Halloween Energy Vampires Survival Guide 2014

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Halloween Warning: There are energy vampires lurking in your home that are disguised as normal appliances and electronics. These bloodthirsty monsters have a voracious appetite for sucking energy out of your electrical outlets and money out of your wallet, even when they’re turned off or in sleep mode.  

The Natural Resources Defense Council has the treat to beat those tricks: this 2014 edition of the Halloween Energy Vampires Survival Guide, a power-smart weapon to help ward off the energy demons, save money on utility bills year-round, and drive a stake into the climate-changing pollution emitted by the fossil fuel-fired power plants generating the electricity powering our devices. (And don't miss our infographic at the bottom!)

Get ‘smart’ and kill off the juice: At least one-tenth of the electricity consumed in U.S. homes today vanishes as “standby power,” feeding our perpetually plugged-in electronics and appliances when we’re not even actively using them, like in the dead of night. So move your electrical gear to a “smart” power strip, which are surge protectors that cut power to other devices when a primary device is shut off. So when you turn off your TV, your DVD player, game console, and surround-sound system can be automatically shut off, too.

The vampire hooked up to your TV is the set-top box: The pay-TV industry —Comcast, Time Warner Cable, DIRECTV,  and many others — has renewed an effort to cut the energy consumption of the set top boxes that allow you to access pay TV. Despite recent industry efforts to bring down energy use, these devices continue to draw near full levels of power even when you think you’ve turned them “off.” To help ward off the vampires: ask your service provider for a box that meets the latest version of ENERGY STAR, Version 4.1, and unplug the set-top box in rooms where the TV is seldom used, such as a guest room or  vacation house. 

Put your game console to sleep when you do: If there’s an older Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3 in your household, there’s a decent chance it’s drawing 60 to 150 plus watts of power continuously whenever someone in your house forgets to turn it off. If left on all the time, this translates into more than a refrigerator’s worth of electricity a year. The good news is these devices now have an “auto power-down” feature which, if enabled, automatically puts them to sleep where they draw just a trickle of power.  To drive a stake into the heart of this energy monster, go into the console’s settings menu and set it to turn off automatically after one hour or less of inactivity. If your family has the newest Xbox One, disable the “Instant On” option because at more than 12 watts around-the-clock, it doubles the annual energy use of the console for little benefit. If you have the PlayStation 4, you can keep its “connected standby” option because it’s not as wasteful and Sony has announced a software update for this fall that will reduce its consumption further from 7 watts to less than 3 watts, which is much more reasonable.

Beware watching movies on the game console!  This should scare you: the game console consumes 10 to 20 times more energy to stream a movie than an Internet-ready TV or a small media player such as Roku or Apple TV, which use 4 or fewer watts to do the same thing.

Watch the TV: Some televisions keep sucking electricity even when they are turned off: New TVs represent both a trick and a treat in terms of energy use.  Thanks to lots of hard work and innovation, today’s flat-panel, high-definition TVs use around 60 percent less energy than earlier models. Bravo! Now for the trick -- some of the smart TVs, which connect to the internet, can consume 10 to 24 watts continuously when the Quick Start feature is selected. This means the TV starts up 15 to 45 seconds faster, but at a huge expense. When you run the math, that’s equivalent to doubling the annual energy of that new TV so consider disabling the Quick Start feature.

Set your computer to go to sleep when not in use: The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recommends adjusting the power settings for the computer to go to sleep after 30 minutes of inactivity or less. This can reduce computer and monitor energy consumption by two-thirds. A typical computer and monitor system left on 24/7 can waste $40 a year in electricity. Slideshows and other so-called “screensavers” represent another hidden predator: not only don’t they “save” any energy, they actually increase your computer’s energy consumption by making it work harder. Instead, set the monitor to turn off after 10 to 15 minutes of inactivity.

Boo! Settings aren’t scary: Your air conditioner, furnace or water heater are only as efficient as you let them be. Make sure to update the settings on your programmable thermostat to ensure you’re not throwing money away heating or cooling your home while everyone is at work and school. Also check the temperatures on your water heater: 120 degrees is usually hot enough, and higher settings can result in you getting scalded at the sink and pouring money down the drain.

If you follow these tips, not only will you be able to ward off the terrifying energy predators, you also might be able to shave more than a $100 off your energy bills annually. And that will leave you with plenty of money to buy your Halloween costume and lots of candy to hand out, too.