Cable and DVR boxes use more electricity than refrigerator

I always thought the air-conditioner or refrigerator burned the most energy in the home, but I’m wrong.

The New York Times reports that the little boxes that transmit cable signals and digital recording capacity to televisions have become the single largest electricity drain in many American homes.

Some typical home entertainment systems consume more power than a new refrigerator and even some central air-conditioning systems, the Times writes.

Many homes now have one or more basic cable boxes as well as add-on DVRs, or digital video recorders, which use 40 percent more power than the set-top box, the Times writes.

One high-definition DVR and one high-definition cable box use an average of 446 kilowatt hours a year — about 10 percent more than a 21-cubic-foot energy-efficient refrigerator, a recent study found.

These set-top boxes are energy hogs mostly because their drives, tuners and other components are generally running full tilt, or nearly so, 24 hours a day, even when not in active use, the Times writes.

A study by the Natural Resources Defense Council said the boxes consumed $3 billion in electricity per year in the United States — and that 66 percent of that power is wasted when no one is watching and shows are not being recorded, the Times writes.

The perpetually “powered on” state is largely a function of design and programming choices made by electronics companies and cable and Internet providers, the Times writes. Fixes exist, but they are not currently being mandated or deployed in the U.S., critics say.

Similar devices in some European countries, for example, can automatically go into standby mode when not in use, cutting power drawn by half, the Times writes. They can also go into an optional “deep sleep,” which can reduce energy consumption by about 95 percent compared with when the machine is active, the Times reports.

- Henry Unger, The Biz Beat

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53 comments Add your comment

Kevin Wilson

June 27th, 2011
7:57 am

Cable using more power than AC etc…. this is why I turn it off.

Buzz G

June 27th, 2011
7:58 am

Wow! Henry has morphed into a consumer reporter. But where is the AJC’s business reporter? The US is $15 trillion in debt and climbing, our banks are insolvent, real estate has crashed, European PIIGS are defaulting, we have $200 trillion in unfunded government liabilities, no one will buy our Treasuries and Henry writes about electricity consumption?

Poke 'Em With a Stick

June 27th, 2011
8:05 am

The base problem in this country is consumption, when you get right down to it. Stem the consumption, change the greedy American Psyche and all that other stuff goes away. Eventually.

Tea party

June 27th, 2011
8:10 am

Let the individual cosume what he or she wants. Lets do away with our crazy tax code and replace it with a consumption tax.

Chief Wiggum

June 27th, 2011
8:10 am

Get a power strips, plug all the TV devices into it. Especially one that protects the TV from power surges, and has an insurance policy to protect the devices. Then, if you’re not going to watch TV for a while (overnight, etc), cut the stuff off at the strip.


June 27th, 2011
8:18 am

@Cheif There are “green” surge protectors that turn everything off without having to unplug or turn off or on the power strip. I plug the TV in the main source so when I power off the tv, the surround sound, Wii, AppleTV, and DVD all power off.

The Real Politico

June 27th, 2011
8:24 am

The reason that the US and Europe is where they are is because people like Buzz don’t care about consumption. Wonder how many TV’s and cars HE has?

Shocked and Dismayed

June 27th, 2011
8:32 am

Guess it really is a slow news week. But you are right. I work for an electric utility and I’ve been involved in energy efficiency for two decades. Georgia’s electric utilities are not growing right now, at least not from the standpoint of adding meters. We haven’t for several years. That will change will the economy rebounds. But we continue to see an increase in kWh usage per home. It’s not just that we are getting DVRs and giant screen TVs. It’s that we are getting three or four per household. And everyone has their own computer. Look around your house at night when the lights are off. You will see dozens of lights for things that are constantly on. DVRs, phone chargers, wifi routers… you name it. But am I willing to turn these off? Of course not. I like the convenience more than I feel the pain of the additional costs. So does everyone else.

