People love their big-screen TVs, and who can blame them?
The giant, classy-looking displays offer stunning clarity, brilliant colors and - coupled with surround-sound speakers - a home-theater experience that seems to put you right in the picture.
These impressive devices are an investment, requiring consumers to fork out, at the very least, a couple thousand dollars.
But there's another cost: electricity.
"If you looked around your house at all the different things that are in it - short of, let's say, a furnace or a central air conditioner - a large-screen television, particularly one that uses technology that consumes the most power, might be the most power-hungry thing in your home," said Andrew Fanara, team leader of the Energy Star program at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in Washington, D.C.
"With another television (in the household) and with some of the other devices that you add to it to watch it, you're looking at adding (in terms of power consumption) another refrigerator to your home."
Big-screen TVs may affect how much overall power households are using, according to Gina Penzig, a spokeswoman for Westar Energy in Topeka.
"Logic just would leave you to believe a larger TV would consume more energy," she said.
"I think (energy efficiency) is a valid consideration with any purchase, anything that's going to be a substantial draw on your home. Part of the cost of that piece of equipment is what it's going to cost to operate it."
Could make big difference
While most consumers might not be aware of how big-screen TVs could increase their electric bills, the numbers, taken collectively, are difficult to ignore.
Televisions in the United States consumed more than 46 billion kilowatt-hours in 2004, or about 4 percent of national residential electricity use, according to a study by the Natural Resources Defense Council.
The study's authors expect that number to increase to more than 70 billion kilowatt-hours by 2009 - a jump of more than 50 percent - unless there are measures taken to cut the expected growth in energy demand from TVs.
The NRDC study identified five major trends that are contributing to this increase in national TV energy use:
¢ The number of TVs in operation in the United States is growing.
¢ Consumers are buying bigger TVs that use more power, as well as operating multiple smaller TVs in their homes.
¢ Sales of digital televisions are growing as the TV market moves to high-definition TV. Many HDTVs require more power.
¢ Sales of cathode-ray TVs are falling, being replaced by newer technologies (plasma, liquid crystal displays) that use more power.
¢ Americans are watching more hours of TV per day because of more program offerings, DVD viewing and video games.
Reducing the active-mode (when TVs are on) power consumption in TVs by 25 percent, the NRDC study states, would eventually save more than 10 billion kilowatt-hours per year in the United States.
That would cut energy bills by nearly $1 billion, as well as prevent emissions of about 7 million tons of carbon dioxide, which contribute to global warming.
Energy efficiency not a factor
Few consumers who buy big-screen TVs seem to give much thought to how much energy the entertainment devices consume.
"I have not had but one or two people, out of the thousands I have dealt with, who have asked about it. If they can afford a big-screen TV, they can afford the energy it takes to use it. It's a non-issue for most consumers," says Jeff Huffman, owner of Jeff's Audio-Video, based in Lawrence.
Average Energy Consumption
The average household in the United States used 10,656 kilowatt-hours of electricity in 2001. Here's a look at what appliances and other devices used the most: ¢ Air-conditioning, 16 percent ¢ Refrigerator, 14 ¢ Space heating, 10 ¢ Water heater, 9 ¢ Lighting, 9 ¢ Clothes dryer, 6 ¢ Freezer, 4 ¢ Furnace fan, 3 ¢ Electric range top, 3 ¢ Color TV, 3 ¢ VCR/DVD, 1 ¢ Cable box, 0.3 ¢ Satellite dish, 0.2 Source: US Energy Information Administration, www.eia.doe.gov/.
He installs home theater systems, whole-house audio systems, car audio systems and builds custom speaker cabinets.
Huffman's not convinced that big-screen TVs are much of a power drain in the average household.
"On a larger scale, it would have an impact, of course, but it's not significant to the individual in that (one) house," he said.
Concerns about energy efficiency don't seem to be deterring people from buying big-screen TVs at Kief's Audio-Video, 2429 Iowa.
Customers there are paying $2,000 to $5,000 for 42-inch to 60-inch TVs, according to Ed Hawkins, store manager.
"They definitely want the theater experience. Anything below a 42-inch doesn't give you goose bumps, so to speak," Hawkins said.
Big-screen TVs are getting more energy efficient these days, he added.
"They have some energy-saving devices built into them now, so they're starting to address that situation."
In order to find out how much energy a TV requires, consumers should read the specifications in their owner's manual, look for an Energy Star sticker (identifying the TV as more energy efficient than other comparable models), or simply ask a salesperson, says Matt Larkin, an audio/video consultant at Kief's.
Huffman doesn't think consumers are going to give up their love for big-screen TVs any time soon.
"It's the American Way - bigger is better. You feel like you're in a movie theater, in the comfort of your own home," he said.