Consumer Technology

Published on February 18th, 2015 | by Guest Contributor

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A Room-by-Room Guide To Ousting The (Energy) Vampires Lurking In Your Home

February 18th, 2015 by  

By Gene Wang, People Power

Did you know that the average household has 25 electronic devices plugged in at any given time? But many of these devices aren’t used daily, and are left plugged in. I challenge you to take a quick tour of your home to take an inventory of devices currently connected to an outlet. I’ll wait….

Many of the electronics you just spotted are vampires. Not the blood sucking kind, but the energy sucking variety. Vampire energy, also known as standby power, is the electric power consumed by many consumer electronic devices when they are switched off but still plugged in, and that wasted electricity is costing you a lot of money! According to the EPA, idle gadgets suck up to $10 billion in energy annually[1].

In order to help you cut back on energy use (and bring down that pesky monthly electricity bill), I’ve put together this handy room-by-room guide to energy vampires along with some suggestions on how to avoid using standby power without unplugging every electronic in your home.

The Kitchen

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Image Credit: Ryan Li via Flickr, CC BY 2.0

Your kitchen is full of vampires, but thankfully they are pretty easy to identify. Most appliances with a digital clock are constantly sucking power in order to keep the time up to date. Coffee makers, microwaves, and ovens are all common culprits. Even though it seems counterintuitive, your microwave actually consumes more electricity powering its digital clock than it does heating food. Heating food requires 100 times more power than running the clock, but when you add up all the time it spends in “standby” mode, the clock ends up costing you more.

Since unplugging individual appliances after each use can be a real hassle — when you’re ready to eat your lunch, you’re ready! — you might consider grouping your energy vampires together and plugging them into a power strip with an on/off switch. This is an inexpensive and easy solution — simply turn the power strip on and all your appliances (coffee maker, microwave) are ready to go!

Another tip: When it comes time to replace large appliances, like your refrigerator or dryer, look for low standby products that are Energy-Star certified.

The Living Room

Unfortunately, the place where most people gather to socialize in your home is also the biggest consumer of vampire energy, assuming this is also where your home entertainment system is located. TVs, the cable box, game consoles, stereos and DVD players are all huge consumers of standby power. Your plasma TV can suck up over 1,400 kilowatt hours annually, adding up to as much as $150 every year, and cable boxes use about 500 kilowatt hours per year. Americans spend about $2 billion each year on the standby power consumed by cable boxes. I can think of much better ways to spend that kind of cash.

You can easily group these appliances together on a power strip like you did in the kitchen. However, if you record TV shows with your DVR, you may need a different solution. (I don’t want you blaming me when Scandal doesn’t get recorded!) Smart power plugs like Monster Central Power Controls can detect how much electricity your electronics are consuming and can be set to turn off automatically each night, then turn back on every morning. This will help you save money and energy when no one is using the entertainment center and will ensure you never miss your favorite programs.

Your office

Laser printers consume a surprising amount of power, mostly because they are in constant standby mode waiting for you to hit the print button. Desktop computers and laptops are also consuming standby power.

You can change the settings on your computer so that the hibernate features are enabled in both battery and power adapter settings. And unlike years ago when you were told it required a lot of power to shut down your computer every night, consider powering down before you go to bed. When your laptop is finished charging, unplug the charger from the wall so it isn’t continually draining power.

Bedrooms

Look out for alarm clocks (remember, anything with a LED display is a vampire), cell phone and other electronic chargers, as well as space heaters and air conditioning units in your bedrooms. You probably need the alarm clock in your own bedroom, but if you have one in your guest room, you might want to leave it unplugged until Aunt Mildred visits. The same goes for rarely used TVs, game consoles, DVD players and other electronics in less frequented bedrooms in your home.

When your chargers aren’t in use, either unplug them or turn the power strip they are connected to off. There are apps and products available that will allow you to remotely control appliances like your air conditioning unit so that you don’t have to leave it running all day. Using an app and smart plugs, you can tell your air conditioner to turn off when you get in the car to go to work in the morning and turn on you’re on the way home from work.

