Smart plugs can help electronic devices use less electricity

Published: Wednesday, Nov. 23 2011 8:20 p.m. MST

On average, in home electricity, about 15 to 20 percent comes from things like an entertainment center, your TV, DVR or your home office.

Associated Press

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SALT LAKE CITY — In many households this holiday season, the biggest and probably the last item to be opened up will be some neat — probably expensive — electronic toy.  

A big screen TV, new laptop, PlayStation or smartphone is on many people’s gift lists. And all of these gadgets cause the electric power meter on the side of the house to spin a little faster.

“On average, in home electricity, about 15 to 20 percent comes from things like an entertainment center, your TV, DVR, your home office,” said Maria O’Mara, spokeswoman for Rocky Mountain Power.

Since everyone likes to save a buck whenever they can, there’s another electronic gadget that you should consider wrapping up and putting under the tree as well this year — a “smart plug” or “smart plug strip.”

Basically, if you forget to turn stuff off, it does it for you.

The device resembles the multi-plug surge protectors, which help protect electronic items from damage during fluctuations in current. The smart plugs keep an eye on your power use. Some monitor the electrical load. If the plug detects a drop in current use, it’ll power down.

Other smart plugs work by “occupancy sensing,” or a motion detector. If there’s not any movement in the room for a determined amount of time (there’s a time delay setting screw on the unit) the smart plug will shut off all items plugged into it.

The sensor also detects when you arrive.

“You walk in to your office and that's when everything comes on,” O’Mara said. “Your computer turns on, maybe an electronic calculator, a light. And if you leave for several hours and you forget to turn it off, it'll turn everything off for you.”

If you have items that you don’t want the sensor to control, each strip also has a couple of designated outlets.

Whether at home or at the office, most people have a lot of devices plugged in all of the time. Whether it's the charging unit for your cellphone or those tiny lights on the side of your computer monitors illuminating the on/off switch, electricity is always flowing.

These smart power strips have been available for a few years now, but are gaining in popularity. The strips cost between $20 and about $90, but, O’Mara said over the course of a year, they can reduce a power bill in the $30 to $60 range.

“But if you think about it, you can recoup that investment in a matter of months. And if you’re going to give it as a gift, it's a gift that keeps on giving,” she said.

Saving energy

Residents can save energy and money with a "wattsmart" winter-ready home. Rocky Mountain Power has prepared a 10-question report card for homeowners to see how prepared they are for the season.

1. My thermostat is set to 68 degrees. Yes/No

Set your thermostat to a comfortable 68 degrees while you’re at home and awake. You could save 5 percent to 15 percent a year on your heating bill.

2. I checked my house for drafty windows. Yes/No

Drafts can cause you to lose heat quickly in your home. Put heavy duty clear plastic sheets on window frames during winter months.

3. My water heater is set to 120 degrees. Yes/No

Your water heater should be set at 120 degrees. For each 10 degree reduction in water temperature, you can save between 3 and 5 percent in energy cost.

4. I do my laundry in cold water. Yes/No

When you use cold water to wash, you just use energy to run the machine and not to heat the water.

5. I only run my dishwasher when it’s full. Yes/No

Use your dishwasher at full capacity and air dry dishes instead of using the dishwasher’s drying cycle. Air drying could save up to 50 percent of energy used in a dishwashing cycle.

6. I use CFLs in my home. Yes/No

Energy-saving compact fluorescent light bulbs use less energy and last longer than incandescent bulbs. They also only cost 1 cent to run for eight hours.

7. I keep my refrigerator at 37 degrees and my freezer at 0 degrees. Yes/No

Did you know if you have your settings any colder it’s a waste of energy? Your refrigerator accounts for about 6 percent of your energy bill.

8. I said, “See ya later refrigerator" to my second fridge. Yes/No

Chances are your second refrigerator is much older and inefficient. A 25-year-old refrigerator uses about three times as much electricity as the new ones.

9. I unplug my electronics when not in use. Yes/No.

Did you know that most electronics continue to drain power while plugged in? Unplug your electronics when they aren’t in use or use power strips and remember to turn it off.

10. I recently replaced my air filter. Yes/No

Improve your heating system's performance by regularly cleaning or replacing furnace filters and schedule routine system maintenance.

To learn about more winter energy saving programs and cash incentives visit wattsmart.com.

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