Hand pulling green electrical plug from outlet

As record heat hits San Diego this week, and SDG&E customers across the county receive the ‘Flex Alert’ plea on their phones, we wonder yet again, what are unnecessary appliances? No one would or should volunteer to shut off their air conditioner during an excessive heat warning, but lights, dishwashers, and wash machines easily make the cut. Who wants to do chores anyway at a time like this? But no senior should have to make the choice between powering on vital medical equipment or the air conditioning. Even if the choice isn’t that dire for your loved ones, who wants to pay the power company any more than they have to? Seniors, caregivers and home care aides need to know what electronics can stay on, and which plugs can definitely be pulled when push comes to shove in the summertime.

When the first day of summer debuts with an excessive heat warning, it’s time to get to know your power bill. A senior scientist at the Berkeley Lab says that 50 devices in the average household are on, even when it looks like they’re not. Creepy! While the tiny amount that one machine is using is not raising your bill by itself, we collectively spend more than $19 billion a year on this standby power. Standby power is the tiny amount that a device draws every minute of the day to power the clock on the LCD screen, the ‘standby’ status, the immediate response to the power button on the remote control, the continuous charge and all the other conveniences of modern devices that we’ve come to take for granted. We have a lot of habits that allow this power ‘vampirism’ to flourish unseen, and the good news is that there are some easy steps you can take to pull the plug.

First step: unplug these six devices, and plug them into a power strip with a convenient on/off button. Second step, get in the habit of turning the strip off before bed, as you leave for work, or when leaving on vacation:

  1. Cable box: these boxes gobble 500 kilowatt-hours per year, and the HD-DVR versions are even worse. If you have one per room, ask your provider for a multi-room box instead.
  2. Computers: desktops, and their entourage of monitors, speakers, and printers, account for 2-3% of all U.S. household energy use! Power down, or set to sleep mode – or better yet, get a laptop, which will tell you when it’s 100% charged and can then be safely unplugged.
  3. Televisions: The bigger, HD-er and flatter, the more juice they use.
  4. Audio/video/ambiance: docking stations, Bluetooth speakers, home theater set-ups, white noise machines, and streaming devices. They are all over your home, they’re on all the time, and you barely notice them. If they are Energy Star-approved, they will maintain the clock settings even with the power off.
  5. Game consoles: PlayStations, Xboxes, Wiis, oh my. Kids leave these on, even after they’ve moved to another activity. While the Wii uses less than the other two, it still uses power even when ‘asleep.’
  6. Phone, tablet and e-reader chargers: plug in, power up, and unplug. The charger continues to draw power even when there’s nothing connected to it – and how many of these do you have set up all around the house for convenience?
  7. We can’t list them all so be suspicious of any device with: [http://standby.lbl.gov/cutting.html]
    1. A remote control
    2. An external power supply (like a laptop cord)
    3. A digital display, clock or status light
    4. A battery charger
    5. A soft-touch key pad

You’re probably thinking, Hey do I really want to be that person? Well, there are two good reasons to add powering down to your routine every morning and evening, when you know you’ll be at work or asleep. First, the World Bank estimates that the average American uses 12,985 kilowatt-hours per year, and standby power usage costs that American more than $160 per year! That extra money could come in handy in a lot of other ways besides feeding your gadgets’ electricity addiction! The second good reason is those Flex Alerts aren’t just drills – when power usage is peaking because of record-breaking heat, does your DVR trump someone else’s wheelchair lift? Seniors, caregivers and home care aides know that careful power management can make the summer’s toughest days easier to navigate – and put some extra money into the holiday fund at the same time!