5 Tips for Saving Energy in the Family Room

Reduce your electricity bills by systematically purging your family room of wasteful energy practices.

The three biggest energy hogs in the family room are the plasma television, DVR/TiVo box, and digital cable box. Image: Steven Errico/Digital Vision/Getty Images

Family room fun — a video game console, TV, DVR, DVD, and stereo system — comes at a cost reflected monthly in your energy bill. But you could save up to $130/year in energy costs by recharging, reducing, and replacing energy-sapping electronics.

Here’s a deeper dive into ways to have family fun, and save money, too.

1. Select Energy Star-rated electronics

The three biggest energy hogs in the family room are the plasma television, DVR/TiVo box, and digital cable box, says the nonprofit American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy, which promotes energy efficiency to consumers and government policymakers.

A typical plasma TV (less than 40 inches) consumes 441 kilowatt hours of electricity per year. That translates into about $50 (based on 11.3 cents per kilowatt hour). Next up are TiVo devices at $41 annually, followed by digital cable boxes at $27. Both devices are always on because they constantly receive and download data. Opting for an LCD (liquid crystal display) TV, which costs $8 per year to operate, saves you about $42/year.

And if you use an Energy Star-rated digital cable box (ask your provider if any are available for free), you could pay 30% less for energy—an annual savings of about $8.50. Energy Star hasn’t yet published data on swapping out a DVR or TiVo device.

2. Reduce standby power

Vampire power — the energy that’s wasted when electronic devices are plugged in, but not in use—represents about $100 per year in the average household’s electricity costs, says Energy Star. Assuming the family room represents about 15% of your electricity bill, you could save about $15 per year with smart standby practices.

Unplug rarely-used electronics (like that karaoke machine), and cluster other appliances, even adapters for cell phones and digital cameras, onto power strips ($3 to $12 for a six-outlet strip). Power strips allow you to turn off all attached electronics with one switch. Unfortunately, some family room electronics, such as set-top boxes and downloading devices like TiVo, can’t be turned off, because that would disrupt the digital data-gathering you’ve programmed them to do. But with a smart power strip ($20 to $40), you can turn off your TV while leaving the DVR plugged in.

3. Become computer efficient

Your computer eats energy, too. To reduce consumption:

  • Turn off monitors when not in use.
  • Put your computer in sleep mode when you sleep.
  • Use LCD flat screen monitors, rather than CRT monitors.
  • Switch from a desktop to a battery-powered laptop, which uses less energy.

4. Invest in rechargeable batteries

No, they won’t reduce your electric bill, but you’ll save on batteries for your video game system and other entertainment remotes. You’ll help the environment, too. For every rechargeable battery you buy, you prevent at least 500 single-use batteries from entering the waste stream, according to PJ Stafford, founder of Green Irene, an eco-consulting company that provides energy and environmental makeovers to home owners.

Rechargeable AA and AAA batteries cost $3 to $3.50 each, versus 75 cents to $1 for disposables; a charger costs $25 to $30. That investment, in lieu of 500 batteries over four years, adds up to $310 to $445 in savings.

Call your local trash collection service to find out which batteries can be recycled instead of thrown away. Recycle old rechargeable batteries for free via programs like Call 2 Recycle.

5. Replace bulbs with CFLs or LEDs

Replacing an incandescent light bulb with a compact fluorescent light bulb (CFL) or light-emitting diode (LED) once was merely a good idea; now, it’s the law. The U.S. has banned the sale of incandescent bulbs after 2012, making energy-saving CFLs and LEDs the bulbs of choice—for the time being. 

CFLs lower energy costs by up to 75% and burn about 10 times longer than incandescents, although they contain mercury, which makes disposal a bear. In addition, some consumers claim CFLs don’t last as long as claimed. 

LEDs, on the other hand, burn almost 50 times longer than incandescents and up to 6 times longer than CFLs, contain no mercury, and produce one-tenth the carbon dioxide emissions that CFLs produce. They also turn on instantly, where CFLs take time to heat up.