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8 tips to hunting and slaying home energy vampires
[March 29, 2010]

8 tips to hunting and slaying home energy vampires

Mar 29, 2010 ( - McClatchy-Tribune News Service via COMTEX) -- A normal home contains has 40 or more phantom energy vampires skulking in the dark corners of their home. Coffee makes, cell phone chargers, cable transmitter boxes and computers _ just to name a few _ both suck up dollars while menacing the environment.

On its own, the vampire power used by one device might seem minuscule, but collectively it amounts to more than $4 billion a year of wasted energy by American consumers. More importantly, the Department of Energy says roughly 75 percent of electricity used to power home electronics is consumed while the products are turned off.

It's hard to know, however, which energy sources will suck you dry and which simply nibble away. Here are the top energy vampires and how you can put a stake through their hearts.

1. Heating and Cooling Systems _ 45 Percent Heaters and cooling systems account for the biggest chunk of your energy bill. The good news is it's not that difficult to cut usage. That's why energy-efficient furnaces and air conditioners are your first line of defense, followed by proper wall, attic and duct insulation.

Check with your utility company as well as city and county governments about having an energy audit performed. The EP also offers a do-it-yourself energy-audit tool.

An energy audit identifies problem areas and how you can reduce the related energy consumption. Some auditors will install programmable thermostats, water-heater insulating blankets and compact fluorescent (CFLs) bulbs in place of standard light bubs. A programmable thermostat can cut your heating and cooling costs as much as 20 percent by reducing your home's temperature five degrees at night and 10 degrees during the day (or raise it an equal amount when cooling).

Ceiling and attic fans require far less energy than air conditioners and require less maintenance.

Programmable thermostats, insulated windows, and ceiling fans can also help lower your energy bill. A programmable thermostat, for instance, can cut heating and cooling costs as much as 20 percent when you use it to reduce the temperature 5 degrees at night and 10 degrees during the day when heating (or raise it an equal amount when cooling). Read Consumer's Reports recommendations on choosing a thermostat before switching over.

2. Hot Water Heaters _ 11 percent The new tankless water heaters can save you up to $50 a year in energy costs. They are more expensive, however, so it's best to install a tankless water heater after your old one breaks down or you're remodeling.

Solar hot-water heaters also are gaining in popularity. Visit the Department of Energy for detailed information.

If neither of these options work for you, wrap your water heater in an insulation blanket (about $20) and set it to 120 degrees instead of 140 degrees and save up to 10 percent in water-heating costs.

Finally, replacing older showerheads with low-flow modes will cut your water usage in half.

3. Washers and Dryers _ 10 percent Naturally, energy-saving models will suck the least amount of energy, but monetarily you should wait until an older model requires replacement as the cost of purchasing new machines won't be offset for many years. When buying new appliances, however, consider a front-loading washing machine are more efficient than top loaders and will cut water consumption about 25 percent.

Even with an older washing machine model, however, you can save up to $63 a year by washing primarily in cold water.

4. Lighting _ 7 percent CFL light bulbs will reduce lighting costs up to 65 percent and last six to 10 times longer than standard incandescents. Save even more by installing electronic photocell on-and-off switches and electric timers that turn lights off automatically when not needed.

5. Refrigerators _ 6 percent Federally mandated minimum-efficiency standards have greatly reduced the energy appetites of these former electricity suckers. There are ways you can reduce your fridge's energy consumption even more. Models with the freezer on top are much more efficient than side-by-side models, also known as French-door models. Replace ice makers with a few ice trays and you'll cut your cost even more.

6. Electronics _ 4 percent Add together the energy consumption from televisions, DVD players, cable boxes and all the rest of your home electronics collection and you're looking at a fair amount of cash. Running a computer and a monitor 24 hours a day uses some 1,100 kilowatt hours annually, which can add up to $100 a year.

Place your computer on sleep and save more than 80 percent while cutting CO2 emissions up to 1,250 pounds a year.

An easy and obvious way to save energy is by unplugging any electronics you're not using. Hook them up to power strips so you can turn them on and off with a single flip of the switch. While it's true each individual product draws relatively little standby power, total usage can amount to 10 percent of residential energy use.

Set-top cable boxes and digital video recorders are some of the biggest energy hogs. Unfortunately, there's little you can do since television shows can't be taped if boxes are unplugged. It also typically takes a long time to reboot boxes. Still, you can unplug televisions, hand-held vacuums, ancient VCRs you never use and CD players.

7. Dishwashers _ 2 percent While it would seem hand-washing dishes would use less water and energy, high-efficiency appliances actually are much better for the environment and your family finances.

You can reduce costs, however, by waiting until you have a full load to wash, skipping special cycles like sanitizing and load the machine correctly, with heavily soiled items at the back and sides.

8. Miscellaneous _ 15 percent Home-security systems, PDAs, cell-phone chargers, PDAs, toys, wall-mounted vacuum cleaners and even clocks built into appliances all consume energy.

The power cords with a brick-like appendage that convert AC power back to DC consume a surprising 58 billion kilowatt-hours annually, much of this when not in use. That's equal to the annual output of 10 large power plants. It also translates into 40 million tons of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere each year.

More and more, many products consume energy when not in use. This standby power accounts for up to five percent of total household energy consumption, or about 450 kilowatt hours per year. Out of pocket, you're losing roughly $35 annually for the luxury of not flipping a switch.

___ (For more savings tips, check out's "Go Frugal" blog at ___ (c) 2010, Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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