Do not trust manufacturer’s device power usage estimates

Marco Subbotin /

You can look at the technical specifications of almost any product on the market, especially devices like televisions and media devices, and you’ll find official statistics on their energy use. In our experience, you should not trust them and should test their consumption yourself. Here’s why.

The manufacturer’s estimates are very conservative

If you look up the rated power consumption of the TV you’re shopping for, you may find that it has that very Moderate power usage estimate, with the manufacturer claiming the TV uses a mere watt or two on standby.

However, when you take it home, plug it in, and measure the actual energy usage, it’s much higher. Maybe reach 15-20W instead of the suggested 2W.

Phantom loads build up over time, and the amount of energy your TV uses when it’s turned off can mean the difference between spending an amount on idle power annually or, alternatively, $20-25. If you kept your TV for a decade before replacing it, that’s $200 in exchange instead of $10!

So why the discrepancy between why the manufacturer says the device will be used and what it actually uses under real-world conditions in your home? The problem is that the manufacturer generally values ​​power usage when the device is configured in the most optimal and energy-efficient mode.

In the case of a TV, this means that the screen is dimmed, and additional bells and whistles like network connection is down, etc. If you redo enough features on the TV, you may eventually get to the point that it only has a watt or less of standby power because all it uses is waiting for a signal from the TV remote.

The same goes for many other products such as media receivers, printers, and various smart home products. If you swap out every power-saving and optimization feature option (at the expense of whatever convenient means they provide), you’ll come close to the manufacturer’s estimate.

So the takeaway here is simple. Do not trust the manufacturer’s discretion. Measure it yourself or scour the internet to see if anyone curious out there has measured the device under real-world conditions.

Here’s how (and why) to measure it yourself

In the end, you might not care so much if the device in your home uses 10 watts of power in standby mode when you claim it will only use 1 watt. Or if it uses 30 watts when turned on instead of the 10 watts indicated by the manufacturer.

But if you’re trying to buy a UPS unit, for example, to hold those devices for a certain amount of time, you need an accurate power reading. Whether the device uses 10 watts or 30 watts is very important when calculating how long a UPS unit battery will last.

Or maybe you’re just debating whether or not to put your entire media center on a power strip or smart plug that you can flip to reduce wasted backup power. If, collectively, the realistic phantom load of everything in your media center is 60W higher than expected, that will have a significant impact on your decision.

Fortunately, it is really easy to measure the energy use of household items. If it plugs into a standard outlet, you can put an inexpensive residential wattmeter on it and see how much power it uses.

Not only can you use a watt meter to see how much power a particular device is using with your current configuration, you can also tinker with the device to see if turning off certain features significantly reduces power consumption.

You might, for example, find that you can cut off 20 watts of power consumption for your TV by turning on Eco Mode but decide it’s not really worth the money to save if you have to suffer from a dull and fuzzy picture.

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