How to slay energy vampires

There are demons that can suck the life force from you — and you unknowingly invited them into your home. Vampire electronics may not suck your blood, but they’ll drain you of nickels and dimes for every dollar you spend on energy.

The Cost of Vampire Energy

Vampire energy is the electricity that electronics and appliances drain from the power grid when you aren’t using them. Some electronics that are turned off still suck energy in standby mode, especially those with the following features:

  • Internal clock
  • External clock display
  • Panel display LED
  • Remote control sensor
  • Battery charger
  • Power-conversion pack
  • Portable units with a base (such as a cordless phone)

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, vampire electronics are responsible for 5-10% of residential energy use. In other words, if you slay your energy vampires, and you’ll see a noticeable difference in your energy bills. CNN reported that you might have as many as 50 vamps lurking in your midst:

Alan Meier of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory has been studying vampire electronics for years. “Each home now has anywhere from 10 to 50 of these products, so that adds up and represents as much as a month of your electricity bill,” he says. We plugged a DVD player that wasn’t even playing a DVD into a watt meter, and it showed consumption of 11.32 watts with the power on. “I’ve turned it off, and now its drawing six watts,” Meier says…Meier’s home computer is just standing by. But it’s drawing 65 watts.

I’m definitely guilty of letting energy vampires run amok in my own home. In fact, as I was writing this, I decided to take a look around to see what electronics were plugged in and running up the electric bill. I found the following:

  • 2 laptops
  • Printer
  • Back-up drive
  • 2 sets of speakers
  • 5 lamps
  • Clock radio
  • Camera battery charger
  • 2 phone chargers
  • Television
  • DVD player
  • Microwave

I should pull the cord on most of these electronics, like the extra laptop that rarely gets used, the printer, the back-up drive, and the chargers, but they stay plugged in day after day.

Put a Stake Through Vampire Power

So how do you dust these energy vamps? There are two factors to consider: One is energy efficiency, and the other is whether the device is on or off.

  • The first thing to consider is a device’s overall energy efficiency, since in-use energy used can often be more important than standby energy if an appliance sucks a particularly large amount of power. The U.S. EnergyStar program provides energy efficiency ratings for various categories of electronics, so begin your search there when shopping for energy-efficient appliances, light bulbs, water heaters, windows, and more. While it’s not possible for most slayers to replace all of their appliances and electronics, you can start to slowly swap older devices with energy-efficient ones when you need to replace something.
  • Second, take care of the vamps in your home. Unplug chargers and adapters when you aren’t using them. When that’s not practical (because you don’t want to reset your clock 10 times a day or shutdown and unplug your computer every time you use it), consider a power strip like the Wattstopper Plug Load Control or Smart Strip Power Strip, which work two different ways to lower your bills.

The Wattstopper ($90) uses a “personal sensor” to turn off power after a device has been idle for a user-defined time period. The Smart Strip ($35) can sense when devices are on or off and shuts off power supply accordingly. According to the Smart Strip website, independent consultant tests showed that it can “save enough energy to pay for itself in as little as six weeks…up to $20 per month on your electric bill.”

Your wooden stake power strip will pay for itself.
J.D.’s note: Now’s a good time to remind you of the Kill-a-Watt electricity usage monitor. This little gadget detects how much power your appliances use so that you can make smart decisions about electricity. You only need to use the Kill-a-Watt about once every year. So, do what we did: Buy one and loan it to all your friends so that they can find the energy vampires in their homes.
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