09 Oct Are You Afraid of the Dark? – The Real Energy Vampire
Has all of the information on energy vampires, ghost loads and zombie electronics made you scared to leave anything plugged in? The way that some people make it sound, if you don’t buy power strips for every outlet in your home, the energy monsters will get you. The truth is you’ll spend far more outfitting your house with power strips than you will save over 10 years time. Then there’s the persistent turn off the lights myth. While it used to be true that turning off lights would save you money, since the change to compact fluorescents it doesn’t hold water. In fact, constantly turning your lights on and off will reduce the lifespan of a fluorescent bulb and negate any energy savings that you may have enjoyed.
Truth about the cost of energy vampires
Let’s put this in real world numbers. An estimate by Godo Stoyke, an award-winning environmental researcher with a Master of Science degree from the University of Alberta and president of Carbon Busters, puts the cost of an energy vampire at about $1 per watt per year. Yep $1. Here’s a quote from his book The Carbon Busters Home Energy Handbook: Slowing Climate Change and Saving Money, “roughly speaking, each watt of vampire power costs you one dollar per year. So, if you have 25 power vampires consuming an average of seven watts each, they will cost you $175 per year and emit about 2,000 pounds of CO2.” That comes out to about $14.50 a month.
A more effective move
While these energy saving strategies will make you feel like you are making a difference in your bills, they are taking your focus away from the real vampires that are sucking money right out of your wallet. The U.S. Energy Administration has done several studies that show over 40% of all utility expenses in the average home come from indoor climate control (your heating and cooling system). By changing out your blower motor in your furnace you can save up to 75% on your yearly heating and cooling costs. That’s like chopping 1/3 off your monthly bill. If your utility bill is more than $43.75 a month, this single change will do more for your monthly utility savings than changing out all of your light bulbs and unplugging all of your vampires.
What does this change cost?
The standard PSC (permanent split capacitor) motor in your furnace runs at one speed – full power – no matter what the actual heating or cooling need is. An ECM (electronically commutated motor) adjusts the motor speed to ensure optimal airflow using less electricity. If you switch to an ECM, a conservative EPA estimate put savings at around $80 a year. The initial cost of an ECM upgrade is usually between $400-$500 depending on the model furnace you own. If your furnace is over 10 years old, replacing it will result in an even better return. New units are up to 50% more efficient than those made just 10 years ago.
Should you forget replacing new light bulbs and buying power strips?
You aren’t going to have a choice when it comes to light bulbs. Soon compact fluorescents will be the cheapest ones on the market because incandescent bulbs are being phased out. If you are serious about energy savings (and not so concerned with saving money on a whole) LED bulbs are a much better choice. They don’t suffer from the shortened lifespan of compact fluorescents and will only need to be changed once or twice during your lifetime.
As for power strips, this depends on what your goal is. If you are simply trying to eliminate phantom loads, you are better off just unplugging your appliances. At $10 a pop, putting a power strip on every outlet in your home will cost over $500 and that’s only if you remember to flip the switch to off. If you are looking to protect your appliances against power surges, however, this is one possible option. Another, preferable option is to have ground fault interrupters (GFCIs) installed so the protection is at the outlet.
Get an ECM motor for your furnace and feel free to leave your hall lights on overnight. They really don’t drain your wallet that quickly. A 13 watt bulb will cost you about $13 a year to run 24 hours a day, 365 days a year – and it won’t burn out as fast as if you keep flicking it on an off every time you get up to go to the bathroom!