The Largest Consumer of Electricity In US Homes Besides A/C Is…

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Most people will guess that the heater and/or air conditioner is the biggest source of electricity usage in the average home. But what about the second-largest?

The HD DVR Cable Box, at least according to the LA Times (what about water heating?). Digital video recorders are basically computers that use about 35 watts (some up to 50W), but the problem is that unlike desktop computers they use that much power even when “off” or on standby. I used to keep mine behind a cabinet door and it always felt like I could cook an egg on top of it.


Here’s another graphic from the NY Times on the same issue:


At 35 watts, that’s like running three CFL bulbs (13W, 60W equivalent) all the time, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Depending on if you have the cable box and DVR separate, you are looking at roughly 300 to 450 kWh per year. That is $50-$75 per year, per box, at 16 cents a kWh. Many people have two or three boxes in their homes.

One source of this problem is that the cable companies have no incentive to make their boxes more energy-efficient. You pay the electricity bills, not them, and you either don’t know about their vampire energy use or are subject to their local monopoly anyway.

You could put the cable boxes on a timer if you never record shows at certain times, but you’d want to leave time for both the 10-15 minute boot-up and the regular downloading of the day’s channel line-ups. Most people expect their TV to work instantly.

Or you could just drop cable. Apple TV and Roku internet streaming boxes (Netflix, etc.) use much less power when idle and you can just unplug them when not in use. (Startup time is under a minute.) From an older GigaOM post:


The newest Roku 3 supposedly uses 3.5 watts when streaming HD video while the Streaming Stick uses about 2.5 watts. Both are reported to use about 2 watts when idle.

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  1. I’ve gotten better at shutting off electronics with a kill switch rather than keeping them plugged in except the cable box. I have to share that info with my folks. We just switched the lights to LED and added smart thermostat but there are additional ways to save.

  2. I have my entertainment center (LCD TV, Roku, Bluray, audio system, no cable though) on a power strip and just shut it off when not using anything. It’s super easy to take care of the phantom power when not in use.

  3. A power strip that turns everything off wouldn’t work for a DVR.

    • A power strip WILL work for a DVR. The problem isn’t whether it will work to resolve the issue, the problem is, is that people who want to USE the DVR for timed recording must still leave it on thus making the Power strip solution incompatible with the intended use of the DVR. An “Alternative” might be to have a “Timer” that turns the power on to the DVR in line with the “Scheduled” recordings. That said, however, I suspect that depending on the DVR, the programming and/or time may be lost if you cut the power. I don’t use a DVR so I don’t have enough information about it to say for certain.

      • Every DVR I’ve seen/owned retains recordings when they lose power. They store the information on an internal harddrive. My current Comcast DVR does have to get the programming every time its power cycled which seems to several minutes if not a couple hours, but the Tivo I used to own stored programming on its drive.

  4. Wow! I’m glad I don’t have a DVR. I never knew what an energy suck they were. I, too, am surprised that water heating is not included in the comparison. We recently switched to a hybrid hot water heater, and it’s saving us a considerable amount of electricity each month.

    • Ehh.. the 50-70$ extra I spend a year in power pales in comparison to the value of my time saved by fast forwarding through commercials.

  5. DVRS are not the 2nd largest consumer of electicity.

    This govt. site lists consumption for homes :
    In order : cooling, lighting, water heating, refrigerators and then TV/equipment is #5.

    Of course eveyr home is different so if you have no AC, a gas water heater and a new efficient fridge then maybe your DVR is your biggest electricity user. The LA times article says “2nd biggest energy user in many homes” Many homes in LA have no AC and might use a gas water heater. So OK it might be true in some homes. But nationally, no way are DVRs the #2 consumer.

  6. Thanks for this well timed list, Jonathan. My electric company declared one of their “Peak Savings Days” today, where customers can get a discount on their next bill if they keep the KWH down during the afternoon.

    Right before the peak period was scheduled to start, in addition to upping the temperature on my thermostat a couple of degrees, I (1) uplugged the TV and cable box and (2) uplugged all computers.

  7. DVR box strikes me as an obsolete technology. Why after paying over a hundred per month a cable customer need to go through the hassle to record a show? All shows should be available on demand.

  8. Thanks for the great share! I also like the idea of Energy Efficiency. The best part I like is this: The reliability and availability of modern energy sources cause people to tend to assume that it will always be accessible. And as for the case of non-renewable energy sources, most people do not know or maybe even refuse to accept that it will eventually run out.

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