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We have a house in the country that largely sits abandoned. We have a large family, and we like to go visit for the weekends. When we leave the house, we turn off the circuit breakers to prevent high electrical bills. But lately, some family members have decided to "live" at the house. The problem: they do not take responsibility for the electrical bill. Legally we have no right to prevent the family members from staying at the house, but we want a way to limit electricity usage to those who have pay for the electricity.

What I would like is a way to have remote control of the circuit breakers. I would like to be able to have a "remote kill switch" for the electricity and the circuit breakers seem like the right place to do it. But another method to turn off the electricity, and ensure that it cannot be turned on, would work too.

Is there a way to install a "meter after the meter" or something like this?

What should we be asking our electrician to install and where?

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A cheap energy monitor would give you awareness of the costs over time. If you go for an online energy monitoring system, you could get printed reports to bill your family with. gigaom.com/cleantech/10-energy-dashboards-for-your-home –  Joby Taffey Nov 8 '11 at 0:54
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You've got an inter-personal problem with your family members who are sticking you with the electric bill. I recommend that you try to fix that problem NOW (by talking to the offenders) before it turns into an all-out feud. If it's already a feud, then perhaps you just need to turn off the electric to the house. –  Michael Kohne Nov 8 '11 at 14:03
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Shut off the electricity completely. Buy yourself a generator to take with you when you want to use the house. –  DA01 Nov 8 '11 at 17:25
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4 Answers

Install a lock on the panel, or main shutoff. Then only give keys/combination, to those family members that pay their share. Check with your local government before installing the lock, as it may not be legal in some jurisdictions.

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Search for a circuit breaker lockout. A lockout is a device that easily attaches to a breaker, and prevents the breaker from being turned on. A combination or pad-lock can be installed, which will prevent unauthorized users from turning the breaker on.

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+1, I'd expect a separate shutoff that doesn't prevent the circuit breakers from tripping or the power company from servicing the meter would be within code. You'd have to rewire to go from the meter to the lockable shutoff to the panel, so this will require an electrician with permits. –  BMitch Nov 8 '11 at 14:30
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If other family members are living in the house, why are you responsible for the utilities. Give them fair warning to put the power in their name by X date and issue a shut down order to the company for that date. If they want power, they can pay for it.

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Exactly. Treat them like renters. You could draw up a contract, if needed. –  Scivitri Nov 8 '11 at 16:27
    
In a lot of states it's illegal to just shut off power to renters. You can get them evicted, but during that process are required to keep service for water, power and other utilities in areas you are responsible for. –  Hounshell Jul 16 '12 at 16:53
    
Illegal to shut it off. Not illegal to tell the power company that it's going to be put in their name. All of my tenants pay their own power bills. –  The Evil Greebo Jul 16 '12 at 17:02
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What you propose is possible.

But an arrangement that is liable to be more satisfactory overall is to have a "pay as you go" meter installed which can accept coin payment. You can get units made to serve a whole house and also ones designed to control a range or commercial dryer etc. See below.

Have you got a good feel for the sort of charges involved and what causes them? You MAY be able to avoid family discord by limiting power to some equipment only.

Assume power costs $US0.20 / kWh. It may be as little as half that in some areas and more in a few. Say D =- dollars per kWh = 0.2 in this case. So Kpd = KWh per dollar = 1/D = 5 in this case. ie 5 kWh per dollar. For an appliance raed at W wAtts. - Hours of use per kWh = 1000/W - Hours of use per $ = 1000 / W / D = 1000/WD
or for D= $0.20 as above Hours of use for $1 = 5000/W Then: A 20 Watt CFL bulb takes 1000/P = 1000/20 = 50 hours Or hours of use per $ = 5000/20 = 250 hours. That's about 10 days non stop of 60 days at 4 hours/day.

A small to medium watertank takes about 6000 Wh = 6 kWh to reheat.
Think of this as a 6000 Watt appliance operating for 1 hour.
From above hours per $ = 5000/6000 = 50 minutes so 1 hour reheat !~= $1.20.
That would provide 2 generous showers or 5 -10 careful showers or a bath plus general dishes cleaning and ablutions.

Rangetop element is say 1 kW to 3 kW = 5000/1000 = 5 hours to 5000/3000 = 1.66 hours per dollar. ie most stovetop cooking will cost under $1/day.

Range = ? - say 5 kW or 5000/5000 = $1/hour. Roast dinner will not run on full most of the tome so probably under $1 / meal for range in oven use.

Microwave oven 650 Watts = 5000/65- = 7+ hours per $1.
ie Microwave over will cost << $1 /day. Heating is the cost generator. 1 bar heater = 1000 W = 5000/1000 = 5 hours per $. Some larger fixed heaters may be 2 kW or more.

Dehumdifier? - lock it up.
Air conditioner? - throw it out :-)

A mix and match approach with metering may work.

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I'd install an alarm system, only give out the temporary pin to trusted family, and change the pin anytime you think the place is being abused. Tell the rest of the family about it, and tell them that they'll be charged for any false-alarms and utilities or else you'll have them cited for trespassing. And finally, for any family visiting, let them know they will owe you for any power used after their visit if they don't turn the alarm back on.

Basically, you want the threat of a police visit rather than the annoyance of them having to break your lock. This also means that you can leave some minimal heat/ac running to prevent the pipes from freezing or other damage to the house.

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"Legally we have no right to prevent the family members from staying at the house,…", that could pose a serious issue for calling the police on them. –  derobert Nov 10 '11 at 18:37
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