Minimizing the electricity drain of plugged-in items?
October 3, 2005 7:57 AM   Subscribe

I recently read that anything plugged in continues to suck up valuable electricity, even when turned off. What's the best way to minimize this wasteful situation without constantly resetting/rebooting clocks,microwaves,tivos,answering machines,etc or constantly unplugging/plugging lights,cordless phones,tvs,stereos,etc? Any special gadgets or outlet strips that will help? Other ideas?
posted by ericbop to Technology (21 answers total)
Are you sure you mean everything? Yeah, if something has a clock or sits on standby, then I agree it will still be using electricity.. But I am sure that when I turn off my bed-side lamp, there is no way it is using any electricity... ?

Can you point to where you read this?
posted by Frasermoo at 8:07 AM on October 3, 2005

Did this same person tell you that electricity leaked out of sockets if you left them switched on?

In true electronics terms, if something is "Off", it uses no electricity. In reality, most modern devices which claim to be off are just in "StandBy", drawing a little electrickery to power volatile-RAM/whatever and to enable them to start up quickly when you want them.
posted by benzo8 at 8:07 AM on October 3, 2005

While this is technically true, the amount of power used this way is so small as to be negligible. The only people that I know of that regulate their power consumption to this degree live in houses which are off the grid (i.e. solar power), where every watt counts.
Aside from that, no, I don't think there would be a way to keep from resetting everything. I mean, they need electricity to maintain their states and if you take it away they can no longer do this.
posted by Who_Am_I at 8:12 AM on October 3, 2005

I should add that I am refering to solar houses from almost 20 years ago, and even off-the-grid houses probably (although I'm not positive) don't worry about this sort of thing today.
posted by Who_Am_I at 8:14 AM on October 3, 2005

He probably read this.

As mentioned in the comments, AC adapters and such draw power on their own even though most people consider them to be "off" when not connected to their digital camera etc.
posted by vacapinta at 8:14 AM on October 3, 2005

If you want to minimize standby power loss, go here, and all or most of your questions should be answered.
posted by aramaic at 8:14 AM on October 3, 2005

It's not 'technically true' reading his question. I don't think your answer is correct. I flatly dispute that 'ANYTHING PLUGGED IN CONTINUES TO SUCK UP VALUABLE ELECTRICITY, EVEN WHEN TURNED OFF'.
posted by Frasermoo at 8:17 AM on October 3, 2005

Subquestion: I've recently taken to turning off my 19 inch flat panel monitor when it's not being used. Is this worth the effort with regards to saving electricity?
posted by chiababe at 8:18 AM on October 3, 2005

Nifty tidbit from my link above: 1 watt saved by cutting standby usage equals $1.25 saved over the lifetime of the offending device (assumptions: 6000 hrs of standby per year, 4 year product lifespan.)
posted by aramaic at 8:20 AM on October 3, 2005

I think what Who_Am_I meant was that anything with a clock or a stand-by mode used up power.

BUT, if you wanted to be technically technical, there is a wee-tiny amount of inductance between the wires in a power cord. So plugging in, say, just a long extension cord would use the tiniest fraction of a milli-watt, what?
posted by Capn at 8:21 AM on October 3, 2005

The heat given off by a device is the best qualitative test to determine how much power it is using.

Remember that the surface area has a big effect on the apparent temperature, as well as the air flow. So, your very large TV may not appear to get very hot, but in truth it may be using 200W or more. Same thing for a hair dryer, it may not appear to get that hot, however it is moving a lot of air. Hair dryers use about 1000W.

You will get bigger results by worrying about larger power draws like light bulbs. However, if things are noticeably warm while not in use it is perfectly reasonable to effectively unplug them using a power bar, which will allow you to really turn devices off when not in use.
posted by Chuckles at 8:22 AM on October 3, 2005

chiababe, it is pretty hard to tell. Lets take my warmth test and aramaic's 1 watt calculations as a baseline.

1 watt of power use in a device as large as a 17" LCD will be near the threshold of detection - which is to say, you might feel that it is a tiny bit warm, but you might not. If it was burning 5 watts you would definitely be able to notice it, but only barely. 1 watt is easy to feel on something as small as a plug in transformer / wall adapter / whatever you choose to call those boxes you plug in to power things like cordless phones - those devices normally burn somewhat more though, and consequently feel quite warm to the touch.
posted by Chuckles at 8:32 AM on October 3, 2005

Frasermoo: I wasn't counting lamps and stuff, if that is the sort of thing that you are referring to. Although come to think of it, that's about the only thing I can think of that wouldn't be drawing current when it's "off." Maybe you could expand on your dispute?
Assuming that this is what we are talking about, it is actually kind of interesting. However if I'm reading it correctly, he is saying that the equivalent of a single light bulb is 1/10th of his total anualy power consumption? That can't possibly be right, can it?
posted by Who_Am_I at 8:37 AM on October 3, 2005

Response by poster: Vacapinta - thanks for understanding what I was getting at. Your link (although not what I originally read) reminded me of the device category I was looking for: a "watt-meter."

