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Home entertainment and office equipment

Home entertainment and home office equipment accounts for a substantial and increasing portion of household energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. These equipment types include devices that have fundamentally shaped our way of life, and are present in some form in every Australian home. As time goes by, they are converging in design and function, blurring the lines between the lounge room and the study.

Projected average home energy use in 2012 — actual energy use varies from state to state (particularly with climate) and from home to home depending on the equipment in the home and how it is used.

Household energy use

%

Heating and cooling

40

Water heating

21

Appliances and equipment including refrigeration and cooking

33

Lighting

6

Appliances and equipment energy use data

% (of the 33% above)

Source: DEWHA 2008

Fridge freezer

18

Cooking

15

TV

19

Home entertainment

5

Home office

9

Pool and spa

5

Stand-by

10

Microwave

2

Dishwasher

2

Clothes dryer

2

Clothes washer

2

Miscellaneous

11

A home office area with several computers set up.

Decisions you make about the purchase and use of this equipment in the coming years will impact significantly on your overall energy use.

General guidelines

  • Don’t buy equipment you don’t really need. ‘Do I really need this?’ — make this the first question you ask when thinking about buying home entertainment or home office equipment.
  • If you do need it, choose a device that is the right size for your needs. Make the retailer consider the right sized appliance for your needs.
  • Seek advice from consumer groups, such as Choice, which publishes a monthly magazine and website (www.choice.com.au) with information for consumers. Choice conducts field trials on appliances and equipment, and reports on its findings with recommendations on the best products to purchase.
  • Choose a device that suits your needs.
  • Purchase the most efficient appliance by looking for the efficiency and consumption information on the Energy Rating Label. For televisions, choose the highest rating product from the range of screen technologies you are considering.
  • Battery powered devices like laptop computers are typically energy efficient by design, so they can operate for long periods unconnected to mains power. Thus manufacturers include features that help prolong battery life, without loss of functionality. By choosing (for example) a laptop computer over a desktop, you can save money on electricity, and have the flexibility to easily use it in any room.
  • The relatively new class of computers known as nettop or slim-form factor computers use low power consuming processors and components much like laptop computers but are in the form of a small desktop device. The advantage of nettops is energy use comparable to a laptop (when paired with an energy efficient LCD) and some of the capacity and expandability of a regular desktop machine.
  • Increasingly, products are becoming multifunctional in design. Purchasing these types of devices can help in two ways — by saving money on a single appliance rather than a number of individual appliances, and by consuming less power from fewer appliances plugged in. Examples are a wireless modem router for one internet connection in a home, or one device that can scan, copy and print.
  • Operate equipment efficiently by closely following the instructions. When choosing equipment, don’t ignore the ongoing cost of maintenance and operation, which can easily exceed the original purchase price of an appliance. Consider the full lifetime cost. For more information on the operating costs of TVs, see www.yourenergysavings.gov.au.
  • Maintain appliances carefully.
  • Turn appliances off when not in use, preferably at the power outlet. Many appliances continue to draw stand-by power when switched off at the unit. This draw can contribute up to 10% of household electricity use (Energy Efficient Strategies 2011) or about 4% of total household energy use (includes gas and other sources). If your room setup makes it difficult to turn off at the power outlet, use extension leads or switched powerboards that can be unplugged or switched off, or ‘remote’ switches. Stand-by power controllers now automatically do this for you (see ‘Stand-by power controllers’ below).
  • Find out exactly how much power an appliance uses with a plug-in power meter, available at stores that sell electronic products. Purchase a meter that records the power consumption of an appliance over a period of time, to understand how your behaviour affects the amount of energy you use.

Energy Rating Label and Energy Star

Energy Rating Label

The Energy Rating Label scheme is mandatory for many appliances. Currently TVs and computer monitors are the only home entertainment or home office products covered by the scheme. Since 2009, labelling has been mandatory for all TVs sold in Australia, providing consumers with easily understood information about how much energy a unit uses over a year.

An energy rating indicates the number of stars given to the appliance, out of six, as well as the energy consumption in kilowatt hours per year. The appliance name is written on the label, and readers are suggested to compare models at www.energyrating.gov.au. An energy rating indicates the number of stars given to the appliance, out of ten, as well as the energy consumption in kilowatt hours per year. The appliance name is written on the label, and readers are suggested to compare models at www.energyrating.gov.au.

Energy rating labels show how efficient a TV or computer monitor is and how much energy it uses in a year.

When considering the purchase of a TV, compare the energy rating of models with the same screen size and technology; for example, the star rating cannot be used to compare a 69cm plasma TV with a 102cm LCD TV. The higher the number of stars on the label, the more efficient the product, and the lower its energy consumption. The label also shows the estimated annual electricity usage in kWh per year − use this number to help choose a TV by considering total energy usage.

