cableTVI have become my dad.  I can recall countless times during my youth, that I heard my father say, "Turn off that light, no one has been in that room for half an hour!"  Or, close that door, I'm not air conditioning Overland Park!"  He had many other sayings related to the same subject, which was the conservation of our energy use.  My kids are now the recipients of this banter, and I imagine that the reaction I often receive is similar to those of myself and my siblings.  These days, it is not so simple as turning off a light in an unoccupied room or closing a door.  We have so many gadgets plugged in now that most of us would be hard pressed to put a number to them without walking throughout our homes.  More often than not, I'm now asking that they unplug unused power supplies, or to turn off the game console.

I've read a lot lately about various devices around our homes and the amount of power they use, even when they are not in use or turned off.  There have been many terms coined to describe this usage, such as "energy vampires".  This refers to devices that continue to draw power even when the device is turned off, or the device being charged is no longer connected.  The examples most cited are mobile phone or tablet chargers, or cable set top boxes.  I started wondering just how much energy does go to waste for devices not in use.  Since our televisions in my home all have working "on" switches, but apparently have defective "off" switches, I thought I would start with the humble cable Set Top Box (STB).  For some reason, the TV gets left on and the cable box gets turned off or eventually times out due to inactivity, and goes into "standby mode.  My initial intent was to determine how much one could save by making sure the cable box was turned off when not in use.  I was also curious to see how much power the set top box used while 'powered down'.  


What was tested

I'm a Verizon FIOS customer, and have been for a number of years.  My original setup was one HD DVR STB, and one non-HD STB for an older TV.  Since my original install, my original DVR died, and I now have a newer model with greater capacity.  I've also upgraded my TVs to newer HD models and gained one additional TV, for a total of three.  This required the addition of one new HD STB.  Verizon offers multi-room DVR access, so there is no need to have a second or third one for the additional TVs.  What this leaves for me to test is a newer model HD DVR STB, an older HD STB, and one newer HD STB.  Here is the line-up:  


 QIP7100 1 HD

This is a basic High Definition Set Top Box, the original older model I started with.  It is a larger form factor, and has a LED clock display on the front, which is always on, even when the set top box is powered off.



 QIP7100 2 HD

This is the newest HD Set Top Box Model model availble at the time of this writing.  It is not a DVR model, and just acts as a standard cable box.  It is advertised as a low energy model, It has a relatively small form factor, has only a small white LED on the front to indicate it is powered up.

QIP7100 2

 QIP7232 2

This is the replacement DVR, the newest available at the time of this writing.  While the fom factor is slightly smaller than the model it replaced, it is still a near full sized Set Top Box.  It has a white LED clock display that remains on regardless of the power status of the box.

QIP7232 2


This is the original HD DVR Set Top Box (HD) that I started with.  I'm including it for comparative purposes only; since I traded it in for a newer model, I no longer have it available for test.  It is similar to the 7100 model in form factor, and has an amber LED clock display that stays on all the time.




How the testing took place.

For measurement purposes, I used a P3 Kill A Watt model P4400 Electricity Usage Monitor.  I have other test gear that works great for instantaneous readings, but I always find myself going back to the Kill A Watt for one reason; it monitors that actual usage over an extended time period.  It is easy to use, and it gives your various readings as of the moment as well.  The way it works is you just plug it in, then plug in the device you want to measure into the Kill A Watt meter,  Leave the device under test plugged in for about a day, then come back and read the hours and minutes under test, and the kWh used during that time period.

For each STB tested, I ran it for about a day in each mode (both powered up and in standby/off mode).  I then calculated the devices kWh per hour.  Once I had that, I determined how much that cost at my electric companies rates to get an hourly cost for the device.  My electricity provider charges one rate for the first 1000 kWh, and a second, higher rate for usage above 1000 kWh.  For this test, I averaged the two rates.



 For the results, I expected a little more data than this.  The reason there is only one line of data per model is that each of these STB's use the exact same amount of power whether they are powered up or "turned off".  See the chart for the power usage by model, and the annualized cost for my electric company whose blended rate is $0.10187 per kWh.



Power Req.



Usage rate/hour



QIP7100 1







QIP7100 2











QIP7232 2







*The QIP7200 results were estimated based upon a comparison of the listed power rating to the other STBs tested.

All of the boxes tested have a time-out feature that either blanks the screen or displays a bouncing logo.  This may save some power on some televisions depending upon the technology used to light pixels, but it does not save even the tiniest amount of power used by the STB.  Some televisions have the ability to detect the lack of a video signal, and go into sleep mode, which uses less power. A little research turns up the purpose behind keeping the box completely active and powered up despite the outward appearance.  Keeping the box up and running allows cable companies to perform updates and other maintenance at any time.  Also, if the STP is a DVR model, and it is accepting and acting on program recording instructions, it must stay active to do so.  If it is set up to act as a multi-room DVR, it also must act on other remote instructions.  Despite all this, for some reason I still have to wait for the STB to update itself if I turn it on after it has been unused for a few days.

