Standby Mode Turns Appliances Into Money Suckers

by David Ning · 7 comments

This is a guest article by Willfrid, a fellow financial blogger that likes to find new frugal ideas. Check out his blog Your Finish Rich Plan, a blog that puts the emphasis on the personal in personal finance.

Why do power adapters have to be so bulky? On second thought, maybe I should be grateful that they are. See, I had to move a couple of them around the power strip in my room in order to plug in my laptop when I realized my cell phone charger was much warmer than usual, even though nothing was plugged into it. So I unplugged it, but after a while I found myself googling “hot cell phone charger”. The first result that came up was from TreeHugger: “Unplug Your Cell Phone Charger“. I was floored: only 5% of the power drawn by my cell phone charger is actually used to charge my phone? The other 95% is wasted when I leave it plugged into the wall, but not into your phone. This triggered another round of Google searches, the end result of which is this here post about standby power and how it translate into real dollars out of our pockets.

A surprisingly large number of electrical products — from air conditioners to VCRs — cannot be switched off completely without being unplugged. These products draw power 24 hours a day, often without our knowledge. Standby power, also called vampire power, refers to the electric power consumed by these appliances while they are switched off or in a standby mode. For any single appliance, the consumption is usually not much, but when we add up the power use of the billions of appliances in the U.S., the power consumption of appliances that are not being used is substantial.

Some Eye Opening Facts
Anything with an external power supply, remote control, or clock display require standby electricity. The typical American home has 20 electrical appliances that are constantly costing us money. With the above criteria in mind, I did a quick check around my house and counted 4 TVs, 2 cable receivers, 4 stereos, 6 cell phone chargers, 1 microwave, 1 stove, 2 DVD players, 1 PS3, 1 PS2, 1 desktop computer, and 2 alarm clocks. At that point I wasn’t even interested in making sure I didn’t miss anything, because all those appliances continue to suck electricity even when they’re off.

For example, your TV is actually turned on all the time even though it looks like it’s off. It is constantly preheating the picture tube and powering the receiver for the remote, just waiting to be “turned on”. According to a Cornell University energy expert, these so-called “vampire” appliances cost consumers an estimated $3 billion a year — or about $200 per household.

Electrical appliances use energy even when switched off in order to support features such as timers, clocks, memory and remote “on” and “off” switches. “Satellite receivers for televisions and VCRs, among other appliances, use almost as much electricity when they are switched off as when they are on”

Satellite TV systems and some DVD players, for example, each cost about $9 a year for standby power; an energy-thirsty TV can cost more than $10 a year.

The standby power of a computer monitor only costs about $3 a year when the computer is shut down nights and weekends. However, if the computer’s “sleep” function is used, the power costs $41 a year for those nights and weekends — almost as much as the $57 a year it costs to run the computer just on weekdays.

Worldwide, standby power consumes an average of 7 percent of a home’s total electricity bill, although that figure is as much as 25 percent in some homes. In Australia, standby power accounts for 13 percent of total energy use; in Japan it accounts for 12 percent; and in the United States, 5 percent.

According to America’s Department of Energy, national residential electricity consumption in 2004 was 1.29 billion megawatt hours (MWh)-5% of which is 64m MWh. The wasted energy, in other words, is equivalent to the output of 18 typical power stations.

Some studies have suggested that the total phantom load caused by the United States alone would provide enough power to handle the electric needs of Vietnam, Peru, and Greece.

Increasing the efficiency of appliances would cut standby power consumption by about 90 percent, according to a recent study by the International Energy Agency in France.

The vast majority of consumers aren’t even aware that electrical appliances continue to draw electricity when switched off. And even if they were aware, they would not be able to purchase more efficient alternative, because no regulation requires manufacturers to label how much electricity their appliances draw when off.

What can we, the consumers, do about this?

  • If timers and other features aren’t being used, turn off our most power-hungry appliances by plugging them into fuse-protected power strips, also known as surge protectors.
  • When choosing a new appliance, research if it uses less than 1 watt of standby power by accessing web sites such as this.
  • Encourage our U.S. representatives to support legislation that would require labeling of appliances with their standby energy requirements (that could be years off)

A couple power strips is a small price to pay for an estimated $200/year savings. Now if only I could find a way around the cable receiver’s 5 minute reboot cycle…

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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Alex Le April 15, 2008 at 9:02 pm

No doubt these appliances consume power non-stop. Personally I have my desktop computer on 24/7 (it’s originally a Dell SC420 server). Sometimes I feel bad about leaving it on all the time at home when I go to work, but then I can end up needing a file back home so I need to remote desktop back. My desktop alone probably consume quite a bit of power everyday and I am conscious about this fact. It is the cost for convenience.

I think people should be aware more about the “idling” power consumption and having something like the EnergyStar to regulate will definitely help.

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Ann April 16, 2008 at 8:45 am

I’ve been aware for years that these things use electricity even when not in use. Because of that, I do use power strips or I unplug the item when it’s not in use. Every little bit helps and I don’t like spending my hard-earned money for nothing.

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Lance April 16, 2008 at 10:54 am

This really got me thinking about all the things I have plugged in at home. And I unplugged a couple of things. Thanks for the reminder on this.

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Lance September 9, 2008 at 1:17 am

i hate this website it sucks.

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Ann September 9, 2008 at 1:20 am

Hey how could you say that.but this remind mi of ur buddly sh.t face bleh.

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mr.pete February 23, 2010 at 6:06 pm

Look into a remote controlled power strip. I realize it is more convenient to leave a tv or any other electronic device on standby for a quick power on. A remote controlled power strip could offer the convenience of powering on devices from a distance, while leaving electronic devices off and not drawing any power.

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Wilfred Tierno March 10, 2012 at 11:33 am

The first choice who exercises power with honor will continue to work internally, you start with himself.
The buck stops using the guy who signs the checks.

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