Pulling the Plug on Energy Waste: A Guide to Efficient Consumer Electronics

The typical American household owns about 25 gadgets--TVs, phones, video game consoles, cable boxes, computers, and other consumer electronics--many of which waste energy by continuing to draw power even when they're off, or in stand-by mode. All those gadgets waste about several billion dollars worth of electricity each year, nationwide. According to the U.S Department of Energy, 10 percent of your electric bill stems from items that you aren't even using.

As we approach the height of the holiday (and gadget-shopping) season, it's good to know that pulling the plug on this energy waste is getting a lot easier, thanks to federal efficiency standards and the work of people like my colleague Noah Horowitz, an energy efficiency expert, who works with manufacturers to turn their products from energy hogs into energy-sippers. As a result, we have video game consoles that are 50 percent more efficient than they were a few years ago; 55-inch TVs that cost only about a dollar a month to operate; and pretty soon, thanks to a new California law, highly efficient battery chargers so that our battery powered devices won't waste two-thirds of their energy as heat, and will stop drawing power when a battery is full.

Making energy-smart purchases and using your new gadgets more efficiently will help cut down on energy waste and save you money. Noah recently made some excellent energy-saving suggestions for consumers in his Green Electronics Holiday Survival Guide.

As a rule of thumb, look for the Energy Star logo when you're shopping. Any product bearing the Energy Star label meets EPA standards for energy efficiency, and will use less energy--and so will cost less to operate--than comparable models.

LED TVs Are More Efficient

Televisions last about 10 years, so getting a more efficient model can actually knock a couple hundred dollars off the real cost of a new TV over its lifetime. The yellow Energy Guide label, now required on every TV, makes it easy to factor in energy costs into your purchasing decision.

If you're looking for a new flat-screen TV, LED televisions (also called LCD-LED) are 15 to 20 percent more efficient than conventional LCD TVs.

When you're setting up your new TV, pick the "home" or "standard" setting, rather than the overly bright "vivid" or "retail" setting, which will make your TV consume 15 to 30 percent more power. Choosing the right setting could save you $50 to $100 over the lifetime of your TV.

Video Game Consoles Make Streaming Expensive

If you want to stream videos on your TV, consider an internet-ready model or add an external Roku or Apple TV streaming box.  If you can, avoid using your video game consoles such as an Xbox 360 or Playstation 3 to stream movies as they consume up to 30 times more energy.

Speaking of video game consoles, they can consume as much energy per year as a new refrigerator if you forget to turn them off when you are done playing. The good news is that a new auto power-down feature is available that will put your box into a very low-power sleep state after a period of inactivity. Manufacturers are starting to ship their devices with auto power-down enabled, but YOU need to confirm this selection during set up. You can also turn on this feature in older devices as well. Enabling auto-power down could save you about $60 a year so please dig through the set up menus and make sure auto power down is on..

Tablets vs Laptops vs Desktops: Buy Small for Energy Savings

Portable electronics are designed to be more efficient, in order to prolong battery life. A tablet can use ten times less energy than a laptop, and 35 times less than a desktop. Figure out what your needs really are, and buy small.

Recycle Old Electronics at Best Buy or Staples

Finally, don't forget to recycle your old electronics. Americans get rid of more than 2 million tons of electronic gadgets every year--about 140,000 computers and 416,000 mobile devices every day, according to the EPA. A lot of people don't realize how easy it is to recycle old electronics. Best Buy will take just about any gadget, no matter where and when you bought it, and recycle it for you, for free, using certified e-Steward recyclers. Staples has a similar program, although they don't take televisions.

Choosing more efficient gadgets and picking the right settings will reduce energy waste and could shave hundreds of dollars off your electric bills Nationwide, we'll save billions of dollars in energy costs. That's a holiday bargain everyone can enjoy.


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