Vampire Electronics Suck Power Even While "Off"

As long as they’re still plugged in, most appliances are still sucking energy out of the wall, and dollars out your wallet. GOOD magazine made another one of their pretty graphs, this time featuring a large vampire, to show how much energy and money devices continue to leech. Some people, to combat this vampiric gadget effect, have most of their devices hooked up on powerstrips so they can fully cut power to all non-essential items with just a flick of a few switches.

Vampire Energy [GOOD Magazine]

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  1. Jeff_McAwesome says:

    Yawn. This same story has been repeated over and over on news shows for the past few years. Everybody already knows about this.

  2. choinski says:

    That is, until they figure out how much a power strip leeches electricity.

  3. chipslave says:

    so I should unplug my cordless phones when I am not using them? dumb.

  4. AlteredBeast (blaming the OP one article at a time.) says:

    I am not clear on this active standby for plasma tvs and PCs….the example given is that passive standby is the microwave clock, but active is a vcr programed to record. Why is a PC turned off, or a tv turned off, active more so than a clock on a microwave. Nothing appears to be on at all (except maybe the “standby” light on a tv).

  5. Ben Popken says:

    @chipslave: No, just “Non-essential items.” So make sure to also not put your great aunt’s iron lung on that power strip either.

  6. forgottenpassword says:

    That’s a LOT of powerstrips to buy!

    Also…. wouldnt you lose the memory settings if you did this with vcrs & tvs?

  7. Kezzerxir says:

    I’d pay 2.51 a month not to have to plug my TV in every time I want to watch it.

  8. girly says:

    I am extremely paranoid and think that leaving stuff plugged in for some items can be a fire hazard, so I actually do put a lot of items on a power strip and then I only have to unplug the power strip (I am also paranoid about the power strip failing).

    Looks like I need to add the TV to my list!

  9. girly says:

    @Kezzerxir: I wouldn’t do it every time, just if I was going out, or maybe for the night. That probably sounds like a hassle, too, though. ;)

  10. ancientsociety says:

    @girly: I do that too!

  11. chipslave says:

    @Ben Popken:

    I live in a twin home and just run an extension cord from the neighbors for that Ben! LOL

  12. SaveMeJeebus says:

    I only unplug my Dora lamp and that is because it will burst into flames if I don’t.

  13. scampy says:

    Wow, there are some real cheapskates out there. Im sorry but excluding the plasma TV if you have everything on this list you save a measly $116 or so over the course of a YEAR. This is NOT worth the convenience of having to power everything on every time you want to use it. Not to mention reprogramming all the clocks and settings associated with these devices. They are in standby as a convenience. They start up faster and retain settings by getting a trickle voltage.

  14. zentec says:

    At least this story does a better job of identifying things that might make sense to turn off. Other people shilling this topic tell you to unplug your cell phone charger and you’ll save a lot of money through the year.

    In the shop, we tested that theory with both a switched mode cell charger and a linear supply cell phone charger. Yep, you’ll save money if you unplug them, about 60 cents per year spent on idle time.

    It’s also important to note that all of the switched mode power supply failures I’ve encountered were when the supply was brought up from cold start. But if the computer is plugged in for years, darned thing never had a problem. Let it get cold and things start exploding.

    Of course, I simply see no sense in leaving my home computer running so I can leave some instant messenger on telling “my friends” that I’m out. That seems a bit wasteful. But hey, it’s their money.

  15. scatyb says:

    Ya know, I went ahead and installed flourescent bulbs in my house and that has saved me alot of money; probably close to $200 and I didn’t have to keep plugging/unplugging things.

  16. girly says:

    @ancientsociety: LOL!

    @zentec: “Let it get cold and things start exploding.” Noooooooooooooo! :( new worry ;)

  17. armour says:

    @scampy:

    Your missing the point manufactures should be using batteries that can charge when in use and hold the settings and work a relay to turn the power on so you can continue to use a remote as a convenience. Add up the number of house holds and business in the US alone and you talking your measly $116 it turns in to $11,600,000,000 (this is probly a conservative estimate) just so a device can be their as a convenience due to poor manufacture design.

