By Gary Nurenberg
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The holiday run on big electronics purchases may have consumers thinking about Halloween instead of Christmas. Think vampires.
"All devices have the potential to be vampire devices in the sense that its really the characteristic of sucking extra electricity while they're in standby mode," says Assistant U.S. Energy Secretary Alexander Karsner.
Many appliances need power to keep their electronic key pads ready to go, even when they look completely off.
Alan Meier of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory has been studying vampire electronics for years.
"Each home now has anywhere from 10 to 50 of these products, so that adds up and represents as much as a month of your electricity bill," he says.
We plugged a DVD player that wasn't even playing a DVD into a watt meter, and it showed consumption of 11.32 watts with the power on.
"I've turned it off, and now its drawing six watts," Meier says.
Because with the demand for "instant on," off doesn't really mean off. Even Meier can be surprised
"These electric toothbrushes don't consume much power," he says. But plug in that watt meter, and ...
"Ooops, well, I was wrong," Meier says. "This electric toothbrush draws about 1.8 watts constantly ... so its about $2 a year in energy consumption."
Meier's home computer is just standing by. But it's drawing 65 watts.
You know those two little dots on your microwave? "Those two dots are responsible for three watts," Meier says.
President Bush ordered the federal government to buy products that use no more than one watt in standby.
"We expect our agencies to be ridding themselves of these vampires," Bush said in 2001.
California outlaws the sale of devices that use more than 3 watts.
But nationally, says Katherine Kennedy of the Natural Resources Defense Council, "The federal government isn't setting standards for those yet and we're going to need some new laws to make that happen."
Manufacturers argue that would increase the products' cost.
Energy experts recommend simply unplugging appliances, or using the 21st century equivalent of garlic or a wooden stake: a powerstrip that can turn several vampires off at the same time. It can take a substantial bite out of your electric bill.
Leaving appliances in "standby" mode can use as much as a month's worth of electricity, experts say.
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