But don’t fret. If the environmentalists don’t let us build new generation in Georgia, costs per kWh will reach a point, like $4 gasoline, where we will change our thought process. And rue that day, because when electric power in Georgia is no longer a good value, even more industries will flee. With more jobs leaving, our energy hog DVRs will suddenly be more of a minor problem.

Mr. H. Jublome

June 27th, 2011
8:40 am

Buzz G get your own column or read a different paper there are plenty of other news sources.

Vino Greasemanelli

June 27th, 2011
8:50 am

Over the span of a day, perhaps, electronics may use a lot of electricity.

My mediocre cable modem generates a lot of heat, which indicates it is wasting probably 1-2 Watts of energy.

Personally I connect my items like the cable modem to an outlet strip plugged into an AC outlet controlled by a little wireless remote. So I can turn all those items on/off with a simple button push.

Some of the cable providers high-definition receivers waste even more energy! I remember a Charter cable HD receiver that would generate LOTS of heat.

In other areas of engineering power conservation is a big topic, but apparently not for modem & cable TV receiver design. :(


June 27th, 2011
8:57 am

Looks like this was corrected. No way the set-top box uses more power than your A/C.

Sam the Sham

June 27th, 2011
9:01 am

I use electricity and pay my bill. My electricity is provided by a nuclear power plant that employs a large number of my neighbors. The increasing demands for this power has caused new construction of two additional nuclear power generators, which is providing employment for many, many construction workers who would be unemployed otherwise.
The Ugly Truth is: consumption is healthy for the economy. So, turn ‘em on people, turn ‘em on!!!


June 27th, 2011
9:02 am

Have you ever noticed that we as Americans are constantly being told to cut back on that power!!
Certain people want to throw a guilt trip on us don’t they!!!!
Well, you guys have it all wrong because we need to increase our power production instead!!
A nation does not grow by stifling progress but by encouraging it instead!!!


June 27th, 2011
9:16 am

@ Sam and Zeb –

Your type of attitude is the problem. At some point we cannot rely on growth and construction to “power” our economy. The world already is about to out-reproduce its potable water supplies. Atlanta has been ignorantly blind to this for years. Look at their reliance on a relatively small lake for almost all of their drinking water. Grow, grow, grow to unsustainable levels is what animals like rabbits do. Humans should be smarter than that.


June 27th, 2011
9:35 am

There is a very easy fix – ditch your cable/satelite/content provider, connect your computer to your big TV, get a fast internet connection, stream everything you want on demand when you want it, and turn everything off and unplug them when not in use. Saves lots of money and prevents lightning damage too!

Sam the Sham

June 27th, 2011
9:36 am

Talla, you’re partially correct. I believe that the nations water woes are an opportunity for a new grand public works project. When we see drought in some portions of the country and massive flooding in others, it’s time to begin large scale water reclamation projects to bring that glut of fresh water from ND, SD and the mighty Mississippi here.
That would alleviate the billions of dollars in flood damage, and provide drinking water and water to farms across the southeast. Imagine the long term jobs THAT would provide. Think big or be small.

Kennesaw Dave

June 27th, 2011
9:59 am

Hmmm, and here I thought the primary source of my high power bill was the AC. Looks like I’ll be turning it and the Comcast box off before heading to work.

Henry out of curiosity did this study also include cable internet broadband modems?

[...] Not happy to read an article like this, especially since we no longer have an option for no cable boxes if we want to receive even basic channels. Amplify’d from [...]


June 27th, 2011
10:13 am

Yet another justification for me NOT having cable. Just the idea of PAYING for the garbage that is on tv leaves a bad taste in my mouth…but every now and then my kids wear me down and I start to consider it. But, whenever I’m in a hotel or at a neighbor’s house I notice that there really isn’t anything on even with all of those channels…I usually end up watching Seinfeld or Friends re-runs…so I guess you guys are paying for the priviledge of having a bunch of channels to flip through. Go figure?! Never me! Go read a BOOK and a NEWSPAPER!

Jimmy Jam

June 27th, 2011
10:24 am

Do something about the AC bill that’s killing me or keep little non sense like this to yourself. My DVR is not going to be turned off, so forget about it.


