In our gadget-filled world, it’s all too easy to waste electricity. Devices like DVD players and printers have been dubbed household vampires because they suck up almost as much juice whether they’re on or off. Cell phone and other chargers often stay plugged in, draining electricity even when they’re not in use. Then there are the computers and air conditioners that we could turn off when we aren’t using them, but for the sake of convenience, we don’t.

These electrical indulgences add up. The US Department of Energy estimates that 75 percent of home electronics energy consumption occurs while those devices are off. And the Cornell University Cooperative Extension suspects that the typical home has about 20 such vampires.

Fortunately, new products are being designed to help you monitor your electricity usage. Here’s a look at the current trend.

DEVICE The Kill A Watt EZ

Maker P3 International Corporation

Price $60,

How it works Plug it into your outlet; then plug in an appliance or electronic device. Based on pricing data you feed it from your electric bill, it can tell you how much the item may cost you on a daily, weekly, monthly, or yearly basis. Leave it plugged in for a running tally: A quick survey of my own home showed that gadgets I wasn’t actively using could account for more than half my bill.

DEVICE The Wattson

Maker DIY Kyoto

Price under $200,

How it works Clip one part to your electricity meter and then leave the other on your kitchen or coffee table. It wirelessly transmits your total electricity usage in watts or dollars-per-year to the table unit, so you can see how your costs go up or down as you turn various devices on and off.

DEVICE The Home Joule

Maker Consumer Powerline

Price under $100,

How it works Colored lights tell you when local electricity rates—which fluctuate throughout the day—are at their highest and lowest, so you can do laundry off-hours and use your AC discerningly. A blue light tells you when local usage is approaching critical mass—say during a heat wave—so you can power down and help prevent brownouts. In the future, if your local utility chooses to join the company’s program, your electricity sacrifices may be rewarded with discounts, credits, cash, or freebies.

Story by Eileen Gunn. This article originally appeared in Plenty in February 2008.

Copyright Environ Press 2008.

Household vampires
The Dept of Energy estimates 75 percent of electronics energy consumption occurs while those devices are off, but new products can monitor usage.