What's draining your energy? Vampire Power
Even after household appliances and electronics are turned off, many devices left plugged in continue to use power and increase your electric bill. The power used by devices while not in use is known as standby power, or “vampire power.” According to ENERGY STAR®, the average household spends $100 every year on vampire power. Devices using vampire power costs Americans $19 billion annually, according to the National Resources Defense Council. The Office of the Ohio Consumers’ Counsel, the residential utility advocate provides the following information about vampire power to help consumers save money.
Devices using vampire power
Anything that has a standby light or clock (coffee makers, microwaves, TVs) uses vampire energy which can add up to 20 percent each month to your electric bill. Many everyday appliances and remote-ready electronic devices like cable boxes, DVRs, cellphones, and video game consoles continue to use electricity even when they are not being used.
Some vampire power is necessary for functionality and convenience. Vampire power enables monitoring of refrigerator temperatures, allows the use of remote controls, and keeps digital clocks, thermostats and programs running.
On average, a home has 20-40 electronic devices using vampire power and the combined usage can be surprising. Experts indicate that in the future consumers may use more vampire power as more devices are created with microchips and are connected to the internet.
Control or eliminate vampire power
Consult owners’ manuals and product specifications for details about how much vampire power, sometimes called “minimum power,” is used and if it is appropriate to unplug the devices. (Be aware that unplugging a device could erase personal settings or programmed data.) You can also take these steps to use less power:
- Only connect devices to chargers while they are charging. Many devices have a light or indicator that indicates when batteries are fully charged. For example, a red light may change to green;
- Do not leave chargers plugged into an outlet when a device is fully charged;
- Shut down computers instead of logging off. Turn off monitors and other external devices (like printers) instead of leaving them in sleep mode; and
- Unplug devices that are rarely used or when away from home for several days.
Power strips can be used to plug multiple devices into one wall outlet. Surge protectors serve the same purpose and protect devices from electrical surges. Regular power strips and surge protectors do not reduce vampire power unless their power switch is turned off. Turning off the main switch on the strip shuts down everything plugged into its outlets. Remember that personal settings or programmed data may be erased.
Depending on the surge protector and its joule rating, it may or may not protect devices when its power switch is off. Generally, the higher the joule rating, the greater the protection. The best way to protect against a power surge is to unplug everything from the electrical outlet.
There are also “smart” power strips, or advanced power strips, that automatically shut down devices in standby mode and eliminate vampire power. According to ENERGY STAR® there are three types of advanced power strips:
- Timer-equipped—turns on or off at a designated time.
- Occupancy sensing—controlled by a motion detector.
- Current sensing—automatically turns outlets off or on when it detects a device either enters a low-powered sleep mode, is turned off, or is turned on.
Used in combination with monitor power management features, these power strips can automatically turn on and off almost any electric device. Many smart strips also have one or two unmonitored, always-on outlets to plug in devices that always need power, like cordless phone bases, Wi-Fi, or alarm systems. Advanced power strips are typically more expensive than other power strips or surge protectors.
Measure vampire power
Devices vary in vampire power usage. Consumers may wonder how much they can really save by using the tips above. Kilowatt meters can be purchased to measure the power used by a device in use and in standby mode. Some public libraries may have kilowatt meters available for patrons to use.
To calculate electricity usage, plug the meter into a wall outlet and plug the device into the meter. A meter is a great tool for learning about a household’s specific power consumption and may help with deciding what tips are best to use in the home.
Consider energy efficiency
When shopping for new electronic devices and appliances, keep energy efficiency in mind. Devices with the ENERGY STAR® logo use less electricity and are energy efficient. Go to www.energystar.gov for complete list of qualified devices. Ratings for these devices change so energy efficiency is typically greater in new items.
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