Vampire Electricity

Vampire energy is a phenomenon that does the most damage at night (just like a real vampire), but it’s happy to drain your wallet any hour of the day. Also known as standby energy, it has been aptly named because it sucks energy from your home even when you think your electronic equipment has been turned off.

For the sake of convenience, many common household appliances remain plugged in all the time, and most people do not realize that it costs them money, wastes carbon-rich, fossil-fuel generated energy and enlarges their family’s carbon footprint. Even when electronics are turned off but left plugged in, these devices are still continuously draining small amounts of energy throughout the day. For instance, with any electronic device that uses a remote, power is continuously being used to keep the remote in standby mode.

The most likely vampire consumers in your household are:  plasma TVs, home computers and printers, DVRs, cell phone chargers and coffeemakers. Here’s a handy list of standby power consumption by device from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

Realistically, a meaningful payback from reducing vampire waste will only occur over the long term. 

But why wait? 

You can start right now to smartly and conveniently reduce standby energy waste and begin to reap those long-term collective returns. Of course, unplugging everything around the house or office will only result in a small, positive environmental impact.  But very little effort is involved in keeping many appliances on timers or simply unplugged.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, you can save between five to ten percent a year on your electric bills, which is not an earth-shattering amount, but in today’s tough economic climate, every little bit helps. 

For a typical household of four, with an annual electric bill of roughly $2,000, that equals a yearly savings of $100-$200. That’s money in your pocket to save or spend on something you really enjoy…not on wasted energy. Plus it means a little less CO2 in the atmosphere for all of us to enjoy.

Vampire Electricity Across The Nation

As a nation, we collectively burn over $4 billion in vampire energy each year, and that figure continues to climb as our electronics become more prevalent and more sophisticated. 

That’s an incredibly large amount of money to waste, especially when it takes just a few seconds to unplug (and plug in again) an appliance. 

Sure, unplugging some appliances can be a hassle. We at Green Blizzard aren’t suggesting you wildly unplug everything in your home. No one has time to reset the clock everyday, or crawl behind the furniture to keep plugging in the lamps.

An assortment of energy saving devices are all over the marketplace. Consider:

Why You Should Rename Your Digital Cable Box

There are all sorts of devices you can easily keep unplugged. Go for the big hits and less frequently used items. Here’s an eye-opening example. DVRs are becoming very prevalent in households, as more and more cable companies lease them inexpensively to homeowners. They’re always on.

An average digital cable box with a DVR draws 43 watts in the “off” mode, more than a 40 watt bulb when it’s on! Think of these standby devices as numerous night lights or lower wattage bulbs winking around your home, day in and day out. The general rule is:  the older the computer, monitor, TV or game console, the more likely it is that it will consume a higher amount of power in standby mode. For instance, my Sony Bravia 50″ flat screen TV purchased in 2007, only consumes 0.5 watts in standby, as much as a typical cell phone charger. Therefore, investing in a power strip for the TV would take ages to realize a net return.

Here’s a tip:  if you don’t automatically set your coffeemaker to start in the morning, unplug it when it’s not in use. If you want a time display in the kitchen, choose the clock on either the stove or the microwave, but not both. Studies have shown that many microwaves use more energy while not in use than when they are actually heating up those frozen pizzas or TV dinners.

Most people use the time display on their cable box, so why not save energy and a couple of dollars by keeping the DVD player and video game console unplugged?

Chargers are warm when you leave them in the wall all day, and this is because energy is being consumed every second they are left plugged in. A good strategy to use is to have one power chord for several pieces of equipment. The power cord is our version of garlic because it cuts off all vampire energy and saves you money.

If you don’t mind taking a couple of minutes to reset your electronics, definitely unplug them before an extended vacation. If you don’t want to turn off your computer, try putting your printer, speakers and monitor on the same power strip, which will save energy if you switch it off during the day. Some power strips now have timers so that your TV, DVR and computer can all be turned off when you leave the house and turned back on before you return.

It’s a lifestyle change that may seem insignificant, but it can save you a little money each month, shrink your electric bill and emit less CO2 into the already choking atmosphere.

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About the author

John R. Garnet

John's work in the energy market fostered his interest in the environment. He recently completed his graduate work at George Mason University, But more interestingly, John has a passion for food and cooking and to provides some light-hearted tips to make people's lives greener while enjoy the good life with everyday practical tips from brewing tea, growing basil, or drinking raw milk.