June 27th, 2011
10:26 am

This is another perfect opportunity for our nanny state government to act! The liberals would love to add the cable box to the list of banned items…incandescent light bulbs, toilets that flush your waste on one flush, pesticides that actually kill bugs, etc. Who cares how much energy your cable box uses?

I just wish that the government would leave us all alone!


June 27th, 2011
10:45 am

Yes, and if you turn a digital satellite receiver off, then it takes it about 5 to 10 minutes to recycle and re-load the guide. I hate digital. The old analog was much faster, and you could actually hold a picture with your outside antenna. Now, if the wind is blowing, you must constantly tweek the antenna (by turning it with a rotor) to try and hold the digital signal. Also, digital doesn’t reach out as far, only 50-55 miles, versus 70 or 80 or more for the old analog. And I guarantee you if the government steps in and forces the cable and satellite companies to make more energy efficient boxes, they will charge us more for them.


June 27th, 2011
10:56 am

Obama was wrong, it is not the ATMs destroying America, it is the cable boxes. Better let Interpol handle this one.

Jimmy Jam

June 27th, 2011
11:00 am

Furthermore, I do not smoke cigarettes, drink alcohol or pay to go out to the movies. I also take Marta to work 3 days per week, so I feel I am saving plenty. So paying a few more in utilities for my DVR service is no problem at all and I love it!! Now you DirecTV, Comcast and Dish Network killers go find something else to complain about.


June 27th, 2011
11:01 am

That would explain why my last month’s electric bill was 15% higher than any previous bill in the last 7 yrs. I had recently switched to AT&T UVerse with 3 boxes and 1 DVR to go with the new flatscreen TV…. ouch!


June 27th, 2011
11:15 am

Yep, lets get government involved… more regulation is always the answer isn’t it?

George T McFly

June 27th, 2011
11:30 am

Good thing my homebrew nuclear reactor works so well. Being off the grid is worth it, and the neighbor kids simply adore the stray two-headed kittens in our yard.


June 27th, 2011
11:32 am

Glad we ditched the cable and satellite folks. Netflix and legal online programming have greatly improved our lives, by watching less, and when we do watch, it’s quality stuff we have chosen from a HUGE list of options. We added a clothes line outside, and keep the A/C on 80, and have fans for occasional use when needed. We also switched some lights to LCD, and put the rest on dimmers. (Plus we dropped the landline and merged the cells onto a family plan.) Life is good, and the total utility bills compared to previous years are down 42%…an estimated $2100 savings, while improving our lives along the way.

The FNA Man

June 27th, 2011
12:07 pm

@Kevin -Smart moves. Now… take that $175 per month savings and put aside in an “Emergency Fund”. You will need it later! Use a Money Market Fund mutual fund account. Funds must be liquid. Once you’ve built a comfortable cushion, diversify some into other funds. Need help? See I’d love to help.

And still it rise !

June 27th, 2011
12:24 pm

All I know is, every year for the past 6 years I have used less energy yet my bills continue to rise. Conservation will never reduce the price of energy as long as service fees continue to increase.

Still Building The Nuke Plant?

June 27th, 2011
12:50 pm

Just noticed the new “fee” on my bill for the FUTURE construction of the nuke plant – about 2.5% (per customer per month == hundreds of millions of dollars) – for a plant that I’m willing to bet is nover built, especially given the recent Japan disaster.


June 27th, 2011
12:52 pm

FNA man, everyone knows to stay away from Primerica…they’ve been ripping people off for years.

I'm With Ya!

June 27th, 2011
12:52 pm

“All I know is, every year for the past 6 years I have used less energy yet my bills continue to rise. Conservation will never reduce the price of energy as long as service fees continue to increase.”

I hear ya! Just like 2 yrs ago when Atlanta demanded we cut water usage due to the idiot lake management letting all the water out ‘by accident’. Half the usage = double the bill (’We had to raise fees because usage was down’).

