You might not have thought about it, but if you look around your home and think back to 20 years ago, we have a lot more stuff plugged into our walls than we did then. There are cell phones and Blackberrys, cordless phones, several TVs , at least one or more personal computers, think of the number of iPods your family has, gaming consoles, DVD/VCR players, surround-sound systems, alarm systems, coffee makers with built-in clocks…a lot of these gadgets didn’t even exist 20 years ago.
So, while today’s large appliances use approximately 3 times less electricity than those from 20 years ago, we have so many small ones now that any efficiency gains made by the large appliances have been completely wiped out by the introduction of all the small ones. According to a Stats Canada report, between 1984 and 2002 large appliances energy consumption decreased decreased by two-thirds, but small appliance energy consumption increased by 105%!
Standby Power: One of the things the electronics companies developed awhile ago was keeping electronics such as TVs and computers running on a small amount of power even when they’re technically off so that they don’t take forever to warm up like the TVs of old (I remember being able to make popcorn — on the stovetop — in the time it took for the TV to warm up when I was a kid — yes, I’m that old!). One of the problems with this development is that your appliances’ power is on even when it’s off, if you follow me. They might draw as little as one Watt per hour — but multiply that by 24 hours/day, 365 days/year by 5-10 appliances by hundreds of thousands of households and you get a lot of wasted power. In fact, Consumer Reports estimates that 8% of all power consumed by households is standby power, or more than 108 billion Kwh in the US.
Determining where to cut back.
I’m not suggesting you give up your small appliances — but you might want to cast a critical eye through each room and determine what really needs to be plugged in all the time. Could you subtitute any of your cordless phones for ones that don’t use electricity? Do you need all those TVs or game consoles — or do they need to be plugged in all the time? Do you need a DVD player when the PS3 will do both jobs? How often do you actually use your VCR anyway? Does it need to stay plugged in, or could you just plug it in when you need it? (Just put masking tape over the flashing clock like my stepfather did so you don’t have to reset it all the time!) Can you put a group of these electronics on a power bar and turn everything off? But be careful what you put on a power bar — avoid things that need resetting every time you turn the bar on, like wireless routers, or anything that uses a fan for a cooling down period after its been turned off (a plasma TV for example). There are some nifty power bars with sensors to determine when people are in the room, and another that determines what the most important electronic in the group is (the TV or Computer for instance), and keeps that one running while the rest turn off — but so far they’re not available in Canada. You can read about them on Treehugger.com.
MeasuringYour Electricity Consumption appliance by appliance.
My favourite little green gadget, the Kill A Watt, has just become easier to use. The latest model is the Kill A Watt EZ, a device which measures how much power anything you plug into a wall uses. The one I have measures Watts, but the EZ turns everything into dollars and cents so you know how much money your appliance will use in a year (you have to program in the rate, but you can get that from your last hydro bill). Plug your TV into it and see how much electricity it uses in the on and off modes. Do the same for each appliance to discover which are the largest electricity hogs in your home.
Where to Buy:
The Kill A Watt is usually available for sale at home shows and on Amazon. I bought mine at the Cottage Life Show for $75. The National Home Show is February 19-28th, as well as the Green Living Show, April 23-25th. You can also buy it online from the stores listed below.
Green Gadgets sells it for $33 (I think I might have gotten ripped off!) — but they don’t have the latest model. It’s an online store. Check shipping costs.