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"You can't manage what you don't measure" is a common management adage. It applies well to energy as well. I think I do a decent job at restricting my energy usage at home. After all, I'm supposed to be an energy expert.

But who would have thought that my plugged-in combination fax machine/photocopier/printer was consuming seven watts of power day in and day out WHEN IT WAS TURNED OFF! This multi-functional machine comes in handy when I need to fax something or make a photocopy, but to be honest, I don't use it all that much.

Normally it just sits there, turned off—GOBBLING SEVEN WATTS of power 24/7!?! Here I am trying to save a few watts here and a few watts there, and all along the fax machine/printer is undoing my energy conservation efforts. How did I discover this phantom load?

Last year my wife and I went downtown to the Green Festival. This is a huge annual event with green vendors covering a myriad of sustainability topics, including energy conservation, renewable energy, water conservation, organic and fair trade foods, green materials and literature, and a whole lot more.

One vendor was selling digital electric meters, so I bought one. This device performs a number of electrical functions, including measuring the power and energy consumption of plug-in electrical appliances and devices. Plug the meter into the wall outlet, and then plug in an electrical device into the meter. Push one button to display power in watts, or another button to display energy in watt-hours over a certain time period.

So I tried it on my multi-function machine and discovered the seven-watt phantom load. I'm familiar with phantom loads (also referred to as vampire loads and leaking electricity). But as they say, out of sight, out of mind. How true! So I immediately plugged the machine into a power strip, as well as the nearby computer and monitor, and I turn off the power strip when not using these electronic devices. Well, that phantom load is history!

Some of my grandkids enjoyed helping me measure power consumption (no harm in getting them to start thinking of power consumption early on). Plugging in the LCD TV confirmed the wisdom of buying an ENERGY STAR-certified model.

Consumer Reports Magazine reviewed some of these meters in their March 2009 issue and confirmed that they are accurate. They're great at identifying phantom loads. They also get you into the mindset of thinking about energy consumption. I wish the sales persons at electronics and appliance stores used them to demonstrate the energy efficiency (or inefficiency, if that proves to be the case) of the products they sell. It would be a big help to consumers.

Have any of you used these meters? Let us hear of your experience.

In tomorrow's blog I'll discuss some of the efforts I've undertaken to promote the use of these electrical meters in my community.