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Electronics Horror Show

Vampires exist, and they’re in your house.

But don’t look for blood-drinking bats. Be on guard for electronic equipment or appliances that suck up power even when not in use. A typical home has anywhere from 10 to 50 of these products, including TVs, DVD players, printers, stereos, and phone chargers, that use what is referred to as standby power.

The Department of Energy says these vampire electronics represent 5 percent of electricity used across the country, and could rise to 20 percent by 2010.

This can add 10 to 20 percent to a family’s electric bill each month. According to the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, standby power consumes 6 percent or more of the electricity in the average home, at an annual cost of more than $50 per household. Across the country, standby power use costs consumers and businesses about $4 billion annually.

Some of the biggest energy wasters are the adapters that come with rechargeable battery-powered cordless phones, cell phones, personal digital assistants, digital cameras, and power tools. These chargers draw power whenever they are plugged into an outlet regardless of whether the device’s battery is fully charged or even connected. Other “vampires” include electronic equipment such as computer monitors, stereo systems, and DVD players, and appliances such as microwaves and ovens with digital clock displays.

There are ways to stop these energy wasters.

One of the most obvious is to unplug the equipment when not in use. This may be easier said than done, though. Microwaves with clocks, for example, would require re-setting the clock every time they were turned back on. So unplug when practical.

Chargers can be unplugged when not in use. However, experts suggest that if a home has several chargers for cell phones, iPods, and other devices, consumers should consider putting them all on one power strip with an on-off switch. This way, all the chargers can be turned off at the same time when not charging.

Computer monitors, printers, and scanners can also be plugged into a single power strip that can be turned on and off all at once. This goes for home entertainment systems, too.

According to Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory research scientist Bruce Nordman, using a power strip to turn off several devices when not in use makes the most sense when power use is high even in low-power or standby mode, and the products are typically not turned on and off every day. Otherwise the “hassle factor” outweighs the energy saved.

One of the best things consumers can do is choose appliances or electronic equipment that use less power overall, including standby power. If the amount of standby power used by the product is not included on a given product label, check out the Federal Energy Management Program’s Internet site, http://oahu.lbl.gov/, where consumers can compare products to see which ones meet the government’s limits for standby power.

Buying Energy Star-labeled products will also put a dent in the use of standby power. Energy Star products use less energy for both regular and standby operation. Energy Star is a joint program of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy aimed at saving money and protecting the environment through energy-efficient products and practices.

In addition, gadgets such as the Kill A Watt electricity usage monitor can help determine which plug-in items use the most power. The monitor is plugged into the outlet, and then the appliance in question is plugged into the device, which assesses the product’s electrical efficiency and can calculate energy cost by day, week, month, or year. The monitor can be purchased through online retailers such as Amazon.com for less than $30.

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