TV sets and all the various support devices and accessories can carry a surprising phantom load, adding to our electric bills even when we’re not using them. Here’s how much you can save by unplugging them.
Here’s How to Estimate Your Savings
There are so many sizes of televisions with so many different generations of power optimization. Combine that with the huge number of potential accessories that might be part of your general TV setup like consoles, streaming sticks, media receivers, sound bars, cable boxes, and so on, and it becomes impossible for us to give you a straight answer like “You’ll save $38 a year unplugging it all when you’re not using it.”
But we can talk about the average standby power consumption of common devices so you can estimate roughly how much standby power your media center setup is using in standby mode. And if you want a more precise look at your exact hardware, in the next section, we’ll talk about how to skip the estimate and measure your devices directly.
First, let’s look at the averages for various devices. Keep a running total of the number of watts (W) for all of the devices below you have. Then we’ll estimate how much it costs to idle them 24/7 for a year.
The Television: Standby Load ~10W
Let’s start with the TV itself. How much idle standby power TV sets use varies widely.
Some models barely sip power in standby mode and use under 1W, while others use as much as 20W. It’s safe to estimate that yours likely uses around 10W.
The Set-Top Box: Standby Load ~10W
Set-top boxes for cable and satellite service are notorious energy vampires. Fortunately, since the mid-2010s, the situation has improved a lot.
Still, it’s not unusual to find set-top boxes with idle power consumption as high as 25W, though there are now lighter-weight models with better power optimization that idle around 5W. It’s safe to estimate your box is probably using around 10W.
Streaming Sticks: Standby Load ~1W
Streaming sticks, dongles, and boxes use very little power. The idle draw is usually at or under 1W, and even the more power-hungry models, like the Roku Ultra, still only idle at 3W.
Of all the things you have plugged into your TV, streaming media players have among the lowest idle power demand.
Game Consoles: Standby Load ~12W
If you’ve tweaked the settings in your game console to use the most energy-friendly options, the idle load is likely around 0.5-1W.
But if you’re using any of the console options like the Xbox’s “Instant On” or the PlayStation’s “Rest Mode,” you’re using a lot more power to keep the console in an always-ready mode.
Stereo Receiver: Standby Load ~25W
If you have a stereo receiver feeding the speakers attached to your TV setup, we’d encourage you to actually measure it with the techniques and tools highlighted in the next section. Stereo receivers vary wildly in how much standby power they use.
You might have a unit that uses less than 1W of power in standby mode, or you might have a unit that doesn’t really have a standby mode to speak of, and leaving it on and ready pulls down 75W or more. For the purpose of this estimate, we’re sticking with 25W as a middle ground.
Soundbar: Standby Load ~5W
Soundbars use less power, most of the time, than stereo receivers, but the energy consumption is all over the map. Some models use as little as a watt, while others have a much higher standby power of around 10W.
Estimating the Idle Load Cost
So let’s put all of those estimated power loads together. Let’s say you have the TV (10W), plus a cable box (10W), a game console with a fast-start mode (12W), and astreaming stick (1W). That’s 36W of standby power.
Now we just need to use a simple equation, which you’re familiar with if you’ve read our guide to measuring your energy use, to see how much 36W of idle power costs us over the course of a year.
We need to multiply the watts by the time the watt-drawing devices are powered on and divide that by 1000 to convert watts into kilowatt hours (kWh), which is the unit your electric company bills you in. There are 8,760 hours in a year, so we’ll us that are our time value.
(36W * 8760H)/1000 = 315.36 kWh
Now we simply need to multiply the number of kWh by the price our electric company charges per kWh. The national average is 12 cents per kWh, so we’ll use that.
315.36 kWh * $0.12 per kWh = $37.84
Over the course of the year, the idle power consumption for our TV set and attached accessories burns up almost $38 doing nothing but idling there.
Here’s How to Measure Exactly How Much You’ll Save
Estimating is all well and good, but unless you actually measure your devices, you just won’t know the real story. In our experience, manufacturer-supplied standby numbers are overly generous (and assume you’re using the device with every single power saver option turned on). There is too much variability between devices to get the true answer without measuring.
Fortunately, it’s unbelievably trivial to accurately measure how much energy household devices use.
Whether you want to know how much energy the media center in your den pulls down when it’s idle, how much energy your movie projector uses while you’re watching a movie, or even something unrelated to media, like how much energy your basement dehumidifier uses, all you need is a simple watt meter and a few minutes of time to find out.
You can test individual devices or you can plug them all, if you want to know how much power all the devices in your media center are using, into a power strip if they aren’t already plugged into one and test the whole strip at once.
Doing so is how I found out that the plethora of consoles, chargers, media players, and such that I have hooked up to my main TV, combined with the idle power of the TV set itself, cost me about $40 a year.
And Here’s What to Do About It
If the culprit is a TV and cable box in a lesser-used area of the house, perhaps a guest room or a rec room that doesn’t get much use besides game days, the obvious solution is to just unplug the devices in question and save $20-40 a year or whatever it might be.
If it’s a more frequently used area and you don’t want the hassle of having to crawl around plugging stuff in, you could always put some or all of the devices on a smart strip or smart plug.
Let’s say your setup only wastes $10 in standby power per year. Even then, a smart plug would pay for itself in a year just by cutting that waste off at the wall.