The problem: Electricity wasters in your home
According to the U.S. Department of Energy, you're
paying $100 per year for nothing. The culprits are
your “energy vampires,” those electrical appliances
that continuously draw power even after you've hit the “off”
button. Admittedly, some items, like your refrigerator and heating
system, need to run 24/7, but many others, like your computer,
DVD player or coffeemaker, don't. The problem is that
these appliances possess “smart” features—miscellaneous chips
and/or electronic controls that prevent them from ever shutting
down. Most energy vampires only suck a few watts apiece (see
Figure A), but considering that the average home contains 20 of
these watt wasters, the cost adds up. By some estimates, energy
vampires now make up 11 percent of your utility bill and will
cost you even more in the future. The good news is that you can
search out and stake these vampires in the heart with a simple
strategy and a few cool tools. You'll also learn how to keep the
least efficient appliances out of your home in the first place.
Fact: The EPA estimates that
energy vampires consume
$4 billion worth of power
per year. That's equal to the
amount of electricity generated
by 12 power plants!
Figure A: Where Are the Watts Going?
Some appliances use more power than others even
when doing nothing. Until recently, manufacturers
didn't worry about standby power because consumers
didn't consider the cost.
Ways to stop the drain
Here are a few simple solutions
that can help you
stop unwanted energy
Pull the plug. If an appliance
has an indicator
light, touch screen or feels
the least bit warm to the
touch, it's using power.
You can't unplug everything,
but pulling the
plug on a few items, such
as the coffeemaker, battery
chargers and VCR,
can save as much as turning
off a light.
Strip stop. Surge protectors
enable you to turn off
multiple devices with one
switch. The Smart Strip
(see photo) is
handy when you can't
easily reach the strip. This
surge protector automatically
shuts off peripherals
when the main unit, such
as your computer or TV, is
turned off. The strip has
“always on” receptacles for
satellite boxes, modems
and wireless routers.
Read the fine print.
Manufacturers don't usually
power info on the box.
A plug-in meter is your
best bet, but another way
to decrease wasted electricity is by choosing
appliances with fewer bells and whistles.
Looking for the EnergyStar logo can also help.
Starting this year, appliances bearing this stamp
must use 50 percent less energy when operating
and when in standby mode.
Check Your Computer
Some PCs draw as much as 250 watts, almost as
much as an energy-efficient refrigerator. To rein in
your power-hungry processor, set your machine
to go into “sleep” or “hibernate” mode when left
unused for more than 30 minutes. For more savings,
turn off the processor, monitor, printer and speakers
if they won't be used for more than two hours.
Despite the myth, cycling your computer on and off
will not damage the system.
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Meter readers and plug-in watt watchers
Unplugging your refrigerator, then
manually reading the still-spinning
meter, will show that you've
got a problem, but because you're
calculating a single moment, it's
not terribly accurate. To find and
fix the drain, you'll need either a
digital meter reader or a plug-in
meter. Both devices show real-time
usage. More important, they
track longer trends so you can see
how much an appliance is costing
you when it's on and off. Using
one or both can help you pinpoint energy vampires.
From there, you can decide to pull the plug or shop for
an energy-efficient replacement.
Plug-in meters measure single devices. Simply plug
the unit into the wall, then connect the appliance to the
meter. P3 International's Kill A Watt EZ will tell you the operating
cost of any household appliance per
day, week, month or year. A meter
can show you how much money
you can save by upgrading older
appliances. Replacing a 10-year-old
refrigerator with an Energy Star
model can save over $100 a year.
Digital meter readers measure
whole-house electricity use.
They attach to your meter or
panel box to provide real time
and average usage/cost information.
To find out how
much all your energy vampires
are costing you, turn
off all the lights, unplug the
refrigerator, then check the screen.