Green Friday: Cutting Vampire Power.

January 9, 2009

Here we go: the first installment of what I hope to be a weekly… what do you call it?  Newsblog?  Blog letter?  Blewsletter?  Just… definitely not the last one.  I’ll go with “educational blog entry” for now.

Despite all the big, shiny words I used in my article a few days ago on being green, what it means to me, and the fact that we all should be doing it, the phrase “going green” still puts images into my mind of funny-smelling hippies in grass huts.  Well, obviously this isn’t going to work.  Very few people I know how to live like that, and methods to genuinely green yourself in your lifestyle seem to be few and far between.

Fortunately, in my time on the Internet, I’ve encountered a few methods – some of which are just as overwhelming as the green movement itself, but many of which are easy to do with just a few adjustments to your daily routine.

One of the very basics is cutting vampire power.

I touched on vampire power in my entry “Being Green: A Primer”, and now I’m going to expand on that.  (Most importantly, I’m going to explain what the heck it means and what you can do about it.)  Vampire power, sometimes called “phantom power”, is the electricity being used by an electronic device that is supposedly inert.  Like your Wii, after you turn it off.  See the little orange light on the front?  It’s a helpful indicator that the Wii isn’t completely shut down.  Rather, it’s in “standby” mode.  It’s not doing any actual work, but it’s utilizing electricity to keep it in a semiconscious state so that the next time you turn it on, rather than waiting for the machine to boot up you can go straight to processing.

If your Wii is anything like the one around here, it – well, for that matter, all of your power-hogging electronics – gets a decent amount of traffic during the day, so I’m not going to insist that you unplug it every time you get done with it.  But any time your family won’t be able to use it – at night, for example, or while you’re away – you should definitely pull the plug to keep it from sapping electricity.  The same goes for any other electronics: DVD players, computers, and any other non-critical device that is constantly running a little light or seems to boot up unusually fast.

Unplugging goes a bit beyond undercover power use, though.  Anything that you don’t actually need to leave running should be unplugged or at least switched off.  If you, like me, have a bedroom clock that never seems to be set right, either set it to the correct time or pull the plug*.  And while it may seem prudent to leave your TV running to ward off burglars, it may save more money in the long run just to invest in a burglar alarm**.

Lights are another energy-draining bear.  It probably goes without saying that nightlights – those cute little shaped thingies that you stick directly into the wall socket – are a considerable power waster, so unless you absolutely cannot sleep without its reassuring glow (try it for a few nights), take it out of the wall.  Also shut down any unnecessary¹ house lights, including your porch light, and any decorative lights you may have up¹¹ (such as Christmas tree lights).

At this point, you’ve probably got all your critical systems shut down.  The house is still, dark, quiet and maybe a little scary.  There’s still a bit more that you can turn off, though, if you want to go the rest of the way.  Plug-in clocks with a battery-based memory system can be unplugged, as can chargers for fully-charged electronics.  (Some of them don’t really pull power unless the device is charging.  If in doubt, feel the adaptor box after it’s been plugged in for a while; if it’s warm, take it out.)  Going beyond the nighttime realm, heated waterbeds may be unplugged during the day (provided they don’t get too cold; you might like to do some testing).  Christmas lights that you don’t get around to taking down until June should at least be shut off after the first of January.

The benefits of all this aren’t quite as apparent as those of other green efforts, but they are certainly there.  Cutting down on your power helps simply by reducing demand, leaving more energy out there for other to use.  It helps to reduce environmental impact, by cutting down on the work done by coal or nuclear power plants.  And of course there’s the part that you’ll really like: it cuts down on your power bill.  You might say that, in a way, you’re getting paid to do this stuff every night — and how cool is that?

*I’ll be doing one of those today.  Haven’t decided which one yet.

**The usefulness of leaving your TV running is questionable anyway.  It becomes pretty obvious after observing your house for a few days that no one’s actually using it.

¹Unnecessary house lights do not include those used to ward off burglars.

¹¹You can green these a step further, by replacing old-fashioned Christmas lights with LED lights.  Having tested them personally, I can honestly say that these look very Christmasy and otherwise festive.

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