Kill-a-watt Takes on the Energy Vampires

Green Postage Stamps

Green Postage Stamps

I blame StumbleUpon—or perhaps I should thank them.  One of their recommendations took me to  a site that delivered some dismal news.  My green(?)  lifestyle actually requires 3.9 planets to support.

After years of trying to live conscientiously…  including insulating the attic, buying down comforters, and eating local, this was a tough blow.

The average North American household is even worse at five planets, but I find little solace in this.  In the end,  we only have one planet.

But … what else could I do?

We had already begun some positive activities like recycling and eating local.  And we had taken the obvious energy conservation measures like insulating, using compact fluorescent bulbs,  replacing windows  and so on.  I even cooked pot roast outdoors to keep from heating up the house!

But my One Planet score was still terrible and, indeed, our electric bills are painfully high.

I had heard a lot about energy “vampires”—devices that suck power even when you aren’t using them.  So I checked a kill-a-watt out of the library and decided to see for myself.



The kill-a-watt is a small device that measures things like the watts and kilowatts that your appliances use.  You plug the kill-a-watt into your outlet, then plug the appliance into that and take a reading.   I went from room to room checking anything small that plugs in.

Here is what I found:

Family Room: TV and attached devices came in 22 watts with everything off (actually good—people with fancy electronics are much higher).   The stereo did a little better at 10 with everything off.  Hmmm, it will cost us around $35/ year if we don’t even  enter the room.

Master bedroom:  This contained a variety of miscellaneous devices and a treadmill holding up laundry at 4 or 5 watts.  I’m pretty sure the treadmill could hold up laundry at 0 watts.

Study:  Here we had eight devices that consume a small amount of power (3-4 watts) when “off.”  These included a paper shredder, a charger that wasn’t charging anything and a power strip using power even though nothing was attached!

Power Strip

Power Strip

Kitchen: Even my free-standing mixer uses power while off as well as the phone, TV, and radio/CD player.  Only the toaster read zero watts (when not toasting).

What I learned:

  • I don’t have the patience to wait for the device to calculate an hour of power usage.  I did much better measuring the watts and putting this into a spreadsheet for a baseline estimate (attached).  Then I found an online calculator that was even easier!
  • Almost everything we own uses a little power even when off, including phones in nearly every room, and chargers that are not charging anything.  Although 3-4 watts on a single device is pocket change,  we had at least 3 dozen misc small devices.  At an average of  3.5 watts, this adds up to $132/year for doing nothing!
  •  We’ve all heard that we should switch to fluorescent lights.  But even “low energy” fluorescent bulb usage can add up.  I found a light in the basement with two 40 watt fluorescent tubes that was kept on 7 x 24 “for the cats”.  My husband had always said, “It’s fluorescent; it won’t use anything real.”  Tally: $84/year.

Next week:  What are we changing…

6 thoughts on “Kill-a-watt Takes on the Energy Vampires

  1. Louise

    You sure come up with the bestest tips, Inger:) I’ve been doing a lot of research on solar power and next month will be interviewing three companies to see what they have to offer. It sure has been a learning experience and one that I have a feeling will be getting much more complicated. However, just for the heck of it, I must find me one of those Kill-a-Watt thingamajigs, lol…

    Thanks for sharing…

    1. Inger Wilkerson

      You know, I won’t be saving the world this way but I’ll take a little bit of environmental help and a couple hundred dollar savings for just a little effort… I can’t wait to hear how your solar investigation comes out!

  2. Louise

    I’ll say this, it’s been interesting especially since Pennsylvania seems to be the new “capital” of the world for gas drilling!!!

  3. Louise

    And that’s not the half of it. All Americans should make themselves aware of the going ons in “Fracking PA” it is mind boggling but, don’t get me started…

  4. Pingback: And the Energy Savings Are… (Real!) « Art of Natural Living

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