    I had a Sony VCR in the early 90′s that did exactly what I mentioned during power outages (even when I moved it held it’s settings for 5 days)

  18. I bought digital timers (like for Christmas lights) and plugged my TV/stereo/etc into a power strip that was plugged into the digital timer. I have it set for when I am typically home and awake… Other times it is off.

  19. kimsama says:

    @scampy: Think about the savings in aggregate. If 1000 people saved $116 per year, that is $166,000 saved. If your average city of, say, 5 million people saved $116 per year each, that’s $580,000,000 saved (granted, that’s a lot higher than the Good estimate, because not everyone has all the vampiric appliances listed and not everyone would really save $116 per year).

    In a time when our economy is tanking, thinking that $100/year makes absolutely no difference is sort of charmingly archaic. We’d be a lot better off if people thought about the big picture instead of rationalizing laziness/waste. Or we can just give our country to the Saudis, since we’re so lazy.

    Think of the implications for local governments — if the DC gov’t saved a mere $30 per office per year (turning off strips for computers and printers, say), estimating 100,000 offices, there’s funding for the floundering metro right there (3 mil). (There was a story in the WaPo a little while ago that metro offices just had light switches installed, because previously all the lights in the office buildings were just always on and that they’d save millions making the change. Ugh)

  20. AvWuff says:

    It doesn’t seem to say whether the numbers are per month, per year? I assume per year, but those numbers don’t seem quite right.

    There’s an easy way to test this yourself without spending too much money on expensive equipment:
    1. Buy a cheap voltmeter with Amp measurement capability. Make sure the Amp part supports AC voltage and can go over 120V.

    2. Cut up a power cord or extension cable, and run the “hot” wire (usually black) through the meter. That means connect like so:

    WIRE:
    _METER_
    =D———–(: :) plug appliance in here

    3. Set your meter for AC amperage measurement.
    4. Turn on your device and look at the amp value. It might be, for example, 2.5.
    5. To figure out the watts, use formula W = VA, so simply multiply your reading (2.5) by about 115, so 2.5 x 115 = 287.5 watts.
    6. To get kilowatts, divide by 1000 — so that device uses 0.2875 kilowatts. If you leave it on for one hour, it will consume 0.2875 kWh (kilowatt hours).
    7. To figure out yearly cost, multiply by 24 for one day, then 365 for one year. Then multiply the result by the cost per kWh (typically 11 cents). My result is $277 a year to operate that appliance 24/7, 365 days a year.
    8. Now turn off the device and measure it’s standby power. Most devices that have physical switches (like toaster ovens) will use 0 power when turned off.

  21. AvWuff says:

    Sorry, my diagram didn’t work, let’s try again:

    _METER_
    =D———–(: :) plug appliance in here

  22. Freedomboy says:

    Well, based on the present regulatory trends in 10,000 years or so the standards for manufacturing will be [maybe]changed to require a smarter, user adjustable, set of default power usage for these devices. Just a rough extimate based on the pace at which we have changed gssoline mileage standards and such.

    Doomed folks, the last LED lighted gizmo will go out as the tide rushes in.

  23. bbbici says:

    Most people I know don’t even turn the lights off when they leave a room. And check out all the office towers that leave lights on continually just for appearances. Flying at night recently, I was shocked to see that every farm had a bright porch light burning at 4am.

    With 99% of people being ignorant SOBs, it will be impossible to get people to minimize vampire power too.

  24. satoru says:

    @armour: This has nothing to do with bad design. Your assumption is that these devices could run on standby. For some the cost of the battery to make this feasible would cost more than the unit itself. Let’s not even get into the whole problem of when the Li-Ion batteries start exploding on you and causing house fires. Go Ni-Cad? Greenpeace will give you such bad PR about poisoning the environment etc etc. To add switching between a battery and power is another component, and thus raises the cost and potential failure rate of a product.

    Basically how do you justify to a consumer the cost of adding say $20 to a product so you can save $2/year?

  25. catnapped says:

    Even if everyone did conserve the power companies would just jack up their rates to make up for the lost revenue (and profit$$$$)…they already do that in some areas

  26. frogpelt says:

    GOOD left off a “)” .

    How could they make such a mistake?

