We get a lot of questions here at How-To Geek about energy consumption and whether or not you should put your devices to sleep or unplug them. We’re here to tell you definitely: no, no you shouldn’t. Unconvinced? Read on.
Sleeping, Powering Down, or Unplugging Devices Is Inconvenient
When it comes to conserving energy with a host of modern devices like the Apple TV, Chromecasts, modems, routers, smarthome bridges, and the like not only are you not actually conserving all that much energy by turning them off or using the sleep functionality but you’re actually making the device more inconvenient to use and potentially insecure.
When your devices are unplugged or asleep you need to power them up or wake them to use them. In the case of devices like the Chromecast or the Apple TV that means you need to sit through the boot process, let the device reconnect to the network, download any potential updates, and so on, before you can even begin to use it. With most modern devices all that downloading and updating would have happened while you were asleep and you’d have been none the wiser (and never irritated by an update delaying your Netflix binge).
Conserving Energy Is Important (Except When You’re Not)
Despite the good feeling we might get when we unplug our media center device or turn it off, it turns out how good we feel about saving energy is actually disproportionate to the amount of energy we’re saving.
To put this theory to the test we plugged in all sorts of small home electronics and tested their power consumption when idle, when in use, and when, if applicable, they were put into sleep mode. (By the way if you want to conduct all these experiments on your own appliances big and small, read our guide here to do so).
It costs approximately $2 to leave a Chromecast plugged in twenty-four hours a day, three hundred sixty five days a year at the average U.S. energy price of 12.5 cents per kWh. If you unplug your Chromecast (or similar devices like the Amazon Fire TV Stick) when they aren’t in use (which is the only way to turn the power off on most streaming sticks) you’ll save less than a cup of coffee a year and you’ll be forever plugging and unplugging things to watch TV.
Sure, sure, you say. The Chromecast is so tiny! The bigger devices like the Apple TV and the Amazon Fire must consume way more power right? After all they have legitimate power cables and options in the menus for sleep mode!
Even though they look like they should consume a lot of power (given their size, their cabling, and the fact that they do so much) they’re built very efficiently using low-power chips that have way more in common with smartphones than desktop computers.
When we ran power tests on the Apple TV, for example, we found that when it was on and idle (be it just sitting there on the home screen, in a menu, or displaying the Aerial screensaver) it only consumed 2.1 watts of power. When actually watching a video or playing a game it would fluctuate but would never exceed 5 watts of power. When in sleep mode it would only draw 0.3 watts of power.
So in practical cold-hard-cash terms, that means the if you leave the Apple TV on 24/7 it will consume about $2.25 worth of electricity (and if you ran the thing playing videos all day and night for a whole year you’d burn less than five bucks). In sleep mode and unplugged, obviously, you can reduce your power consumption to roughly 25 cents or nothing, respectively, for the time you’re not using the device over the course of the year. The Amazon Fire TV? Same story. It idles a bit higher at 5.1 watts but that still only translates to approximately $4.50 for a whole year.
Worry About the Big Leaks (Not the Little Guys)
At this point you might be thinking “Geez guys, every little bit counts” and wondering why we’d encourage people just to just waste energy. Let’s be clear: we’re not encouraging you or anyone else to just wantonly waste energy.
Leaving your very energy efficient media center devices, home networking devices, and such on so that they are always ready to use and up to date is a good trade off (considering you’d save less than a dozen kWh per year and less than $20 by unplugging them).
Instead of worrying that your Apple TV is wasteful, fix the things that we know for a fact are wasteful. Take advantage of utility rebates to switch to LED bulbs. Complain to your cable company about their ridiculously inefficient cable boxes and/or put them on appliance timers. Turn your thermostat down when you’re not home (or if you always forget, get a smart thermostat to do it for you). Don’t leave your hulking gaming rig PC running 24/7 if you’re not doing anything on it. There are big energy wasters in your home and you should absolutely do things to plug the big leaks first. (Literally, even! Check around your windows and doors for drafts and caulk the frames.)
You’ll save more energy per year replacing a single frequently used 60w incandescent light bulb with an LED bulb than you would unplugging your streaming box every night for a decade.
Have a pressing question about energy vampires, upgrading your home tech to be more efficient, or any of the curiosities that plague tech forward 21st century homeowners? Shoot us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll do our best to answer them.