Sky-high electric bill? Save with smart power outlets, power strips, LED bulbs, thermostats
For all the modern conveniences technology brings to the home – Wi-Fi-enabled washing machines, powerful gaming systems and enormous smart televisions – one of the downsides is paying to power it all.
In fact, home utility costs are continuing to spike for many parts of the country, with 2021 electricity prices rising at the fastest rate since 2008, says the U.S. Energy Information Administration – already hitting Americans facing skyrocketing inflation, resulting in higher costs for many goods and services.
Not only does the average household have dozens of consumer electronics products plugged into power outlets at any given time, most consume electricity when not in use. “Vampire power” – also referred to as “phantom power” or “standby power” – can account for as much as 10% of a household’s electricity bill, says the Environmental Protection Agency.
This can really add up.
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Large appliances are often the main electricity “vampires” that still suck electricity when you’re not using them, but there are other common culprits like televisions, sound systems, cable boxes, video game consoles, security cameras, printers, pool pumps and desktop computers.
The good news is there are several ways to help fight back on your electricity bills.
Not including solar solutions – which is another approach altogether and one we’ll revisit in this space shortly – the following are simple ways to reduce power consumption (and thus, costs) in the home.
Unplug when not in use
While inconvenient, the easiest thing to do is simply unplug gadgets from the wall when you’re not using them or when your devices have finished charging up.
After all, your smartphone’s battery is probably fully charged after, say, 45 minutes, so why do you leave it plugged in overnight, for seven hours or more?
Manually unplugging devices is the cheapest way to handle “vampires,” but requires you to stay on top of it. If you have a guest room in the home, for example, unplug a television, lamp, fan, space heater, or anything else you don’t need more than a few times a year.
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Be aware, a television can be unplugged but a cable box with a DVR/TiVo that archives your shows for you, will need to stay plugged in, of course. And from the “duh” department, you need many appliances to be plugged in all the time, like fridges and chest freezers, but look for the Energy Star logo (see below).
Video game consoles can also be unplugged when not in use, but there’s a small trade-off: many consoles, when always plugged into the wall and connected to the internet, will download updates to games (and the operating system) when you’re not using it, so you don’t have to wait for the download at the time you want to play. Just know this costs electricity.
Computers, too, can update themselves overnight, but make sure you set your monitor to go to sleep after a few minutes of activity, which will help reduce power consumption.
Smart plugs, strips
Smart plugs can give you greater control over all your devices.
For example, the Eve Energy Smart Plug & Power Meter ($39.95 for a single, $109.85 for a set of three, or $179.75 for a 5-pack) can switch appliances on and off with a tap on the Eve app, set schedules and timers or you can use your voice to ask Siri to do it (leveraging Apple’s HomeKit platform). Eve Energy connects directly to your iPhone or iPad via Bluetooth, as well as the more responsive Thread technology (no bridge required).
Belkin also has a Wemo Smart Plug with Thread, starting at $24.99.
For example, set your dishwasher to only run during off-peak hours to save money on electricity costs. Check your utility company’s rates based on on-, off- and mid-peak times, which often change during the year.
Similarly, the Eve Energy Strip ($99.95) lets you individually control three outlets with the app or Siri, connected to your Wi-Fi (without needing a bridge). You can track total power consumption and see the projected costs.
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To safeguard your computer and other electronics, there is surge protection, overcurrent protection and overvoltage protection.
Some smart power strips can also cut off electricity to a couple of its outlets – ideal for when you’re going on vacation, for example – while other outlets on the power bar maintain the connection to the power source when turned off (such as a DVR).
Another option is the Sense Home Energy Monitor (starts at $299 for non-solar homes) installs in your home’s electrical panel and provides insight into your energy use and home activity in real time, through iOS android and web apps.
Energy Star products
Ensure you’re purchasing consumer electronics branded with the Energy Star logo (cyan blue and white) as they’ve been tested and verified to be more energy efficient. You should see that familiar sticker on the box and product itself. When in doubt, ask a salesperson or write to the manufacturer on their website.
An Energy Star-certified product doesn’t mean it doesn’t still consume power when turned off but will be more eco-friendly in order to earn the seal of approval. The EPA says Energy Star certification ensures products are tested to meet strict efficiency standards and certified by an independent third party.
Switch to LED lights, smart thermometers
If you haven’t done so already, it’s time to replace your incandescent and fluorescent bulbs with LED lights, as they sip rather than gulp electricity.
Oh sure, they cost more – so perhaps wait for a sale or seasonal rebates – but you’ll save money in the long run. A 60-watt equivalent, for instance, might only be only 7.5 watts for comparable lumens with an LED light – not to mention they can last considerably longer, which saves you even more money. Energy Star-certified bulbs are often rated for up to 15,000 hours.
There are also Wi-Fi-enabled Smart LED bulbs, which might save you even more, thanks to the ability to set schedules and timers, remotely access your lights (such as turning lights off via an app) or, when coupled with room sensors, have the lights go off automatically when someone left the room. Smart LEDs also let you use your voice to control them (via Amazon Alexa or Google) or you can change between millions of colors or preset scenes.
Speaking of smart speakers, automation through Alexa Routines makes it easier to conserve energy. You can create a Routine in the Alexa app that groups together actions, so you don’t have to remember (or even ask Alexa) for them individually. For instance, a featured Routine called “Snore Your Lights Off” utilizes sound detection, so you can have your bedroom’s smart speaker detect the sound of snoring during a given time frame and turn off the smart lights, which helps save energy when don’t need it.
Alternatively, create a Routine you trigger when stepping out the door by saying “Alexa, I’m leaving,” which then turns off your lights, lowers the temp on your thermostat, powers off a TV and so on.
Speaking of smart thermometers, they let you conveniently adjust heating and cooling settings on a phone, tablet, or laptop, but they can also learn your schedule and automatically optimize the temperature in your home.
Products like the Amazon Smart Thermostat (as low as $48), ecobee Smart Thermostat (from $149), or Google Nest Thermostat (from $129) learn your habits and adjusts to automatically regulate your home's temperature (whether you’re home or not) and could turn down the home’s temp when everyone is asleep at night.
Follow Marc on Twitter @marc_saltzman for his “Tech Tip of the Day” posts Email him or subscribe to his Tech It Out" podcast. The views and opinions expressed in this column are the author’s, and do not necessarily reflect those of USA TODAY.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Save on your electric bill with smart outlets, power strips, LED bulbs