  27. frogpelt says:

    @bbbici:

    Those weren’t bright porch lights. Those were security lights that power companies install on their power poles. I hate them. Living in the country used to mean you could see the stars when you looked up now there’s “light pollution” everywhere.

  28. ancientsociety says:

    @girly: Unfortunately, I think it’s an OCD thing. Everyday when I leave for work or whatever, I make it a point, even if I’m late, to walk around and make sure I unplugged most “fire hazards”. Then, I’ll stand at the front door, go thru it in my head, and leave. If I realize when I’m gone that I left something plugged in, it’ll make me nervous for hours. Pretty sad, but kind of funny.

  29. forever_knight says:

    wow. people are really lazy. who wouldn’t want an extra $100 per year FOREVER?

    use smart switches (i think that’s what they are called) if you are extremely lazy.

  30. MelL says:

    @ancientsociety: I do the exact thing! I’ve even been on the road and and turned around because I thought I left something turned on. If not, I’ll think about it the entire time I’m at work.

  31. Kelleah says:

    Wow. I love it people tie finances to morality. It makes me feel so much better about the human race.

  32. Lucid504 says:

    Does noone not have a digital cable box or satellite box?If you do that you would always lose your settings and then it takes it hours to come back and then if you got a dvr and you set it to record something late at night or in the morning then you wont have it recorded.. My LCD tv has a mode that you can tell it not to go into standby

  33. ShortBus says:

    @scampy: $116/yr @ 4.2% compound interest (the current rate offered by high-interest rate savings accounts, like ING Direct) is almost $1,500 after ten years.

    Think of it as getting a free TV every decade, if that makes you feel any better.

  34. faust1200 says:

    For me the savings doesn’t outweigh the fact much of my electronics would either need to be reprogrammed or reconfigured somehow after being powered down. They could engineer electronics to use very little or no electricity when off if “they” wanted to.

  35. kityglitr says:

    You’re kidding me. People are still parroting this crappy logic? I’m glad my pc monitor has a stand by mode. How much more money would I lose by leaving the monitor on all the time? Seems to me that’s the reason standby was created… people leave their electronics on all the time!
    Sheesh.

  36. Munsoned says:

    Didn’t consumerist do a post a while back on the time value of money? Sorry, hHaving to manually unplug/replug every time I want to use a device does not meet my minimum threshold. ANGRYSICILIAN’s idea is a good one. Short of that, not worth my time (yes, I’d like to spend $1500 over ten years for the luxury of being lazy–if I over-finance the electric utility, and they send those profits down to their investors through dividends, isn’t that helping the economy too?).

  37. girly says:

    @ancientsociety: sorry to hear.

    i do worry a bit but not too much because i figure if all else fails, that’s what insurance is for

  38. cerbie says:

    The sky is falling, the sky is falling!

    22kW/yr is 2.5W (my monitor claims <2).
    311kW/yr is 28W, which actually seems a little high to me for a PC in standby, but maybe crappy PSUs being common causes it. Never overestimate the big PC vendors. I’m actually impressed with their average DVD players and microwave numbers.

    Funny how they don’t show the passive v. active v. loaded, showing you how good your sleep modes actually are. Not a bad price to pay for being able to use the devices within seconds.

    @AlteredBeast: for the PC, at least, I can enlighten you. There are five basic power drawing states that you can be concerned with:

    1. Off, but the PSU switch is on (mains connected). All you have is the phantom power draw from the PSU circuitry and the circuitry giving you the power good LED on the mobo.

    2. Deep standby (S3, no wake-up events). Your computer is off, except that the power supply is running, and your RAM (and basic support bits) is powered, holding your data. When you press the sleep or power button, power will go the rest of the PC again, and it will be up and running like normal. This state can take under 15W, but is often a bit higher. I guess 30W isn’t hard to imagine, just bad.

    3. Not so deep standby (S3, normal wake-up events). Like the above, but your PS/2, USB, and whatever else are set up and on. This keeps much more of the computer running, and is a bit wasteful–you’re using many more watts just so you don’t have to reach for the main chassis.

    4. Idle. You have your Windows, or better OS, desktop up, maybe a few blogs, but aren’t doing anything. Typically, this will be 100W or more (but is greatly dependent on parts selection!). Exceptionally wasteful for long periods of time.