Marlboro Man

June 27th, 2011
1:20 pm

Tell the cable company NO to boxes, use the tv’s tuner. They only want box rent and to charge by the room. Switch and save.

Greed Is Good

June 27th, 2011
1:51 pm

“These set-top boxes are energy hogs mostly because their drives, tuners and other components are generally running full tilt,…”

Well the environmentalist in me grieves when I read stuff like this. But, the Southern Co. (GA Power) shareholder in me wants to do cartwheels around the living room.


June 27th, 2011
2:17 pm

Someone was telling me about the wasted electricity that certain electronic appliances have, so I unplugged everything in my house to test their theory. My monthly bill went from $150 to $65. I was surprised. Now, I keep everything unplugged. The only thing I don’t unplug is the frig, the stove plug I can’t reach. This is for a 2000 sq ft house.


June 27th, 2011
2:37 pm

One problem with cutting power to everything: When my DirecTV DVR is powered off it takes upwards of 15-20 minutes for it to reboot and download the program guide before I can receive any audio or video.

Something else most people don’t realize—make sure that all components of a system (TV, cable/satellite box, surround sound, games, sub-woofers, etc.) are plugged into the same power circuit. Otherwise you can experience a ground skew (different ground potentials) or even a ground loop (power feedback through the equipment grounding conductor.) Either of these can cause strange behavior by your electronics and even damage them. This applies to computer systems as well. Make sure everything physically connected to your computer (monitors, backup drives, modems, routers, scanners and printers) are on the same circuit.

Truth Squad

June 27th, 2011
3:56 pm

Cap and Trade. We need it and now.

Why should I have to pay for people who insist on as large a carbon footprint as the darn well please? Why shouldn’t I be able to make money by making choices that fit my lifestyle, and, are also good for the economy? (It is not an either, or, choice, you can do both at the same time) Why are Republicans keeping me from making money off those that want to live the way they want to live?

I thought this was a free-market country? So why are so-called conservatives (oh the irony) suddenly against a carbon market? This is big government folks, with the nanny-state already in effect and protecting big polluters and people who consume resources without regard for environmental impact.

The guy above who claims to be from the energy field told us that they are seeing increased usage, and that the overall price we all have to pay is based in large part on that consumption. I believe if they want to build nuclear then the plants should be safe and I should not have to foot any part of the bill for construction, or when they malfunction and some kind of oops happens.

I say no to socialized energy! I want the government out of my pocket handing my money to these energy companies so they can build sources of energy on my dime. Then make me pay for “their investment”, then make me pay a price for energy based not on what I use only, but also what people who use a heck of a lot more use. And if something goes wrong, I also get stuck with the billions of dollars clean up as well. Deregulation and socialized energy at work folks.

A single person should not have to subsidize energy usage of the people who pump out the kids. The family of 4 should not also share the load for the family of 8. The small business should not have inflated overhead due to the fact that it must pay for larger businesses who do not make frugal energy choices.

This is socialism and so-called conservatives are pleased as punch with it! Let the free market work. Private companies should pay for their investment and their screw-ups. Individuals and families should pay for the energy they use only, and should be able to make money from making wise decisions.

Of course, we could do sensible things like insist that electronics be built not to drain money from all of our pockets, or at least give the consumer the choice to purchase such equipment. Big government conservatives will cry “regulations, ick” if we do that wouldn’t they?

So don’t let all the talking points and code-speak fool y’all. Republicans are not for letting the free market rule when it comes to energy. Big Government Conservatives like those writing these comments, are already in your pocket! With one hand they give out subsidies using your tax dollars, and with the other hand, they taking more money and forcing you to build companies new plants. And then y’all wonder where Arthur Blank gets the idea that he shouldn’t have to foot the build for a new stadium.

