Kill A Watt and Smart Strip: Two Devices That Can Help You Save Electricity -- and Money

08/06/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

With energy costs spiking higher than Lou Dobbs' blood pressure, it's shrewd to find ways to save money where you can.

Start by using less electricity.

It's not just a matter of using compact fluorescent bulbs and turning lights off when you leave the room. It may be just as useful to learn what appliances in your home are responsible for most of your electric bill -- and how much current they draw even when they're not turned on.

And then you need either 1) to replace those energy drains or 2) buy a device that minimizes the damage they can do to your wallet.

Start with the likely suspects.

That old computer -- does it suck so much current that it might be cheaper to replace it? For that matter, your new computer -- how much power does it take to keep it running 24/7?

Aging dishwashers, refrigerators and washer/dryers -- we're told they're current addicts, but if you don't measure them, how can you compare them to new, "efficient" appliances to see if you really ought to replace them?

How much electricity do you use to run an air conditioner at 72 degrees? At 70 degrees? Does it matter what speed you run a fan? Stand-by mode -- does that mean "idle" or "silently using lots of power"? And the always-on cable box -- is it true, as some say, that it pulls 100 watts a day, or as much as $100 in electricity over a year?

We think about these things, but in a random, what-can-you-do-about-it way.

Now there's something you can do.

First, get a Kill A Watt, so you can know how much electricity your appliances use. It's a simple device. Plug the appliance to be tested into the Kill A Watt, plug the Kill A Watt into an electrical outlet, leave for a while, then measure -- in volts, current and watts -- how much electricity it consumes. Bonus: At the same time, it tests outlets and measures the quality of your power.

The Kill A Watt Power Monitor (model P4400) is $19.99 at It requires modest math proficiency to convert data to overall power usage and then to the cost of your electricity.

The Kill A Watt EZ (model P4460) is $37.99 at, and is much simpler. Just punch in your own actual cost per KwH -- the cost is right on your electric bill -- and the device does the rest of the math. For this idiot, saving the aggravation of doing any calculations makes the P4460 well worth the extra money.

Once you know what drives your electric bill, what can you do about it? In some cases, you'll see that you can save money by replacing old appliances -- a year or two of smaller electric bills may make the initial cost of a new appliance irrelevant. But more often than not, the culprits are devices you use every day. Or stuff that drinks electricity even when not on.

Here's where the Smart Strip is a smart purchase.

It looks like a surge protector -- and it does that. But the reason to buy one for $37.99 instead of a single-function surge protector for as little as $7 is its ability to turn devices completely off. That stereo or television or computer -- it may not stand alone. (A TV almost never does -- attached we find cable boxes, DVD players, etc.) With the Smart Strip, just plug the TV or stereo in to one of the clearly marked outlets, and when you turn it off, the Smart Strip will also stop all current to its peripherals as well. Say goodbye to that cable device stealing your milk money.

What about devices that should always be on -- broadband and digital video recorders? Plug them in to special "always on" outlets so current will keep flowing 24/7 to them. (Note: when it's switched-off, the Smart Strip is pristine on electric usage. Like: zero.)

If you decide to stop throwing electricity into sleeping appliances, you'll have to spend a little -- but you may save quite a lot. It's one of the new paradigms. Later, it will seem as traditional as Lipitor.