Exorcising the Energy Vampires

Dave Zatz —  August 19, 2008

I’ve noticed a decent amount of energy waste coverage lately. The general theme has been specific to devices that consume electricity while in standby mode or even powered off. While I’m lazier than I am cost conscious or environmentally aware, it did get me wondering what exactly goes on in my apartment.

So I went around my place with a Kill A Watt measuring the consumption levels of various digital media hardware (and a few other devices for comparison) when not actively engaged.

Some interesting discoveries… The Netflix Roku box draws the same amount of power (5 watts) when not in use as my DivX-capable Philips DVD player when in use. The Staples shredder draws 2 watts when in standby and when powered “off.” Most surprising, though, are my two Panasonic HDTVs which appear to pull less than 1 watt when shut down – kinda negating a lot of the bad press, if accurate. (One set confirmed by CNET. Perhaps older televisions are more demanding.) Here’s the complete breakdown:

  • Watts – Device
  • 42 – TiVo Series 3
  • 38 – TiVo HD
  • 38 – TiVo HD XL
  • 18 – Vudu
  • 13 – ZvBox
  • 11 – Slingbox PRO-HD
  • 8 – Ooma Hub
  • 7 – Slingbox Solo
  • 6 – TiVo Mini
  • 5 – Roku Netflix box
  • 4 – Neuros OSD*
  • 3 – Panasonic cordless phone
  • 3 – Maxtor OneTouch 4
  • 2 – Xbox 360
  • 2 – Shredder
  • 1 – Sony alarm clock radio
  • <1 – Panasonic HDTV (x2)

Obviously, these various components are consuming electricity when not in use. Shutting down the TiVo units isn’t a reasonable option, so a remote powerstrip kill switch is out of the question. But devices like the Roku and Xbox 360 only need power when the television is on, making Smart Strip-like adapters appealing. These solutions cut power to peripheral devices when the primary device (television, in this case) is off. In the meantime, I’m taking a page out of Brian Lam‘s and Jeremy Toeman‘s book – by simply unplugging. Since the Xbox probably won’t see much playing time until the next Call of Duty arrives and I’m still waiting for mainstream blockbuster content from Netflix (Roku), both these devices have been unplugged (along with the shredder). At the same time, it’s worth keeping these numbers in perspective – my electric bill jumped over $90 once the outside temps passed 85 and I cranked the AC, while the TiVo Series3 is responsible for only about $2.25/month.

24 responses to Exorcising the Energy Vampires

  1. A few more points…

    The cumulative savings of everyone cutting back on energy consumption could be significant. But I wonder how long it would take for the disposal of old powerstrips and construction, shipping, packing, etc of a new powerstrips to offset any home power reduction. ;) Interestingly, both Toeman and I have shied away from using “green” terminology. And thanks to Ben Drawbaugh for helping me intrepret the Kill A Watt numbers.

    *The items listed above with an asterisk were also powering either an ASUS wireless bridge or TiVo wireless adapter via USB… That adds to the power consumption. For example, the Neuros OSD pulls 2 watts when the bridge is powered via AC versus 4 when powered via USB.

    By the way, my plasma is an energy pig when on – consuming more power than the tube HDTV.

  2. My Kill-O-Watt is ready for action – I have a lot of electronic devices to test especially with my HTPC setup. My theory is that switching from using PC’s at each television to using Extenders (SageTV’s HD100) at each TV will save a good amount of energy for me. I’ll still have one PC running as the server all of the time, but it won’t have a monitor running and I’m trying to make it somewhat energy efficient. We’ll see how it goes.

  3. BTW, one slays vampires; demons are exorcised. Just wanted to clarify that point.

  4. You inspired me to pick up a kill a watt. I also bought one of the auto off surge protectors for the theater with all the game consoles plugged in.

  5. C, I know… I’ve seen Poltergeist, Lost Boys, Underworld, Blade, Hellraiser, etc. However, I noticed a few “Slaying Energy Vampire” headlines, so I was somewhat liberal with the mythology. Not to mention I don’t want to exactly slay – these devices need to work, I just want to take out the evil elements. Cut me some slack, eh? :)

    Brent, I think you’re right – A full-fledged PC probably sucks down much more juice than an extender.

  6. Dave, OK, OK. : ) Point well taken. I mean, if you look at Buffy Season 4, there are ways to mod a vampire so that he is no longer a threat, so I’ll allow the post title….this time, at least.

    Cheers!

  7. I love my Kill-O-Watt, I just wish they had designed it so that it doesn’t cover up the other socket in the outlet. Oh, and a backlight would be nice too for those hard-to-reach areas.

  8. One frustrating thing is that so many devices lose their configuration when they lose power. I haven’t tried my Kill-A-Watt on my A/V receiver, but it’s likely to suck a fair amount of power in “standby.” However, if it loses power for even a moment, it loses all the configuration (which inputs to use for each device, speaker levels, surround settings, etc.). So even if it’s a big power hog, it’s not feasible to cut the power when it’s not in use.

  9. Sean, I wonder if some devices have small batteries or writable memory? I noticed some of my devices don’t lose settings after a power outage or being unplugged, or not for some time.

    Marc, believe it or not I’ve had this thing well over a year – could be approaching two (and it cost about twice as much then) – but never opened it until this month. I agree that a backlight would be extremely useful – I had to get my storm lantern to see what it said behind the plasma (co-located with Xbox and TiVo HD).

