sense Power Monitor - Unknown powerWhat it has figured out, more or less, is the electricity of the Always On type. This is stuff that is running all of the time (e.g., WiFi, security cameras, clocks, refrigerators, etc.). Everything else is pretty much lumped into an “Unknown” category.

I have found that the Always On amount does change as the Sense learns. It may go up or down.

You are able to see real-time usage at any point in time and there are indicators as to when power goes up or down and by how many watts.

Sense Power Monitor - real-time usageI have started to look for patterns in usage. I already know my devices, especially timed ones. For example, I know that my pool pump turns on around 8:30 am and off around 2:30. During that time, the pool sweep comes on as well (but I can’t remember the time exactly). Below, you can see this process in action.

Sense Power Monitor - patterns of pool equipmentWhile the pattern isn’t completely obvious, my coffee maker is MUCH more obvious. You can see it turn on at 5:45 am and then complete just after 6 am. You can clearly see when the water pump is pumping and the water is being heated. I showed this to everyone in my family but they didn’t seem to share my excitement. Haha, oh well.

Sense Power Monitor - coffee maker patternFor now, while the Sense is analyzing everything, I can only watch and see if I can identify items by looking at the power levels. It’s actually kind of fun trying to figure things out. Obviously, my brain can probably process and identify patterns a bit easier because I know the context of what is on and when it is on, but I’m thinking that after a certain point, the Sense will do a much better job than I will.

There are some fascinating articles on the Sense blog. I would recommend reading the “How Does Sense Detect My Devices?” and “Why doesn’t Sense have a training mode?” which provide some good explanations into the technology.

The Sense power monitor currently retails for $299.

[easy-tweet tweet=”Learn how @TellSense uses #MachineLearning to understand electricity consumption in your home.” user=”HighTechDad” usehashtags=”no”]

I will write an update in a bit, once Sense has become a bit smarter. Right now, he’s a baby and just learning how to listen and think. Soon as he begins to grow up, he will be able to talk and understand.

Disclosure Text: I have a material connection because I received a gift, sample of a product or service, and/or monetary compensation for consideration in preparing to review the product/service and write this content. I was/am not expected to return this item or gift after my review period. All opinions within this article are my own and are typically not subject to the editorial review from any 3rd party. Also, some of the links in the post above may be “affiliate” or “advertising” links. These may be automatically created or placed by me manually. This means if you click on the link and purchase the item (sometimes but not necessarily the product or service being reviewed), I will receive a small affiliate or advertising commission. More information can be found on my About page.

HTD says: I find the Sense technology to be fascinating. Gaining insights into your home’s energy usage by just sitting back and waiting for Machine Learning to figure it out itself is the true sign of a “Smart” home.

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10 Responses

  1. I don’t mean to be a jerk or anything but whoever wired your new power panel did a really messy job. I’d make the person come back and tidy it up. Better yet, have the company send someone else because you don’t want the same person touching you panel again.

  2. Unless you are going to demolish or complete gutting and overhaul of the house in the foreseeable future … you may want to hire a QUALIFIED electrician simplify and STANDARDIZE that panel … so that it is maintainable; it’s basic 5S discipline applied to home automation … Shine/Inspect, Sort/Order, Simplify/Eliminate, Standardize … but Stardardize first because an automated clusterF is not something that the next homeowner can SUSTAIN.

    You are right that the burden of blame is 70 years of accumulation … but don’t continue to practice the same hackery someone has used for 70 years.

    It is up to you to find someone who can “do it right” … STANDARDIZING on clean, up-to-code installation will keep your family safe AND, ultimately, save you money [and increase your home resale value] — particularly as you move forward implementing changes from your insights on power usage.

    There’s no rush in fixing something that basically seems to be working … but that’s the point — you shouldn’t rush in finding an electrician or asking several to consider bidding on the work or to advise a 3-5 yr plan for simplifying. The electrician you choose should have ample time to think, plan, carefully implement something maintainable … rather than a FUTURE firefighting [hopefully not literal firefighting] … or more bandaid-on-top-of-bandaids-on-top-of-more-bandaids hackery.

  3. Hi Mark,
    You bring up great points. Unfortunately, it is often tricky to find “qualified” and “good” electricians when it is somewhat of an emergency. Also, the job was not a complete rewiring of a home, nor a new home wiring (which is probably a lot easier). I went with a general contractor who is not only a neighbor but whose work I have seen before and who was recommended. With homeownership, it’s often a tricky state as you want things done well but with a budget. With older homes, correcting previous issues that are discovered along the way are always the “gotchas” and can complicate any type of upgrade or replacement. As I mentioned, ours was an emergency situation (we had arching in an old fuse box in my daughter’s bedroom closet) and we needed to correct immediately as well as replace an old Stab Lok panel, and reduce the loads on existing circuits while adding new plugs around the home (some rooms only has 1 or 2 plugs). It was a big effort that was done expeditiously but it was inspected as well as reviewed by another electrician. Long story short, I appreciate your insights. Hindsight is always nice but when you are in the heat of the moment, it’s always a different story.

  4. And what is the difference from other home monitors. As i know Ecoisme home energy monitors have more benefits: its easier to install, saves up to 15% of electricity, have integration with solar inverters. Also, for my opinion Ecoisme is cheaper: https://ecoisme.com/order

  5. Hi @olgapodgayna:disqus, those are great questions. As I don’t have an Ecoisme monitor, it’s hard for me to do an accurate comparison. Do you have the Sense installed as well to do a comparison? Thanks for weighing in.

  6. Thanks @nopking:disqus, I figured as such, hence the question about having both installed for comparison. I think that just as influencers need to disclose “agreements” with brands, anyone posting SEO-related content should disclose that as well. Right @olgapodgayna:disqus?

  7. @nopking:disqus so, I don’t hide it as you saw ;) But i have my own opinion for Sense. @hightechdad:disqus I have tested Sense earlier, but it doesn’t recognize all devices in home. Also sorry for long answer i have problems with my laptop.
    Have a nice day!

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Disclosure: This is a global disclosure for product review articles on HighTechDad. It does not apply to Automobile reviews and there are other exceptions. Therefore, it may or may not be applicable to this particular article. I may have a material connection because I may have received a sample of a product for consideration in preparing to review the product and write this or other content. I was/am not expected to return the item after my review period. All opinions within this and other articles are my own and are typically not subject to the editorial review from any 3rd party. Also, some of the links in the post above may be “affiliate” or “advertising” links. These may be automatically created or placed by me manually. This means if you click on the link and purchase the item (sometimes but not necessarily the product or service being reviewed), I will receive a small affiliate or advertising commission. More information can be found on my About page.

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Michael Sheehan (“HighTechDad”) is an avid technologist, writer, journalist, content marketer, blogger, tech influencer, social media pundit, loving husband and father of 3 beautiful girls living in the San Francisco Bay Area. This site covers technology, consumer electronics, Parent Tech, SmartHomes, cloud computing, gadgets, software, hardware, parenting “hacks,” and other tips & tricks.

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