Eliminate Power Vampires with “Smart” Surge Protectors

Smart power strips can save you money.

I think it’s safe to say most people utilize power strip surge protectors in their homes and offices.  Not only do they protect your equipment, they allow for multiple devices to obtain power from one outlet.  The downside in having devices plugged in at all times, is that many of them draw “standby power” even when they are turned off” (The Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory has great information on standby power).  The average home has 20 to 40 devices that draw standby power.  For example:  you just bought a super-efficient LED TV (which are considerably more efficient than older TVs) to not only have the latest technology, but also to save electricity.  Did you know that the little red light that displays when the TV is off is actually drawing stand by power all day.  Not to mention the stereo, DVD player, PlayStation and so on.  24 hours a day and 365 days a year adds up to a lot of money down the drain.  These phantom loads are commonly called “power vampires”.  Studies have shown that power vampires can cost the average household easily the equivalent 1 month’s electricity bill, if not more, over the course of the year.

Clues for devices that have standby power (but not limited to):

  • Remote control
  • External power supply
  • Digital display, LED status light and/or digital clock
  • Contains battery charger
  • Has soft touch keyboard


Thanks to the advancement of technology, companies have been able to take typical power strips and morph them into a device that helps eliminate these power vampires.  Such devices are called “smart” power strips or “smart” surge protectors.   These companies went even further to manufacture different types that cater better to certain settings and customer behavior.

Here are the 3 main types you will find:

  • Timer-equipped – These have timers that can be programmed to go on or off at certain times.  Such devices are great for individuals that have more predictable schedules.  For example, if you and your family typically leave the house at 8am for work/school and get home at 5pm.  They can be set to turn off at 8am and turn back on right before you get home.  Especially if you have something like a modem plugged into it, you can have it turn on 15 minutes before you get home so it has time to power up (we all know modems take some time to get going)
  • Occupancy sensing – These power strips are controlled by a motion detector similar to motion lights.  Such devices can sense physical motion and turn on.  They can also be programmed to turn off after a certain period of inactivity (typically anywhere from 30 seconds to 60 minutes).  These are probably not the best for households that have pets!
  • Current sensing – These are my favorite!  This type typically has three different sections of outlets on the device.  “Always on” outlets (usually at least 2), “master” outlet (usually 1) and “power saver” outlets (anywhere from 1 to 5+).  The always on outlets are, not surprisingly, always on.  The power saver outlets are controlled by the master outlet.  For example, if you have a home entertainment system you can plug the TV into the master outlet and plug the stereo, DVD player and PlayStation into the power saver outlets.  When the TV gets turned off the power strip senses this and cuts power to the power saver outlets.  These work great in offices as well.  Plug your computer (or monitor) into the master and all your other devices into the power saver outlets.  (PLEASE NOTE: If you use a laptop as your primary computer.  I do not recommend plugging it into the master outlet.  Laptops tend to draw power inconsistently while they are plugged in and the lower priced “smart” power strips can mistake that as you turning the computer off and that will cut power to the power saver outlets.  Turning off the laptops power saving setting can help but, I have found it can still lead to issues.   There are some models that allow you to adjust a sensor on the “smart” power strip to account for this issue.  Smart Strip makes a model like this.  If you are someone who takes your laptop home from work or good about turning it off after use, then plugging it into the always on outlets on the strip will work just fine.  This type works the best for home entertainment systems and office set ups that use a desktop computer.)

Most of these smart power strips can also be used as normal power strips as well by a click of a button.  These devices are actually quite inexpensive (especially when you consider the reduction in your electricity bill).  They range from about $15 to $50+ depending on the type, # of outlets and other factors.  As I said before, I prefer the current sensing models.  I have had great luck with the 360 Electrical GreenSurge power strip.  Smart power strips are easy to find on or any big box electronics store.  Some utility companies will sell them at a discount or offer a rebate.

Sources:  Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, ENERGY STAR.


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