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What Is Vampire Power?

Plugging electrical leaks saves money and the environment

En español | You've turned off the TV and other appliances for the night, and you're tucked into bed, fast asleep. But the vampires in your household are still awake. Vampire electronics, that is — devices that use power even when they are turned off or inactive. Even scarier, these vampires don't need the cover of night to do their dirty work: They're silently driving up your electric bill 24/7.

See also: Gadgets that will make life easier.

Take something as commonplace as a cellphone charger. As long as it's plugged into a wall outlet, the charger continues to suck a small current — even when your phone isn't connected. Same goes for all the other battery chargers in the house.

Vampire Power when technology continues to use power even when turned off - cell phones and televisions rising from the dead in a graveyard

Cellphone chargers and other electrical devices can run up your power bill even when not in use. — Photo by Getty Images

Your DVD or Blu-ray player may be on (as in "in use") just a few hours a month, but it's actually using electricity all the time, in a low-power state. If you start looking, you may find vampires all over your entertainment system. Any device that works with a wireless remote control constantly draws a small amount of power, so the receiver will sense a pressed button.

How much money are we talking about here? For the average household, vampire electronics tack on about $100 a year to an electric bill — certainly not inconsequential over time. There's an environmental toll, too, as vampire devices drain more than 100 billion kilowatt hours of annual U.S. energy consumption, valued at about $10 billion.

Pull the plug, or better yet ...

So how do you slay these vampires? For items like battery chargers that aren't in use, the obvious answer is simply to pull the plug out of the wall. A simple multiplug power strip, which you may be using anyway, lets you defang a string of vampires with a single tug. Of course, that does mean stooping down and searching for the wire the next time you need the charger, and stooping and searching aren't all that appealing.

That's why I recommend a simple, inexpensive gizmo from a company called Belkin, the Conserve Power Switch ($6.99). This ingenious device plugs into a standard outlet and adds a simple toggle on-off switch. Instead of pulling the wire you want to disconnect from the wall, you just flip the switch and the juice stops flowing. No reason you can't attach a power strip to the Conserve Power Switch, either, if you have multiple vampire devices to choke off simultaneously.

When unplugging isn't an option

Yanking out a wire or flipping a switch is practical enough when you're dealing with a handy little phone charger, but shutting down your entire computer system or home entertainment setup is clearly more of a project, particularly since the power strip is often stored out of reach. Fortunately, there are alternative ways to manage the problem.

Granted, we are talking about spending more than $6.99 here, but when dealing with sensitive electronics, you should use more than a simple extension cord. A built-in surge protector will clamp down on stray voltage spikes that can damage your equipment if left unprotected. Adding a remote control option to a multi-outlet surge protector adds only a few dollars to the price, which you end up recouping in power savings anyway.

One good general-purpose choice is another Belkin product, the Conserve Switch Surge Protector with Remote ($40). (There are similar products from companies like Smart Strip and Tripp Lite, but I happened to buy three Belkin products.) In addition to surge protection, you get eight outlets and a wireless remote control to manage the system. I find this one particularly useful for my computer system, which has wires and adapters snaking all around the room to one central location. Two of the outlets are always on, allowing you to leave certain equipment, such as your modem and router, available at your whim. The other six outlets are laid out widely enough to accommodate bulky power bricks (strange how rarely that's a design priority) and linked together electrically. One press on the remote control and all the connected vampires — speakers, printer, desk light, etc. — are instantly held at bay.

A stake through vampire power's heart?

When it comes to dealing with the power-hungry complexities of my home entertainment system, I have an even simpler solution in the Smart Strip Surge Protector Power Strip. These are available in a variety of sizes and configurations depending on the complexity of your system, beginning with the LCG3E model priced at $39.95. This model offers three outlets that are always on (for your cable box, for example, which needs to remain powered up to receive new program listings). There are also six outlets that switch on and off as needed. The trick here is the "as needed" part — there's a master control outlet, which you'd generally use for your TV set. Turn off the TV and the system senses the lack of a power drain and turns the other switched outlets off automatically. You can tuck the power strip completely out of sight, and slay all those watt-gobbling Nosferatus with one click of a switch.

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