Smarter Living: Energy

Power outlet

photo: Jake Mates/Flickr

Probably the most dramatic of the energy wasters in your home, energy vampires (aka "phantom load") are a bit more prosaic than the gothic terrors implied by their names, but there's still every reason to pry their fangs out of your energy supply. Video games, computers, TVs and other electronics drain energy continuously even when not in use, so it's critical both to your bankbook and for global warming emissions that you turn them off fully or set their energy-saving controls to minimize power consumption.

What is the CO2 Smackdown? Read the overview.

SAVINGS

By turning off electronics when not in use, you could save over over $100 annually on your electric bill and a half a ton of heat-trapping pollutants. If you have more energy-intensive items, such as an older Sony Playstation 3 and high-powered computers, your savings could be as high as $425 annually.

PLAN

1. Survey your electronics. Check if you have the following items and where they are plugged in—directly into a wall socket? Or in a power strip you can easily turn on and off? Each of these will drain energy when in standby mode but if plugged into a power strip can be easily switched off without unplugging.

Set-top boxes, such as DVRs, cable and satellite boxes, are particularly vampiric, draining as much when not in use as when recording or playing. In fact, they often consume more energy than your TV. See NRDC's new report for more on the hidden costs of set-top boxes.

Digital video recorder (DVR) or TiVO
Digital cable box
Xbox, Playstation and other video game consoles
Cellphone chargers
Satellite receiver
VCR
DVD player
LCD, CRT or Plasma TV
Audio amplifier
Desktop computer
LED or CRT monitor
Laptop computer
Ink-jet or laser printer

The Simple Steps Energy Vampire Calculator can determine the cost to you and the amount of CO2 emitted by most of these items.

Buy power strips where needed to plug in your electronics.

2. Set computers and video games and other appliances to energy-efficient modes

Computers
You can save up to $75 or more per computer by activating system standby or hibernate features. Screen savers generally do not save energy. In fact, certain graphics-intensive screen savers can cause the computer to burn twice as much energy and may actually prevent a computer from entering sleep mode.

Screen savers were originally developed to prevent the permanent etching of patterns on older monochrome monitors. Modern display screens do not suffer as much from this problem, but screen savers are still used for entertainment.

PC-users should take the following steps to enable power-saving features:
Go to Settings, click on Control Panel and select Power Options.
Select "system standy" and set it for 30 minutes. This drops monitor and computer power use down to 1–3 watts each. Unlike the hibernate mode, from which your computer can take 20 seconds or more to wake up, in standby mode your computer will wake up in just a few seconds. But like the hibernate mode, standby mode will save you $25 to $75 on your energy bill annually.

Mac-users should go to System Preferences, open Energy Saver and set Battery to "Better Battery Life." Click on "sleep" and "show details" then use the slider to set "Put the computer to sleep when it is inactive for" to 30 minutes. Set "Put the Display to Sleep when the computer is inactive for" to 5 minutes using the slider.

For more specific information about particlar models see EPA's page on power management features for individual computers. Also see Energy Star's FAQs on computer power management for more information.

Video Games
In a 2007 study, NRDC found that video games can be among a home's greatest power users, in some cases eating up as much energy as two refrigerators if left on all the time. For a step-by-step slideshow guide on enablinh power-saving features on Playstations and XBOX's, see the how-to's linked from "Lowering the Cost of Play."

TVs
The screen brightness of your television may have been factory set at the highest level, which is often used for floor displays in stores to ensure visibility across long distances. In your living room, you will probably find you can enjoy a less glaring image by turning the brightness down to a comfortable level. This can cut power consumption by as much as half.

3. Turn off lights
This bears repeating particularly in the darker months when homes may be lit up for hours on end. But rather than nag your family members, you can make life easier by intalling a motion-sensing switch. For a step-by-step guide, see "How to Install a Motion-Sensing Light Switch."

You may also get more creative in your home decorating and use mirrors, lighter surfaces and bouncing light from window-lit rooms to brighten up your home without flipping a switch. See "Lighting: When No Bulb is the Best Bulb" for more ideas.

REDUCING COSTS

Happily, this step will cost you very little besides a few minutes of your time as you check on the electronics in your home. Power strips vary in price and quality but the energy savings will likely cover their cost of purchase.

ALTERNATIVES

If you're looking to replace your TV or computer, buy more energy-efficient models. See NRDC's list of the 200 most efficient TV sets on the market and you can find listings of efficient computers and other appliances at TopTenUSA.

last revised 4/15/2011

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