Is Sense the smart home monitor you need? We tried it out!

Sense connects through current sensors on the main breakers in your electric panel. It sends information over Wi-Fi to the company and an app.

Sense connects through current sensors on the main breakers in your electric panel. It sends information over Wi-Fi to the company and an app.

The Sense App displays energy users as bubbles - each bubble gets bigger as a device uses more energy.

The Sense App displays energy users as bubbles – each bubble gets bigger as a device uses more energy.

As smart homes, smart devices and the Internet of Things become a reality, several manufacturers are offering tools to track the energy use for all those devices as well as standard equipment you may already own.

One of those is Sense, a startup company whose founders developed voice recognition software. The company is betting its home energy monitor system ($299) can take over the niche by appealing to energy-conscious homeowners through its simplicity, ease of use and clean design. Sense emphasizes the value of knowing where, when and how you use power by having a “conversation” with your home — your home talks, Sense “listens.”

Sense uses current sensors on the main breakers in your electric panel to monitor all electricity use in your home.  Each device uses power differently, and the key to Sense is its proprietary algorithm that is able to analyze that electric use and detect individual devices based on their electric signature over time.

Since ARiES is based in a residential home that was converted to commercial office space, we decided to test it on ourselves (commercial monitoring is not available for Sense currently due to power differences).

We installed the monitor November 1, 2016. It was pretty easy; we recommend you hire an electrician to install the system since you’ll need to work in your home’s electric panel.  Sense fits inside most panels and connects current sensors to the main breakers.  For our ARiES pros, it took less than 30 minutes.

The Good

  • Ease of installation
  • Simple, attractive App interface
  • Several heavily used appliances (Fridge, microwave) detected in the first week or so
  • Alerts moved us to do things like turn our heat down further overnight, and be more conscious of how many items were in the “always on” category that we could control with power strips.

The Sense app is available from the Google Play store for Android users and Apple’s AppStore for iPhone and installation is also pretty straightforward. You can install the app on multiple devices, but everyone will need to share a login — no multi-user capacity. The company also notes there’s a security angle — the app can provide notifications, if you choose, for events like a garage door opening, letting you know when people arrive or leave.

The Not-So-Good

  • In 3 months, Sense found 11 devices. Several of those are still “unknown.” That’s pretty far from being able to detect use down to the lightbulb level.
  • Other devices/apps included more features, like a cost calculator, that are missing in Sense
  • Customer service was a bit spotty when we had some initial questions; this has reportedly improved as the company grows

Sense is also in the early stages of offering “Sense Solar,” which will monitor your home’s solar array for production and energy usage. It’s available as an add-on for current Sense owners ($50) or as a package with the original device for first-time buyers ($349).

The Verdict

We give the Sense 3 of 5 stars. It’s functional and fun, but still has plenty of room for improvement. If you’re a data nerd, early adopter, or like to tinker — you’ll enjoy it! But it’s not quite ready for the average consumer.

Other News

  • The company is working hard on improvements to device detection and we’re hopeful. As a startup ourselves, we know how hard entrepreneurs work to make their vision a reality — and then work harder to improve it!
  • Community outreach is becoming a priority:
    – Sense recently launched an applet for the popular IFTTT service.
    – A new Sense community forum is a welcome addition to ask questions and share user experiences.
    – Company founders hosted a Sense Q&A discussion in January with customers via Facebook Live. The video is archived on their Facebook page.