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Sunday, November 13, 2011

Why your TV may be costing you unnecessary money

Why your TV may be costing you unnecessary money

By John M. Wickline


Click. The warm glow of your TV instantly appears with no waiting for warm up (unlike the computer). This is a convenience we expect from our TV, and manufacturers and cable suppliers are happy to oblige us with the latest technology, including the instant on.

However, there is a hidden cost in operating the TV. The cost can be as much or more than operating a new refrigerator and in some instances has proven to be even more expensive than some central cooling systems. So what exactly is the hidden energy goblin?
Well, those small unassuming boxes that bring us so much entertainment value in the form of digital signals (cable boxes or top set boxes) and digital recording capabilities (DVR-Digital Video Recorder) are sitting there at your entertainment center, quietly gobbling up energy and costing you money while providing entertainment, and costing money while you are not being entertained. Am I entertaining you yet?  Currently in the United States, this type equipment operates at close to full power when you are not watching television or recording a movie or show. The NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) partnered with Ecos ( to research how much energy these devices actually use and the energy savings opportunities that exist. Findings were staggering: in the year 2010, roughly 27 billion kilowatt hours of electricity were used by set top boxes. This is equivalent to the yearly output of 9 average coal fired power plants (or the annual household energy consumption in the state of Maryland for one year). As I said, it is staggering. The good news according to this study is that the potential to improve the efficiency and reduce these operating costs is significant in the United States.

European manufacturers of such equipment have begun to address this problem in their most recent boxes. For example, Sky Broadcasting (European) offers “light sleep” and “deep sleep” modes of operation in the set top boxes. The light sleep mode utilizes 13 watts, with deep sleep (defaults to this mode at 11:00 pm) only draws 1 watt of power. The on mode draws 23 watts.  Initially service providers in the United States, (reacting to the US consumers desire to watch what they want, when they want) offered promotions of installations with up to four DVRs in each home. The low energy systems in Europe generally reboot from deep sleep mode in one to two minutes. However, the cost of electricity in Europe is often double what rates are in the United States, which provides more incentive to conserve energy. Hopefully we can wake up before our rates are as expensive.

As a home inspector who is concerned about our environment and our energy consumption, I am glad to help educate my customers and point out ways for them to safe energy. If you have doubts about the energy usage on the top set boxes and DVRs in your home (or other appliances in your home), then I urge you to purchase a simple watt meter and do a little inspection work in your home. The watt meter is a device that plugs into a wall receptacle and has a plug for an appliance to plug into it, and records how many watts an appliance is using. You can then determine how much money is spent on the devices, once you plug in your rate for power (check your electric bill or call your power company for current rates). The watt meters also can be used for appliances and other devices that use electrical power in the home, and are inexpensive to own. You might be surprised to find out how much electricity some appliances are using.

The bottom line is that today’s set top boxes and DVRs operate at near full power when consumers are not watching TV or recording. Almost two thirds of the energy use in top set boxes occurs when viewers are not watching or recording content.  The nation spends approximately 2 billion dollars each year to power these boxes when not in use.  Fortunately the industry in the United States is moving towards multi-room solutions that are more efficient, enabling consumers to schedule recordings once on a central DVR, and later view the recordings on any TV in the home. If the United States providers could provide similar “power management” for the devices (as the Europeans have) and couple it with the multi-room solutions, it would be a great start towards saving energy.  Numerous recommendations for changing the products and usage were made by the study, as well as policy changes that could boost efficiency. For information regarding this study, please visit the following website:
Who knows, you may be prompted to communicate with your local cable regulators and request they add efficiency requirements to their franchise agreements. Or you may just want to turn your TV, set top box, and four DVRs off and go for a walk. And think about the money you are saving.



John M. Wickline
JW Home Inspections, Inc.