Energy Adviser: Stake energy vampires with smart strips to save cash

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Part of your energy bill goes for vampires just waiting to suck energy from your electrical wall sockets. With diligence and a smart strip, you can stake them.

Whenever you have certain electrical appliances or device chargers plugged into a wall socket, they continue to suck a trickle of electricity. Although standby power keeps the programming of gadgets in place and ready for your use, it comes at a cost.

Vampire loads, also called phantom loads or standby power, suck a little electricity out of your wall sockets. When you consider the numerous electrical devices in a home today, it adds up quickly.

According to Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, even when turned off, some of the biggest suckers of phantom power are: CD players (5 watts); multifunction inkjet printers (6 watts); laptops (16 watts in sleep mode); and DVR set-top box with digital cable (45 watts when turned off with a remote).

"Any remote-controlled device, any instant-on product, every shining power light and every bright digital readout you see means power is being consumed," said DuWayne Dunham, energy counselor for Clark Public Utilities. Some estimates claim the average home has 20 to 30 devices consuming energy while off.

While statistics vary, experts say as much as 5 percent of your electric bill goes for powering appliances on standby for use. So consider everything you keep plugged in for convenience — your coffee maker with a digital readout, the digital clock radio, the CD player, the computer monitor and the computer printer.

Some of the worst culprits are idle chargers for battery-powered gadgets or power tools. In use or not, when plugged in they are constantly using energy. Smartphones, tablets, laptops, TVs, DVD players and computer monitors are all part of the modern household. So are the cellphone chargers dangling from wall plugs, the laptops sleeping on standby and the DVD players awaiting your command. They all suck a little bit of energy continually even when off.

Electrical appliances drawing a few watts are worthy of your concern. A few watts here and there add up at Clark Public Utility's rate of 8.16 cents per kilowatt-hour. One way to avoid this drain on both your electricity and billfold is to manually unplug all your gizmos when they're not in use. But who can remember to unplug every appliance that should be? Another way is to put smart technology to use.

At less than $50, a smart power strip reduces power usage by cutting power off to gadgets that go into standby mode. Not only can this save you money, but it's good for the environment. Standby power accounts for about 1 percent of worldwide carbon dioxide emissions, according to the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

Smart power strips contain circuitry for monitoring and controlling their outlets. So when one device hits standby mode, the power for its plug-in goes off while all other sockets stay on.

The MeterPlug shown at CES 2013, promises to identify how much energy vampire loads cost you. Unfortunately, the product isn't yet being manufactured. For now, smart strips remain the best technology solution.

"By using smart strips to cut off standby power or unplugging gadgets to eliminate phantom loads, consumers can save on their electric bills," Dunham said.

Energy adviser is written by Clark Public Utilities. Send questions to ecod@clarkpud.com or to Energy Adviser, c/o Clark Public Utilities, P.O. Box 8900, Vancouver, WA 98668.