The only way to find out: measure each outlet with a Kill-A-Watt! (Can you say “obsessive“?) But occasional obsessiveness is good for the soul. And budget.
So on the last grey Saturday, me and my trusty Kill-a-Watt went around seeing if we could answer the question: how much could we save?
The answer was neither encouraging nor discouraging: it was simply illuminating. (And, another $70/year, tax free savings — see the link to my spreadsheet below.)
And isn’t that what it’s all about? My objective in writing this blog, working for Energy Circle, learning about software, or digital cameras, Economics, Physics — it’s all about understanding the truth.
Oh, and the exercise was enriching. In the sense of having more money.
Progress So Far
I have been
obsessing writing about the things that are always on, even when they’re off since the early days of this blog. And I have made some serious progress.
Killing Vampires with Smart Strips
I have addressed some phantom load with BITS Smart Strips. When my computer monitor turns off (which it does automatically based on the power settings of my computer), so do my speakers, my wireless phone charger, and my USB Hub. When the TV in the basement goes off, so does the sound system, the Wii, the DVD player, the sub-woofer (but not the Wii remote charger).
Replacing Our Cheap, Dead PhonesWe replaced our cheap wireless phones (that sucked from the start, and died within a year) with higher quality Panasonic phones. They work better, but the new phones also replaced 4 vampire transformers with 4 switch-mode type. Kill-a-watt reads 0 for all but the base station, which is 2W. Hopefully the new ones are not the cheap junk that defines most consumer electronics and will last a while. We’ll see.
Et tu, TiVo?
I confirmed that my TiVo Series3 HD is an improvement over the standard cable box that gets plugged in by your cable company — around 37W — not nothing, but it beats the pants off the 90W Motorola box I had before (which I had in addition to the TiVo Series 2 — the new TiVo doesn’t need the cable box, since it uses the CableCARD standard). I am going to try turning it off at night when we don’t use it using a simple timer switch I have lying around.
I confirmed that Sleep is better than Awake, at least as far as computers go. (This finding seems to apply to cats and teenagers, as well.) My MacBook uses about 15 Watts when on without the screen (it’s probably more efficient than most computers — my older Dell laptop uses about 35W). When asleep, both use about 1W.
Unfortunately, my Mac seemed to have the same sleep/standby problem as my Windows XP computer — it wouldn’t sleep automatically. I thought hitting the sleep button worked fine, then realized it did, but only for a few minutes, after which it would resume. I have been sort of careless with this, so spent some time figuring out how to make a Mac go to sleep reliably, and recently found a good (free) solution for sleepless Macs.
Not A Culprit! Sort of…
One interesting finding: I have been blaming the transformer on my cable modem as being a vampire — needlessly sucking power even when it wasn’t being used. So I bought a replacement switch-mode transformer, and plugged it in. But the cable modem still used 6 watts — it’s the modem itself. Rats!
In the experiment, I did, however find a simple device that could be used to replace vampire transformers with more efficient switch-mode versions. Maybe there’s some other transformer I can use this to replace.
The little (cheap) Ethernet switch I have in my office draws 4 watts — I doubt I need wires since 802.11n wireless seems to just work. My wireless laser printer goes to 5 watts when asleep — I could probably put that on the same timer switch as the TiVo. My new cordless phones have switch-mode transformers and use almost nothing. Apple chargers use almost nothing.
Who You Gonna Call: Dustbuster
The Dustbuster charger uses 2 to 3 watts all the time so that we can bust dust once or twice a month? Not worth it! That’s going to my “battery charger station” (regular power-strip) which I turn on only when I am charging stuff all our rechargeable AA and AAA batteries. The control for the sprinkler system, which we only use a few times in the summer — unplug. A new or repurposed BITS Smart Strip for my son’s Apple Mini (and speakers, LCD screen, USB hub).
However, It Doesn’t All Add Up
Am I being obsessive? Of course, I hope you have come to expect nothing less!
When you do the math, it adds up — 115 watts of “always on”.
That’s a little odd. When you look at Google PowerMeter, it measures a bit less than double that for its always-on estimate — there’s about 100W unaccounted for.
Wherefore Art Thou?
I wonder what I missed? I covered every single 120V outlet in the house (I even moved the stove and fridge out). It could be that Google PowerMeter’s estimate is wrong, but it correlates pretty closely to PlotWatt’s. Also, when I go to bed the TED sometimes reads as low as 196W, but never 115W. Could it be something that’s hard-wired (dishwasher, furnace, various lighting, ceiling fans)? Maybe the Kill-a-Watt is wrong? Maybe my math is wrong?
I did a test like this back on Earth Hour, where I switched off breakers one by one while watching the TED 5000 display. I did manage to get it down to zero, I think, and I recall something about a 1920′s era doorbell transformer. Hmm.
Wait, I just remembered — what about the garage? I have a rechargeable lawnmower — it’s got a charger plug I didn’t check. And there’s a garage door opener — that seems a possible suspect.
Not Playing With A Full Deck
Well, if it’s not obvious by now, I am purely a nut. Crazy. Whacked. Not rowing with both oars in the water. A quart low. Or, perhaps most apropos: “A few watts shy of a night light.” (Check the link, there are some pretty good ones :-)
Somehow There’s Always More Savings To Be Had
The key thing here is this: I have been crazy like this for years now. I keep doing things to reduce how much electricity we use. And I keep thinking, well, that’s surely about as much blood as I can squeeze out of this stone.
And then I go off and find more.
A Brief Digression on How Badly Dimmable CFL Bulbs Still Are, and Why Joe Barton Has A Point, Even If He Is A Lying Lier Who Has His Facts All Wrong And Is Just Trying to Get Elected, And How I Would Like Some Enterprising CFL or LED Manufacturer to Give Me Lightbulbs That Actually Dim Well So I Can Go Back To Disliking Joe Barton
By the way: that’s a direct challenge to any manufacturer who makes an R-20 or PAR-30 dimmable CFL, or better yet, LED that use a standard dimmer switch that can produce suitably bright light that isn’t ugly. I will be happy to accept demos, and if your product is good, I will write a great review here, and other places. But I am fed up and not spending more of my money for junk. I have now purchased more than 75 CFLs all of which claim to work perfectly, dim evenly, and all of which sucked!
I need 6 of the R-20 floods, 50W equivalent, and 7 of the PAR 30 or PAR 38 floods, 75W equivalent or thereabouts, both warm white. My email address can be found here.
(end of brief digression)
I suspect my fridge is worth replacing. We could use the dryer less (actually, here’s a great tip: if you have two medium loads of wash, dry both together and use about 30% to 50% less on drying). There are tons of things we could still reduce — but we try to only replace things when we need to.
The Bottom Line
Here’s a link to an Excel spreadsheet with device by device standby usage data.
With minimal investment my mitigations can save about 42W of “always-on” stuff. At my electrical rate, I’ll save about $70 a year. That’s a couple of very nice bottles of wine. Or a case of silicone caulk.