Unplug This Blog!

Use smart strips to make your electronics work for you

Image of Blake Mansbridge
If you have a lot of electronics in your home, you could be wasting energy with standby power. BC Hydro Outreach rep Blake Mansbridge offers some tips on how to take control of your energy use and protect your electronics by using a smart strip.

Can you count all of the electronics you have in your home?

Posted by Blake Mansbridge

We have more devices using power than ever before. Today, the average Canadian home has about 25 electronic devices.

If you're wondering how this massive growth in our home theatres and computers has affected energy use in B.C., I have some numbers for you. Over the last 45 years, energy usage from home electronics has increased by about 331 per cent and currently represents 10 to 15 per cent of the average home's energy consumption.

And that number is expected to grow to by as much as 20 per cent over the next five years.

Electronics turned off will still use power

Out of the electronics that you counted in your home, how many of them are turned off but still plugged in?

Even though they might be turned off, leaving your electronics plugged in contributes to as much as 10 per cent of your average household energy bill. You're not using this energy to power anything; it's just wasted electricity, referred to as "standby power".

One of the major ways that British Columbians contribute to standby power is through their second televisions. 97 per cent of B.C. households have a second television, and when left plugged in for a year, each television uses the same amount of energy as what's needed to wash almost 100 loads of laundry.

In addition to one of those televisions, perhaps you also own a Blu-ray, PVR, game console or even a home theatre system (stereo receiver, surround speakers, DVD player, and Blu-ray player). Let's look at the energy consumption of those devices:

  • PVR/DVR — Standby power may account to up to 70 per cent of its total energy consumption. An average PVR uses about 270kWh per year, which is comparable to the energy used by an ENERGY STAR® refrigerator for half a year. Look for an ENERGY STAR PVR, which is at least 30 per cent more efficient than a standard model.
  • PlayStation 3 Game Console — Standby power may account to up to 50 per cent of its total energy consumption. A PlayStation 3 uses on average, 134 kWh per year. Other consoles, such as Playstation 4 or Xbox One, can use even more power.
  • Home theatre — Standby power may account to up to 35 per cent of its total energy consumption. A home theatre system uses on average, 91 kWh per year.

Consider using smart strips in your home, especially for your television setup

There's a solution to reducing wasted energy in your living room, even with components such as PVRs that need to be plugged in all the time. Smart strips are not like your average power bar. Power bars require you to unplug them or turn them off to eliminate the standby power. But smart strips actually switch off power to devices when they are not in use.

Most smart strips have 6-10 outlets that serve different purposes

  • "Control" outlets are used to plug in your television or computer — that is, the primary device for all the other components, such as speakers or a printer.
  • "Peripheral" outlets are for your Blu-ray, game console, surround speakers and additional electronics.

As soon as your television is turned off, the power bar senses the change in current and shuts down all devices plugged into the peripheral outlets. When the television is turned back on, everything will be brought back to full power. This prevents you from constantly powering electronics that you only use with your primary device. For example, you don't use your Blu-Ray player without using your television.

  • "Always on" outlets are used for your PVR, as it needs to stay on to record programs and update software.

Smart strips can provide a potential energy savings of 71 kWh per year for your home entertainment system (Blu-Ray, DVD player, game console and home theatre system). Over its lifetime, a smart strip could save enough electricity to power a television for a year.

Another place in your home to consider a smart strip is for your home computer configuration, especially if your setup includes a monitor, a printer, external speakers and a scanner. By reducing the standby power of your computer system, a smart strip can provide potential energy savings of as much as 35 kWh per year.

Things to consider when shopping for a smart strip

  • Cost — Smart strips range widely in cost from $30 to as much $400 for highly advanced strips. The cost generally depends on the number of outlets available, the level of surge protection provided, and the ability to eliminate electrical interference that may affect the performance of your electronics.
  • Number of outlets — Smart strips offer as many as 12 outlets, but there's no need to purchase large strips if you only have a few components. Look for the number of outlets that matches your system.
  • Surge protection and warranty coverage — All smart strips will come with surge protection built in. But levels can vary, so look for a strip that matches the components you intend to use, and consult staff at your electronics retailer for advice on an appropriate level of surge protection.

Smart strips may be purchased from a number of retail stores including Future Shop, London Drugs, Best Buy and Visions Electronics. Check any one of these stores in your area to pick up your smart strip.

Blake Mansbridge is a Community Outreach representative with BC Hydro who educates customers on Vancouver Island about ways to save energy and money.