Tom Plant's Houston Real Estate Blog
Reduce your electricity bills by systematically purging your family room of wasteful energy practices.
The three biggest energy hogs in the family room
are the plasma television, DVR/Tivo box, and digital
Image: Steven Errico/Digital Vision/Getty Images
The funâ€”a video game console, TV, DVR, DVD, and stereo systemâ€”that your family room provides comes with a price. By reducing standby power, using rechargeable batteries in remotes, and replacing incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescents, you could save up to $130 a year in energy costs.
And if youâ€™re in the market for a new TV, you can save even more energy by being flexible on the type you buy.
Â 1. Reconsider that plasma TV. The three biggest energy hogs in the family room are the plasma television, DVR/Tivo box, and digital cable box, says the nonprofit American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy, which promotes energy efficiency to consumers and government policymakers.
A typical plasma TV (less than 40 inches) consumes 441 kilowatt hours of electricity per year, according to ACEEE. That translates into about $50 (based on 11.3 cents per kilowatt hour). Next up are TiVo devices at $41 annually, followed by digital cable boxes at $27. Both devices are always fully on because they constantly receive and download data.
Opting for an LCD (liquid crystal display) TV will cost about $8 to operate annuallyâ€”for an annual savings of about $42 over the plasma. Of course, weigh your decision against the cost of a new TV.
2. Reduce standby power. Vampire powerâ€”the energy thatâ€™s wasted by electronic devices that are plugged in, but not in useâ€”represents about $100 per year in the average householdâ€™s electricity costs, says Energy Star. Assuming the family room represents about 15% of your electricity bill, you could save about $15 per year with smart standby practices.
Unplug rarely used electronics (like that karaoke machine) altogether and cluster other appliances, even adapters for cell phones and digital cameras, onto power strips ($3-$12 for a six-outlet strip). Then you can fully turn off all attached electronics with one switch.
Unfortunately, some family room electronics, such as set-top boxes and downloading devices like TiVo, canâ€™t be turned off, because that would disrupt the digital data-gathering youâ€™ve programmed them to do. But with a so-called smart power strip (about $20 to $40 through online retailers), you can completely turn off your TV while leaving the always-on DVR plugged in.
3. Opt for Energy Star-rated electronics. Theyâ€™re anywhere from 6% (audio products) to 75% (DVD players) more efficient than non-rated electronics. Take Energy Star-rated television sets. They use about one-third less energy than their nonrated counterparts.
If you canâ€™t live without plasma, consider an Energy Star model for which youâ€™ll pay $18 less per year in operating costs than for a nonrated one. If you use an Energy Star-rated digital cable box (ask your provider if any are available for no charge), you could pay 30% less for energyâ€”an annual savings of about $8.50. Energy Star hasnâ€™t yet published data on swapping out a DVR or Tivo device.
4. Invest in rechargeable batteries. No, they wonâ€™t help you save on your electric bill. But youâ€™ll save on the cost of batteries for your video game system and other entertainment remotes, according to PJ Stafford, founder of Green Irene, an eco-consulting company that provides energy and environmental makeovers to homeowners. Youâ€™ll help the environment, too. For every rechargeable battery you buy, you prevent at least 500 single-use batteries from entering the waste stream, Stafford says.
Consider a game system charger station, which runs about $25, or outfit your media room with 10 rechargeable batteries and two chargers for $55 to $65. (Rechargeable AA and AAA batteries cost $3 to 3.50 apiece, versus 75 cents to $1 for disposables; a charger costs $25 to $30.) That investment in rechargeable batteries and chargers, in lieu of 500 batteries over four years, adds up to about $310 to $445 in savings. Buying a charging system for your video game system eliminates the need to buy batteries for the controllers.
Call your local trash collection service to find out which batteries can be recycled or taken to a transfer station versus being thrown away. If youâ€™re doing a major sweep-out of old batteries and appliances, consider Big Green Box, which lets you send your devices and batteries to a sustainable processing facility. Recycle old rechargeable batteries for free via programs like Call 2 Recycle.
5. Replace bulbs with compact fluorescents. By replacing one 60-watt incandescent bulb with the equivalent compact fluorescentin a family room where lights are on for four hours per day, you could save $7 per year. CFLs cost between $2 and $15.
By Jane Hodges: Jane Hodges has written about real estate for publications including The Wall Street Journal, MSNBC.com, and The Seattle Times. In 2007 she won a Bivins Fellowship from the National Association of Real Estate Editors to pursue a book on women and real estate. Her work has also appeared in The New York Times, CBSâ€™s BNET, and Fortune. She lives in Seattle, in a 1966 raised rancher with an excellent retro granite fireplace. Latest home project: Remodeling a basement bathroom.
Reprinted from HouseLogic (www.houselogic.com) with permission of the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORSÂ®
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