RODALE NEWS, EMMAUS, PA—It's been a hot summer, and yet another heat wave is gripping parts of the U.S. But if you think your energy bills have been skyrocketing because of all the cold air your air conditioner has been pumping out, you might want to analyze your family's TV-watching habits. Digital video recorders (DVRs), which now occupy 160 million homes in the U.S., can eat up 6 percent of your home's energy use, about as much as a window air conditioner uses in a season. Ditching the box in favor of all the free programming alternatives out there could save you money on your utility bill and in your entertainment budget.
THE DETAILS: According to Nielsen data, 42 percent of U.S. households have DVRs, electronic devices provided by cable and satellite companies that allow viewers to record TV shows and watch them later, and that provide video-on-demand services.
Researchers at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) recently analyzed the energy use of these devices, looking at 58 high-definition (HD) DVRs (which are usually connected to a second set-top box) and compared them to European DVRs and other Internet television options, such as AppleTV and the new Google TV devices. HD DVRs and their accompanying set-top boxes use by far the most energy, more than a new Energy Star–rated refrigerator, and more than twice as much as the television on which the programming is being watched. An HD DVR with two "clients" that allow recorded TV shows to be viewed in three separate rooms uses 617 kilowatt-hours per year; an Energy Star–rated 42-inch TV uses just 180.5 kilowatts per year. And if that's not bad enough, the authors found, two-thirds of these boxes' energy consumption occurs when the box isn't even in use, when it's in standby mode waiting for you to watch TV or to record a TV show.
WHAT IT MEANS: We pay a lot for the convenience of watching TV programs whenever we want. NRDC calculated that Americans pay $3 billion per year for the energy used by HD DVRs, and when you consider that two-thirds of the energy use occurs when we're not even using them, that's $2 billion we're paying for wasted energy. Unfortunately, if you want the convenience of on-demand TV, you're tied to using these energy-hogging boxes. "People simply get what the installer has on the truck," says Noah Horowitz, senior scientist in NRDC's Energy Program. "In addition, there is not that big a difference in the efficiency of different boxes," he adds, referring to the different brands of boxes doled out by different cable and satellite companies. It doesn't appear as though cable or satellite companies are moving towards adopting more efficient boxes, either, he says.
Published on: July 18, 2011
Updated on: July 19, 2011