Tom’s Guide Power Challenge: The Big Reveal

Aaaand...we’re back! Hopefully you caught the first part of our Power Challenge, went through the twenty electronics items from around my house, tallied up the estimated used and saved power, and filled out a contest entry. Again, I had five items picked out (switch, router, access point, NAS device, and air filter) to be turned off with Belkin Conserve power strips during hours in which they would be unneeded. I would then analyze the usage data for the remaining 15 items, pick the five with the most egregious idle power drain, put the Conserve strips on these, then measure a 24-hour usage period to arrive at a “conserved” usage estimate.

When arriving at a daily or monthly cost of operation per device, I used the national average rate of 10.53 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh). Keep in mind that in averaging and rounding to decimal places, there may be slight variances in cost vs. kWh computations.

Across 20 devices, I had many predictable outcomes and some odd surprises. If nothing else, it sure gives food for thought. Shall we get to it?

1. The TV.

My 50" Fujitsu plasma is coming up on seven years of use. The disappearance of Fujitsu from the TV market is a minor tragedy, because these really were excellent sets. Unlike many mainstream panels that arrive with the brightness set to “nuclear” in order to look impressive in a big showroom, Fujitsu calibrated its plasmas at the factory for typical indoor use, and I’ve dialed it down a pinch from there, just because most of our viewing is at night. Still, plasmas are pigs. You can feel the heat radiating off of them after an hour or so. My set consumed between 400W and 410W when active. Fortunately, it registered as only 1W in standby.

Single day consumption: 1.56 kWh (16.43 cents)

2. The DVR.

The Motorola QIP 7216 HD DVR supplied by Verizon for its FiOS TV service is quiet and dependable. Unfortunately, it appears to have no standby mode. I always assumed that when one turned the power off, the thing went into a PC-like, low-power state. Not so! During active recording of an HD channel, which would presumably be its highest-power state, the set-top pulled 34W. When not recording and simply displaying a TV show, it averaged about 33.3W. When turned off it still averaged 33.3W. What’s up with that? I get that some aspects of the box need to stay active in order to record scheduled shows, but come on, Motorola. That sucks. How much does it suck? Let’s see...

Single day consumption: 0.80 kWh (8.42 cents)

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  • drutort
    this doesnt help much... I think if people would give up on some junk food that would save them a ton of money compared to this... now factor in the cost of this saving device and see how long it will take you to ROI, if its few months it might be worth it, if its years then forget it
  • CCurtis
    I'd be interested in some elaboration on how potential issues with use were addressed: e.g., how was the NAS handled -- did it really get powered off externally (from its perspective)? Any restart issues with access point, etc.? Also, how many strips were used, for what total cost? (Sorry if I missed that in an earlier post, just having joined this site.)
  • nenolen
    Thank you, William. This article made me realize just how much power I am probably wasting based on idle power draw alone. The monetary savings might be small, but the impact is huge.
  • hellwig
    I have to point out William, that your Conserve Energy strip is simply a $50-$60 band aid to cover your own laziness. The items you put on the strip were your Laptop you never use, your Printer you use rarely, a Roomba you never use, and Speakers you also use rarely. Once you unplugged these things to insert the Belkin Conserve, why didn't you just leave them unplugged? If you just put them in a closet until you needed them, you might find you could be even lazier and just leave them there, never drawing any power.

    Now, things like the Router, DVR, access point and NAS box are good ideas. These are things you use regularly at given times of the day, and otherwise sit idle. To me, that makes a lot of sense. Of course, in the end, how much money is the Belkin Conserve strip worth compared to something as simple as a configurable vacation timer? I have all my pet's heaters and lights on timers (so I don't have to remember to turn a light on in the morning or off when I go to bed, also better for the pets, as they're on a constant schedule). I even have a special power strip that has 3-modes. Always on, daytime, and nighttime. That way, when the daytime lamps get turned off, night time heaters come on at the same time, on the same power strip. I think the thing was only $30 or $40 dollars.

    The Belkin conserve is nice in that it has a remote, but how many times will the users forget to turn off a strip at night or when they leave in the morning?
  • Onus
    For those who have these kinds of power strips (or might consider getting them), I'd like to see added to any device review: power usage when on/active, power usage when on/idle, and power usage when off (i.e. is it really "off", or only appears that way, but is actually maintaining an IR sensor for a turn-on signal?).
  • CTT
    I'm a proponent of hitting the big stuff first. Sure saving on "standby" items can help, but on of your graphs showed over 60% of your household energy going to Heating/Cooling and a water heater. Efficiently adjusting those would result in a much bigger savings than some standby electronics.

    Nonetheless, good article, more people would benefit from paying attention to their energy use.
  • elkad
    An extra 60 bucks worth of insulation in the attic (or around the hot water heater) would probably pay off faster than a couple timered power strips.

    And having lived in Portland myself for 30 years, I don't understand that summer power bill. The climate is so mild that AC is completely unnecessary, just open a window.
  • grege
    I have tested a few desktops in powered off state and found the best to be 1w and the worst 8w, I now also use a remote power off device. The notebook is interesting, I think the issue is having the battery between the charger and the unit. The charger is constantly trying to keep the battery charged, so the fault is the charger not the notebook. Mine is exactly the same, so the solution is to actually run it from battery most of the time and only plug it in to recharge.

    Great article, I reduced my household power by about 20% by using compact flouros and similar power strips. I rarely forget to use the remote off, it is so easy to press a button just before bed, to isolate the vampires.
  • chaz_music
    You left out one important energy loss - the air conditioner effects. If you are saving 175 KWH per year on phantom power, how much of that time would the air conditioner be running? Here in the south, it is about 8 months out of the year. The AC uses roughly 50% power to remove the waste heat so the total AC power saved would be:

    175 KWH x (8 mo./12 mo per year) x 50% = 58 KWH annually

    That's roughly another $6 per year.

    BTW: that should also go into your calculation on the total phantom power draw also.