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Vampire Appliances: How to Curb Energy Waste

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Have you ever noticed that if you walk through your home at night, after all the lamps are out, you can still see several tiny lights glowing in the darkness? These are the hallmark of "energy vampires," appliances that continue to draw a small but constant amount of electricity even when they've been turned "off." Quietly sucking power, often 24 hours a day and seven days a week, they may be easy to miss, but their effect on the environment is dramatic. Luckily, there are some quick and easy ways to (figuratively) drive a stake through many of these energy vampires and put an end to their dastardly deeds.

Also known as "phantom load," the power used by many common household appliances when they go into standby mode averages about 10-15 watts per device. It has been estimated that the average American home has more than 25 of these appliances (see below for a list of common energy vampires). According to the U.S. Department of Energy, most households are wasting approximately 450 kilowatt hours (and hundreds of dollars) every year. Some appliances pull 75% of their total energy consumption when they’re "off"!

There are three easy ways to spot energy vampires in action. Devices that are controlled with a remote, that have a clock display, or that have a transformer cube (often on the cord) all use standby power. Desktop computers, printers, DVD players, televisions and set-top boxes, stereos, and game consoles are some of the biggest culprits, but most other modern appliances also draw phantom loads. Chargers (for mp3 players, cell phones, and other rechargeable gadgets) keep drawing electricity even after the device is fully charged, and even if the device has been disconnected!

If you want to see how much energy the appliances in your home are consuming, you can use a watt reader to measure it. Watt readers can often be borrowed from local utilities or even the public library, and they're simple to use--just plug the reader into the wall and then plug the appliance into the reader. You might be surprised by how much electricity those little lights are sucking. Sometimes you can even feel the wasted electricity, in the form of heat, by touching the device itself.

Stopping any vampires that may be lurking in your home is as easy as pulling the plug. Another option is to plug groups of similar appliances into a power strip, which can be switched off when not in use, cutting all power to the devices. For instance, you can connect your TV, set-top box, and game console to one power strip, and your computer, monitor, and printer to another. (Don't forget, though: disconnecting all power from an appliance will usually erase any settings or preferences, so it's not always a good idea for everything. Ask your parents to help you think about which devices would be best to unplug--safely!--or put on power strips.) And always remember to unplug chargers.

A list of some "vampires":":
• TVs
• VCRs
• DVDs
• Laptops not running on battery power
• Computer modems
• Clock radios
• Answering machines
• Microwave ovens
• Portable stereos
• Cordless phone chargers
• Space heaters
• Cell phone chargers
• Baby monitors
• Portable cordless power tool chargers
• Garage door openers

For more information on Energy Vampires go to:

“They Suck Electricity Even When Switched Off”:
Energy Kids,
“Using & Saving Energy":

Animation by Eric Kachelhofer

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