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Bad habits are costing you energy

Ever stood in front of the fridge browsing through the contents deciding what to cook or looking for a snack? Those seconds may seem ridiculously small but if you add them up, on average people accumulate 10 hours worth of those seconds every year. 10 hours equals roughly seven percent of your power bill. If you don’t relate to that, what about falling asleep in front of the TV …add another 8% to your bill if you do this regularly. Obviously neither percentage is specific, but does give you some idea of how bad habits add to your energy bill.

There are a large number of energy-wasting ‘sins’ that we engage in around our homes, which the Alliance to Save Energy says accounts for 25% of our power bills. By far the worst, according to many global experts, is leaving appliances switched on when not in use, be that kettles, computers, toasters, even televisions in standby mode. Apparently some modern devices also use energy if not switched off at the wall socket, for example, a phone charger consumes 0.26 watts of energy even if a phone isn’t connected. And if it is connected and fully charged that wattage spikes to 2.24.

Switch off or unplug?

Regardless of switching off items at the wall socket, there are strong recommendations that where possible, it is better to completely unplug. Whilst unplugging doesn’t necessarily save power it does prevent any fire threats, and secondly reduces wear and tear on, particularly, electronics by eliminating the need for them to cool down when not in use. A third reason is South Africa’s load-shedding regime, for if something isn’t plugged in, it won’t be vulnerable to electricity spikes, or lightning hits. Simple logic says that if something isn’t plugged in, it can’t consume power.

The items that should be switched off when not in use include laptops and computers, TVs and gaming systems, phone chargers, lamps and lighting fixtures, and small kitchen appliances, regardless of whether they are energy-efficient or not.

Light issues

And while on the subject of switching off, and if your mother didn’t drill this into you, its time to start turning off the lights, or at least replacing light bulbs with the energy-efficient alternatives. Incandescent light bulbs, which are being phased out, have power ratings of between 40-100 watts. The newer CFL energy efficient bulbs in comparison are rated 10-30 watts without impacting on brightness. Even better are LED bulbs because while they have the same brightness as CFLs they only draw between 3-15 watts, but LEDs are more expensive. However, cost savings can be offset against the lifespan of an LED, which provides up to 25 000 hours when compared to the 10 000 hours for CFL’s and the meagre 1 000 hours for incandescent bulbs.

It is difficult to work out exactly what you’ll save by switching off lights because it depends on the wattage of the bulbs in use, but currently South Africa’s tariff is around R146 per kWh but that is also dependent on different municipalities.

Working out wattages

Simply, every appliance or device that can be plugged into an electrical socket draws power in the form of wattage, which should be clearly indicated on the device. Working out whether such a device is affordable in the long term is, perhaps, something we should all be in the habit of determining prior to buying new products. The formula is simple math:

Multiply the kWh figure provided on a device label by the cost of electricity in the municipality.

A example, given by Defy, is a fridge that uses 254 kWh per year, at a rate of (assumed) R2 per kWh, will cost R508 a year. In comparison, by using an energy-saving model that has a lower wattage could save thousands over five years.

Ignorance sins

There are a number of ‘sins’ that we practice in our homes without even realising how much unnecessary load we put on the national grid, and our electricity bills. The most common bad habits that waste power include: leaving a TV or laptop in standby mode overnight; leaving a laptop or phone plugged in when fully charged; not switching off a light or radio in an unoccupied room; falling asleep with the TV still running; boiling a full kettle for a single cup of coffee or tea; use of a tumble dryer on a sunny day; not using a washing machine to its full load capacity and using hot water cycles; and by far the greatest sin, not doing maintenance checks on appliances that may be draining power unnecessarily.


Electricity isn’t going to get cheaper. Going fully solar, or even partly, may solve the problem but it is not currently an affordable option for most households. While it may seem that switching off a TV at the wall rather than putting it into standby mode is a matter of merely a few cent-savings, add those up over a year, remember the adage that if you take care of the cents, the Rands will look after themselves.

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Kerry Dimmer is an international and local award-winning journalist and editor. Kerry writes for both global and local publications and largely on topics with an African-business focus. She has interviewed and engaged with innumerable executives, VIPs and government officials, and strongly believes in presenting a balanced perspective of facts and opinions