Last week, we talked about the perils of standby mode: how electronics continue to consume electricity, even when they’re turned “off.” Well, now that you know about the problem, what can you do about it? To answer that question, this week we’re going to talk about a number of different types of power strips designed to put a stop to passive electricity loss.
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Everyone has seen power strips, and just about everybody uses them. And they’re all the same, right? Just a row of plugs, an on-off strip, and a cord to plug into the wall. Noooooooope. While most power strips are designed like that, with the increasing uptick in electronics with energy-consuming standby modes, many major manufacturers have been introducing power strips designed to cut down on these energy losses. Here’s an overview of just a few of the most popular energy-saving power strips currently on the market.
Power Strips with Timers
For many years, people getting ready to travel have plugged a lamp or two in the living room into one of those plug-in timers with the gigantic mechanical timer wheel on them. Well, sometime in the last few years, an engineer realized that it made sense to make full-size power strips with built-in timers. The idea behind timed power strips is that you set them to turn on only when you’re usually at home. During the period when the strip is in off mode, it physically disconnects the electrical circuit powering the appliances plugged into the strip. This means that those devices are unable to draw ANY electricity at all, preventing them from slowly adding to your power bill.
The features and designs of these strips vary. The simplest feature an old-style mechanical 24 hour timer, meaning that you can only have one on-off schedule set up. Newer and more expensive models, such as the one above, can be digitally programmed to have different schedules for different days of the week, meaning that your devices won’t shut off on you unexpectedly when you’re home on the weekends.
Power Strips with Motion Detectors
While the idea of using a power strip that is keeping an eye on you might seem a bit creepy, many offices use similar technology to automatically shut the lights off in unused spaces. Activity-monitoring power strips use a small motion sensor to monitor nearby movement. If nobody has been in the room for about half an hour (this varies depending on model), the strip shuts off. The main advantage of this type of strip is that the strip adjusts its behavior based on your behavior, rather than the other way around. The downside is that due to the motion sensor, this type of power strip does continually drain a small amount of electricity, but still far less than your electronic devices normally would when plugged into a regular power strip.
Remote Control Power Strip
This is exactly what it sounds like: a power strip that you can turn off and on with a remote control. As with power strips equipped with motion detectors, there is a trade-off for the convenience of having a remote: the strip has to use a small amount of electricity so that it can be triggered by the remote. This is the case with any device that uses a remote, including TV and stereo systems. Some models of these power strips have wired remotes, which may (or may not) cut down on the amount of electricity used by the strip.
Master-Controlled Power Strip
This may well be the cleverest type of energy-saving power strip on the market. The rationale behind these power strips is simple: generally, when people use power strips, it’s because they have a bunch of electronic devices that are interrelated and need to be powered on all at once, such as a TV connected to a stereo system, DVR, speaker system, cable box, game system, and so on (or alternatively, a computer that’s hooked up to a monitor, speakers, printer, scanner, etc.). With these kinds of setups, when the main device is on–the TV or computer–then all the other devices are on as well.
Master-controlled power switches–often referred to as “auto-switching power strips”–are designed specifically for these sorts of entertainment center and office setups. How they work is, the device that you want to identify as the main device, such as a TV or computer, gets plugged into the outlet labeled “master” or “control.” Then, all the peripherals and accessories are plugged into the additional sockets. When the strip senses that you are turning the master device on, then it will supply power to the other outlets as well. When it senses that you’ve turned off the master device, then it shuts off power to the other sockets. This type of power strip does use a little bit of energy in order to work, but it really is a very tiny amount–one model is advertised a consuming only 1/4 of a watt of electricity when the additional outlets are shut off.
Because it’s common for devices that need to stay on all the time to be plugged into the same strip as devices that are often shut off, many master-controlled strips will also have a few sockets which are always powered on, such as the example shown above.
Masterless Power Strip
This is merely a variation on master-controlled power strips. Instead of shutting off outlets when a master or control device is turned off, the strip only shuts off power when all devices are turned off. However, these strips seem to be extremely rare–perhaps because many consumers don’t want to have to shut all their devices off in order to activate their power strip’s energy saving features–so chances are, if you find a power strip labeled as “auto-switching,” it’s probably one of the more common master-controlled models of power strip.