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‘Power phantoms’ swell electric bills

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BY LINDELL JOHN KAY
Staff Writer

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Houses across the Twin Counties are haunted by power phantoms and infested with energy vampires.

Unsuspecting people think everything in their home is turned off and their electric bill is safe, but they're dead wrong.

Phantom power is the energy load used by vampiric electronic devices when equipment and appliances are turned off but still draining utility bills for as much as $120 year, according to information from Duke Progress Energy.

Devices using electricity even when turned off can account for up to 20 percent of annual power cost. That's scary. A household can save as much as 10 percent by hunting down lurking energy vampires and pulling their plug, according to the U.S. Energy Department.

Digital cable boxes cost around $23 a year; desktop peripherals cost around $25 a year; and console games cost $6.80 a year, according to tests by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

Duke Power reminds users that advanced power strips automatically cut power to devices that are not in use. Timer outlets turn off lights and plugged in devices based on a set schedule. Smart plugs turn devices on and off remotely or on a schedule. Regular outlets allow you to easily unplug any device, such as a charger, when not using it.

Other energy vampires are cable and satellite boxes; digital TV converters; DVR, VCR, DVD players; mobile and cellular devices; MP3 players; video game consoles; standby coffee makers; devices that turn on instantly with a remote control; and devices with a standby light or clock. Devices such as cellphone chargers that have a large plug consume energy even when the item to be charged is not attached.

There could be up to 40 of these energy vampires lurking in your home.

On the more serious side of household costs, Rocky Mount officials want utility customers to be safe while using heating equipment this coming winter and know how to reduce energy costs to prevent high utility bills, said Amy Blanton, the city's energy resources communications coordinator.

The city is also reminding customers about having their natural gas services connected to ensure homes and business have heat before the area experiences freezing temperatures.

“Often when turning on the heat for the first time of the season, customers may notice a slight burning or musty odor,” Blanton said. “This is most likely due to dust that may have accumulated in and around the heat exchanges, vents and registers over the summer months.”

The odor could also be from a dirty or clogged filter. As the furnace gets used for the first time, the dust gets burned off, creating the slight burning odor. Dust will burn off quickly and the smell should go away soon. If the odor persists or smells like metal burning, do not wait for it to go away. Call a licensed professional right away to have the unit checked and serviced, Blanton said.

“If the odor continues and smells like gas or rotten eggs, customers should leave the residence or business immediately and from a safe distance call 911 or 252-467-4800 to report a gas leak,” she said.

While inside a home or business with suspected gas leaks, never use a telephone or cellphone, smoke or strike a match, pull plugs from outlets, turn on light switches and appliances or use a flashlight or lighter.

The city recommends having heating, ventilating and air conditioning equipment inspected by a licensed contractor each year to ensure the equipment is functioning properly. Carbon monoxide detectors should also be installed throughout the home or business to monitor the presence of carbon monoxide before it reaches dangerous levels.

Customers should call 252-467-4800 to have their natural gas service meters turned on if they were turned off for the following reasons:

■ Seasonal Disconnection: If the gas meter was turned off during the summer months, a seasonal reconnection fee will apply to have the gas service turned on at a residence or business. For residential customers, the fee is $175 per meter. For commercial customers, the fee is $350 per meter.

■ Replacement or Repair: If the gas meter was replaced or turned off for repair, there is no fee to have the gas service turned on.

Customers are also reminded that the onset of cold weather typically causes higher energy usage and higher utility bills. When the outside temperatures drop, heating systems must work harder to maintain inside temperatures. The city recommends the following low-cost and no-cost tips for saving energy this winter to help prevent high utility bills:

■ Schedule annual maintenance with a licensed contractor for heating, ventilating and air conditioning HVAC equipment.

■ Set the thermostat at the lowest comfortable setting. The city recommends 68°F during winter months.

■ Caulk and weatherstrip around windows and doors to prevent air infiltration.

■ Replace air filters each month. The city recommends replacing the filter when the mortgage or rent is due as a monthly reminder.

■ Set the water heater thermostat to 120°F for maximum efficiency and comfort.

■ Keep drapes, curtains, shades and blinds open during the day to take advantage of the heat from the sun.

■ Close the damper when the fireplace is not in use.

■ Ensure vents and return air vents are not blocked by rugs or furniture.

■ Use ceiling fans to distribute heat around the room.

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