Slay The Vampires

By Chandra Orr

March 25, 2011 5 min read

There are vampires among us -- not the bloodsucking variety found in "The Twilight Saga," but rather those gizmos, gadgets and electronics that suck power even when not in use. It's called standby power, and it has a big impact on our nation's energy consumption -- and your electric bill.

Pull the plug and you could save about $200 a year.

In appliances and electronics, standby power fuels such functions as clock displays, timers and remote control access, often wasting energy. As a general rule, if the light is on, the vampire's home.

Televisions, computers and chargers for hand-held gadgets are the worst offenders. A television uses about $10 in vampire energy a year, and a computer set to sleep mode eats up $41 annually. Add to that all the chargers fueling cell phones, MP3 players, electric toothbrushes, power tools, etc., and the average household spends $200 per year to feed phantom energy use, according to utility provider DTE Energy.

Companies have made great strides in offering consumers more energy-efficient options, such as Energy Star-rated appliances and electronics, but there is plenty the average person can do to reduce his/her phantom energy use further.

"There are still big opportunities to drive a pine stake through the heart of vampire loads," says John Wagner, a green building expert and the author of "Green Remodeling: Your Start Toward an Eco-Friendly Home." "Even Energy Star appliances can draw 5 watts per hour."

The solution is simple. To slay energy vampires, simply unplug them.

"You have to look at absolutely everything, both inside your house and outside. Identify every power use, and make sure each is truly off when not in use. Even if you think it's off, unplug it," says Chip Haynes, author of "Wearing Smaller Shoes: Living Light on the Big Blue Marble," which details small steps for low-impact living in suburbia.

"Even a low 1-watt drain amounts to 720 watts of power added to your monthly power bill," explains Haynes, whose own home uses just 5 kilowatt-hours of power per day. "The cable box drives me crazy. We unplug it when the TV is off, but the cable company wants us to keep it plugged in 24/7. The cable company, however, does not pay our power bill, which was $27.52 last month."

To slay the vampires:

--Look for Energy Star-qualified appliances and electronics, which use considerably less power than their counterparts, even in standby mode, which offers substantial savings, according to DTE Energy. Compared with traditional models, Energy Star-qualified battery chargers use 35 percent less energy; televisions use about 40 percent less; and desktop computers and monitors use up to 60 percent less.

--Enable the Energy Star power management setting on your computer and monitor, allowing the devices to enter the power save mode when not in use.

--Use a power strip, which makes it easy to cut the power on multiple electronics with a quick flick of a switch. Connect your television, cable box, Blu-ray player and gaming console to one power strip, and do the same for your computer, monitor, printers and peripherals. Keep in mind, though, that if the power is off, timed devices and tasks will not work, so you may want to keep that DVR running on the night of the big game and let your computer stay connected when it's time for that midnight virus scan.

--Unplug chargers when not in use. They draw power even when no device is connected.

--Install motion-activated lights outdoors. There's no need to illuminate your driveway and sidewalks all night; motion activation ensures they only turn on when you need them.

--Check the pilot light. Electronics aren't the only energy vampires in your home. Pilot lights on some natural gas and propane appliances also suck energy when not in use, according to the Edison Electric Institute, the association of shareholder-owned electric companies. When buying a new water heater, dryer or stove, look for an electronic ignition, which doesn't require a standing pilot light. For gas fireplaces, turn off the pilot light in the warmer months when not in use.

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