Energy Star

Energy Star is an international voluntary labelling program designed to identify and promote energy efficient electronic equipment. First created in the US by the Environmental Protection Agency in 1992, it is now used by many countries around the world and is seen on products sold in Australia.

Products marked with the Energy Star logo are among the best in their class. They have met stringent energy standards for a number of their different operating modes (e.g. energy use when on, energy use when in stand-by mode).

The energy star logo

Stand-by power

Stand-by is the power used by equipment when it isn’t performing its primary task. A classic example is a TV turned off using a remote, still using power while waiting for the next remote signal.

Studies have found that stand-by energy usage accounts for up to 10% of the annual household electricity bill (Energy Efficient Strategies 2011). Although every type of appliance found in a house can contribute, the two largest areas of stand-by use are in home entertainment and home office equipment. Together they account for over 60% of the total stand-by use of a house (Energy Efficient Strategies 2011) — that could be 6% of your annual electricity bill!

A graph shows standby power consumption as a percentage of total power, as determined by the 2010 intrusive survey result. The majority of the household power use, of around 25% for each category, are home entertainment and computers and peripherals. Energy expenditure declines for the remaining categories, major appliances, monitoring and continuous appliances, office and communications equipment, other, and external power supplies.

Source: Energy Efficient Strategies 2011

Comparative contribution to stand-by power use from appliance groups.

Almost all home entertainment and home office equipment products use some stand-by power. Without turning them off at the power outlet (or by using a stand-by power controller (see ‘Stand-by power controllers’ below), it is almost impossible to reduce this use.

Almost all home entertainment and home office equipment products use some stand-by power.

Home entertainment product stand-by consumption and estimated cost

Product

Average power drawn in stand-by mode (W)

Estimated stand-by cost per year**

* On mode

** Calculated using a tariff of $0.2855/kWh, January 2016.

Source: Energy Efficient Strategies 2011

AV receiver/amplifier

3.3

$8.25

DVD player

1.5

$3.75

Games console

5.4

$13.51

Hard drive/video recorder

22.8

$57.02

Media player docking station

3.1

$7.75

Media hub

8.2

$20.51

Set top box

13.3*

$33.26

Stereo equipment

8.7

$21.75

Subwoofer

8.6

$21.50

Television — CRT

6.9

$17.25

Television — LCD

3.5

$8.75

Television — LCD/LED

3.1

$7.75

Television — plasma

4.0

$10.00

Home office product stand-by consumption and estimated cost

Product

Average power drawn in stand-by mode (W)

Estimated stand-by cost per annum**

* On mode

** Calculated using a tariff of $0.2855/kWh

Source: Energy Efficient Strategies 2011

Computer monitor (LCD)

1.2

$3.00

Computer speakers

3.0

$7.50

Cordless phone

2.5

$6.25

Desktop computer

3.5

$8.75

External hard drive

6.6

$16.51

Modem

6.3*

$15.76

Modem — wireless ADSL

8.3*

$20.76

Multifunction device

4.1

$10.25

Printer

6.2

$15.51

VOIP equipment

3.1

$7.75

Wireless router

5.4*

$13.51

The two tables summarise results from a study into residential stand-by in Australia in 2010, for home entertainment equipment and for home office equipment (www.energyrating.gov.au). The average power drawn in stand-by mode (apart from the set-top box and modem which are given for on mode) is used to estimate the cost in a year, assuming the product is left in the same mode for a whole year, using electricity costing $0.2855/kWh.

Stand-by power controllers

Stand-by power controllers can easily reduce stand-by power consumption. These powerboards automatically control the power usage of the devices plugged into them. They are becoming more common as their design has become more user friendly, and higher electricity costs and awareness has increased consumer demand. These controllers are a useful tool for householders to limit their stand-by consumption without the physical effort of bending down and turning off power points.

Stand-by power controllers can easily reduce stand-by power consumption.

How do they work? The two main styles of controller may also be combined in some models:

  • Master and slave arrangement (most commonly used for home office equipment) — when the master device (usually desktop computer) is shut down, any device plugged into a slave socket on the board (e.g. printer) automatically has its power supply cut off.
  • Remote control sensor system (most commonly used for home entertainment equipment) — the stand-by board constantly searches for a signal from your remote controller (usually TV, although it works for any remote signal) and if it doesn’t find any for a period of time, it shuts down all devices plugged into the board (e.g. DVD player).

Stand-by power controllers usually include an ‘always on’ socket, for equipment that householders don’t want to be controlled (e.g. for recording or required programming updates).

Networking products

Equipment that either ‘makes’ a network or is capable of joining a network — called ‘networking products’ — is becoming more and more common in homes, as connection to the internet increases and more wirelessly operating devices are in use. Generally, networking products are associated with a computer (desktop or laptop), although with tablets, smart phones, and internet connected home entertainment devices, this is not always true.