One thing you don’t need to worry about in your bedroom is lamps, which actually use very little vampire power. You can leave those plugged in without having to worry about their effect on your pocket.

Bathrooms

For the safety of your home, it is best to unplug things like hair dryers, straighteners and curling irons when you aren’t using them. The bathroom is also a great place to use a timed power switch. The timer will help you save money and energy and will protect your home in case you forget to unplug your hair dryer in the morning.

Also, remember to unplug your electric toothbrush chargers and electric razors once they are fully charged.

If you have an electric hot water heater, it’s sucking down a ton of vampire power too!  Be sure to wash your hands with cold water, do your laundry with cold water and take fast showers. These hot water saving habits alone will keep you from losing hundreds of dollars every year down the drain.

The Garage

I bet you didn’t think there would be vampires hanging out in your garage! All the handy men and women out there should remember to unplug their power tools when they aren’t in use — think drills, saws and electric screwdrivers.

That electric car should stay plugged in, though, unless you plan on biking to work in the morning.

Now that we’ve taken a virtual tour of your home, here is a quick recap of the tips for battling the energy vampires in your home:

  • Unplugging everything is unrealistic – use power strips with on/off switches to easily turn groups of electronics off when not in use
  • Unplug devices when they are fully charged
  • Unplug devices you don’t use daily
  • Invest in smart plugs that allow you control your bigger appliances remotely from your smart device – putting you in control of your energy use, even when you aren’t around

And here’s to lower monthly electric bills! Take that, Count Dracula!

[1] https://www.energystar.gov/index.cfm?c=about.vampires

Gene Wang HeadshotGene Wang is CEO and co-founder of People Power, an award-winning software company enabling remote control and management of connected devices from your smart phone. People Power’s groundbreaking smartphone app, Presence, transforms spare iPhones, iPads, and iPods into wireless video cameras with motion detection video alerts for free home monitoring. Presence expands to control smart plugs to manage power, robotic stands so you can look around while remote, and other sensors to improve safety, convenience and save you money. People Power’s mobile-and-cloud Internet of Everything Platform enables service providers and manufacturers to deliver smart home solutions to improve security, energy management and home automation.

Gene likes to record and play music and is happily married with three great children and a bad dog.


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  • Raahul Kumar

    It’s an excellent article, and becoming familiar with the biggest uses of household electricity is important. The fridge and the dryer are the biggest problems, so buying the most energy efficient appliances is key.

  • Tom Capon

    Sorry guys, this is another well-intentioned energy saving article full of dubious suggestions:

    1. Be VERY CAREFUL plugging your microwave into a power strip! Low-quality power strips that most people have lying around will heat up and possibly catch fire when high-power appliances like microwaves and space heaters are plugged into them. This is the reason that microwaves and space heaters always warn to plug it directly into a wall outlet.

    2. The article is absolutely right, cable boxes are huge vampires of power (some actually draw more power when turned “off” than “on”). But they also take several minutes to boot, lock to the cable signal, and download program information, so turning them on and off is a hassle. The best solution is to ditch cable entirely.

    3. Newer laser printers have better deep-sleep and Energy Star modes, so this is draw is less than it used to be. Turning off desktop computers is a no-brainer, but you can do even better: Install a Solid State Disk in place of your main drive, and it will draw less power when running and the system will boot much faster, so power cycling will be less of a hassle.

    But unplugging laptops and phones when they are fully charged does NOT help–they will simply draw the same standby power from their batteries instead of the wall, and will use more power recharging the batteries in the morning than they would have if plugged in all night. Plus, laptops and phones are already designed to have very low standby power, so you don’t gain much even from shutting down or hibernating them.

    4. Unplugging unused radios, alarm clocks, and video game consoles is a great idea. But here we go again with the phone charger myth. Remember the rule of thumb! If it gets warm to the touch, it is using power. If not, then there is no appreciable wasted energy. USB phone chargers (in the last 5+ years) have been tested by many, many people and draw virtually no current when the phone is disconnected.

