I’ve heard a lot about “vampire loads” lately: appliances that suck electricity even when you have turned them off. But before today, I didn’t have the technology required to hunt them down. Vampire hunting sounded like a fun way to spend an unseasonably cool summer day, so I headed to Frances Anderson Center to equip myself for the hunt.
The City of Edmonds, using a portion of their federal Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant funds, purchased several small portable watt-meters for use by individual home and business owners for just this purpose. The meters are available for checkout from the front desk at Frances Anderson Center, and in fact, I was the first customer!
There were two meter styles to choose from, the “Kill-A-Watt” meter, and the Belkin “Conserve Insight” meter. Kill-A-Watt is a single device, a little larger than a large smartphone, while the Belkin device has a separate plug and meter, making it easier to fit into tight places. I opted for the Belkin (shown in the photo).
Now I’m a bit of a self-admitted energy geek, so I wasn’t expecting to find a hidden $100 load, but I was still curious to see if any of my appliances and electronics were significant Vampires. I was also curious to see what the difference was between the power used by my desktop and laptop computers, which turned out to be quite significant.
To help me keep track of all of the numbers, I drafted a spreadsheet. For each device, such as my TV, I recorded the power it consumed when OFF, when ON, and, for some devices that had a standby feature, I recorded power in STANDBY. A copy of this spreadsheet is posted on our GoogleDocs website, so you can download an Excel copy, or use the GoogleDocs version online, for your own measurements.
I had a long list of potential vampire hiding spots at the outset. I’d heard that cell phone chargers and other chargers continue to drain power even when the devices are no longer charging. Myth busted. I tested two cell phone chargers, an iPod/iPad charger, and several laptop power supplies – none of them drew power with the device unplugged. And, with a fully charged device, these chargers were only drawing about 1/2 of a Watt to maintain charge. Simply not worth the effort to invest in the fancy gadgets on the market now to manage your charging devices.
Then came the entertainment center. I have read that televisions and DVD players that have remotes are vampires. Well… apparently not mine, as again, each device consumed less than a Watt when in OFF or STANDBY. Good news, but I wanted to find some vampires!
What about gaming systems and cable TV boxes? I have a bit of an advantage here, as my kids only have one gaming system, a Wii. The Wii is well-known for its low energy usage (and high energy games for the kids!), which was confirmed by measurement. Anyone having an XBox or PS3 might have a different story to tell, as several studies have shown them to use from 60W to over 200W, even when ”off”! And cable boxes… we only use internet TV, so I was unable to confirm the recent Seattle Times story about set-top cable boxes being such enormous energy hogs.
It turns out, I only had two real Vampires, and they were both quite small compared to, say, a set-top cable box or an XBox. I have two small stereos, one consumes 6.8W in standby, the other, which has a powered subwoofer, consumes 15W in standby. A few easy corrective actions reduced these to zero. For the first stereo, I plugged it into a power strip, which I then use to completely turn it off, vice placing it in Standby. For the second stereo, I used the power switch on the subwoofer to turn it off all the way – a switch that I previously didn’t even know existed.
And what about the laptop vs. desktop computer? While not technically a vampire hunt, I thought it would be a good to know how these two stack up. The desktop PC varied in power consumption based on how busy the computer was in executing commands, but the general range of power consumption was 60-110 W. My trusty old laptop, doing similar work, only consumed 20-30 W; a savings of up to 80 Watts! So, guess I’m sticking with the laptop.
Do you have vampires lurking in your house? I’d be willing to bet you do. If you live in Edmonds, go check out a free energy meter from Frances Anderson Center. The kids enjoy the vampire hunt – I will neither confirm nor deny the use of costumes, though a wooden stake was always at hand.
- Sustainable Edmonds facebook page
- Excel spreadsheet for estimating savings from vampire killing
- GoogleDocs spreadsheet for estimating savings from vampire killing
- Seattle Times, “Atop TV Sets, a power drain that runs nonstop”:
- City of Edmonds energy conservation website