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Slay 'vampire electronics' to save big money

File photo.

File photo.  (REUTERS/Andrea Comas )

Americans spend $19 billion a year, or around $165 a household, on something completely wasteful. You’ve probably never thought about the electricity your “always on”— but idle — electronics consume all day and night. According to the Natural Resource Defense Council, so-called “vampire electronics” use nearly a quarter of an average home's energy. It’s a real pain in the neck.

Identify your vampire electronics

You have vampire electronics in your home. According to the NRDC, 51 percent of vampire gadgets are consumer electronics, such as TVs, computers and home entertainment gear. Most of these go to sleep rather than turn completely off. That makes them start up quicker, but it also means a TV, for example, can cost you up to $54 a year in 24/7 electricity cost.

Other problem areas are kitchen and laundry appliances (6 percent), lighting (5 percent) and heating and cooling (4 percent). Likely because this study was done in California, 1 percent goes to electric cars. The remaining 34 percent is random gadgets like hot water recirculation pumps, surveillance cameras, floor fans, aquariums and so forth.

If you want an idea of what your home's wasted electricity looks like, Duke Energy has an Energy Slayer Calculator. Just tell it what gadgets you have and it will give you an estimate of how much energy those gadgets are wasting. You’ll be surprised.

Of course, these are just generalities. Depending on when you bought it and the manufacturer, your gear may be more or less efficient. Also, the waste varies by how much you actually use a gadget.

Before you start messing with your household electronics, it helps to know where you should be looking. An electricity usage monitor that plugs in between your gadget and the wall socket will tell you how much electricity your gadget draws when it's idle.

Monitors range between $12 and $40, depending on their features. The more expensive models give you more exact measurements and also tell you voltage and line frequency. This helps detect problems with your home's power that might shorten your electronics' lifespan.

For example, check out the budget Phantom Power Indicator and the more feature-packed Watt-Killer Electricity Usage Monitor in my shop.

Slay those vampire electronics

Once you've identified your biggest vampires, it's time to put a stake to them. You have a few options, ranging from cheap and inconvenient to convenient and expensive. You'll need to decide which one works for you. You might even mix and match.

1. Unplug

The simplest thing to do is unplug gadgets when they aren't in use. This works well for phone and tablet chargers, but it's much less convenient to pull the plug on your TV, audio and home theater equipment. Here’s where number 2 is helpful.

2. Power Strips and Switches

If you have several gadgets plugged into a power strip, it becomes a matter of flipping the power strip's switch to turn them all off at once. Keep in mind that there are things you don't want to power off. For example, cutting power to a TV is fine, but a cable box takes longer to reconnect after it's been off. Cutting power to a computer or printer is OK, but not the power to a router or cable modem that's connecting gadgets and people in other rooms to the Internet.

Some power strips have "always-on" connectors. Using them, you can choose what gets turned off. I like the power strips with built-in energy meters that show how much you're saving. Click here to see an example of this kind of power strip in my shop.

You can also buy less expensive individual switches that plug into a single socket. You can flip the switch to more easily shut off something like a charger. Some can also be triggered by remote or smartphone app if you want to put them behind a cabinet or desk.

3. Timers

Perhaps you want gadgets to come on or turn off on a set schedule. That's when you should grab a timer. It plugs into the wall and your gadget plugs into it.

Timers can range from $10 analog timers to $50 digital ones that include a usage meter, like this one in my shop.

4. Power Settings

When it comes to saving power with computers, you rarely want to actually unplug them. It's just too much work on a daily basis to plug it back in and wait for it to boot. Instead, you can use your PC’s sleep and hibernate options, which are faster and still save electricity.

Hibernate has the best energy savings, while sleep has the fastest startup time. Click here for a more detailed breakdown of each option, and how it might change if you use Windows 8.

You can also go beyond Windows' built-in power settings with programs that let you shut down a computer on a schedule. Click here for some of my favorite options for PC and Mac.

5. Upgrade

This is a longer-term strategy, but it might be time to upgrade your electronics. Newer computers, for example, have much more energy-efficient power supplies. A newer fridge might use less electricity. LED lightbulbs, over time, will definitely save you money. You'll spend more money up front, but for items you keep for five, 10 or 20 years, the savings work out.

If you want to learn more about energy-efficient products or upgrades for your home that can save you money, check out the Department of Energy's Energy Saver site. It covers topics ranging from buying small electronics and air conditioning to the savings of solar water heaters and insulation.

On the Kim Komando Show, the nation's largest weekend radio talk show, Kim takes calls and dispenses advice on today's digital lifestyle, from smartphones and tablets to online privacy and data hacks. For her daily tips, free newsletters and more, visit her website at Komando.com. Kim also posts breaking tech news 24/7 at News.Komando.com.