bad energy habits

We all have bad energy habits, from hanging out in front of the open freezer door letting all the cold out, to falling asleep in front of the TV, to the classic leaving the lights on all day when nobody’s in the house…but since appliances and gadgets all use different amounts of electricity, it’s tough to say which habits we should feel guilty about and which really don’t affect our wallet.

So we collected seven of our own pet peeves and field tested them using a multi-circuit in-home electricity monitor. Here’s what we found*:

1. The old favorite leaving the lights on depends on what kind of light you’re leaving on – and, obviously, how many. A “normal” incandescent bulb costs about 0.75cents per hour, and LEDs or CFLs cost only one-sixth of that – so leaving the lights on (either overnight or while you’re at work for the day, say both are about 8 hours) costs you roughly 6 cents for a normal light and a bit over 1 cent for modern bulbs. Obviously this isn’t going to break the bank…

…but if that light switch you forgot to flick off actually runs 5 lights in the kitchen, we’re talking 30 cents a day, and that bad habit adds up to $110 per year!

2. Falling asleep with the TV on is another classic: it’s so cozy on the couch…before you know it, it’s 3 a.m. and your TV has been broadcasting to no-one for 4 hours. It turns out that doesn’t cost you too much, thanks to modern TVs: current EnergyStar models use only 30-60Watts for a 40" TV, so those 4 hours asleep cost you about 2 cents.

If you have an old TV, however, it can consume as much as 400W - in that case your nap costs you about 15c.

Again, it matters how often your bad habit happens: if falling asleep in front of your TV is your nightly ritual, it pays to get a new energy-efficient TV because you’ve been wasting $55 per year.

3. Like to clean? If you are so eager to get dust-busting that you start vacuuming before moving the furniture, and then leave the vacuum running while you shove the couch away from the wall or remove the dining room chairs, you are wasting lots of power – right? Wrong! Turns out despite their loud noise, vacuums only use about 1200 Watts – so spending 5 minutes moving furniture while the thing sucks air in the corner only costs you about an extra penny. That’s not a lot to pay for an extra-clean house.

4. How about this one: standing in front of the open fridge or freezer trying to figure out what to eat? Our home energy monitor showed us that leaving the freezer open for 2 minutes wastes about as much as leaving the fridge open for 4 minutes. The former is about enough time to pick an ice cream flavor and scoop it, while the latter is the time it takes to figure out which sandwich ingredients to use while the bread is toasting and to put everything back. But it turns out, it’s a habit that isn’t costing us too much: the door open situations drew about as much as leaving two CFL's on for an hour or so. If you repeat your bad habit once a day for a year, it only costs $1.50.

However, leaving the fridge door inadvertently open a crack means the appliance is working overtime for hours. So instead of kicking yourself for having left the door open, make sure you really close it tight!

5. We all know that it doesn’t waste much power to leave our cell phones plugged in after they’re done charging…but shouldn’t we try to unplug stuff to avoid the famous “phantom load” adding extra bucks to our energy bills? It turns out once gadgets are done charging, they suck only a miniscule amount of juice – one professor even tested how much exactly, using 4 laptops, 2 cell phones, 2 iPads, a Nook, a Nexus, and an iPod. When all of these were fully charged but still connected to their chargers in sleep mode, they collectively used only 8 Watts – less than half an energy efficient light bulb!  So even if you had every one of these appliances charging in vain 8 hours a day every day for a year, it would amount to roughly $2.50. A lot of folks pay more for their morning coffee.

6. After finding out that all those bad habits actually don’t waste a lot of power, we came across one that really does cost more than you think: an old stereo (the kind you typically have in your living room) uses a whopping 70 Watts in standby mode, which is what people normally leave it in for weeks at a time! All of us at ClearlyEnergy have some type of older stereo equipment at home that we didn’t realize is a silent sucker of electricity when not playing music – leaving those in standby all day can cost $67 per year. We all went home and turned ours off!

7. And now for the bad habit that really makes a difference leaving the air conditioning on! Whether you have a central system or a window unit, air conditioners are powered solely by electricity – and they use lots of it. Leaving central the a/c on while nobody’s home (for instance the 8 hours you’re at work) can add up to a couple hundred dollars per season, depending on how hot and long your summers are. It’s about half that much for leaving a window unit cooling an empty room. If you’re not a fan of coming home to a sweltering house, simply adjusting your thermostat can make a huge difference: the EPA estimates a smart thermostat can save you $180 per year.

The result of our habit test: most of the stuff we feel guilty about isn’t actually costing us much money. It’s the stuff we don’t feel guilty about that needs attention: Instead of sweating the small stuff, you can save the most money by simply sweating a bit more: use less air conditioning!

* All calculations assumed roughly the current national average electricity cost of 11 cents per kilowatt hour (kWh)

Photo Credit: Bad Energy Habits/shutterstock