Vampire Appliances Cause Higher Electric Bills

Set-top boxes consumed the annual output of 9 coal-fired power plants in 2010.

June 15, 2011, 11:50 AM

June 15, 2011— -- Is your electric bill through the roof? If so, take a look around your home. There may be appliances acting like vampires -- sucking up energy even though the power is switched off.

Watch "World News with Diane Sawyer" for more on this story tonight on ABC.

The Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental action group based in Washington D.C., recently released a study on television set-top boxes that said two-thirds of energy use occurs when viewers are not watching or recording content. The amount of electricity required to operate the approximately 160 million boxes across the country is equal to the annual household consumption of the entire state of Maryland.

"If you hit the on/off button all it does is dim the lights," said Noah Horowitz of the NRDC. "It's not really turning off the power. It does next to nothing."

Adding to that, the ever-popular DVR typically uses 40 percent more energy per year than the devices that don't record material.

In all, Americans spend $2 billion each year to power the boxes when they're not even using them. But cable and satellite boxes aren't the only appliances that will leave you seeing red.

"Ten percent of your home's electricity is going to power things when they're not in use," said Horowitz.

Take A Bite Out of Your Energy Bill

Consumer electronics are one of the fastest growing devourers of electricity in households. According to Horowitz, they may represent up to 20 percent of the overall usage throughout the year. While some home staples like the refrigerator and the air conditioner may have become more efficient, most new electronics consume electricity 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

The biggest offenders, said Horowitz, are video game consoles, if left on after the gamer is done playing.

"If you leave your Xbox 360 or Playstation 3 on, it will continue to consume roughly 70 watts of power 24/7," he said. "If you run the math, that's equal to the annual energy of a new refrigerator and waste of over $60 a year."

The good news? If you remember to hit the power button the system will consume less than one watt. There's even a way to set most consoles to power down automatically after they are idle for a period of time.

According to Horowitz, just about anything with a remote control is using power to continue to send a signal to the appliance. Other phantom power burners are appliances with any kind of display.

"Things with a digital display, like a microwave, iPod docking station...will continue to consume power," he said.

Other popular household staples, like modems and routers that ensure constant connectivity to the Internet, are constantly running and don't have the option to go to sleep to conserve power.

Unfortunately, many of these machines aren't built to unplug on a regular basis.

"What we really need is these products to sleep when we're sleeping and the ability to wake up when we wake up and want to use them," said Horowitz. "When they're designing them they need to make energy efficiency a priority."

There are about a dozen other products that also consume low levels of power when they're technically off, but they emit very low levels of electricity.

"Cordless phones, cell phone charges left plugged in with nothing attached, dust buster," said Horowitz. "Due to progress made by the industry almost all of these devices use one watt or less in standby mode and some are considerably lower."

There are a few ways to save energy on your household staples, like computers. Horowitz says you should make sure the power management in enabled by setting it to a low-powered sleep mode after extended periods of idleness.

For new flat panel televisions, users should make sure they are set to "home" mode.

"Picking the home, instead of the overly bright retail setting, can help cut your TV energy use by up to 20 percent," said Horowitz.

Horowitz urges people to call their service providers and ask for more efficient products.

"It's we the consumer who pay the electric bill," he said. "Not the service provider."

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