These result are based only on these particular STB models as configured by my cable provider.  Other providers and equipment are likely to have different results. 



Although I did not get some of the results I thought I might, there are still some take-aways to consider:

  • Getting the latest model of cable box can save you about $5 a year in electricity, but unless you are already heading to the cable company's store, you would be lucky to recover your gas money.  If you have three, like I do, it might be worth it to save the $15 a year.
  • If the television attached to the STB is an old CRT based model, or a plasma based display, configure the time-out feature to blank the screen instead of using the bouncing logo.  These type of TVs actually use less power if the screen is black, or blank.  LCD TVs use the same amount of power regardless of what is displayed.  Also, setting it to blank the dislay may actually trigger the TV's sleep mode.
  • Some STB's have a power plug feature that allows the user to plug the TV directly into the STB, which will cut power to the TV when the STB is powered down, or goes into sleep mode.  This can save some power.
  • It is unlikely that cutting power by unplugging or by a power strip to the STB box would be a tremendous benefit. Even with the highest usage STB, the DVR model, the annual cost is only about $20.  All three of mine together come to about $61.

Lastly, if none of the above points apply to your particular use, don't worry about occasionally leaving your STB on, it certainly doesn't cost you any more.


Tampa TransitI have always been interested in studying the efficiency of any system, regardless of the scale of the system.  I have played numerous "sim" games over the years, including ones that built railroads or even entire municipalities.  I've always really liked the ones built on railroads, like the old "railroad Tycoon" games.  One of the challenging aspects of these games was that you have to find the right balance to be successful.  If you overdevelop your infrastructure, you can't afford to finish it, but if you don't put in enough, you don't get the return revenue to support it.  You get the picture.  Wouldn't it be great if you could put together your ideal map based upon the community in which you live?  Maybe now you can...

Recently, I came across a site that I couldn't wait to share.The site is called Tansitmix.  I live in the Tampa Bay area of Florida, and this community has struggled with transit issues for some time.  I've seen various maps drawn up, published in the media, and debated time and again.  I usually look at the maps and say to myself, "What are they thinking?  I could do better than that!"  Now I can put it to the test!  Click here to see a quick map I created on the site.  It plots bus routes for whatever city you choose, and allows you draw your own transit system.  This was one of my first attempts, and I'm including it here for demonstration purposes.  I have since played around with some other areas and have really had a lot of fun with it.  So far, I have not hit any limits on routes.

Using it is pretty simple.  Once you have selected your city, you start adding routes.  It builds out a beautiful color coded map that includes all of your routes, how many buses it would take to support your route, the number of miles and the cost per year.  I like that you can go in, remove routes, edit them, and play around with your design.  If you like, you can even design an express route that goes right from your house to where you work.  It doesn't list ridership data, population of areas served or any of the other hard stuff that city planners actually have to do, but hey, it's good to be the king!  Perhaps you want to sketch out a design to send to your local transportation officials as a proposal.  Once you have completed it, simply click on the share link, and you have a ready made map to send right to whomever you want.

 I sketched out a small, four route system, that probably wouldn't win any community achievement awards, but I just wanted to get an idea of how it would look.  Here is the result:

G4G transit

As far as efficiency and public good is concerned, I quickly realized the implications of even a subtle route change.  I gained a new understanding and appreciation of how difficult it must be to decide where to put the long haul routes, the express serviceroutes, and transfer stations.  Even though there is no game element such as reaching certain achievements, I did enjoy trying to make it run more efficiently, or at least at a lower cost.

I don't know if there are plans to add rail, or other transportation options, but I sincerely hope so.

TED 5000cI don't know anyone who doesn't wish their power bill was a little less.  I often hear people talking about high their power bill is, but they don't really know how to reduce it unless it is making sure lights aren't left on all night.  Some will say that they adjust their thermostat by one degree or more to conserve energy.  These approaches are reasonable, but the problem is, the result can only be seen thirty days down the road, when the power bill arrives.  Even then, one has to think back and wonder, "Did I really save that month, or was the weather just a little milder than usual?"  


Where Does the Power Go?

I live in Florida, where I worry much more about the magnitude of my cooling bill in the summer than I do about the heating bill in the winter.  Typically, my monthly energy costs are about two and a half times higher in the summer than spring and fall.  Only during January and February do my winter energy costs creep up a little, and it is usually by a much smaller amount.  Since my heat comes from natural gas, and it is a less expensive source of energy where I live, the dollar amount is negligible.  This pattern makes it relatively simple to see where most of my energy spend goes - cooling my house.  This works just the opposite for my friends up North - heating their houses in the winter time.  This makes sense when you stop to think of the devices that use the most power - motors and devices designed to produce heat.  Heat pumps and air conditioners use at least three motors each to pump heat into or away from living spaces.  For houses heated by electricity alone, add in the heating elements, and you are looking at a whopper of an electric bill.

