Taking the Bite Out of ‘Vampire’ Electrical Costs

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Our increasing desire for “always-on” technology is boosting our electrical bills in the form of “vampire” energy loss, a new report shows.

The report from the nonprofit Natural Resources Defense Council — “Home Idle Load: Devices Wasting Huge Amounts of Electricity When Not in Active Use” — found that consumers pay an average of $19 billion per year to power such devices. That’s an average of $165 per year per household.

“Always-on” technologies include electronics, appliances and other equipment that people leave plugged in to an outlet. In such situations, the devices continue to draw electricity, even when they are not in use. It’s like leaving your car idling in your garage.

According to NRDC and the Stanford Sustainable Systems Lab’s analysis of the energy uses in more than 70,000 California homes, “always-on” technologies that are responsible for idle loads fall into the following categories:

  1. Electronics (e.g., TVs, cable boxes, computers, their peripherals): Responsible for 51 percent of the idle load on average
  2. Other miscellaneous (e.g., recirculation pumps, towel heaters, ground fault circuit interrupter outlets): 34 percent
  3. Kitchen and laundry appliances: 6 percent
  4. Lighting: 5 percent
  5. Heating and cooling: 4 percent
  6. Electrical-vehicle chargers: 1 percent

Fortunately, there are simple, low-cost methods of reducing one’s energy bill, such as:

  • Unplug devices that are no longer or rarely in use.
  • To facilitate easily switching off multiple devices, use power strips. Make sure to choose “advanced power strips,” which help prevent energy loss.
  • Adjust power settings, such as disabling instant-on and quick-start models and enabling sleep modes.

NRDC also recommends Energy Star appliances, which use less power when active and minimize idle load when inactive.

For a better understanding of which devices in your home use the most power in idle mode, the easiest ways to estimate your idle load are as follows:

  • Visit Home Energy Analytics’ “Unplug Stuff” website.
  • Find your home’s usage data on your utility’s website
  • Read your electrical meter while your home is in idle mode.
  • Buy a simple power meter like the Kill A Watt to measure your devices’ energy consumption. They’re less than $20 online. Or, ask your local library if it has one you can borrow.

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