Defanging your Cable Box Vampire

cable box with fangs

Don’t let your entertainment system drain you dry

Earlier this week, the EPA released the new Energy Star requirements for Audio/Video (AV) equipment including CD, DVD and Blu-ray players.

The new specification establishes On mode and low-power Sleep mode power consumption limits and Auto Power Down requirements that AV products must meet in order to earn the ENERGY STAR label.

When you are in the market to purchase new AV equipment, you can save considerable money in operating costs (electricity) by purchasing models with the ENERGY STAR label. Unfortunately these new requirements do not magically make your old equipment more energy efficient and even worse, they do not cover the lurking vampire in most homes, the Cable Box (aka Set-top Box).  While there are Energy Star qualified cable boxes, the requirements around low power sleep mode do not apply.  Did you know that your cable box uses as much electricity when it is “powered off” as when you have it on? Even if you watch 4 hours of TV every day, that still leaves 20 hours a day when your TV is not in use.  What is worse is that now with the switch to digital TV, the typical power consumption of the box is double the old analog devices. From my experience of measuring the power consumption of various cable boxes with my trusty kill-a-watt meter, an analog cable box uses 18-20W (on or off) and a digital cable box uses 37-40W (on or off).  Over a year, that works out to 270 kWh of wasted electricity or about $40 at Massachusetts electrical rates.

Defanging the Cable Box Vampire (and existing AV equipment)

Smart Strip that will turn off your cable box when your TV is turned off.

Until regulations change to require these set-top boxes to use considerably less electricity when not in use, the best solution is to cut the power to the boxes using a power strip.  Since  we do not primarily watch live TV through our cable box, we have a basic power strip that we leave off except when I am going to watch a live sports game or when the kids need On Demand kids shows.  If you want the setup to automatically power on the cable box whenever you power up the TV, you should get a Smart Strip that senses when the TV turns on and off. It will control the cable box and any other devices you want to add to it.  You can buy a Smart Strip through the EFI link below.  In the Items list on the left, select Powerstrips & UPS and then Smart Powerstrips.I have heard good things about the BITS Smart Strips pictured and hope to test one out soon. Caveat: This doesn’t work for cable boxes that are also DVRs (aka TiVo) because they need to be on all the time to record shows when they air. Also, be careful switching off power to a stereo that has radio stations programmed as you may loose those every time you power it off. We are very happy to see the EPA improving the requirements for home electronics.  Since it is not practical to buy all new electronics – in fact – that wouldn’t be very green, we hope you will take the simple steps above to defang the vampires in your home. Happy Greening! Jon

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