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Outsmart the vampires

Have you ever gone to unplug an AC adapter from a wall outlet or surge protector and noticed it was warm to the touch? That heat is energy and it’s costing you money, even when the electronic device that’s plugged into it is turned off. Devices that draw power even when they are off are said to be using “standby power.” Many have dubbed them “vampires” because the plugs look like two fangs that suck electricity at night while you sleep.

The Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) ( estimates that a typical American home has 40 products constantly drawing power.

Although various agencies have reported energy losses from these devices, most agree that together vampiric devices amount to at least 10 percent of residential electricity use.

So what can you do to stop the vampires? Aside from garlic and a wooden stake (which don’t work on this particular variety), you could always unplug the devices each time you’re finished using them. However, that could be problematic because it requires a significant change in behavior. Also, your outlets might be located in awkward places that are not easy to reach. In addition, unplugging and re-plugging devices can lead to frayed wires, causing a fire hazard.

Enter the Smart Strip! Here is a product that stops the vampires without changing the way you use your devices. It does however, require a little bit of knowledge and planning.

A Smart Strip is basically a surge protector with some added functionality. Most are color-coded and labeled to avoid confusion. One outlet on the strip will be marked as the “Control Outlet.” The Control Outlet is wired to the outlets marked “Switched Outlets.” A sensor monitors the flow of electricity to the Control Outlet and when there is a significant drop (as when you turn the device off), then the Control Outlet switches power off to the Switched Outlets. There are several other outlets on the Smart Strip marked “Constant Hot Outlets.” These outlets act like the standard outlets on a surge protector in that they always receive power regardless of what the device plugged into the Control Outlet is doing. Let’s look at a real-world example of this:

On your desk you have a computer, a computer monitor, some speakers, a printer and maybe some other devices. In this example, let’s add a cell phone charger and a scanner.

For a setup like our example, you would plug your computer into the Control Outlet. Then, you would plug the monitor, speakers, printer and scanner into the Switched Outlets. Now, every time you turn your computer off, the Smart Strip stops sending power to those devices you only use when the computer is on. You don’t choose to plug the cell phone charger into the switched outlet because you sometimes charge your cell phone even when your computer is off.

Smart Strips are especially effective when used in places where multiple devices are plugged in. Generally, changing to a Smart Strip is only a matter of unplugging the devices from your existing surge protector and then re-plugging into the Smart Strip.

Written and compiled by Ed VanHoose 217-241-7941




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