Your aquarium may be costing you more to run each month than your refrigerator!
If you've already read about other topics mentioned in the Appliances section of the Energy Center, you know that refrigerators and other appliances built today are more energy efficient than ever before. That doesn't necessarily hold true for small appliances, however.
According to a 1998 study done at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, electricity consumption in American homes is growing faster in the category of small appliances than in any other category. Items such as computers, ceiling fans, halogen torchiere lamps, vacuum cleaners, electric skillets, dehumidifiers, waterbed heaters, electric toothbrushes, hot tubs, video tape recorders, microwave ovens and stereos now account for about one-fifth of the energy used in your home, and the percentage is growing quickly. Increasing nearly 5 percent a year, the power needed to run small appliances more than doubled from 1976 to 1995.
Large appliances have been improved through energy standards to the point where refrigerators use one-third as much electricity today as they did 20 years ago. Miscellaneous appliances, however, must meet no such standards. That's why a waterbed heater used for half a year can consume more electricity than your computer does all year long. That's also why a 180-gallon coral reef aquarium running 24 hours a day can use more energy than an energy efficient refrigerator.
How Much Energy Does It Use?
Here are typical yearly consumption figures for some common small household appliances. To estimate your annual cost, multiply the kilowatt/hours listed per year by your utility's electricity rate.
Keep in mind these estimates will vary with your family's use of appliances, and some products continue to draw power even when turned off. (More about that in a minute.) This "leakage" will increase the appliance's energy consumption by a few watts an hour.
|Appliance||Time in use||kilowatt/hours
used per year
|Central air conditioning||12 hours day,
|Clock radio||24 hours/day||44|
(does not include hot water)
|Coffee maker||30 minute/day||128|
(does not include hot water)
|Electric blanket||8 hrs/day,
|Fan (furnace)||12 hrs/day,
|Fan (whole house)||4hrs/day,
|Fan (window)||4 hrs/day,
|Hair dryer||15 minutes/day||100|
|Heater (portable)||3 hours/day,
|Microwave oven||2 hours/week||89|
|Radio (stereo)||2 hours/day||73|
(frostfree 16 cubic feet)
(frostfree 18 cubic feet)
|Television (color)||3 hours/day||264|
|Toaster oven||1 hour/day||73|
|Vacuum cleaner||1 hour/week||38|
|Water bed (no cover)||12 hrs/day,
(40 gallon electric)
|Water pump (deep well)||2 hrs/day||730|
Source: EREN, U.S. Department of Energy
The Problem Of Leaking Electricity - ENERGY VAMPIRES
Many small appliances made today continue to draw power, even when they are switched off. Nearly 20 percent of the electricity used by appliances is lost while they are sitting in the standby mode, waiting to be used. Think of your television, ostensibly turned off, but really in a standby mode so that it can respond to your remote control. Think of your telephone answering machine, always drawing power as it waits for a call. Then there is your portable toothbrush or perhaps your portable vacuum cleaner; both are constantly plugged in to keep the batteries in their hand-held units recharged. How about that microwave oven in the kitchen, constantly pulling power to keep its digital clock running?
Of course, the biggest standby loss of energy - sometimes referred to as "leaking electricity" - occurs in modern consumer electronics. Video equipment - TVs, VCRs, cable boxes and satellite dishes - account for the largest share of a home's leaking electricity, roughly 35 percent. Audio equipment makes up another 25 percent of standby losses; a small compact audio unit can draw 9 watts while it's ostensibly turned off. Since most listeners only use their stereos an hour a day, 93 percent of a stereo's energy use occurs when the unit is switched off!
Communications equipment such as answering machines, cordless phones and fax machines are responsible for an additional 10 percent of home electricity losses. All told, the Lawrence Berkeley study estimates that today the average American household constantly leaks about 50 watts of electricity. The study claims that U.S. consumers would save more than $1 billion each year if manufacturers used proven technologies to reducing the 'leaking' component of many small appliances.
Right now, the only way a consumer can prevent some appliances from leaking electricity is to unplug them. There are several ways, however, for manufacturers can address the problem and reduce standby losses to a single watt per appliance. Circuits can be redesigned to reduce leakage by 90 percent. Energy-saving circuits can be added, and a real, "hard-off" switch can be installed. Transformers - those small black boxes that plug into the wall outlet for appliances such as telephone answering machines - can be replaced by more efficient switched-mode power supplies. As these wall packs are built today, however, each transformer costs a homeowner about $1.50 a year in wasted electricity as it steps down a home's high-voltage alternate current to a lower voltage direct current. When you realize that the typical home has three to 10 of these units plugged in at all times, the cost of electricity leakage adds up quickly.
The problem of leaking energy is a worldwide one. Unfortunately, most consumers don't realize that flipping the "off" switch on many small appliances doesn't do what they think it does. Consumers need to call for an end to leaking appliances, and international standards need to be set to limit the waste of standby electricity.
ENERGY STAR® now rates home electronic equipment. Televisions approved by EnergyStar can save 75 percent of standby electricity losses. It pays to be a wise shopper and consider energy savings!
For the leaking appliances you already have, consider turning them off manually - unplug them when they are not in use, or plug them into a power strip that can be turned off - really turned off - with a separate switch.
Many small appliances, specifically TV, VCRs, Home Audio and DVDs, have EnergyStar labels. Buying home electronics with the ENERGY STAR are a smart choice, because they save money and help protect the environment by using less energy.