Is your cable box stealing money from you?

By: Matt Grocoff , Contributing Writer
In: Home Improvement Tips, Green Renovations

In 2014, Andrew McAllister, a member of the California Energy Commission told the Los Angeles Times that cable boxes are "a classic case of market failure. The consumers have zero information and zero control over the devices they get." It would take four nuclear power plants to produce the electricity needed to power the 224 million cable boxes across the United States.

No one really wants a cable box. But if you want to watch TV (and with Shark Week and Dancing with the Presidential Candidate All-Stars, who wouldn't?) you must have this energy guzzling, light-blinking, crazy-making device next to your TV.

When I plugged a Kill-a-Watt Meter into my cable box to see how much energy it was using, I was shocked to learn that it actually uses almost twice as much energy when it is turned OFF as my TV does when it's turned on. This is just nuts! This could cost some consumers about $8 per month in electricity. We solved the problem by simply plugging the box into a smart power strip that cuts the power when the TV is not on. The only problem with this is that it takes about 5 minutes to reboot each time we want to watch TV.

As home appliances are getting more efficient every year, the cable industry has been shamefully slow. They don't seem to care that voluntary reductions in power consumption of their devices would save Americans about $1 billion dollars every year.

Even an Energy Star rated box like the Arris VIP 2502 use more in sleep mode that many TVs use in an entire year. Energy Star rating on this box says it will use a total of 106 kWh each year. For comparison, consider the energy use of these big Energy Star flat screen TVs:

VIZIO E390-B1 39" = 54kWh annually

LG 42LB5800 42" = 55kWh annually

PHILIPS 43PFL4909/F7 42.5" = 57kWh annually.

Think about it. Each of the top three Energy Star TVs uses almost half the energy of the best cable box. Even the massive 65" SONY uses less than the ARRIS Cable box. Oy, this is absurd.

In 2011, the Natural Resources Defense Council released a report Better Viewing, Lower Energy Bills, and Less Pollution: Improving the Efficiency of Television Set-Top Boxes http://www.nrdc.org/energy/files/settopboxes.pdf. At the time, they estimated that it would take nine coal burning power plants to run America's cable boxes. They found that in some homes with multiple cable boxes, the cable company was causing more energy use than refrigerators.

So, what can you do? I wish I had some practical tips for energy saving. But in this case there's not much you can do other than plugging your device into a power strip and manually cutting the power to the box. You can also contact your cable company and tell them to stop stealing energy from you. If enough consumers do this, maybe cable companies will get their act together and catch up with so many other products that have become more energy efficient.