NRECA's Straight Talk Alert
CRN Consumer Product Review
Slaying Energy Vampires
with Smart Strips
By Brian Sloboda
As children, most of us were told to turn off the TV when no
one was in the room to keep from wasting energy. But with today's
televisions, turning off the set doesn't save as much energy as you
think. "Off" doesn't really mean off anymore.
Several devices found inside your home are commonly referred
to as "parasitic loads," "phantom loads," or
"energy vampires," consuming electricity even when switched
off. Phantom loads can be found in almost every room, but a favorite
"coffin" is your entertainment center.
Most TVs today slowly sip electricity while waiting
patiently for someone to press the "on" button. They also use
energy to remember channel lineups, language preferences, and the time.
VCRs, DVD players, DVRs, and cable or satellite boxes also use energy
when we think they're turned off.
Studies show that in an average home, 5 to 8 percent of
electricity consumption stems from phantom loads. To put that in
perspective, the average North American household consumes roughly 10,800
kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity per year. If you estimate that 6.5
percent of your total electricity consumption comes from phantom loads,
the amount drained by these vampires equals about 700 kWh annually or $70
So how can you tell which devices are okay to leave
plugged in and which need to have a wooden stake driven through their
Identify Plug Parasites
Microwave ovens and alarm clocks, which use relatively small
amounts of standby power, are acceptable to leave plugged in. A digital
video recorder (DVR) uses a fairly significant amount of power when
turned off, but if you record programs frequently you will want to leave
it plugged in.
You don't have to worry about unplugging items with
mechanical on/off switches, such as lamps, hair dryers, or small kitchen
appliances like toasters or mixers, they don't draw any power when turned
How do you slay other energy vampires? Try plugging
household electronics like personal computers, monitors, printers,
speakers, stereos, DVD and video game players, and cell phone chargers
into power strips. Not only do power strips protect sensitive electronic
components from power surges, you can quickly turn off several items at
once. (Routers and modems also can be plugged into power strips, although
they take longer to reactivate.)
Smart Strips = Easy Savings
Power strips, however, are often hidden behind entertainment
centers or under desks and forgotten. A better solution may be found in
Most smart strips feature three outlet colors, each with a
unique task. The blue outlet serves as a control plug, and is ideal for a
heavily used device like a TV or computer. Anything plugged into red
outlets stays on, electricity to these receptacles never cuts off, making
them perfect for satellite boxes or other appliances that need constant
The remaining outlets, generally neutral or green in color,
are sensitive to current flowing through the blue outlet, so turning off
the TV or computer cuts power to them as well. Some smart power strips
can be made even smarter with timers or occupancy sensors that determine
when to cut power to various devices.
Smart strips are available online or at specialty electronic
retailers and generally cost $20 or more depending on their size. Payback
generally can be achieved in under one year, depending on the type of
equipment the strips control and how often they are used.
Maybe our parents asked us to turn the TV off because
vampires, phantoms, and parasites haunted their electric bills. These
days, smart strips can chase these load monsters away from your home-and
Brian Sloboda is a program manager specializing in energy
efficiency for the Cooperative Research Network, a service of the
Arlington, Va.-based National Rural Electric Cooperative Association.
The Cooperative Research Network monitors, evaluates, and
applies technologies that help electric cooperatives control costs,
increase productivity, and enhance service to their consumers. Additional
research provided by ESource.