Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Global Warming Wednesday: Mouse the Vampire Slayer

OK, so I’m not planning on running around in the dark with a few of my best friends, chasing the undead. Instead I’ll be seeking out the suckers that are hiding in my own home. The electricity suckers.

“Vampire” is a term used for appliances and electronics that continue to draw electricity even when switched “off.” This is, in more technical terms, “standby power.” Anything that has a clock display is definitely using standby power. But if it has an external power supply or a remote, it is also never truly off. Still not sure if that small appliance is a vampire? Check out this handy gadget that I found over at the Grinning Planet. The worst offenders tend to be entertainment equipment, some appliances (especially microwaves), and chargers. Beyond the obvious waste of electricity, and therefore increased emissions, such items are also draining your wallet—at about the rate of $200 (US) a year.

The most direct way to remedy the problem is to unplug the offender in question. Now if you’re like me, going around and physically plugging and unplugging various electronics is impractical. Not all of our outlets are easily accessible, and then there’s the additional challenge in a household with small children of making sure unused outlets are properly covered. Luckily power strips can fill that gap.

So here’s what I’ll be doing once we get home:

  • Complete an assessment of which appliances are our worst offenders. I’ve thought through this a bit, but expect to find a bit more once I take a closer look.
  • Determine which ones can realistically be fully turned off. Off the top of my head, I can see that it’s unrealistic to fully unplug our microwave when it’s not in use since it’s a built-in. Similarly, I will be leaving our one clock-radio plugged in for the time being. The cordless phones will also be left on since we need them to be functional in case of emergency. On the other hand, we can begin to switch off our TV/cable/DVD player/game system area (which is already on a power strip) when we’re done with it each night. Yes, we will lose the time on the DVD player and our cable will need to reset itself every time it is turned back on, but these are not hardships for us—no Tivo or programmed recording that will be interrupted. Similarly, our laptops and cell phone chargers can be set up with a power strip that gets switched off before bedtime. Even when these items need charging, they are usually fully charged by then.
  • Reorganize our use of outlets to make the above more efficient. This means relocating our chargers closer to something else that will be on a power strip. Fewer switches to flip = more likely to follow through.
  • Think about an item’s standby power usage when making future purchases. Check for items that use less than one watt of power in standby. For those appliances included in Energy Star’s ratings, make that a priority. I want an alternative for the clock-radio, especially since I rely on my sportswatch for my morning alarm, but I find the easy-to-read time helpful for keeping track of Scooter’s wakings and don’t think a battery-operated version would necessarily be much better in terms of waste.

Now for some more linky love. As has become my habit, I began with Lighter Footstep and Tree Hugger. Unplugging vampire appliances is #4 on Lighter Footstep’s “Ten First Steps” list. Tree Hugger’s post dates back to Halloween and includes an amusing video (with some scary facts). And for more facts, take a look at the Standby Power Home Page.

As more and more appliances rely on some sort of inner-computer, there is the potential for standby power to increase significantly. But if more people pay attention to the problem and take steps to cut down on their household’s use, if industries are made to pay attention and are encouraged, by consumers or governments, to make their products more efficient, we might actually be able to cut the current drain by nearly three-quarters! Talk about a stake through the heart!


metro mama said...

Great idea. We are rearranging our entertainment unit soon and I'll keep this in mind.

Mad Hatter said...

I've been thinking about doing this for some time now and never seem to get my act together to do it. I like that you have laid out a simple, step-by-step appraoch.