A quick search found the EXACT product I was looking for. Not only will it stop the flow of electricity to those devices that, yes, frasermoo, continue to draw power when plugged in (b/c of adapters,etc), but they also seem to add the convenience of one-switch power-on and surge protection to boot! (Pun intended).
posted by ericbop at 8:40 AM on October 3, 2005

ok, cool. I was beginning to get worried that you thought your lamp was still sucking electricity when you switched it off...

which it might if it's a 12 Volt halogen lamp running off a transformer...... ?
posted by Frasermoo at 8:47 AM on October 3, 2005

ericbop, those power bars look like very interesting products, but I wouldn't put any faith in them without knowing exactly how they work. One of the products on that page actually connects via USB, does that mean you need a driver installed to make it work? That seems like begging for trouble to me.

Here is a page that discusses various operating principles of smart power strips (identical conent repeated here).

Controlling your PC and all of its peripherals from the same power bar is the easiest solution, and offers most of the available savings (assuming you actually use it, so this doesn't really apply for an office environment).

Aha... Here is how the strips at ericbop's link work:
Learn how it works.
A small electronic device inside the Smart Strip monitors the current on a single outlet. The computer is plugged into that single outlet. When the computer is finished shutting down, the current draw from the computer drops to its idle current -- and the Smart Strip senses the current change, automatically shutting off all of the computer peripherals.
posted by Chuckles at 9:03 AM on October 3, 2005

Before launching off on such an effort, I would look for truly reliable confirmation. The guy on Engadget may be right on -- he may be a complete idiot with no idea what he is doing.

Anything in your house that does not have a human-powered, mechanical off switch is probably going to consume some very small amount of power while in standby. So newer TVs, radios, computers, microwaves, ovens, etc. Light bulbs, switch lamps, and old appliances will all consume nothing when they are off.

But I'd want real confirmation in the form of a well written paper before I'd believe that all of this standby power drain adds up to 10% of yearly power consumption. The kind of thing aramaic did is what I have seen in regards to these power draws: it's so small as to be negligible. But perhaps it's not, in aggregate.

The reason I'd want that is because many of the appliances in your house aren't really designed to be turned off completely, and it's going to be a pain to do it. Like say the microwave or the entertainment center -- a real pain in the ass to shut all the way down with each use.
posted by teece at 12:23 PM on October 3, 2005

Response by poster: so, I'll have to do some more investigation. The whole point is that I don't want to reboot my tivo or reset my vcr every time I'm done watching TV. if that's what this power stip does, I may have to reconsider. but one thing they mention at the smart strip site is that this type of multioutlet strip is very userful for things like subwoofers, which I, too hate crawling behind my armoire to turn on and off. and you know THAT's got to use a lot of juice in standby.
posted by ericbop at 1:21 PM on October 3, 2005

Most subs put themselves in a true standby mode when there is no signal for a while, and then take a few seconds to "power on" when a signal does arrive.

Isn't your "smart power strip" going to suck electricity itself? Oh no, the horrors.

Get one of these, and knock yourself out. I'll bet you're overreacting.
posted by trevyn at 1:39 PM on October 3, 2005

Subwoofers are no different from any other piece of electronics in your home. They may or may not burn significant standby power depending on the details of the design.
posted by Chuckles at 1:50 PM on October 3, 2005

5-15 watts consumed by an "off" device that's really in standby seems to be typical. I borrowed a friend's wattmeter (Watts Up?) and measured a bunch of stuff around my house and that's what I saw; my experience seems to be typical. Wallwarts are another surprisingly large power draw.

Though as everyone else has already also said, it's only devices with a "soft" power switch that are like this. Normal lights and things won't draw any power when turned off.

So I unplug unused wallwarts and turn things to "off" instead of "standby" if there's an option, but mostly I don't worry too much about it, realizing that my typical profligate lifestyle eclipses most of these phantom power draws. If I needed to reduce my electric bill I should probably start by replacing my cheapo 500W halogen torchieres with something less incredibly inefficient.

(My interest in phantom power use was sparked by my mother's living on solar power for a while; in her case, it was worth counting every watt. Especially in wintertime.)
posted by hattifattener at 12:59 AM on October 4, 2005

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