    5. Full load. You’re gaming, watching 1080P, protein folding, or something like that. 150W on up, depending on specs (figure 300W typical for a decent gaming box).

    If my bias hasn’t shown itself, S3 with nothing but the power or sleep button (big companies get sleep buttons, us DIYers have to share a button) is a great power saving option, as XP, Vista, OS X, and any modern Linux+Xorg can go from that deep sleep to back up and running like normal in just a few seconds.

    I’m guessing the TV has a similar sleep mode that is not really off, or even ‘off’ like a normal DVD player. OTOH, I doubt someone willing to drop the cash on a plasma is all that worried.

  39. Benstein says:

    For items with clocks and automatic wake-up timers, of course it is going to draw power. For items like your TV, your PC, etc., it is probably a design decision that it is better to drain power and boot up faster than to turn completely off.

  40. Buran says:

    So, uh, how do they expect devices with remote controls to respond to the power button if the receiver isn’t drawing a small amount of power to listen for that command?

  41. Buy a SmartStrip. I have one set up to my computer array and one to my TV array.

    It has a “command” outlet (blue) that controls several other outlets (white). The “command” appliance is allowed to continue to draw phantom power, but when it draws less than X kW, all the “slave” appliances are shut down and not allowed phantom power. So for my computer array, my CPU is the command appliance, and the monitor, printer, speakers, cell phone charger, etc., are all “slave” appliances that only get power when the CPU is NOT in sleep mode. When it sleeps, they all get cut off.

    For my TV array, the TV is in charge and the video game systems, DVD player, and VCR only get power when the TV is on. (This does mean if I forget to eject a disk to return it to blockbuster, I have to turn the TV on, eject, and turn it back off.) Yes, this means that my DVD player loses its time setting. I don’t care. :)

    The SmartStrips also have “always hot” outlets that are red; my desk lamp and my TiVo are in the red outlets, and are unaffected by the “command” appliance being off or on.

    They’re pricey for power strips, but there’s been a small but measurable savings on our power bill, and they are paying for themselves.

    They also have spaced-out plugs so those giant transformers don’t block three outlets. :P And it’s a higher-quality surge protector than the junk I usually buy.

  42. rdm24 says:

    @Jeff_McAwesome: Everybody should know, but I often see people on blogs like Consumerist leaving incredulous comments. One guy on this site said something like, “In my house we obey the laws of physics”.

  43. rdm24 says:

    @scampy: @kimsama:
    Yes, it’s aggregate costs.

    If everyone in California unplugged their energy leeches, we would avoid rolling blackouts, which can cost businesses millions. We reduce air pollution, which in turn keeps asthmatics out of our hospitals. We don’t have to raise our taxes to fund the building of additional power plants.

    @bbbici: There are idiots out there. And people who go to great lengths to justify inaction. And then there are people like us who pick up the slack.

  44. armour says:

    @Buran:

    Easy I mentioned it earlier a small battery awaits the remote signal and works a relay that turns on the power. when the device is operated it charges the battery for the next time it is in standby. No parasitic power draining.

  45. armour says:

    @satoru:

    A $3.00 relay and a $6 rechargeable lithium ion battery (and no there is not a fire hazard with them as they are not designed to cram maximum Amp hour out of them like laptop batteries are.

    Those prices are retail cost, mass producers would most likely to be conservative pay half that so for $4.50 in parts and a3-4 addition steps during the manufacturing process you would have a device that would sit in standby with not parasitic power draining. Over the life of the device would pay off multiple times.

    Don’t forget take the life of an average consumer product such as TV, monitor ect. that are purchased on a regular basis and the expect increase in energy cost and the saving estimates continue to grow.

    Where I live time of day billing with smart meters will mean a 40% cost increase in peak energy use and that is in the next year what the 5-10 year cost will be is any ones guess but I will say it’s not going to be going down.

    People need to stop thinking of just the now and take consideration that that TV fridges, microwave ect that you keep for the next 10 years. That the hidden operation cost will only continue to increase.

    I would like to see more products with a battery memory and be like some European hotels when you take your door key out it kills the power to the room but in a whole house Idea. With certain circuits such as heating, freezer fridge being on a constant running circuit the rest of the house gets cut.

