Wednesday, November 3, 2010

On the Trail of Further Energy Savings

If you already know about it, good for you--I didn't believe it did any good. If you don't do it yet, do it NOW--the savings are real, and the hassle is minor: put your internet router and satellite box on a power strip you can turn off.

I've found these are the two phantom loads in my house. I didn't want to believe they were big, but my electric bill says otherwise.

My husband didn't believe me either, until I had him put his hand on the satellite box--it was hot, even though the TV hadn't been on for hours. This means the box runs even though we aren't technically using it, because the TV's off. The same goes for the wireless internet: the computer may be off, but the wireless router still runs...and runs...and runs.

The biggest power feast comes overnight--even though the per-kilowatt off-peak charge is lower, that's still power consumed but not put to good use...or wasted. Another phantom load I've found in the past is an HP printer with an inverter in the cord (this converts AC power to DC power, and runs as long as you have the printer plugged in). After a particularly bad electrical storm, we lost the printer and had to replace it, so we carefully searched for one with all-AC power. Sure, the ink cartridges cost more, but if you don't print up a storm, it doesn't matter.

Back to the power loss: consider power lost each day and night through phantom loads, and now multiply that times a week, then a month, then a year, then as long as you've had the offending appliances. These little leaks add up to big money.

How to handle it: replace the appliances with direct-use currents (avoiding transformers), or change you time-of-use to only off-peak hours or on someone else's dime (like at work or in a Starbucks), or find ways of getting the same service with less power going to phantom loads (like using dial-up internet instead of router-supplied internet, or cable instead of satellite), or simply by putting offending appliances on a power strip YOU can control, so that you can use them and consume only the power you need at the time, and you control the time you use them (off-peak is best).

Just by putting the satellite box on a power strip, I managed to save $10/month off the electricity bill. When the satellite contract's up next year, I plan to ditch both the satellite AND the TV--my shows are available for free on Hulu. As for the wireless internet, this house had only one phone jack, and it was in my pantry (the computer wasn't going in my pantry!). Rather than shell out for new jack installation from the phone company, we opted for wireless so internet would be available throughout the house from one location, but the router is going on a strip after seeing the savings from just one phantom load killed off.

That seemingly-measly $10/month savings could very well turn into $20/month, or $200/year. That would pay for a super-insulated "Obama" bedroom-sized window installation--we call them Obama windows because they were the ones Obama was giving tax credit for this year. Normally, you wouldn't install those windows here, because they're rated for more northern climates like Michigan, Maine, or Canada. That $200 would also pay for a storm door + installation.

Now I'm a believer in phantom loads. I foolishly fell for the lower-cost-per-month satellite TV service (it was cheaper than cable for many more channels), but now I know that phantom load makes up the cost difference. I imagine the same goes for the internet connection, even though the monthly charge was the same.


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