  10. the kill-a-watt is great, I just put a little 5″ extension cord. .99$ at staples on the male plug, so it doesn’t use up another socket and is easier to place in some locations.

    I did a calculation per DAY for most of these items a few years ago. So, while something might draw only 2 watts, if it is on all day it makes all the difference. Like the wine fridge, is on ALL the time, so overall it sucks quite a bit (albeit, only about 7$ a month at these prices)

    Biggest pig, is the plasma. (probably 3-4 hrs a day ON) Next biggest is the HDTIVO (and the other four tivos!) next biggest is the VUDU since again, it is on ALL the time.

    Then comes the router, the phones and then little things.

    And I ALWAYS unplug!

  11. this is why i enjoy device integration. for example, when you get your xbox fall update you can kick the roku out of the mix.

    i am def. gonna unplug my shredder now though…

    another cheaper solution could be to use multiple surge’s (we all have extras), grouping things that sit idle onto one, and other devices that need to stay on (ie. tivo) to another

  12. tivoboy, both Brian Lam and I leave the Vudu unplugged. Other than their implied request for help in supporting the P2P network, I don’t see a need to keep it on 24/7 – that 30 second stub of a movie isn’t worth it for me and I’d rather not share my bandwidth. Though, I no longer have the Vudu – it’s been shipped to Ben D. He seems to be digging it, though doesn’t appreciate the HDMI-for-HD requirement.

  13. disclaimer: currently “testing” vudu. Must leave VUDU on, must not turn VUDU off.

    VUDU only gets some limited BW from my end though, through QOS thingies. Slingboxes, server, VOIP and web conferencing get all the priority they need.

    I WOULD like to see some smarter appliances and consumer products in general though. those little micro-mega watts add up. Makes me think of the guy who stole MILLIONS from Wells years ago, just by routing the ROUDING of the 100th of a CENT to a separate account. After a few months, he had some REAL MONEY!

    My footprint is about 450KW a month, household. Anyone else want to post their number?

  14. tivoboy, April was 630KWH. Now we’re over 1000KWH with summer in full effect and 90+ degree days – unfortunately we’ve got an inefficient AC unit and the three floors below me are sending their heat up. Seems like the windows and doors are properly sealed, but maybe the unit’s just not well insulated. My old condo, by comparison, faced east and was in a heavily treed neighborhood (shade) with a brand new quality (i.e. more efficient) AC unit.

  15. Dave, having a nine foot tall stack of dedicated STBs may just make trying to save 4 watts a day an exercise in futility.

    But you can make a difference, and go “green” ( There I said it! ) by measuring your total carbon foot print and offsetting it with a carbon credit purchase from any of the legit exchanges.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chicago_Climate_Exchange

    …or if you are poor like me and don’t have the cash to buy into carbon futures, just recycle all your beer bottles – that offset alone covers all my gadgets electricity consumption and then some! :P

  16. See, here in MP it is just the opposite. Summer is fine with highs in the 75-80 range, lows in the 50’s.

    Winter is when the cost rises for electricity what with a FAN and space heaters, so I’ll kick it up to 700kwh/m in the winter.

    I think I need to get the whole thing down to 1kWh a day for solar to start to be viable. Nice to be off the grid, but 30K for a replacement isn’t what I think is best at the moment.

  17. I’ve always wondered why Tivo can’t have some type of “hibernate” mode for when it isn’t recording.

    I think its a safe bet that (for me at least) it only records in prime time, so the other 20 hours a day, it’s just wasting electricity.

    And realistically, the buffer thing is pointless when I know I’m going to be at work or sleeping.

  18. Mine is 880 KWH for the past month. I have a new energy efficient house with top of the line A/C unit. That’s the reason why I bought the Kill a Watt. It’s not the cooling, it’s the gadgets. I have two HD DVRs and three desktop computers running at all times. Of course I don’t turn off any monitors, printers or anything else connected to them. Then you have ruko, DVD players, game consoles and stereo equipment. I’m looking forward to significantly dropping that number a month.

  19. THERE IS ONLY ONE PAPER SHREDDER WITH ZERO POWER CONSUMPTION IN STANDBY MODE.
    IT IS THE KOBRA ENERGY SMART.
    CHECK http://www.elcoman.it

  20. Ahh the joys of non-metered electricity. Just like my water, I use all I want (and I use a lot of both) for one monthly fee. Hey, if I don’t use it, my fellow condo dwellers willl!

    BWAAAA HAAA HAAAA!!!

    …Dale

  21. Hey, I no longer get a count-down clock to nervously edit my comments. No Disqus, no count-down comment doomsday device … ZNF’s comments are degrading in functionality! :)

  22. As you know Disqus killed about 4 hours of my weekend and won’t be seen here again. Ever. As far as the AJAXy comment edit script, it was disproportionately CPU-intensive and has been disabled. I’m thinking of switching hosts in the next few months given my rate increase yet similar performance and their lack of backups – I’ll reconsider the function if/then.

  23. I do wish there was a way to put Tivo to sleep. I’ve probably used the “buffer” about 10 times in 5 years. Having Tivo sleep and only tape selected programs might also help with hard drive life — I’ve heard contradictory reports on whether it is better to run a hard drive 24/7 or to shut it down.

  24. The one thing that I always wonder about is how much vampire power a power strip uses. Most have a light and probably generate some heat. Probably less than the appliances it is used to tame, but still…