Unplugged

When you get your electric bill each month, you're being charged for the number of kilowatt-hours (kWh) you consume. One kWh (one kilowatt consumed over the course of one hour) on average in the U.S. costs roughly 10 cents, and is equal to about two pounds of greenhouse gases. A 1,000-watt appliance uses one kWh every 60 minutes. Here are some wattages of common appliances:
  • Aquarium = 50–1210
  • Clock radio = 10
  • Coffee maker = 900–1200
  • Clothes washer = 350–500
  • Clothes dryer = 1800–5000
  • Dishwasher = 1200–2400 (using the drying feature greatly increases energy consumption)
  • Dehumidifier = 785
  • Electric blanket- Single/Double = 60 / 100
  • Fans: Ceiling = 65–175; Window = 55–250; Furnace = 750; Whole house = 240–750
  • Hair dryer = 1200–1875
  • Heater (portable) = 750–1500
  • Clothes iron = 1000–1800
  • Microwave oven = 750–1100
  • Personal computer: CPU awake/asleep = 120/30 or less; Monitor awake/asleep = 150/30 or less; Laptop = 50
  • Radio (stereo) = 70–400
  • Refrigerator (frost-free, 16 cubic feet) = 725
  • Televisions (color): 19" = 65–110; 27" = 113; 36" = 133; 53"-61" Projection = 170; Flat screen = 120
  • Toaster = 800–1400
  • Toaster oven = 1225
  • VCR/DVD = 17–21 / 20–25
  • Vacuum cleaner = 1000–1440
  • Water heater (40 gallon) = 4500–5500
  • Water pump (deep well) = 250–1100
  • Water bed (with heater, no cover) = 120–380

    To determine specifics for the appliances in your home, you may want to invest in a Kill a Watt. Simply plug your device into the Kill a Watt and you can see right there how much energy is being used.

    But besides opting to use appliances requiring fewer kWh, actually unplugging items you're not using can save you (and the Earth) a bundle.

    That's right—even while off, some appliances continue drawing energy from electric outlets. As much as 15 percent of your annual electric bills come from dormant items left plugged into sockets. Check out this data:
    • iPod docking station = 6.7 watts when playing music, 6.3 when the ipod was removed.
    • Older 32" TV = 80 watts on, 1.2 off
    • 19" Plasma TV = 41 on, 1.6 off
    • 32" LCD TV = 15 on, 0.1 off
    • DVD/VCR = 20.3 on, 19.8 off
    • wii = 17.5 on, 1.8 off
    • Desktop computer = 84.7 on, 16.3 off
    And this: Only 5 percent of the power drawn by a cell phone charger is used to charge the phone. The other 95 percent is wasted when it is left plugged into the wall. Most appliances, in fact, do draw some standby current. An easy way to determine which dormant items pull and which don't is to wander through your home looking for LED lights. Things like lamps, portable fans, and many old-school radios don't draw energy while off. But alarm clocks, most cell chargers, microwaves, electric toothbrushes, and stereos do. And anything that hums or gets the slightest bit warm even while off is drawing power.

    Every watt of standby power will amount to a kWh in 1,000 hours, costing you around 10 cents. Forty watts of standby power averages a kWh per day—costing you roughly $3 a month. That adds up fast—especially nowadays, when it seems everyone has at least one computer, a stereo, iPod dock, flatscreen, DVD player, and electric shaver and toothbrush.

    Here's the cost of keeping your appliances plugged in for one year:
    • (TV smaller than 40 inches) Plasma TV, $48.25
    • TV accessories, Digital video recorder/TIVO $39.71
    • Digital cable, $26.15. Computers, Desktop, $27.90
    • Computer accessories, CRT computer monitor, $8.97
    • Modem, $5.47 [from Real Simple Magazine the April 2008 ]
    The International Energy Agency has a "one-watt initiative", encouraging countries to adopt a maximum of 1 watt of standby power on all devices. Items in the U.S. marked "Energy Star" are designed to use less than 3/4 watt when not on.

    You can lower your energy consumption by plugging most of your electronics into a power strip and turning the strip off when not in use. Doing so will save you the energy equivalent of a 100-watt light bulb left on 24/7. Or better yet, maintain an "unplugged" policy with items like televisions, printers, phone chargers, and microwaves. After a few days of practice, we swear it'll become second nature.
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    Nicole Caldwell

    Nicole Caldwell is a self-taught environmentalist, green-living savant and sustainability educator with more than a decade of professional writing experience. She is also the co-founder of Better Farm and president of betterArts. Nicole’s work has been featured in Mother Earth News, Reader’s Digest, Time Out New York, and many other publications. Her first book, Better: The Everyday Art of Sustainable Living, is due out this July through New Society Publishers.