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Practical Sustainability: Evict the Vampires from Your Home

At this year’s Greenbuild convention, the annual expo and conference for the green building industry, I attended an education session about how to control plug loads in commercial and residential buildings.  One of the session’s speakers described a case study in which a business installed TrickleStar Advanced Power Strips to tackle “vampire” loads that occur when devices that are not in use continue to consume electricity.  In fact, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), “Nearly one-quarter of home energy use is consumed by vampires.”

So, when I decided recently to reorganize my home office, I felt it was a perfect opportunity to install a smart power strip to help evict the vampires from my home.  In my home office, I have:

  • A land line telephone.  The phone itself operates without electricity, but needs power to act as a speakerphone
  • A multi-port switch, which enables me to connect a networked printer and computer even though I only have one Ethernet jack in the room
  • A desktop computer with two monitors and external speakers
  • A desk lamp with a 60 watt halogen bulb (shame on me for not replacing the bulb when I did a lighting retrofit a couple of years ago)
Nearly one-quarter of home energy use is consumed by Vampires.
— Natural Resources Defense Council

To be able to quantify the savings, I enlisted the help of TrickleStar and Belkin, each of which provided products for me to test out. 

Belkin Conserve Insight™

Belkin Conserve Insight™

First, I plugged my existing power strip into the Belkin Conserve Insight™ Energy Use Monitor, a device that measures energy consumption, and converts it into an average annual or monthly cost (using an electricity rate that I was able to specify) and a cost in terms of CO2 production.  I monitored the “before” condition for several weeks and learned that my typical consumption was approximately 70 watts without the desk lamp and 125 watts with the lamp turned on.  Using the printer caused the energy consumption to spike even further.  On average, my typical use was costing me $150 and generating over 750 pounds of CO2 annually.  As an aside, the Belkin Conserve Insight has a nifty five-foot cord that connects its LCD screen to the device outlet - which saved me from having to move a file cabinet each time I wanted to check my consumption reading. 

TrickleStar 7-Outlet Tier 1 Advanced PowerStrip

TrickleStar 7-Outlet Tier 1 Advanced PowerStrip

So what happened when I swapped out my old power strip for TrickleStar’s 7-Outlet Tier 1 Advanced PowerStrip (APS) with 1,080 joules of surge protection?  The TrickleStar APS has one “control” outlet into which I plugged my computer, and four switched outlets, into which I plugged my speakerphone, monitors, and external speakers.  Whenever my computer enters sleep mode or is turned off, power is cut off from all of the devices plugged into the switched outlets. 

I left the printer and multi-port switch plugged into two outlets that are “always on” on the TrickleStar APS.  The printer is networked and available to other users in my household, so I didn’t want it to be turned off when my desktop computer went to sleep. 

When I set up the APS, I also realized that I needed to tweak the power management settings on my computer to make it go to sleep.  Simply going through this process made me aware of how poorly I had been managing the electric consumption of my home office equipment. 

My new setup, with the TrickleStar APS helping me save energy

My new setup, with the TrickleStar APS helping me save energy

So how am I doing now?  The Belkin Conserve Insight™ Energy Use Monitor now estimates I’m using approximately $80 annually and generating around 400 pounds of CO2 – a savings of almost half of my previous setup.  With a retail cost of $29.99 for the Belkin monitor and $29.99 for the TrickleStar APS (both of which are available for even less on Amazon.com at the time of this blog’s publication), that’s less than a one-year payback period. 

Could I be doing better?  Probably.  I’m pleased that the TrickleStar Advanced PowerStrip is helping us to control the energy usage of the computer setup, but the two “always on” devices still draw approximately 7 watts of power (when the multi-port switch is on and the printer is in standby mode).  At a cost of $0.24 per kWh (kilowatt hour), these two devices alone cost $14.70 annually.  But until I install a smart outlet that turns itself off overnight when I know nobody in my household is using the printer, I don’t have a better workaround.  Still – this is just 10% of the estimated cost of the entire setup that the Belkin energy monitor had initially measured.  And I haven't yet tackled other parts of my home where I'm sure other vampires are lurking.

NREL has created a useful guide to help you select the right type of advanced power strip for your application. 

Were there any additional benefits of installing a smart power strip?  As an added bonus, I removed a surge protector power strip that was many years old (too old to count!).  Surge protectors don’t last forever.  Each time they experience a surge, their performance degrades and over time they lose their protective capability.  While most experts won’t put an expiration date on a surge protector they do agree that surge protectors should be replaced every few years.  Click here for more about surge protector performance.

So how can you evict the vampires from your home?  Follow these five simple tips:

  1. You can't manage what you can't measure!  Use an energy monitor like the Belkin Conserve Insight™ to know how much energy your devices are drawing, even when they’re idle.  This will help you figure out what areas to target.  The likeliest candidates will be your computer and your TV/gaming console setup.  But look further afield at phone chargers, hair dryers and other appliances that may be drawing phantom power when they aren’t in use.
  2. Unplug!  Consider unplugging appliances and devices that you don’t use frequently.
  3. Use internal power management features like those on your computer to put your devices to sleep when they’re not in use.
  4. Install smart power strips like the TrickleStar Advanced PowerStrip to control the consumption of power by groups of appliances.
  5. Finally, whenever you purchase new appliances, look for ENERGY STAR models that will use the least amount of energy.

Now that’s what I call Practical Sustainability!

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