    5. While leaving a hair dryer running will certainly use lots of power (and risk burning the house down), I challenge the author to find a hair dryer that uses any power at all when turned off. I can’t imagine anyone would design one without a mechanical on/off switch.

    But good call on the electric hot water heater. I have heard stories of people being burned (pun intended) by electric heating bills if they use hot water with abandon. I also recall a clever guy who used an Arduino to turn his heater on and off remotely to save power. I also really like the idea of solar hot water heaters, or using a tank water heater as a diversion load for solar panels before sending it to a tankless electric heater.

    6. Again, power tools normally have a mechanical on/off switch that ensures the standby power is zero. But cordless tool battery chargers likely have significant idle power even with no batteries in them, so that’s a good thing to unplug.

  • Offgridman

    There is one device/appliance that didn’t get mentioned, but I guess that is because they are pushing remote control of all of the other ones.
    The average wifi router is just as much of a energy vampire as the cable box that this article was stressing. Another advantage to shutting it off when you aren’t home is for security to help prevent unauthorized use of your Internet connection and or home internet and what you may have connected.
    Of course like with anything else it is a matter of balance, are you using good security practices with your home system, and do you need to leave it on to control other devices and appliances or for your home security system to work.

    • Bob_Wallace

      My wifi router pulls 3 watts.

      Password protect access.

      • Ronald Brakels

        Wow, that’s an impressively low draw. But, looking it up, I see your puny American wireless routers only output half the watts in radio waves as our mighty Australian ones. And that’s why here, combined with the heat waste from stepping down from 240 to 12 volts, the whole family gathers around the wireless modem in winter to keep warm while grandad tells stories about how back in his day the internet was dial up and if he picked up the telepone and listened in he’d see a picture of a lolcat in his head.

      • Offgridman

        I’m glad to hear that yours is fairly efficient, unfortunately the ones different family members receive from the cable company aren’t.
        The cable modems for the hardwire connections use anywhere from 25-40 watts, and the wifi routers at rest use 10-20, with increased draw according to the number of devices and distance from the router.
        Yes I have made sure that they have all used good randomised passwords on their routers, not counting on the factory ones that get recycled. But poor or missing security on wifi routers in the US is a common issue well known in the IT industry. Why do you think that there are so many jokes about the consequences of using the neighbors wifi? It seems like I hear of a different version every week from various sources.

        • Bob_Wallace

          Would those be the neighbors whose password is “password” or the ones on the other side who use “1234”?

          Look, routers do not have to be high draw. If that’s your only opportunity then start raising hell with your provider.

          Cut ’em here. Cut ’em there. Kill the beast.

          • Offgridman

            Yes without my help (or hassling) some of the family and neighbors would just be using “password” or “12345”.
            Unfortunately it is not my provider, and being on the grid most of them don’t think it is a big deal to leave an equivalent small light bulb burning 24/7. They are just happy to take advantage of the free equipment provided to them.
            The article was about energy vampires, so with so many people that get their internet from the cable companies, and it would seem likely to take advantage of the free equipment, it seemed to me that this should be pointed out too.
            Now for the latest joke.
            Jim got a text from his neighbor Ted.
            “Jim, I am very sorry, and promise that it will never happen again, but it was just so easy that I have been taking advantage of your wife”
            Jim of course flies into a rage, goes and gets his gun, walks in the bedroom, and without a word shoots his wife.
            After putting the gun back up and walking back to the living room he notices another message from Ted
            “Damn spell check, look I am still just as sorry and it will never happen again, but I meant ‘wifi’ not ‘wife'”

  • JamesWimberley

    This problem used to be significant, but it shrinks with every new product launch. Microcontrollers that lower standby consumption to a watt cost cents not dollars. Meanwhile the number of gadgets goes up and the hassle of turning them off goes up. Besides, renewable electricity is not ultimately a scarce resource. Standby anxiety is doomed.

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