Powering Down

It's been several years since I saw Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth, but a few key concepts have stayed with me through the years.

One is that every iota of energy savings adds up, even when it seems minor or totally insignificant. Another is that we should unplug our electronics when they're not in use because of -- and I love this phrase -- "phantom loads."

Phantom loads soak up energy from appliances and electronics even when they're switched off.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, an astonishing 25 percent of all electricity used in an average home comes from VCRs, televisions, stereos, computers and kitchen appliances that aren't in use. This happens because they have a "standby" mode, a clock or a built-in LED light. It also happens when a product or plug is poorly designed.

Now, experience has taught me that it's unrealistic (for me, anyway) to unplug my electronics as often as I should. Sure, I have no problem tucking away the power cords for a paper shredder or battery for a cordless drill. But I'm considerably less enthusiastic about unplugging my iPod and cell phone chargers, because they're used daily and hard to unplug.

There are several reasons that the eco-experts suggest using power strips. One is that a single switch can cut power to several appliances that aren't in use. Another is that they can also be placed somewhere that's easier to reach than a hard-to-access outlet.

In fact, an eco-friendlier option to a regular power strip is the next generation of smart power strips. One type, called a Smart Strip, features several outlets that are controlled by a "master" outlet. When the device plugged into the master outlet shuts down (or goes into "sleep" mode), power to the other outlets automatically shuts down. This would obviously be ideal for a computer work station, to power down printers and other perphrials. It also has standard outlets for clocks or devices that need to remain on.

Another option is the Isole Power Strip, which uses motion sensors to detect if a person is in the room. It can be adjusted to turn off anywhere from 30 seconds to a half-hour after someone's departure. This sounds like a good fit for energy hogs, such as TVs, DVD players, TiVos, etc.

The smart strips are pricey — ranging around $40-$70 — but I'll probably invest in a couple soon. 

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