Networking products constantly use power, whether the network is being used or not, for product design reasons and for user convenience (the network is always at call).

Networking products in a home office (and used by home entertainment equipment) are usually:

  • modems
  • routers
  • switches
  • media hubs
  • VOIP (voice over internet protocol) equipment.

These products can be purchased with multiple functions (e.g. a modem and a router in one) and many have some kind of wireless capability.

For householders, the choice comes down to saving electricity by turning the networking appliance off at the power outlet (the devices usually don’t have switches) or leaving them on to allow network and wireless network connection and use. If you don’t need the convenience of constant network connection, consider turning off the power to these products when not needed.

Home entertainment equipment

Home entertainment equipment includes devices like TVs, DVD players, games consoles and set-top boxes. It is a rapidly changing appliance sector, which in recent times has seen massive shifts in technologies — VCRs to DVD players and CRT (cathode ray tube) to LCD TVs are key examples.

A modern home entertainment set up, with a flat screen TV that is plugged into numerous other electronic devices.

Photo: Jack Brown

Many connected devices make up the modern home entertainment unit.

Televisions

Televisions are of particular importance because the average Australian house owns at least two units, and they are central to a range of peripheral devices. How you use your TV also governs how a number of other appliances are used.

Large screen sized TVs use a significant amount of power: some large plasma screen types can consume more electricity over a year than an average sized refrigerator. It pays to choose a unit that gives viewing pleasure and is efficient.

The massive change in TV technology over the past five years has seen the general phasing out of CRT screen types (‘old style’ sets) and the phasing in of LCD and LCD/LED types. This change has brought a corresponding increase in screen size across all technology types. Constant design changes and improvements have had, and will have, a significant and changing impact on power consumption.

In general, for a particular screen type, the larger the screen area, the higher the power consumption, but this rule does not always hold true when the design and age of the TV is considered. Some simple tools can help in your choice of TV, in particular the Energy Rating program.

Hints for purchasing and using home entertainment equipment

  • Aim to purchase equipment that has an Energy Star logo.
  • In general, try to limit the number of individual home entertainment devices you own and use. A single device combining functions (e.g. DVD player/hard disk recorder) helps reduce purchase and ongoing costs, and avoid the power lead tangle.
  • Purchase and install a stand-by power controller for your home entertainment equipment, which automatically turns off all connected devices when the TV is turned off. Alternatively, use a remote switch device to turn off the entire entertainment system.
  • If you don’t use a stand-by power controller, purchase products with an on/off switch, and make it a habit to use this switch in your daily routine. Some devices do not feature on/off switches.
  • If you are not using a device for an extended period of time, save money and power by turning it off at the power outlet.

    If you are not using a device for an extended period of time, save money and power by turning it off at the power outlet.

AV receivers/amplifiers

Be sure to turn the amplifier off when not in use or when your favourite program or album has finished.

DVD players

A close-up of a DVD player.

Photo: Jack Brown

Standard DVD and Blu-ray players have similar stand-by power consumption.

Although there are differences in the picture quality of Blu-ray and normal DVDs, the in-use and stand-by power consumption of players is very similar.

Games consoles

Consider whether you need to have the console connected to the internet, which can draw more power even when not in use, or consider connecting only when required. Make the same consideration for peripheral devices (motion capture, sensor boards), which can cause consoles to use more power if connected, even when not in use.

Portable media player docking stations

Purchase a docking station that meets multiple needs (i.e. alarm clock, radio, speakers). Fewer appliances mean lower power use and a better use of space.

Set-top boxes and recorders

Set-top boxes (especially pay TV types) and hard disk recorders/personal video recorders are high power users. They are also difficult to manage, as they generally need constant power connection to allow recording, program updating or memory retention.

Stereo equipment

The range of devices in this category has the same general rules as set-top boxes and recorders.

Subwoofers (powered)

Powered subwoofers have their own power plug, unlike units powered by an amplifier. Your subwoofer may have an on/off switch, which is usually located somewhere on the back.

Televisions

Two people watching television in a living room.

Photo: Jack Brown

TVs are no longer devices just for watching standard programs.

When considering a TV purchase:

  • use the Energy Rating Label stars — the more stars, the lower the energy use
  • choose a TV screen size suitable for its intended space
  • consider whether you need to have the TV connected to the internet (if capable), which often uses more power (even if not in use). Connect the TV to the internet only when required.

Home office equipment

Home office equipment includes devices like desktop computers, external hard drives, printers and modems. In the rapidly changing appliance market, it is difficult to predict what the next big thing will be. Like home entertainment, this equipment is so core to our way of life, we take many of the functions it allows for granted.

Desktop computer usage

A computer does not need to be running constantly to operate effectively.

A home office set up with a personal computer.

Photo: Jack Brown

The home office with computer and internet connection is common in Australian homes.