Removing heating and cooling from the equation, what else uses the most electricity?  Again, look to the motors and things with heating elements.  An electric clothes dryer employs both a motor and a heating element.  Electric water heaters are constantly cycling to keep the water a constant hot temperature.  Modern dishwashers save water and electrically heated water overall (over hand washing and rinsing), but still pull down a lot of juice.  Electric coffee pots, ovens, cook-tops, and toasters all use a lot of power for the short time they are on.  Even electric hair dryers are big users of electricity; again, they use both a motor and a heating element.  Surprisingly, lighting takes significantly less power than heating and cooling.  There are a few caveats however.  For example, if you do leave a lot of lights on, and they are of the older incandescent variety, they are less energy efficient and add to the heat load of a space you might be trying to cool.  Older appliances like old style washing machines and refrigerators can also draw a lot of power.


Stop Guessing!

The only way for certain, to know where your energy is going, is to actually measure it.  You could go outside to your power meter and take a reading, then go back an hour later to see the amount of energy you have consumed.   You could even count how many rotations that little disk has made in a minute.  All you really know though is, the faster that disk spins, the more electricity you are burning. Believe it or not, it is much easier to measure it than you might think.  One way to measure your usage is to install a whole house energy monitor.  There are a number of them on the market, and they vary greatly in cost, complexity, and features.  Some are so simple to install, that they literally are a ring you slip over the outside of the power meter on the outside of your house.  Some are wired directly into your power panel and may require an electrician to install.  Regardless of the type you choose, what you will accomplish is a real time read of how much power you are using right now.  Why is this important?  For one, you no longer have to wait until the power bill comes to see if you have saved any money.  Second, you can start turning things in your house on and off to see what is really eating up the juice, and see the results immediately.  Below is a listing of some of the more popular models:

Efergy Elite Whole House Energy Monitoring System

Blue Line Innovations

Simple Energy Works

The Energy Detective

The prices range from around $60 all the way up to hundreds, depending upon options, display devices, and accuracy.


How it Works

I chose the TED 5000c from The Energy Detective to try out.  It was about $200, and came with the monitoring sensor, a wireless gateway device, and a wireless portable monitor.  It was relatively easy to install, and I was up and running within about an hour.  This particular model has a couple of current sensing loops that clamp around the two phase power leads that come into most homes.  It can be done without an electrician, but if you aren't comfortable around electrical circuitry, it would take less than ten minutes for a qualified electrician to install it.  It should only be installed with the main power turned off, and if you have any doubts, just hire a pro.  It is a small job.

5000Cimage 2

Once you have followed the installation instructions for the other unit, which plugs into a normal outlet elsewhere in the house, you can configure it for publishing to the internet, or just to a local browser in your house.  I chose to include the display unit with my purchase, and am glad I did.  I placed it on the kitchen counter where it is seen many times during the day.  This alone has caused much of our savings as a family.  Just seeing the current spend actually makes us think more about our energy usage, and reminds us to turn off non-essential items.  

Our findings:

  • We had seven recessed can lights in our kitchen, each of which had a traditional 65 watt floodlight installed.  Even though the lights were on a dimmer, people entering the room would just turn them up all the way.  Seeing the spike in the energy usage encouraged everyone to pick a lower setting.  I have since replaced some of the bulbs with LED models, and replaced the dimmer with a digital one, for further savings.  As far as lights go, these were among our heaviest hitters.
  • Outdoor lights, on either side of our garage were often being left on.  So were the interior garage lights.  The problem is, both sets of lights are not visible from within the house, so it was not apparent when they were being left on.  The energy monitor read a little higher, showing that something was left on.
  • A glance at the power monitor before leaving the house pointed out other things that were being left on - curling irons, fans, and other items.
  • We had a lot of so-called "wall warts"  Those little plug in power bricks that power laptops, mobile phones, tablets, and all kinds of other gadgets use for recharging.  They don't draw a lot of juice individually, but all of them together over a course of a month can be costing $5 to $10 or more a month.  They are easy to forget that they are plugged in, and use electricity whether their device is attached or not.
  • The included web interface showed us trends for the day,month, billing cycle, or even just for the past few minutes.  This helped with the decision to raise or lower the thermostat.
  • Turning various lights and appliances on and off gave us a sense of how much they draw.  We found that our refrigerator was actually not the energy hog we thought it was.
  • Turning breakers on and off led us to the discovery that one of our light switches to a stairway light, was leaking energy constantly, whether it was on or off.  Replacing it saved us about four dollars a month - the price of the switch.



