Energy vampires are annoying, sucking the money out of your bank account through your power bill. You don't need a silver bullet or wooden stake to slay them.
Sometimes you just need a new power strip.
By energy vampires, I'm not talking about boring or exhausting people. I'm talking about devices that continue to use electricity as long as they're plugged in, whether they're being used or not.
Appliances like your hair dryer, microwave and printer might keep draining energy when you're not using them. If just one device uses a watt of energy but it's using it 24 hours a day, seven days a week and 365 days a year, it could cost you a dollar or more per year. That may be a drop in the bucket on its own, but what if there are 100 of them in your house?
"Anything that has little bricks attached to it that's warm to the touch is just pulling energy out of the wall all the time," said Vivian Loftness, a professor and former head of the School of Architecture at Carnegie Mellon University. I had asked Loftness about energy-saving tactics and energy vampires came up.
The best approach is to unplug them. But you probably don't want to have to plug everything back in whenever you want to use it.
To defeat some of these vampires, Loftness told me, you might just need a smart power strip.
How smart power strips work
Think about the parts of your home where a lot of different electrical appliances work together. The area around your TV is a good example. You've got your TV, but also perhaps a streaming stick, a Blu-ray player, a video game console, a speaker system and maybe even a VCR or a cassette rewinder if you're old school.
The fact is, you probably don't need to have all these devices on all the time. But as long as these devices are plugged in, they're potentially consuming energy. "If the TV's off, you don't need any of it," Loftness said.
With a smart power strip, one outlet -- one device -- controls several other outlets or devices. If the control device is turned off, the power is turned off to all of the others that are controlled by it. And it's turned off at the power strip level, which means no more vampires.
"You don't have to play around with turning off every little object," Loftness said. "Just turn off the big guy and a subset will be turned off automatically."
This energy-saving surge protector from APC has one primary outlet, four outlets controlled by that outlet, and three independent outlets. So if you want your monitor and computer speakers to stay off unless your computer is on but you want to keep your printer on -- so you'll be able to print something from your phone while in the other room, for example -- you can do all that from one power strip.
Where does a smart power strip make sense?
The textbook example, as I said, is the TV setup. It's not only the most logical because of the way everything works together. The TV area might have one of the "most frightening of energy vampires," according to the US Department of Energy. Some cable boxes in particular can burn 25 to 45 watts of energy when off. Forty-five watts for a year is about 400 kilowatt-hours, or about $63 a year at the US average price for electricity of 16 cents per kWh in April 2023.
Loftness also recommends smart power strips for your stereo setup, if you still have a stereo. "If you still have all that, you can let the amplifier be the master and everything else is off," she said.
Your home office might also make sense. If you have a lot of computer peripherals you only use when the computer is on -- a backup hard drive, a printer, a scanner, a monitor, speakers -- a power strip controlled by the computer might save you plenty of money. "All of them are going to have little glow lights" -- and those consume energy, Loftness said.
Loftness recommends against smart power strips for your kitchen, as most appliances operate independently.
The bottom line
The main value of this tool? You don't have to change up your behavior.
"You don't even touch the power strip. If I turn off the TV, it will send a message through the TV to the power strip to say the mother has gone to bed, all the children can go to bed," Loftness said. "It's really easy. It's the same thing with your computer. You just turn off the computer and everything else. You don't have to lean over, find all the plugs, unplug them or turn off a red light or anything. You just do your normal thing and it takes all the vampire nodes down."
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