Along with a shift in ownership from desktop to laptop computers, is an increasing trend for owners to leave desktop computers running 24/7 — as a home server or network hub, or for ease of use.

The average desktop computer uses around 90W in on mode (some high performance units may use over 200W), which can easily add up to more than $150 a year in running costs.

A computer does not need to be running constantly to operate effectively. Computers and computer monitors are usually ‘power management’ enabled whereby the computer and monitor go into ‘sleep mode’ after a determined period of inactivity. Power management can be customised to suit network and individual user requirements.

Hints for purchasing and using home office equipment

  • In general, try to limit the number of home office devices you own and use. Combine functions in a single multifunction device to help reduce both purchase and ongoing energy costs.
  • Purchase and install a stand-by power controller for home office equipment, which automatically turns off devices when the computer is shut down, and saves the hassle of doing it individually!
  • If you don’t use a stand-by power controller, try to purchase products with an on/off switch and make it a habit to use it in your daily routine. Some devices do not have on/off switches.
  • If you are not using a device for an extended period of time, save money and energy by turning it off at the power outlet.

LCD computer monitors

Purchase a computer monitor with an Energy Star logo. Ensure power management is enabled. The on/off button on the front of a computer monitor (when the computer is shut down) usually just turns off the indicator LED!

Do not use screensavers: they do nothing to save the screen and use power to operate.

Computer speakers

Computer speakers are large stand-by power users in the home office. Speaker sets that include a subwoofer component generally use more power than those without. Usually speakers have a significant stand-by power consumption even if turned off with an on/off switch. Switch them off at the power point to save power.

Desktop computers

Desktop computers are a key home office appliance, as they are usually central to a range of peripheral devices. This means how you use your desktop computer governs, in some way, how a number of other appliances are used (especially if you have a stand-by power controller).

  • Consider replacing your desktop computer with a laptop or nettop/slim-form computer to both increase the ease of use (you can move around with your computer), and reduce power consumption.
  • When the computer is not being used, shut it down/turn it off using the on/off switch, turn it off at the power point or unplug it. Better still, use a stand-by power controller.
  • Understand that leaving a computer running 24/7 significantly adds to an annual household electricity bill.
  • Configure the power management of your computer and monitor to minimise the time it is left inactive using full operating power — an easy way to save on energy use.

Portable mains powered external hard drives

Portable mains powered external hard drives normally do not have an on/off switch, so when the hard drive isn’t in use, turn it off at the power outlet or unplug it.

Laptop computers

A close-up of a laptop’s input jacks includes USB connections, a firewire port, a LAN port, a power point and a slot to insert an SD card.

Photo: Jack Brown

Laptop computers are capable of supporting many peripherals.

Laptop computers are starting to replace desktop computers in homes — cost and design features are improving, and they can be easily moved around. Similar in function, although perhaps different in purpose, tablet computers, e-readers and smart phones are becoming popular and are in some cases replacing traditional laptop and desktop computers. All these devices make use of the energy efficiency that comes with being battery powered — they need to make better use of power otherwise the battery wouldn’t last. Use that to your advantage at home as well.

New battery-powered devices have to be energy efficient or the battery wouldn’t last.

When considering laptop computers:

  • try to purchase one with an Energy Star logo
  • turn it off at the power point or unplug it when it isn’t in use or charging.

Printers/multifunction devices

The common household printer is being replaced with multifunction devices — look for the Energy Star logo.

A multifunction device is able to perform a number of functions, such as scanning/copying, printing and faxing (becoming unusual). For high volume or frequent multi-page printing a laser printer may be cheaper to operate than a device using costly ink cartridges.

Networking products — media hubs, modems, routers, switches

Several different cables coming out of a networking product.

Photo: Jack Brown

Networking can mean cord clutter.

Networking products are increasingly found in homes, in both home office and home entertainment areas. More devices are now capable of being connected to the internet and each other, and they still normally require devices that allow connections.

Increasingly networks in homes are becoming wireless, saving on all the cord clutter. But the devices allowing these networks need to be on all the time. The convenience of a wireless network comes with a power cost. The best hint for saving power with networking products is to purchase devices with multiple functions (e.g. a wireless modem router) and thus having fewer individual appliances.

Cordless phones

Purchase only the minimum number of handsets needed — the more stations in use, the higher the power consumption.

References and additional reading

Choice. www.choice.com.au

Department of Communications and the Arts. Telecommunications in new developments - a short guide for consumers.  www.communications.gov.au

Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts (DEWHA). 2008. Energy use in the Australian residential sector 1986–2020. Canberra. [additional reading now found on industry.gov.au]

Energy Efficient Strategies. 2011. Third survey of residential standby power consumption of Australian homes — 2010. Energy Rating. www.energyrating.gov.au

Energy Star. www.energystar.gov

Author

Jack Brown, 2013