To save energy and money, put your personal energy to work

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standby power is wastefulI've long thought that the suggestion to unplug electronics when not using them is impractical; all than bending over and moving furniture to get to the electrical outlet is much too much work for a nation addicted to remote controls.

Declaring war on standby power, the power electronics consume to remain ready to spring to life in an instant at your command, is a noble quest, but you might want to devote your energy to other, more fruitful ways to save electricity if you have not addressed them yet. Start with the big energy fails, and work your way back to standby power.

  • First, cultivate a habit of turning off lights. Even if you've swapped out those 100-watt incandescent bulbs for some low-energy CFL or LED ones, leaving lights on where they aren't needed is both wasteful and a sign of conspicuous consumption. Mr. Electricity estimates you could save $219 a year by simply turning off lights you don't need, another $90 by using compact fluorescents.
  • If you're the one on the block who festoons his house with Christmas lights, you should so consider switching to LED lights if you haven't already. Here's how to calculate the cost savings.
  • Wash laundry in cold rather than hot or warm water. This could also extend the life of clothes prone to fade with repeated washings. Mr. Electricity estimates you'll save $167 a year doing so.
  • Use fans instead of air-conditioning on those 'tweener days, and buy some comfortable shorts. Wear more sweaters in cold weather, and keep the thermostat turned down. Cuddling helps, too.
  • Set your computer display to turn off when you've not been active for an hour or so, and set your computer to go to sleep after a couple of hours of non-activity. Leaving it active with a fancy screen saver (I have a great aquarium screen saver- shame on me) could cost almost $100 a year.
  • Insulate, insulate, insulate. That's not me talking; the freakin' federal government is trying to give you money to make this happen. Wake up and smell the moola.
Once you've taken the major steps that can make a handsome difference in your bill, you can address standby power in ways that don't require a great deal of your personal energy. The Federal Energy Management Program suggests:
  • Unplug -- Not the stuff you use daily, but those items that are rarely used, such as extra televisions, VHS players, and the like.
  • Buy smart -- Look for Energy Star products, which use less standby power.
  • Put electronics on a power strip -- so if you do decide to kill them when you're away for an extended time, you can do so with the flick of one switch. Ironically, that power strip is likely consuming standby power to illuminate the switch.
See WalletPop's savings experiment about vampire energy savings for more tips.
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