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Finding Home Energy Thieves
You might call them the gifts that keep on taking: your home electronics give your energy budget a double whammy, because in addition to consuming energy when they're in use, these devices continue to draw power when they're turned off.
The top offenders are the computer and monitor in your home office and the TV in the living room, says Lynn Clement, marketing program manager for Wisconsin-based Focus on Energy. But most home electronics, including DVD and VCR players, cordless phones and cable boxes, continue to use energy in the off mode. This is because they are not really off, Clement explains. They are in a standby mode and are powering features like clock displays, remote controls and channel/station memory.
In the average home, 75 percent of the electricity used to power home electronics is consumed when devices are turned off, according to Energy Star, a government-backed energy-efficiency program. This makes sense, since most devices are off much more than they're on. But that energy use adds up. Nationwide, it equates to the annual output of 12 power plants and costs consumers more than $1 billion a year.
These days, with energy costs soaring, homeowners can't afford to let these energy thieves go unchecked. The good news is, you can take some simple steps to put them on a diet and give your budget a break.
Computing Energy Costs
A good place to start in your quest to identify the energy thieves in your home is to analyze how much it costs to operate various devices. To compute the cost per hour of an electronic item, follow this formula provided by PowerHouse ( http://www.powerhousetv.com ): Multiply the product's wattage by the number of hours it gets used each month. Divide that figure by 1,000 to determine the number of kilowatt-hours used, then multiply the kilowatt-hours by the rate paid for electricity.
According to PowerHouse, and based on a rate of 10 cents per kilowatt-hour, your PC costs about $1.50 per month to operate, while each clock radio is $1.13 and your 35-inch TV racks up $2.52.
While that may not seem like much, Clement points out that, when grouped together, the electronics in the average home are real energy eaters. Some of the devices that consumers may not consider when they think of their home electronics include computer modems, battery chargers such as those for cell phones and laptop computers or other rechargeable devices like power tools and lawn and garden equipment.
To make your energy dollars stretch, buy Energy Star "labeled equipment, which can cut related annual energy expenses by 30 percent. According to Energy Star, the average home has two TVs, a VCR and a DVD player, and three telephones. If these items were replaced with Energy Star models [nationwide], Clement says, it would save over 20 billion pounds of greenhouse gas emissions, the equivalent to taking over 1.5 million cars off the road.
When Off Isn't Off
Trying to rein in the costs of electrical and electronic devices isn't always easy, since a surprisingly large number of products, from air conditioners to VCRs, cannot be switched off completely without being unplugged, according to the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory at the University of California's Berkeley campus. These products draw power 24 hours a day, often without the knowledge of the homeowner a draw that can be as high as 15 to 20 watts and account for as much as 5 percent of residential electricity use.
So where can you find these energy thieves? Just look around your home. Is an indicator light on a switched-off TV telling you it's able to respond to a signal from the remote control? Is your VCR/DVD player displaying the time, or the answering machine catching all those telemarketing calls? You have standby power to thank for that.
In addition, any device that uses an external power supply, AC power adapter or a square wallpack is drawing power. Even some halogen desk lights consume power when they're turned off.
A quick tally in your home might turn up a surprising number of devices that use standby power, which can range from an average of 0.9 watts (a battery charger for batteries) to 13.7 watts for a home security system. According to the Berkeley Lab, in the entertainment category, your TV plus VCR tops out at 11 watts while on standby (with a compact system following closely at 9.7 watts), while in the home office, your inkjet printer is using 5 watts.
It gets worse. Many homeowners now have cable boxes, satellite receivers, video game consoles and devices that enable their TVs to act as an interface to the Internet. These set-top boxes, as they're called, are huge energy hogs. These devices consume as much as 40 watts constantly, Meier says. Some homes will have a few of them, so it's like adding a refrigerator of energy use.
What can you do to get these energy thieves under control? While it may not always be practical to shut down a unit completely (after all, what good is an answering machine if it isn't operational?), there are two options to reduce the standby power draw.
The first is relatively simple: If you don't need a device 24/7, kill the power. If the unit is plugged into a wall outlet, pull the plug. Using a surge suppressor? Go ahead and switch the strip itself off, after shutting down those items plugged into it. The strip will continue to protect the items from surges even when the indicator light is off, according to a technical spokesperson for American Power Conversion Corp., a manufacturer of surge suppressors. (However, if the light is off when the switch is turned on, the device is probably malfunctioning.)
In the market for new equipment? Then take step two: Shop wisely, and choose products with low standby power. You can start your search at the Department of Energy's Federal Energy Management Program site ( http://www.eere.energy.gov/femp/ technologies/eep_standby_power.cfm), where you can search for Energy Star products, as well as items with recommended standby power levels.
FEMP recommends you choose desktop computers that use 2 watts or less while on standby, and monitors, printers, copiers and scanners that use 1 watt or less. TVs, DVD players and stereos should use 1 watt or less, VCRs use 2 watts or less, and combo units (TV/VCR/DVDs) should max out at 3 watts.
You can review energy-smart buying options by visiting the FEMP search page at http://oahu.lbl.gov . Energy Star qualified models of set-top boxes, with the exception of cable boxes, will be available soon through local retailers.
Of course, there is another option: Homeowners can limit the number of electronics products in their home, Clement says. The fewer products there are, the fewer energy thieves.
Good advice, but let's face it, electronics in the home are here to stay. They're part of our everyday lives, and more than likely, in the years to come, we're going to have more of them, not fewer, in our homes which makes it critical to choose the right ones. By analyzing a product's energy cost and keeping an eye out for energy thieves, you can cut your energy bills and help reduce the need for energy nationwide.