  46. SacraBos says:

    I’d be happy if I could just get my son to turn off lights and such when he leaves the room. It seems like he can’t walk through the house without turning on every light as he goes. My son, the power vampire…

  47. hmk says:

    I realize this site is title “consumerist” but I can’t believe no one has mentioned the environmental factors. a little here and there goes a long way. I don’t think anyone can argue that using less energy overall is bad for the environment.

  48. mexifelio says:

    Can’t you just attach a large windmill to your roof to offset the drain? I’m sure the HOA will go along with it.

  49. Brian Gee says:

    @avwuff: Or just spend the $20 on one of those “Kill-a-watt” devices. I got one a while ago. Not only can you measure the instantaneous voltage/amperage/wattage of the device when its on or off, it will measure the cumulative KWH.

    Using that you could plug in your computer and determine how much it costs to boot up the computer (not just how much power it uses, but how much power it takes to get from off to “ready for work”). I’ve also used it to see what my average usage is over a 24-hour period, or over a week. Then you have more data points to determine whether its worth it to turn fully off, or just go standby.

  50. AD8BC says:

    Or just swallow the extra 5 bucks a month you spend. Jeez, some cheapies out there!

    Cable box — Why the hell would I want to wait 10 minutes for my cable box to provision itself every time I want to watch a Gomer Pyle rerun.

    Computer — I need my computer on. All the time. Because I remote desktop into it frequently.

    VCR — I don’t want to set the damn time on it every day.

    Microwave — see above

    Cell phone chargers — Good God… if you can pay for all those minutes and text messages, God help you if you can’t pay an extra 60 cents a year to keep the chargers plugged in. You spend more energy pushing the on button on a power strip then you would actually keeping it plugged in.

    CFLs… — can we just stop it with the CFLs already? I can’t replace most of the lights in my home with them as I have lots of dimmers, and the “dimmable” CFLs suck.

    Lets quit worrying about wasting energy and instead find more energy! More nuke plants. More coal plants. Let’s turn coal into oil like Hitler did when the rest of the world cut off his oil.

    I highly recommend Glenn Beck’s “An Inconvenient Book” for a great chapter on solving our energy crisis.

  51. LyricalGangster says:

    I’m with AD8BC. Residential consumers of electricity use only 21% of all energy (in the US). Commercial, Industrial, and Transportation use the rest. What portion of that residential use is vampire power? Will curbing vampire power make any dent on our real, broader energy problems? Short answer: No.

  52. Youthier says:

    No one show this to my grandpa. I finally convinced him to leave his damn VCR plugged in. For the last three years, he unplugged it after he used it everytime and then called me to reset it everytime he wanted to use it again.

    Yes, he still has a VCR.

  53. swalve says:

    @ad8bc: Thanks for the astroturf, Glenn.

  54. failurate says:

    Would a generator bicycle solve both the cost and ALGORE guilt tied to this issue?

  55. cerbie says:

    @armour: there is as much hazard with any rechargeable LI cells as with the burning laptops, except for LiFePO. Not only that, it’s the charge cycle where they’re most dangerous. Oh, then there’s the bit where the battery will need to be replaced.

    Add on to that, you’d need to be able to run the device for a long time, and I doubt you can do that with a cheap LI battery. The device(s) in question would need to use no more than a couple hundred mA at the battery’s voltage, or lower. It’s just not feasible without a radical change in how appliances are designed.

    A smart strip and UPS might do the trick, but how much added load (you know, on this Earth thing) is the creation of the UPS and replacement batteries, compared to just powering stuff at idle?

  56. deadlizard says:

    Great idea if you don’t mind clocks blinking at 12:00. It’s not just
    microwaves and VCRs now. Even my TV asks me what time it is when I plug
    it in.

  57. vampireelectronics says:

    This is quite a horrible problem and no one is bringing any attention to it. That’s why I and a team of high school students are trying to spread awareness about vampire electronics. We’ve created a blog, http://www.vampireelectronics.wordress.com, where you can find out more about this horrible issue. If you have any questions or comments, you can ask on our website or email us at vampireelectronics@yahoo.com. Thanks and hope to see your responses.