Hungry Home Appliances
Air Date: Week of January 16, 1998
Sometimes, saving energy isn’t as obvious as turning out the lights when you leave a room. Many appliances, including TVs and VCRs, draw electricity, even when they’re turned off. Recently, major television and VCR makers and the Environmental Protection Agency announced plans to design energy-efficient units that will cut this waste in half. To find out what else could be done to reduce household energy consumption, Laura Knoy invited energy- efficiency expert Alex Wilson over to her home to take a look around. Mr. Wilson is the editor of Environmental Building News, and the author of the “Consumer Guide to Home Energy Savings.”
KNOY: It's Living on Earth. I'm Laura Knoy.
Saving electricity around the home helps reduce the amount of greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere, and it also helps bring down your energy bill. But sometimes, saving energy isn't as obvious as turning out the lights when you leave a room. Many appliances, including TVs and VCRs, draw electricity even when they're turned off. Recently, major television and VCR makers and the Environmental Protection Agency announced plans to design energy-efficient units that will cut this waste in half. To find out what else I could do to reduce my energy consumption, I invited Alex Wilson over to my home. He's the editor of Environmental Building News and the author of the Consumer Guide to Home Energy Savings.
(A key turns in a lock.)
KNOY: Let's go on up.
(Footfalls up stairs)
KNOY: I'm a little bit mortified about what we're going to find out today, but let's go to the living room and see what we see.
KNOY: Here's my TV. And my VCR. Are they leaking electricity when they're off?
WILSON: Yes they are, Laura. they're using electricity all the time, whether they're actually on or not. They keep warm, so that when you go to turn it on, it comes on more quickly. They also use electricity to operate some of the electronics: the clock, the programming, things like that. It's not many watts, it might be up to 10 or 12 watts for a typical television. But that adds up when you look at the fact that it's on 24 hours a day 365 days a year.
KNOY: What could I do around here now, Alex, to make this place a little more energy-efficient? And I have to say, we have compact fluorescent bulbs in the ceiling.
WILSON: I'm impressed. Looking around here I see that you've done quite a bit to save energy, more than the average household. With the electronics, there isn't a whole lot you can do. You could unplug your television and VCR after use, but then you'd run into the problem of having to reprogram it every time you turned it back on. Some people with electronic equipment, if it doesn't need that reprogramming, will operate it on a power strip, which has a convenient on-off button which turns it absolutely off.
KNOY: I have a halogen lamp over here, Alex. And I've heard that these are really bad. Is that right?
WILSON: Well, they are one of the low points of the energy efficiency movement in the last 10 years. In fact, these halogen torchieres have used as much energy since they've been introduced as compact fluorescents have saved since they were introduced, and the halogen lamps have only been around for 4 or 5 years.
KNOY: Okay. Let's go into the study.
WILSON: Okay, great.
(Sound of power going on)
KNOY: Now, when we walked in here the computer was off. Was it leaking electricity when it was off?
WILSON: I don't believe so. Most computers don't use electricity unless they're actually on. But a lot of people have the mistaken impression that it's better to leave the computer on. They feel that it's going to results in less wear on the disk drive and somehow less damage to the monitor. That's not the case. It should be turned off if you're not going to be using it within the next half hour or so. Now, in the last year, most computer manufacturers have begun producing computers that are Energy Star compliant. And what an Energy Star computer does is go into a sleep mode after a certain period of time. It will continue using some electricity even though the screen has blacked out, but it's a lot less electricity than if the computer is left on.
KNOY: Let's go into the kitchen. That's where I have most of my appliances.
WILSON: Okay, great.
KNOY: Alex, I have 2 appliances here which I think are already going to come under the guilty column. I have a microwave oven that has the little clock. And I have a bread maker over here, which also has a little clock. Are these leaking electricity?
WILSON: Well, again, they use a little trickle of electricity to operate the clock, but it's really very minor. And actually, these are good energy saving appliances. When you use the microwave oven in place of a conventional oven, you're going to be using maybe 700 watts instead of 2,000 to 3,000 watts to cook your casserole or whatever. So you can save a significant amount of energy by using that microwave oven. Same with the bread maker. It's smaller, you're not having to heat up an entire oven to bake bread. So it's an energy saving appliance. And actually I see this crock pot here, that's a tremendous energy saver, because you're using just a very small flow of electricity over 6 or 8 hours, and cooking that food for probably only about 20% of the energy you would otherwise be using.
KNOY: So Alex, if people are out looking for new appliances and they want to buy the most energy efficient appliances possible, what should they look for?
WILSON: Well, they could examine the Energy Guide labels. Those are those yellow labels that you'll see on all of the appliances in an appliance store. And that gives you a sense of how much electricity that appliance is going to use compared with similar models on the market. And it's fairly easy using those Energy Guide labels to choose the more efficient model, whether it's a dishwater, a refrigerator, a washing machine, or a furnace.
KNOY: Well, Alex Wilson, thank you very much for the tour and for the advice.
WILSON: You're very welcome, Laura.
KNOY: Alex Wilson is editor of Environmental Building News and the author of the Consumer Guide to Home Energy Savings.
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