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Home Electronics

This is a consumer page on home electronics. For more resources, visit the consumer electronics topic page.

The energy use of electronic equipment often goes unnoticed. But as it turns out, an estimated 10% to 15% of all electricity used in American homes can be attributed to the buzz of electronic devices. The vast majority is consumed by home entertainment systems and home office equipment. But small energy users, including portable devices with battery chargers, make up a significant share—not because they use a lot of energy individually, but because of their sheer numbers.

Step 1. Understanding Power Modes
Step 2.
Reducing Energy Use
Step 3.
Buying New Electronics | Home Entertainment | Office Equipment | Power Supplies

 

Understanding Power Modes

 

To minimize the energy used by home electronics, it is helpful to understand the true meaning of “on” and “off” as applied to electronics. It’s rarely that simple! Unlike a light switch that turns a lamp or fixture on or off, many electronics products operate in two, three, or even four modes, and even continue to draw power when apparently turned off.

Mode Definition Examples
Active
(In-Use)
Appliance is performing its primary function. TV displays picture and/or sound.
DVR records or plays back tape.
Printer prints document.
Active standby Appliance ready for use, but not performing primary function.
Appears on to consumer.
DVD player on but not playing.
Cordless appliance charging.
Passive standby Appliance is off/standby.
Appears off to consumer, but can be activated by remote control OR is performing peripheral function.
Microwave not in use, but clock is on.
CD player off, but can be turned on with remote control.
Off Appliance is turned off and no function is being performed. Consumer cannot activate with remote control. Computer speakers are off,
but plugged in.
TV is not functioning and cannot be turned on with remote.

 

Below is a table of common electronic equipment and the average energy used in each mode and per year (in order from most energy-intensive to least)

Product
Passive Standby or Off (watts)
Active Standby
(watts)
Active
(watts)
Average Annual Energy Use (kWh)
Home Entertainment
Plasma TV (<40")
3
-
246
441
DVR/TiVo
37
37
37
363
Digital Cable
26
26
26
239
Satellite Cable
12
11
16
124
CRT TV (<40")
1
-
73
123
LCD TV (<40")
3
-
70
77
Video Game Console
1
-
24
16
DVD
1
5
11
13
Home Office
Desktop Computer
4
17
68
255
Laptop Computer
1
3
22
83
CRT Monitor
2
3
70
82
LCD Monitor
1
2
27
70
Computer Speakers
2
-
7
20
Modem
5
-
6
50
Wireless Router
2
-
6
48
USB Hub
1
-
3
18
Printer
2
3
9
15
Fax
4
4
4
26
Multi-Function Printer/Scanner/Copier
6
9
15
55
Rechargeable Devices
Power Tool
4
-
34
37
Hand-Held Vacuum
3
-
3
29
Cordless Phone
2
3
5
26
Electric Toothbrush
2
-
4
14
Shaver
1
-
1
11
MP3 Player
1
-
1
6
Cell Phone
0
1
3
3
Digital Camera
0
-
2
3

Source: ECOS Consulting, 2006: Final Field Research Report for the California Energy Commission

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Reducing Energy Use

 

There are several steps you can take now to minimize the energy used by the electronics in your home:

  • Unplug It. The simplest and most obvious way to eliminate power losses is to unplug products when not in use. Search the wall sockets in your house for hidden un-connected chargers and other devices that don't need to be plugged in. When you detach your cell phone or similar device from its charger, unplug the charger too. Unplug chargers for your portable devices when the product can't be charged.
  • Use a Power Strip. Plug home electronics and office equipment into a power strip with an on/off switch. This will allow you to turn off all power to the devices in one easy step.  Look for power strips with a remote switch and you no longer need to have the power strip and the clutter of cords in an easy-¬to-¬reach and visible location.  Once the power strip is turned off, no power will be delivered to the outlets, thereby eliminating power wasted by power supplies. One caveat: home entertainment equip¬ment such as TVs, cable and satellite boxes, and DVRs will need to be reprogrammed or given time to reboot and download information when turned back on. Many new power strips come with two or three “always on” outlets allowing you to maintain power to devices you do not want to power off completely. Alternatively, you can plug these devices into a separate strip and only turn them off when you plan to be away for more than a few days. 
  • Use a Power Meter. Use a power meter to find your leading sources of energy consumption to help you to prioritize which products to unplug or to replace. Plug these devices in between a given appliance and the wall socket to see how much electricity it is using. Two models to look for are the Kill A Watt™ and the Watts Up? Pro Power Meter. For an even more sophisticated, big-picture look at your home’s real-time electricity use, you might also consider purchasing a power use monitor. These devices are programmed to read information from your electric meter and communicate the real-time changes in use through an easy-to-read screen. Some good monitors to look for are The Energy Detective (TED), the Power Cost Monitor, and the Cent-A-Meter.

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Buying New Electronics

Home Entertainment Equipment

Look for the ENERGY STAR when purchasing a new TV, DVD Player, VCR, audio system, or digital-to-analog converter box. The ENERGY STAR label ensures low standby power use for these appliances — in most cases only 1 watt or less. To identify the most efficient products along with prices and where to buy locally, see the Top Ten USA listings.

Computers and Home Office Equipment

External Power Supplies

  • Electronic products run on low-voltage direct current (DC) and therefore require power supplies to transform the 120-volt alternating current (AC) supplied at the power outlet. Some larger products, like TVs, stereos and set-top boxes, incorporate the power supply into the body of the product. Others use external power supplies, the familiar “wall packs” that increasingly compete for space in our outlets and power strips. These power supplies consume electricity as long as they are connected to a power outlet, whether or not the product is on or off, and even if it is disconnected! You'll know a wall pack is using energy when it has been plugged in for a while and it is warm to the touch.
  • A number of manufacturers now offer high-efficiency power supplies (typically “switch-mode” power supplies) and a growing number of products are sold with these improved devices. The best of these devices boast efficiency levels of more than 90%, whereas the worst performers are only 20-40% efficient (meaning they waste more than half of the electricity that passes through them!).
  • High efficiency power supplies are much smaller and lighter than the wall-pack power supplies they replace, saving room under your desk and in your briefcase. ENERGY STAR-qualified power supplies are now available and are being sold with a growing number of electronics products. For more information, check out EfficientPowerSupplies.org

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Page last updated December 2012