Did you know that most of your appliances—cell phone chargers, desktop computers, computer monitors, printers, televisions, DVD players, microwaves, coffee makers, and more—drain energy anytime they’re plugged into a socket, regardless of whether they’re turned on or off?
And not only that, but many electronics, like your plasma TV and your cable box, don’t actually go all the way off. Rather, they continue using “standby power” all day and night.
In fact, the average American home has 40 electronics drawing power in off or standby mode, totaling almost 10% of residential electricity use.
The amount of standby power wasted varies among electronic equipment, but overall, the average household spends between $165 and $450 a year on plugged-in devices that aren’t being used directly.
Nationwide, our idle gadgets and appliances suck up 64 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity—enough to power nearly 6 million homes—at a cost to consumers of about $19 billion a year.
That’s a ridiculous amount of money just thrown away on devices we aren’t even using—money I bet you could really use right now!
And given that most of our electricity comes from air and water polluting fossil fuels that are getting much harder and more dangerous to obtain, this is even more outrageously wasteful!
For the amount of energy the average home wastes on standby and phantom power, you might as well let the next three or four tanks of gas you buy pour out onto the cement.
In this light, reducing standby power consumption is practically a patriotic duty!
How to Reduce Standby Power Consumption
Here are some great ways to slay the “energy vampires” in your home:
- Get in the habit of unplugging all sleeping or not-in-use appliances. (Lamps are exempt.)
- Better yet, use a switchable power strip for clusters of appliances, computer devices or electronic products. That way you can switch everything to zero with one switch or even a remote control. (The Smart Strip and Belkin Conserve remote kits are made for this. You can use the Belkin all over the house, and since all our plugs are behind furniture, the remote switch makes a big difference!)
- When shopping, search for low standby products. (Asking a salesperson will probably be a waste of time.) Look for the ENERGY STAR label; these products have lower standby.
- Buy a low-cost watt-meter, measure all the devices in your home to see how much power they are really using, and take targeted action. You will be very surprised at what you discover and this exercise might even pay back the cost of the meter in savings. (The Kill-a-Watt is a great, affordable tool for this.)
- If you have older kids, a great homeschool or weekend learning activity is to use a Kill-a-Watt meter or similar device to measure the power usage of all the appliances in your home. Together, you can then audit your home energy use, and decide which appliances should be unplugged, put onto power strips or perhaps even be replaced. Use your utility bill to gauge the results of your efforts, then do something fun as a family with the money you’ve saved!
According to Bruce Nordman, an energy efficiency researcher at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, as a general rule, the bigger—and older—the device, the more power it sucks up while it’s off. So it’s much more effective to unplug the decade-old TV in your guest bedroom than the phone charger that you bought last year.
Another tip from Nordman: “When you put your hand on the adaptor, if it’s hot, it’s using a lot of energy. If it’s not hot, it’s probably not using very much energy.”
The Worst Energy Vampires in Your Home
These are the most power-hungry devices in your home, and should receive priority when deciding what to unplug or put on a power strip:
The New York Times reported that cable boxes have an energy footprint far greater than their size would indicate. Indeed, the EPA estimates that cable box setups use about 500 kilowatt-hours per year—as much electricity as your fridge.
If you have more than one TV, you can request a multi-room box, which allows you to ditch all but one of your DVR devices. Put them on a power strip with your other entertainment devices, and turn them off when you aren’t watching or recording.
According to the EPA, computers account for 2–3 percent of overall household and office energy use in the U.S. Sleep mode is good, but not nearly as good as turning off and unplugging entirely as often as possible.
Laptops are more energy efficient, and screensavers save nothing. In fact, on a house by house level, a computer screensaver alone costs about $60 a year of electricity to maintain.
As a general rule of thumb, the bigger your TV, the more power it sucks, and the more diligent you should be about unplugging it or putting it on a power strip and shutting it off entirely each night.
Flat-screen TVs use about twice as much power as their smaller cathode-ray counterparts, and can waste as much as $160 worth of energy annually when in standby mode. That’s a lot of money for an appliance you’re not even using!
All those mp3 docking stations, home theaters, and DVD players add up. Cluster these devices on a smart power strip when you can. Don’t worry, many Energy Star-approved devices maintain their clock settings even when they’re powered off.
People tend to leave game consoles on all the time. A recent Carnegie Mellon University study (PDF) estimated that power use by home game systems in the U.S. grew by 50 percent between 2007 and 2010 and now accounts for about 1 percent of total household energy use.
Interestingly, the same study found that the Nintendo Wii uses significantly less energy than other popular systems (Microsoft Xbox and Sony Playstation). Although many consoles now automatically switch to a power-saving idle mode after a period of inactivity, even “sleeping” games use some energy. Put it on a power strip and get your kid to shut it off entirely.
Digital Picture Frames
Because they use energy all day long just to sit there and show off pretty pictures, digital picture frames’ energy use is significant. Find an Energy Star version or show off your best snapshots framed in good, old-fashioned wood and metal.
When you slay the energy vampires in your home, you’ll not only save lots of money, but also preserve clean air and water by reducing national fossil fuel usage. And that’s a win for everyone!
This article was excerpted from my book Sustainability Starts at Home – How to Save Money While Saving the Planet. For more money-saving, planet-friendly tips, pick up a copy today!
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