Home & Garden

Say watt? Little device could save you big money

KENNEWICK -- Are appliances, chargers and other electronic equipment sucking your wallet dry?

You can tell just by looking.

See those little red eyes that indicate your TV, cell phone charger or computer is ready to power up instantly? That's because they're already partly on.

And in the process they're drawing power, draining pennies, nickels and dimes right out of your utility budget.

Mike Huff discovered that when he used one of the Mid-Columbia Library System's Kill A Watt energy measuring devices at his house.

He is collections and merchandising director for the Mid-Columbia Library System, which has 33 of the handy devices available to loan to library card holders just like books.

"It's neat to see the calculations. Things that you think might not necessarily draw so much can pull quite a bit of power," Huff said.

Cell phone chargers, which many people leave plugged in all the time, are real energy hogs, he discovered.

But not anymore at the Huff household. They've all been unplugged unless the phones are being charged.

Kill A Watt devices -- about the size of an iPod and a bit thicker -- also are available for loan at the Richland Public Library.

"They're extremely popular," said Judy McMakin, Richland library operations supervisor. "As soon as one comes in, it's out the door almost immediately."

Kill A Watt devices have been around quite a while. "Those of us in the energy field have had them for 10 to 15 years," said Martin Sheeran, energy specialist for Richland Energy Services.

The devices can be used to measure how much energy it takes to run an appliance as long as it has a plug and runs on 110 volts. For larger appliances such as ranges, furnaces and hot water heaters, customers need to have someone from a utility company do an energy audit, Sheeran said.

Measure how much energy an appliance draws simply by plugging it into a Kill A Watt. It's great for anything that draws a constant amount -- toasters, televisions, lamps and such.

For a refrigerator or freezer where power use fluctuates as it cycles on and off, Sheeran suggests leaving the appliance plugged into the Kill A Watt for 24 hours.

Once you know how much energy the item uses, a simple formula will tell you how much it costs to run per day, month or year. Instructions come with each Kill A Watt.

"That's the important part," Sheeran said.

Yet just because something draws a lot of power doesn't make it the bad guy. "You have to consider the use," he said.

"A curling iron, for example, may use 1,500 watts, but you only use it for about 15 minutes a day. The energy use is high but not for a long duration of time," Sheeran said.

He compared that with a forced-air furnace, which can draw 15,000 watts of electricity over a prolonged period of time. "It's the duration that runs up your energy bills," he said.

Getting the energy measuring devices into the libraries was a collaborative effort between Avista, Benton PUD, Benton REA, Richland Energy Services and Franklin PUD.

"In just the 2 1/2 months that we've had them, nearly 100 have already been checked out (from Mid-Columbia Libraries)," Huff said. "So people are using them and hopefully saving some money as well."

If you want to check out a Kill A Watt device, Huff and McMakin say the best thing to do is get on the waiting list.

* Loretto J. Hulse: 509-582-1513; lhulse@tricityherald.com. See more of the Herald's Home & Garden stories at www.tricityhomeandgarden.com.