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Even When Off, Gadgets Are a Drain

Power Lines: Electric bills are rising, and people are looking for ways to cut consumption and costs.

February 03, 2001|LYNN O'DELL

Hey, you with the remote control in your hand and the cordless phone at your ear. Your household is leaking electricity.

Culprits are your home electronics--from cable boxes and TV sets to cordless phone chargers and garage-door openers. Most never sleep and continue to draw power when switched off or standing by.

Some, like cable boxes and satellite-dish receivers, use almost as much power when off as when they are on. Others, such as battery chargers and bread makers, use small amounts.

But standby power, which keeps the TV ready for remote-control signals and runs the microwave's digital clock, adds up.

It costs Americans $3 billion a year, the federal government estimates. In California, the average home has at least 20 such products and leaks a constant 60 watts--accounting for 10% of the average monthly electric bill, said Alan Meier, a scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

If an appliance has a remote control, a black wall pack (external power supply), a soft-touch keypad or a digital clock display, it uses standby power.

Curb leaks by using new Energy Star compliant appliances, or unplug infrequently used devices or plug them into a power strip and use its switch. But beware, unplugging a VCR can mean lost channel presets; unplugging a cordless home phone could result in a dead battery.

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* Send your questions or suggestions regarding energy use to Home Design, Los Angeles Times, Orange County edition, 1375 Sunflower Ave., Costa Mesa, CA 92626; or send e-mail to Please include your name and phone number.

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