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That sucking sound is power going down the drain Add to ...

As we switch on our air-conditioners and boggle at our electricity bills this summer, a quick quiz: Which appliances are pure energy hogs, drawing large amounts of power when they're not even being used?

Are you giving that old fridge in the basement a dirty look? How about those boxes sitting on your television, digesting cable signals and getting ready to record shows that you're going to watch at a more convenient time?

That's right, folks: One high-definition digital video recorder and one high-definition set-top box together typically use 446 kilowatt hours a year, according to a study by the U.S. Natural Resources Defense Council. That compares with 415 kWh used by a new, 21-cubic-foot Energy Star refrigerator.

Even worse, the boxes draw nearly as much power when they are not displaying or recording video content as they do when in use, the report points out, adding: "Because set-top boxes are not in use most of the time, two-thirds of total energy consumption — or the equivalent annual energy output of six power plants (500 megawatts) — occurs when the boxes are not in use."

As much as 10 per cent of the electricity consumed in most Canadian homes is used to power appliances while they are in "standby" mode, according to Natural Resources Canada.

In fact, the only way to guarantee that an electronic device is not drawing power is to unplug it, the department points out. It suggests plugging all battery chargers or entertainment devices into a single power bar so that you can switch them all on and off with just one push of a button when not in use.

And before you buy a fancy new appliance with an electronic display, ask yourself: Will you really use the timer on the coffee maker?

One in four Canadian households has a personal video recorder, and 29 per cent have high-definition receivers, according to a recent survey by BBM Canada.

Is there an alternative to leaking electricity? There certainly is in other parts of the world. In Europe, you can get a DVR that goes into a "deep sleep" mode, consuming just one watt and starting up with a 90-second delay.

So, why doesn't the cable company provide you with a more energy-efficient set-top box? Because, my friend, you're the one who pays the power bills.

And as for that old fridge -- if it's from 1990, it's typically guzzling about 1,044 kWh a year; if it's from 1984, you're looking at 1,457 kWh. If you live in British Columbia, Ontario, Manitoba, Quebec, Nova Scotia, or Saskatchewan, let the province do the heavy lifting and get rid of it for you, and perhaps even pay you for the pleasure.

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