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Which devices are wasting your electricity?

Not all electronic devices waste electricity, but more and more devices are consuming electricity even when they are "turned off".  Consider the following list of devices that you can find in most homes:

  • Televisions
  • Computers
  • DVD/CD Players
  • Laptops
  • Stereos & Home Theaters
  • iPods & other MP3 Players
  • Cellular Phones
  • Printers & Fax Machines
  • Computer Networking Devices (routers, cable modems, etc.)
  • Electric Razors
  • Video Game Consoles
  • Any Rechargeable Device (cordless screwdrivers, flashlights, etc.)

In general, any electric device that uses a remote control, has an on/off indicator that is always enabled or keeps a rechargable device running even after charged is a likely culprit to be wasting electricity.  Some devices, like your stove or microwave, use a little electricity to keep clocks running, but are not practical to control or monitor.  Other devices, like sweepers or can openers, are probably not using any electricity when not in use, but can be checked with an electricity monitor just to be sure.

How do these devices waste electricity?

Most devices on the above list will consume electricity, even when they are turned off or are done charging.  Televisions and stereos, for example, use a little bit of electricity to allow the remote control to turn the device back on.  Rechargeable devices, like iPods and laptops, continue to use small amounts of electricity even after the device is fully charged.  Some chargers and charging docks will continue to use electricity even when there is no device attached - cordless tools, for example, are notorious for using a red/green LED indicator on the charger that stays lit even when there is nothing being charged.

A typical family may have multiple cellular phones, iPods, stereos, televisions, computers and DVD players.  Individually these devices do not have much impact on your utility bills.  But when you consider that a family of four could easily have 20 or more of these devices all consuming electricity needlessly, the annual amount of wasted energy grows significantly.

What can I do to waste less?

Studies have shown that simply monitoring your electricity usage is typically enough to change habits and cut the waste.  There are many options for monitoring your electricity usage, including "whole house" and "plug-in" electricity monitors.  These devices vary in sophistication and features, but most of them will be able to show you how much electricity is being used by devices when they aren't in use.  "Whole house" monitors cannot isolate individual devices, but can be used to show how changes in habit effect the electricity being used.  "Plug-In" monitors allow you to isolate a specific device (like a printer), or a group of devices (like a computer or home theater).  Some monitors will allow you to assign a dollar amount per kWh (killowatt-hour), which is used to approximate the amount of money being wasted based on your local utility rates.

When monitoring alone isn't enough, some electricity usage monitors allow you to cut power to a group of devices when the control device is not in use.  Consider your home theater as an example.  Using a control-enabled power strip, you could cut power to the stereo, DVD player, CD player and video game system when the television is turned off.  This would save electricity by not allowing the peripheral devices to turn on unless the television was turned on.

What can I do to get started?

A good start would be to purchase a low-cost "plug-in" electricity monitor and begin checking individual devices and groups of devices in your home.  This will give you an idea of how much electricity you are wasting, and could be enough to change your family's habits.  You can find an entry-level "plug-in" electricity monitor for under $30.