Believe it or not, improving your home’s energy efficiency doesn’t require an advanced energy science degree. It’s really just a matter of being more aware of choices and recognizing whether they save or waste energy. Individually, some energy-wasting practices might not amount to much, but when you add them all together, you’ll gain a better picture of how how much you could save. To help you live Live Brighter, our “Energy Efficiency ‘Round the Home” series will showcase ways you can lower your home energy usage and possible reduce your monthly energy bill.
Energy Efficiency in the Home Office
In many respects, the modern home office is both a technological marvel and monument to inefficient energy usage. Chief among the collection of gadgets and devices that waste energy is your computer. This is closely followed by any external monitor you might use, and then by peripherals such as printers, scanners, network systems, and fax machines.
While home office equipment doesn’t consume nearly as much energy as it did in the past, what causes the most energy waste is that you simply forget to turn things off once the day’s work is done. And because technology is always changing, some of the old arguments that worked for old office equipment in the past no longer apply.
In spite of home computers getting faster, power usage has dropped over the past decade, particularly when it comes to laptops. Since the general advent of home computers, people have questioned whether or not it’s more energy efficient to leave your computer on in sleep mode versus turning it off. One thing that’s obvious is that leaving your computer on will not help it last longer. Electronic components give off heat, and that heat is what reduces their lifespan.
TIP: Keep your computer (and other peripherals) running cooler by keeping them away from heating vents, heaters, and out of sunlight.
As a general rule, you can save energy, wear, and tear by turning off your monitor if you’re going to be away from your computer for 20 minutes. If you’re going to be away for more than 2 hours, turn your computer off.
TIP: Your cool screensaver does not save energy. It can prevent screen burn-in from a single static image if the monitor is left on.
In the past, one of the big reasons for leaving computers on was that some people couldn’t endure waiting for their machine to boot up. While sleep mode in newer machines uses even less power than those ten years ago, startup times are faster. It now takes on average about 1.5 minutes to boot up a home computer using a standard hard drive.
Boot time is drastically reduced to only a few seconds with a solid state drive (SSD). While an SSD costs comparatively more that spinning hard drives (and that too is changing), an SSD uses less energy because there’s no motor and no friction. Information is stored in flash memory, and this can improve battery life for laptop users.
For the totally mad power-user whose plans for world domination can’t wait for their machine to boot, try migrating to a SSD drive and then set your machine to hibernate at shut down. Hibernating saves your computer’s state so that when its boots up, it will pick up where you left it. An SSD drive makes booting up so insanely fast there’s no reason for letting your computer stay on all the time.
Peripherals: Printers, Scanners, and More
If you’re not using a printer, scanner, or an all-in-one machine, turning it off when you’re not using it will reduce the energy consumption. And yes, when the device goes into to sleep mode, it is still using power — albeit that newer peripherals will tend to use less than those in the past.
One other thing to consider is that many peripherals use power bricks or wall warts to transform the 110 volts AC coming out of the wall socket into a lower DC voltage the device can use. Unfortunately, even when the device might be turned off, it’s still pulling power by being plugged in. You have to either unplug it or cut the power to that plug (which we’ll address later in this post).
Oddly enough, these technological dinosaurs from the ’80s and ’90s just won’t die and can still play a role in many home offices. In fact, fax machines use energy just waiting to receive incoming messages. If you leave yours on all the time, it probably uses more energy in standby mode than when it sends or receives an actual fax.
Home Network System
It’s practically a given fact that your home’s local area network (LAN), wireless router, and internet is turned on round the clock. According to a 2013 report by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), household network devices (such as routers, modems, switches, network drives) consume an average of 94 kilowatt hours (kWh). Depending on the rate you pay for your home electricity service, that’s about $10 per year. Not a huge amount on it’s own, but I bet it’s more than you thought you paid.
You also must account for the increased wear and tear on the electronic components that comes from being left on all the time, as it reduces their lifespan. Unless you start powering down the network when you’re away or asleep, there’s a possibility of burning out equipment sooner than later.
Use One Plug to Rule Them All!
An easy way to control the power to all your equipment is to connect them to a power strip, smart power strip, or smart outlet. Each one lets you set up the parameters for turning your computer and other office equipment on or off.
- A regular power strip lets you plug in your equipment into a switch-controlled outlet chain.
- You can have more control by connecting it to a cheap timer that will turn off the power strip (and everything connected to it) at a preset time. Just be certain the power strip and timer can safely handle the amount of current required by your devices.
- Smart power strips monitor wattage output and then turn off power to an outlet once the drain falls to standby levels. For example, if your printer goes to sleep after being idle for a while, the smart strip will cut the power to its outlet.
- Smart outlets let you control whatever is plugged into them through your smart phone via bluetooth or WiFi. You could schedule your entire office to shut down according to your schedule.
Think your energy expenses are just toying with you? Stay tuned for the next installment of Energy Efficiency ‘Round the Home when we venture into the Kids’ Play Room. We’ll show you how saving energy here is child’s play!