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It is so tempting to leave a computer on all day to avoid the wait when starting the machine up, but if you’re not using it, it is wasting energy. The U.S. Department of Energy recommends shutting off a computer’s monitor if you are stepping away for more than 20 minutes, or turning the whole computer off if you will be away for more than 2 hours. Not only will you be saving energy, but since computers tend to produce heat as they run, you will be keeping your room cool and creating less work for air conditioners.
The Department of Energy notes that if a computer takes a long time to shut down and start up, it may be worth the energy waste to leave it on if you will be using it throughout the day; they recommend deciding on whether your time is more valuable than the energy savings. Make sure that your PC is set to go into sleep mode or power down when not in use. The PC will use about 70% less electricity in this mode, and the monitor will use only 10% of the energy it would if it was left on.
A surprising energy waster is a screensaver on your computer. Some take more energy to run than if there was no screensaver, and it can prevent a computer going into energy-saving sleep mode. The Department of Energy points out that most modern LCD screens don’t need a screensaver like monitors of the past did. Get rid of your unnecessary screensaver to be a power saver.
Gaming systems are a big energy waste, too. Do Something reports that consoles can waste up to 230 kilowatt-hours per year. Many, including the Wii and PlayStation 2, have a light that remains illuminated even when the console is turned off. To prevent this waste, make sure that you turn the console off when you’re not using it, though some devices have a second off switch. Do Something says that many systems go into standby mode when you press the off switch on the front, but there is a second switch on the back to fully power-down (that will turn the little light off).
DVR boxes are incredibly convenient; they give us the opportunity to have a social life and still be able to keep up with our favorite programs. Unfortunately, they eat up a huge amount of energy. Even when they’re not recording, the Los Angeles Times says that DVR boxes around the country use up as much energy per year as nine coal-burning power plants can create. The “off” button is a bit of a joke: it will dim the box’s clock display. It continues to use up about the same amount of power whether it is turned off or left on. Each box uses about 275 kilowatt-hours of electricity per year. To compare, an energy-efficient light bulb would use 17 kilowatt hours to stay running all year. The DVR boxes even use more electricity than the television itself. To save energy, you have to unplug it when it’s not in use.
Turning off electronics often does little to stop the use of energy. Many electronics are set to always be ready to start back up, so they continuously suck electricity. If your computer, DVR, television, gaming systems, or other electronics are on a power strip, turn the power strip off to prevent more energy from being wasted. If the device is plugged directly into the wall, unplug it when not in use. If you are not recording anything on your DVR overnight (most of the good shows are on during the evening), unplug your DVR when you go to bed. Again, if nothing is set to record during the day, leave it unplugged when you are at work and plug it back in when you come home and want to watch TV. Same with your computer. If you go on vacation, unplug it or turn the power strip off. Not only will you be saving energy, you will protect the device in case of a power surge while you are gone.
Speaking of unplugging things, remember the public service announcements for unplugging your phone charger when not actively charging? Leaving a phone or laptop charger plugged in without a device hooked up to it draws electricity, called “Vampire Power.” Luckily, this vampire power is small. Aside from laziness or a fear of misplacing your charger, there is no reason to leave it plugged in, but if you do happen to leave it in the socket, your energy bill won’t see a major spike. Slate reports that if you left your charger plugged in all year, it would use about 2.3 kWh of energy. Compare that to the 17 kWh of the energy-efficient light bulb or the 275 kWh of your DVR unit. One expert Slate interviewed compares trying to save energy by unplugging just your charger to “bailing the Titanic out with a teaspoon.” You should still unplug your laptop and phone chargers when they’re not in use (what’s your excuse for leaving it in, you lazy bum?), but you may not see the savings on your energy bill.
Next month, instead of balking at your electricity bill, unplug a few unused gadgets and save some juice. Your wallet and the planet will be grateful.