Power Plug Meters Help Save Money, Energy

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Brultech ECM-1220 PKG

The family of Brultech Energy Consumption Monitors (ECM) includes portable kits for home users and for energy professionals, as well as permanent wall-mount models, intended for monitoring an entire breaker panel. The main differences between the devices are the accessories they come with and their color (the meter meant for home users is white rather than black). Otherwise, the meters are the same.

Brultech's consumer-oriented ECM-1220 PKG and ECM-1220 Plus meters can be used as a power plug meter, like the Kill A Watt EZ or the Watts Up?, and also to measure devices that don't have plugs but are instead hard-wired to your power, like sump pumps, dishwashers, ceiling fans, furnaces and breaker boxes. It can also be used with devices where the plug may be inaccessible, like a refrigerator backed into a wall.

To measure power usage, the basic Brultech unit uses a current transformer (CT) clamping loop that goes around one wire of a power cable of whatever you want to measure, and a potential transformer (PT) that looks like an AC power adapter.

For devices you plug in, the wires in the power cable aren't individually accessible, of course. So to let you use the Brultech as a power plug meter, the company includes a Wall Plug Adapter (WPA).

You put the CT around the WPA's loop (like a hiker's D-ring), insert the plug from what you want to measure into the wall plug adapter and then plug the wall plug adapter into a power socket. You also have to plug the PT into the meter. Once you've got all this straight, it actually only takes a few more seconds than the Kill A Watt EZ or Watts up? meters, but does mean you've got more parts to track.

Because of the way it does its power monitoring, the Brultech meter (unlike the Kill A Watt EZ or Watts up?) may require calibration and setting before you can put it to use, but unfortunately, this calibration how-to information is hard to find and sort out. The keys are not well labeled, making calibration even more difficult. And although you can set the number of days to project use/cost, the display doesn't include that number on-screen, making it hard to remember what the calculation period is. (The Kill A Watt EZ and Watts up? remind you.)

To further complicate matters, Brultech's Web site (as of mid-August), was badly organized; notably, the 1220 PKG kit, although intended as a home/consumer product, was categorized as a professional product. (I've already passed this criticism along to Brultech, it may have been corrected by the time you read this review.)

The Brultech EMC 1220 can be connected to a computer for data downloading or for real-time monitoring, using optional software add-ons (it charges $59 for either of the add-ons, $89 for the pair).

Unlike the Kill A Watt EZ or the Watts up?, The Brultech ECM meter can measure two 120-volt devices concurrently or it can measure one 240v split-phase load, like an electric stove or electric dryer. With optional current clamps, it can be used to measure larger single-phase or split-phase loads with optional 150Amp or 200Amp loads, like the breaker panel for a house.

The Brultech ECM-1220 is useful if you want to measure something that's hardwired instead of having a plug, or where you can't get to the outlet, like a dishwasher or electric stove, or want to measure an apartment- or house-level breaker panel. If, however, you just need a power plug meter, at $249 and up, the Brultech is both too expensive and too complicated.


All three of these meters handle their core task: measuring and displaying how much power Doodad X is chowing down. None of them are as consumer-friendly as they could or should be, but they'll do the trick until a better product or new model comes along. One thing to be careful of, in all three cases: Be sure to check the math on your power costs, in case you set the rate wrong.

There really is no "best" among these three meters -- which you choose depends on your specific needs. If you're feeling frugal and simply want to get a power-consumption reading, get a Kill A Watt EZ. If you want to upload your data to your computer, the Watts up? Pro is best. And if you need to test devices with plugs that are inaccessible -- or that don't have plugs at all -- it's time to get a Brultech ECM-1220 PKG.

Whichever meter you choose will pay for itself over time.

This story, "Power Plug Meters Help Save Money, Energy" was originally published by Computerworld.

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