By Steve Graham, Networx
Heating and air conditioning accounts for half of energy usage in the average American home, according to the Department of Energy (DOE). Lighting and big appliances, including refrigerators, clothes washers and dryers and dishwashers, account for another big chunk of energy usage. Many homeowners have realized the substantial energy savings of replacing incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescents (CFLs) and buying a new Energy Star refrigerator, for example.
Meanwhile, our other gadgets and small appliances are taking up a larger piece of the home energy pie. I borrowed a Watts Up Power Meter from my local library, mainly to calculate the so-called vampire loads of my gadgets when they are switched off or in standby mode. Here are five items that may seem like minor energy users, but can add up to substantial energy bills because they are typically drawing power 24-7.
My cable box doesn’t really have a standby mode. The Motorola cable box draws about 17 watts whether or not I’m watching TV. It’s not a huge amount, but it’s more than any of my light bulbs, which have all been replaced with CFLs.
Also, it’s on all the time, which is not true of any lights. If I turn off the power strip with my TV and cable box, it takes a few seconds for the cable box to warm up and turn on, and several minutes to get the on-screen guide and other features working. Compared to my computer that loads in about a minute, the delay seems like an eternity.
Modem and router
My cable modem and router also draw power 24-7. The blinking lights and constant connectivity add up to about 10 watts of power usage at all times. That’s only $8 per year, assuming an average electricity cost of 10 cents per kilowatt-hour. Still, it draws more power throughout the year than most other items in my energy-efficient home.
However, if I had a DVR, its power consumption would almost certainly trump the modem and router. The National Resources Defense Council reported this year that the combination of a cable box and DVR uses more power per year than a new Energy Star refrigerator. Again, the DVR is on all the time and effectively has no standby mode. The NRDC tested several DVR models, and found some high-definition models draw more than 50 watts, even in sleep mode.
Plasma TVs are also big energy users, drawing an average of 300 watts, which is about triple the usage of an LCD television set. Even large LCD sets, however, are bigger energy users than many smaller older TVs. Still, it’s worth seeking out the Energy Star label, which means the set uses less than one watt of electricity in standby mode. Also, look for energy-saving features, including power-saver modes and sleep timers.
An air purifier is another seemingly harmless appliance that can draw more power than an energy-efficient refrigerator. A standard air purifier uses about 550 kilowatt-hours per year in electricity, according to the DOE. Energy Star-qualified purifiers are 40 percent more efficient than standard models, and should be sized appropriately for the space.
Dehumidifiers are another big electricity hog. If you need a dehumidifier, look for an Energy Star model.
These may or may not be the biggest energy hogs in your home. To find out, I recommend borrowing a power meter from your library or utility company. If that’s not an option, buy one. You should be able to make up the cost through electric bill savings. Pay particularly attention to everything in your home that is powered up 24-7.