Get off of my back Big Government Conservatives. Get your hand out of my pocket. If my money must be taken, I rather give it to seniors so they can live out their lives in dignity and without fear of illness. I want my money to go to students, young and older a like, so they can contribute to the economy. I’d also rather my money go to help families in need, especially those who lost jobs through no fault of their own. Big Government Conservatives say I cannot have this say. I must give money to big multinational corporations, billionaires, and the well-connected. Just say no to Big Government Conservatives who all talk the talk, but that all it is, talk.


June 27th, 2011
4:25 pm

@Truth Squad – are you serious? Big Government Conservatives? Keep their hands out of your pockets? Wow…I want to buy some drugs from you man. Everything you are saying above is the polar opposite of what conservatives believe. It is your friends on the left who will form the nanny squad (probably already have), create the Department of Cable Box Efficiency, put Europe on a rotating pedestal and smack another set of regulations on already overregulated people. I really have no idea how you can accuse conservatives of being anti free market – that’s all we want. Cap and Trade is the exact opposite of free market dude. That is a smothering, forcible concept that will strangle many industries out of existence – so much for free market, huh?

You are more than welcome to give all your money to needy families and students. Aside from the bulk of your taxes going to those 2 areas, you can donate to whomever you please.


June 27th, 2011
4:37 pm

Just so you’re all aware — this article is based on ONE inaccurate and isolated study. A typical older refrigerator uses about 1400 kwh. That nearly doubles it if has a ice maker that is on. A brand new hi efficiency model uses about 350 kwh, again, that double if you have an ice maker. Be aware that that efficient model is an expensive model It will take some time to break even on the cost of the efficient model compared to a more affordable model. The usage listed for the DVD, cable and related electronics varies GREATLY. This article is based on ONE worse case scenario. Like any other article of this type, I can write an opposing article that clearly shows the reverse. In fact, data gathered from a large sample base, clearly shows this example is rare.


June 27th, 2011
4:40 pm

Good to know, this will change my habits at home. Thank you!

pete chagnon

June 27th, 2011
4:42 pm

if these folks want to flush money down the electrical drain and waste money, that’s there problem not mine. What is my problem is the trillions of money the government is flushing down the toilet on a yearly basis that comes out of MY taxes. And their solution is to RAISE MY TAXES…forget shutting off the stupid TV…where is the shut off button for the government. U.S. Government — the biggest drain on the “smart grid”

[...] Speaking of high energy bills… Cable and DVR boxes use more electricity than refrigerator | The Biz Beat [...]

George P. Burdell

June 27th, 2011
6:16 pm

I’m not buying any of it. I have gone in and added up my electric consumption from all of the various independant sutdies for the appliances in my home and I always come up with a huge difference in what I actually use versus what the estimates are. Funny thing is that my family easily uses the most energy during the summer months and it is obvious that AC is the primary use. All of the other components, including cable boxes, fridges, etc. cannot be that poor because as I’ve added them, my winter usage has not increased appreciably. One thing I will add is that I did add a dehumidifier in the basement and that increased our consumption very noticeably year-round.


June 27th, 2011
6:38 pm

Fletch @4:25 has bought into the Republican/Tea Party fallacy that they are actually conservative and/or small government. Republicans simply want to give larger hand-outs to richer people, and want to regulate your private thoughts and life instead of your public actions.

Waldo 313

June 27th, 2011
6:39 pm

I think you have your figures wrong. A frost-free 21 cubic foot refridgerator uses a lot more than what you have listed.

Waldo 313

June 27th, 2011
6:40 pm

Humidifiers don’t consume much energy. But dehumidifiers do.

Waldo 313

June 27th, 2011
6:42 pm

You guys ar emixing up monthly consumption with annual consumption. A fridge uses 350 kwhr a month, not a year.


June 28th, 2011
2:30 am

There is a way to save energy with the cable box. Buy a power strip & turn off everything when not in use.


June 28th, 2011
6:05 am

Power strips rule! It’s a pain to wait as everything boots up but hey paying outrageous electric bills pain me more. Who needs all that instant-on crap anyway?The extra time allows me to meditate on more tranquil thoughts before being bombarded by current events on the screen.