The Biggest Energy Hog in Your Home: The Cable Box?!

Posted on June 27, 2011 by Courtney

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Here’s one simple green upgrade I’ve made in my lifestyle: A few months ago, I started turning off the power strip that connects my TV, DVD player, video game console, and satellite receiver before going to bed every night. It’s a super easy thing to do, and the only (very slight) drawback is I have to wait about three minutes for the satellite receiver to fully power up the next time I want to watch TV. If you have cable, that probably wouldn’t even be an issue.

Now, you may be thinking: But the stuff in my entertainment center isn’t sucking energy when it’s turned off, right? Wrong! Electronic equipment continues to use power as long as it’s plugged into an outlet. You may hear or see this referred to as “vampire power,” and a good way to keep it at bay is to use power strips for everything you plug in, then turn off the strip when you’re not using that thing. It didn’t take me long to figure that out after my satellite receiver was installed — I only had to put my hand near it to realize it was hot when it was on. Really hot. Like, can’t-touch-it-for-more-than-a-couple-seconds hot. I can feel the heat radiating outside the wooden entertainment unit that houses it. Anything that generates that much heat has to be sucking massive amounts of energy. 

Turns out, that’s exactly right, and it’s not just true of satellite receivers. This New York Times article finds that one high-def DVR and one high-def cable box use 10% more energy than an Energy-Star rated refrigerator. More than a refrigerator, which has always vied with the water heater as the biggest home energy hog! Granted, it’s an energy-efficient refrigerator, but still! The reason, of course, is that set-top boxes are always running. The whole point of DVRs is that they’re recording and storing programs when you’re not home to watch them, which means you don’t want to turn them off, or all that data will be lost. What to do?

What we need is equipment that goes into deep sleep mode when not in use. Companies that manufacture the equipment don’t seem to be too concerned with upgrading the efficiency of their products — no doubt because they’re not under pressure to do so. I knew my satellite receiver was an energy sucker, but I was still surprised to realize it’s probably costing me more kilowatt hours than my refrigerator is. If more people knew that and reached out to their cable or satellite providers to complain, perhaps change would come.

So what am I going to do? I’m going to write a letter to my satellite company urging them to explore energy-efficient alternatives to the hot box I’m currently using in my home. Even though cable isn’t an option for me where I currently live, I may write to the cable company that services this area as well. Many of us have Energy Star-rated TVs nowadays; there’s no reason to undo all that efficiency just by connecting it to a cable box.

Is your cable or satellite box an energy hog? Are you surprised that they use that much power? What will you do to save energy in your home?


  1. Wolf and I do this every night before we go to bed. We also keep everything off while we’re at work all day. This includes the TV, VCR/DVD, computer, printer, etc.

    By doing so we saw a $20 decrease in our monthly electric bill. W00t!

    June 27th, 2011 at 1:52 pm
    Comment by Howling Hill
  2. Wow! I knew they were energy suckers but I didn’t know how much. They should work on energy efficient units with sleep capability. I have a DVR/cable box combo, the whole point is to leave it on to record things when I’m not there. I would have to confirm that nothing was scheduled before I turned it off every time. A similar problem with home storage servers, they’re meant to be on all the time to serve media, and it’s not just a simple switch-flip to turn them off. Alas, the problems with being a techie-geek.

    June 28th, 2011 at 10:42 am
    Comment by Marie @ Awakeatheart
  3. Yeah, you could probably warm up dinner on top of those things. What a waste (although using them to warm up some leftovers could negate the energy drain; we’ll have to look into that.)

    June 28th, 2011 at 3:05 pm
    Comment by mickey

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