I’m back home. Thanks to everyone who helped while I was offline with family medical issues. There are larger challenges ahead but for now things are back to near normal. Thanks to everyone who left kind words in the announcements thread – I feel like Jimmy Stewart at the end of “It’s a Wonderful Life”.
One thing I always like to do on trips south is to visit Fry’s electronics. There, I can take in the full measure of what’s new in the electronics world. While there, I picked up a gadget that solves an ongoing problem in my home. This is worth a read if you want to save money on your power bill.
While some of my incendiary foes like Joe Romm would like to make you believe that I’m anti-everything (his favorite word is “anti-science” when describing anyone who doesn’t agree with him), those of you who read WUWT know that I’m proactively energy efficient. For example, earlier this year I wrote about installing super efficient LED recessed lighting in my home. I’ve yet to see Joe Romm write a single positive thing about what he is doing personally to practice what he preaches.
I recently went through a home energy audit related to my recent Smartmeter installation (which is another story all by itself) and one of the things I decided I needed to do something about was the growing number of vampire power suckers in my home. As we added more technology, the number of always on power sucking wall-warts (120vAC to 12Vdc power transformers) increased.
Until now, there wasn’t any really practical way of dealing with them all, so I thought I’d share this solution since I’m sure many of you have similar problems with vampire power.
First some background. Here’s a video on vampire power from iGo:
Defining the problem:
Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory has a whole website dedicated to standby power issues and offers this assessment:
An individual product draws relatively little standby power (see here for examples) but a typical American home has forty products constantly drawing power. Together these amount to almost 10% of residential electricity use.
That 10% for me is an issue, because on hot summer days when we need a/c the most, that standby power baseline adds to our allowed PG&E baseline use, and when we go over it, our electricity costs escalate rapidly. PG&E actually punishes residences who consume over the allowed 445 kwh baseline in tiers, such that by the time you exceed 200% of baseline, your cost per kwh is now at 40 cents per kWh, which is outrageous.
Unfortunately, PG&E is a monopoly, and the Public Utilities Commission in California actually approved this outrageous rate hike for over baseline use while simultaneously dropping the allowed residential baseline from 512 kWh/month to 445 kWh/month in the last year. It was a major blunder, and this is why Smartmeters have been getting such a bad rap. PG&E chose the worst possible time to start, in May. Combine new rates, smartmeter swaps, and summer temperatures and you get a PR disaster and people up in arms.
Here in the Sacramento valley, we have temperatures here that reach 110 degrees at times, requiring a/c use. My only option now with these new rates is to reduce energy use. Now that’s something I don’t mind doing, I’ve been proactive at it, but I must say I feel discriminated against compared to Californians who live on the more temperature coast, because I already live in an energy star rated newer (4 years) home. They don’t have a/c issues like we do in the central valley.
So in a nutshell, I’m hosed by my location and its summer climate. That’s why my July 2010 energy bill was $620.16 (electric, plus gas, plus loads of taxes and other taxes – like “public purpose programs”, part of which supports climate change research in California) last month for 2052 kWh of use. If it were at regular baseline rate the bill would be half that. So anything I can do to get closer to baseline will be helpful.
Measuring the problem:
I went around my home with an LCD meter called the Kill-a-Watt EZ and determined that I have 3 areas of significant vampire power use that could benefit from a makeover.
These can be ordered from Amazon for about $30 plus shipping and are dirt simple to use. They can show you instantly how much standby power is being drawn on any appliance or power strip. There’s also a graphing version and a power strip version.
While I had all sorts of spots all over the house, I identified three areas where phantom power was concentrated and working to kill the vampires would be a worthwhile effort.
- My computer workstation where I manage WUWT and research
- My wife’s computer workstation with central printer
- Our entertainment center and TV (#1 draw)
All of these had a collection of wall-warts for network switches, speakers, USB hubs, amplifiers, and accessories. The main devices like the TV, DVD player, DVD reorder, satellite box, all had “instant on” features and drew a fair amount of load and most of these were on 24/7. Just looking at them in infrared shows where that power was going:
So not only are they wasting electricity, they are dumping waste heat into the house 24/7, adding load to the air conditioning.
According to this interactive page at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, I had all the vampire family members. My own readings from the Kill-a-Watt meter were right in line with these:
What was the biggest surprise to me was how much standby power my set-top satellite receiver boxes were drawing. I have a newer model and older model from DirecTV. The older model was drawing 31 watts in standby! Again right in line with what LBL says:
You can see the LBL master list of appliance tests for standby power draw here.
Finding a solution:
One way to solve phantom power draw is with power strips. I already use these to corral wall-warts, and when we go on trips I make it a point to reach behind the computer, under the desk, and behind the TV to shut these off.
However, doing that every night is a bit of a pain, and often forgotten in my house. So, the little suckers live through the night and during the day when we aren’t home.
So while a switched power strip *does* solve the problem in principle, it doesn’t in practice due to access. The strips are all behind and/or below something.
I had been toying with the idea of making some sort of remote switch for my power strips so I could easily turn them off when I shut down my PC, or turn off the TV and go to bed. Fortunately, I found a solution at Fry’s yesterday that did just that.
A way cool plug-in gadget that kills power vampires:
I was really happy to find this power strip gadget at Fry’s:
Apparently this was introduced at CES in 2008, but this is the first time I’ve seen it. It pays to advertise I suppose.
In case it isn’t obvious, this is a power strip with a wireless remote switch. The switch can be handled like a TV remote or wall mounted, making it easy to remember to kill the vampire when you turn out the lights to leave the room.
The remote has a range of 60 feet and can be set for 8 different channels so you can have multiple outlet strips in the home. Here’s some features:
Here’s the manual (PDF)
Installation was quick and easy for me, I just daisy chained from my existing power strip and chose which devices to plug in to “always on” and which to put into the “switched” outlets. See below:
Of course I had to make two wall-wart exceptions: answering machine and my home weather station (which has a data logger and automatically updates a web page). Now that I have it working and can easily kill off most of my office vampires, I’m planning on buying two more for the other locations that have heavy wall wart populations.
I highly recommend this product. Amazon.com has the best deal on the base model at $34.99 and there are other models which you can see here. There are also UK/European and Australian power outlet versions I’ve found.
While we might disagree on climate change, saving money by reducing energy use is something I think we can all agree on.