WMBFNews investigates: Energy Vampires

By Laura Thomas - bio | email

HORRY COUNTY, SC (WMBF) - How much does turning off the lights, turning off the TV, or turning off any other appliance in the house really save on the energy bill?

So called energy vampires - appliances that, if left plugged in or turned on - could be wasting hundreds of dollars on an electricity bill each year.

The average household spends about $2,000 each year on the electric bill. WMBF News went with two energy advisers, Eddy Blackburn and Garrett Basque of Horry Electric Cooperative, to do an energy audit of a home. WMBFNews wanted to see how far they could cut down on the bill, and figure out how much money these vampire appliances waste.

The energy audit started out in what some consider the heart of the home: the kitchen.

"As we came in this home, I noticed there was a task light here on," Basque explained. "That by itself may only increase your bill by a couple dollars, but if you have five or six left on, that's $10 you could save on your bill."

Basque says the kilowat king of the kitchen is the refrigerator, putting more than $20 on the bill each month just to run - that's where an Energy Star appliance comes in handy.

Appliances with Energy Star certification usually save about 20 percent of energy use, up to about $100 a year.

Basque says another thing to do is switch that fridge to an energy saving mode - that could save about $0.50 a month, but every little bit helps.

"Homes today do use much more electricity than they did say, 20, 30 years ago," Basque explained.

This means more appliances like coffee pots, blenders, and bigger toasters. Using each of these appliances adds up to about $1 a month for each.

Basque says there's not much to do here, just make sure and unplug them, because each of these vampire appliances still suck a small amount of energy from the house even when turned off, especially those appliances with small power lights.

However, one place the kitchen makes up for this increased energy use is the stove.

"One thing that's probably used a lot less today in average homes than say 20, 30 years ago is the stove," Basque said. "People don't do as much cooking."

Basque says that when people do cook, it's with the microwave. To cook most foods, however, the microwave saves time and a few hundred watts of energy, also saving more money. This savings equals a couple dollars a month.

Basque and Blacburn say another place to cut down on energy use is the living room.

"Often times, people now are getting larger screen TV's," explained Basque. "A DVD player and TV, those together potentially could be $20 a month on your bill, extra."

Basque says newer plasma and projection style televisions use more watts than LCD screens. Also, the bigger the screen, the more the energy used.

However, there's also an energy vampire hiding here. The television might not really be turned off, even if someone hits the power button.

"Whenever we get finished watching TV, we'll simply take the remote and turn it off, but often times, that doesn't turn off the tv, that puts it in a standby mode," Basque said.

While the appliance is in standby mode, it will still use electricity. By one Energy Star estimate, the average U.S. household spends $100 a year to keep these devices running on standby mode.

Basque says while it is annoying, the only thing you can do is unplug it.

Another thing that is running all the time is the heating and cooling units. Just to heat and cool the house adds up to 60 percent of the electricity bill.

"For every degree that you turn your thermostat above 68 degrees, you can add about 4 percent to your bill - per degree," explained Blackburn.

Blackburn advises in the wintertime to keep the thermostat on 68, in the summertime, 78. Just making sure your thermostat is on a good level could save $10 to $15 each month.

Blackburn says one of the most overlooked ways to combat those energy vampires is to make sure a home has good insulation.

"If you go out in the cold, you're going to dress as warmly as you can, extra clothing," Basque said. "That's the same way with insulation."

Just think of insulation as a vampire shield. A home that is not well insulated would only have four to five inches of insulation. Adding more insulation, could cut the heating bill by 75 percent.

Also make sure a home's duct system is tightly sealed with no holes.

All of this could save about $60 a month on just the heating bill.

Finally, the last trip on the energy tour was the bedroom - maybe the room with the least amount of vampires.

However, there are some energy pitfalls in the bedroom like alarm clocks, that run all day, phone chargers, and for some people, another one of those energy-eating televisions.

Basque says leaving that alarm clock plugged in will cost about $0.75 cents a month. He advises that people unplug their televisions, as that would save a lot more money.

At the end of the energy audit, getting rid or cutting back on all of the energy vampires the electricians found in the home tour added up to around $350-$400 in savings each year, and for the average home, that's cutting the bill in half.

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