Leaky gadgets

Date:1 November 2008 Tags:,

Power switches can do only so much. Even if they’re turned off, your electronic devices are still likely pulling a charge as long as they are plugged in. And while the trickle of electricity consumed by so-called electrical vampires is often just a watt or two, this adds up, especially since most appliances are plugged in 24 hours a day.

In general, newer “smart” appliances that have a lot of background processing draw more idle juice than older, dumb ones. In fact, as long as they are plugged in, some devices never truly turn off. For instance, modern TVs are constantly scanning the airwaves for remote control clicks. On the other hand, my old coffee roaster drew virtually no charge until I turned it on.

Perhaps more wastefully, idling products such as cellphone chargers left dangling from the wall draw a small current without providing any appreciable benefits. Fortunately, even if it’s impractical to unplug all of your gadgets when they’re not in use, there are simple steps you can take to dull your vampires’ fangs and lower your energy bill.

First, try tinkering with a device’s settings to reduce the amount of activity that occurs when it’s idle. For example, if you leave the Wi-Fi connection active on an unused Nintendo Wii, it draws about 10 watts of power. Turn it off and this figure drops to 1,3 watts. In general, anything you can do to dumb down your smart devices should help narrow their trickle. And because many of the worst offenders are likely to be located next to each other in the home entertainment centre, try plugging them all into a single power strip that can be switched off when you’re out. Just be sure to keep your DVR separate – it can’t do its job unless it’s always on.

Lately, the electronics industry has begun to pay more attention to the problem of energy leakage, and a few companies have begun releasing products that address it. One of my favourites is the Belkin Conserve surge protector, which allows you to completely cut power to some outlets while keeping others active.

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