Vampires at home? Household items draining energy

Experts at the Lawrence Berkley National Laboratory have analyzed the consumption of "standby" power by many common household items.

Experts at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory have analyzed the consumption of “standby” power by many common household items.

Not using that coffee maker? Turn it off and unplug it. The same goes for your computer and your fax machine.

Like vampires, household appliances quietly suck up electricity while you sleep and while you’re away at work. This is true even if you’ve completely shut down the item, but still have it plugged into a wall outlet. The Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California tells us that between 5 and 10 percent of all the electricity consumed by residential users comes from devices not in use.

The Texas Coalition for Affordable Power has analyzed data provided by the Berkeley Lab to get a sense as to how much these vampire devices are costing you. We’ve found that idled laser printers and similar multi-use devices may put you out $50 to $130 a year. Digital cable boxes also are big energy hogs.

According to the Berkeley Lab, this often wasteful expenditure of so-called “standby” power contributes to about 1 percent of global CO2 emissions. “Almost any product with an external power supply, remote control, continuous display (including an LED), or (that) charges batteries will draw power continuously,” the Lab explained in an online report.

StandbyPowerChartWhile it’s impractical to turn off or unplug all these items when they’re not in use, our analysis shows that consumers can save $100 or more each year by simply remembering to turn off or unplug many of them. The Berkeley Lab also says that new technologies can help consumers reduce the expenditure of standby power by as much as 75 percent.

This chart shows our estimates for standby power costs for various household items on an annualized basis. We made these determinations by examining both wattage data for these items (as reported by the Berkeley Lab) and average electricity prices for Texas (as reported by the United States Energy Information Administration). Among the more mundane findings: your coffee maker may be costing you more than $1 per year — even when it’s not making coffee. Among the more absurd findings: it would cost you nearly $1,500 — the price of a serviceable used car — if you left your microwave running for the year.

One final note: an expert at the Berkeley Lab has cautioned that their wattage data is a few years old, and that energy efficiency ratings have improved for many of the items they’ve reviewed. Take for instance, cell phone chargers. “Most chargers are now so efficient that their measured standby is nominally zero — so small that it’s less than the measurement error of the meters,” says Alan Meier of the Berkeley Lab.

But the expert also noted that despite the gains, many of the other older items remain in use and so their analysis remains relevant.

– R.A. Dyer

What is the Texas Coalition for Affordable Power?

TCAP is a coalition of more than 160 cities and other political subdivisions that purchase electricity in the deregulated market for their own governmental use. Because high energy costs can impact municipal budgets and the ability to fund essential services, TCAP, as part of its mission, actively promotes affordable energy policies. High energy prices also place a burden on local businesses and home consumers.