All told, just those items have saved us from $45 to $100 a month in electricity savings.  This easily justified the cost of the monitoring gear, and even the cost of an electrician had I used one for the install.  I'll do a product review of the TED 5000 another time, but for now just wanted to point out the benefits of any whole house monitoring system in general.  Measurement is the first step.  If you can't measure your results, how do you know if you have made any progress?  Could you benefit from one of the smaller single circuit anergy monitors that you just plug in?  I'm sure you could, but your view would be limited to one device at a time.  To get the maximum benefit, my recommendation is to measure the whole house.


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  LocalYokel — I like this....

tesla flagFor some odd reason, the lyrics of that Red Hot Chile Peppers song kept dancing through my head, "Give it away, give it away, give it away now!"  Why?  Because of the actions of uber geek Elon Musk today.  Today, Tesla Motors decided to release the patents associated with their Tesla roadster, and the Supercharger charging stations.  That's right, they are giving them away.  For free.  He goes into the reasons on their press release, and I believe it is shrewd and even edges into altruism.  The bottom line is it will be good for his business, and great for the industry.  If we get more zero emission cars on the road, we all benefit.  If many or most of them utilize lithium batteries, and Tesla designed charging systems, it is all good for Tesla's proposed giga-factory, where the batteries will be made.  Yes, Tesla does stand to profit mightily from that, but the short term benefit desired, is a jump starting of the all electric vehicle movement.

And for what it is worth, the "all your patent are belong to you" reference is priceless.  It is kind of a geek thing.

DeathStarLamp smNot too many science fiction movie images last longer than that of the Death Star in the original Star Wars movie.  While walking through my local IKEA recently, I came across a lamp that reminded me of that very thing.  As I stood there admiring it, I realized it was not just me that made the association.  I heard at leat a half a dozen people exclaim, "Look, it's the Death Star!"  It gets better.  I noticed two small cards hanging down from the bottom, and at the end of each one was a small version of the larger lamp above etched into the plastic surface.  Pulling on one of the cords makes the lamp expand, or explode.  The other cord colapses it back into a sphere.  See a video of it in action here.

I had my family with me, and we were actually looking for some hanging lamps at the time, but not exactly this style.  We needed downlights for over our bar.  Did we go home with a Death Star?  Yes we did.  This lamp comes in two colors - a kind of a lime green, and an electric orange.  The color is on the inside, as you can see from the video.  The outside of both lamps is a kind of matte, eggshell white.  I installed this over our breakfast table, and no one has been able to keep their hands off of it yet.  We did get separate lights for the bar - another story for another day.

That is the fun part, but the geekiness does not end there.  IKEA has been on a push lately to convert all their lighting products over to LED lighting.  While this lamp will take a standard incandescent 40 watt bulb, it does far, far better with a 60 watt equivelant LED bulb installed.  Even though LED bulbs (especially the clear ones) are high on the glare factor, this lamp does a superior job in blocking the glare, and providing remarkably even diffused light outward, and a little bit brighter up and downward.  So, here is a stylish, if not iconic lamp, that puts out as much light as a standard pendant lamp, but it only uses 9 watts of power.  Thats barely more than the old C7 style incandescent Christmas bulbs (each).  The lamp comes with a standard sized mounting plate that wires into a standard sized hanging light electrical box.  This is a huge improvement for IKEA lamps, as most of their hanging lamps do not have standard mounting packages.  Many come with just a regular plug, as if we have all our recepticles mounted in the ceiling.  I have a digital dimmer on mine, which allows me to dial down the brightness if I so choose, but the lamp could just be opened and closed to increase/decrease the illumination from it.

I have to admit, there is a part of me that wants to paint the outside of it black, and stencil on a circle for the dish that destroys planets.  Who wouldn't love to have their own personal Death Star?  In their kitchen!

The lamp is about 14 inches in diameter, and has a ceiling mount with about a five foot cord.  Once I converted my existing can light to a standard electrical box, it took me about 20 minutes to hang it, and assembly of the globe itself only took about ten minutes.  It comes in only two interior colors, green and orange.  I paid $69.99 for it.  Part number is 602.511.23 and it is part of the IKEA PS 2014 collection.

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  Nazish — Lamps are useful in the bedrooms and even in the T.V hall for dim light while watching or reading something,. We can manuplate the service to explore good quality lamps perfect for own use. Many of the people use the lamps as decoration piece like they place it on the side tables....
  Sadia — Lamps are useful in the bedrooms and even in the T.V hall for dim light while watching or reading something,. We can manuplate the service to explore good quality lamps perfect for own use. Many of the people use the lamps as decoration piece like they place it on the side tables....
  Wageeha — Beautiful lamp and many more peoples keep in Tv lawn. We can choose this for buy the online shopping. It is good way to buy the things in some time with discount....