At 55, Tom Lienhard is old enough to remember his family’s first color-picture TV. New technology in TV screens is as revolutionary as the switch from black-and-white to color, says Lienhard, an Avista engineer who oversees the company’s energy-efficiency programs.
But new TVs can be energy hogs. They’re becoming one of the largest electricity users in homes. To keep costs down, Lienhard recommends a little research.
Q. What should people consider before buying a new TV?
A. They should walk through all the costs. It’s exciting to go into a retail store and see the best-presented device that you could possibly buy. But there are things to consider. Is it going to be too big for your house? As a rule of thumb, you should be twice the distance away from the TV’s diagonal size for optimum viewing. So, if you have a 48-inch screen TV, you should be eight feet away.
The second thing is: What does it take to get this picture? Do I get this signal through the air, or do I have to upgrade my cable or satellite TV to get this kind of a picture? And lastly, what will this TV cost me in energy use?
Q. How do flat screens compare for energy use?
A. There are three flavors of flat-screen TVs right now: the plasma TV, the LCD and just coming on the market is the LED. In general, the plasmas use about 1.75 times the energy as the LCD and LED. Some people prefer plasma, and that’s fine. Just remember to turn it off when you’re not watching it.
Q. How does screen size affect energy use?
A. On average, a 52-inch LCD TV uses about twice as much energy as a 32-inch LCD TV.
Q. What about add-ons?
A. Once you get your big-screen TV, you decide that you’re going to put in a surround sound system. … Often, it gets turned on and left on all the time … and you possibly have a cable box or a satellite box that takes energy to run … and a digital video recorder tied into that. DVRs, if you have them on all the time and you’re using them to record, use as much electricity as a refrigerator, or 2 1/2 dishwashers.
Q. So the total damage is?
A. Potentially hundreds of dollars per year. If you switch from a little tube TV to a big-screen TV with a full-blown system, you could increase your plug load by 20 percent. (Plug load is electrical use from plugged-in devices.)
Q. How can people enjoy their new TV and keep costs down?
A. … If they look for the bright orange “Energy Forward” icon, they’re getting electronics that are at least 30 percent more efficient than the Energy Star program. I also like smart strips (a type of power strip). Anytime your TV goes off, any other part of the system plugged into the strip goes off. … Or, you can use a plug-in load meter. It shows you how much energy you’re using.
Q. How many TVs do you own?
A. We have four TVs in our home for two people. In our family room, we have side-by-side screens … Sometimes, NASCAR is going when you want to watch something else.