Green A/V Limits Phantom Power Load
This California home is shedding energy by automatically cutting power to its array of high-end electronics.
GOLD WINNER: Best Green Home
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June 19, 2009 by Steven Castle

Frank and his wife, Monika, had the 1970s house on stilts gutted and loaded up on blown-in Air-Crete insulation to reduce heating costs. They added energy-efficient Low-E windows that insulate as well. The solar electric and solar thermal systems were added, and a gas furnace was swapped out for heat pumps.

The house was also wired for home control, lighting control and whole-house audio, plus two media rooms with surround-sound systems. The electronics pros at SoundVision were charged with making the electronics as efficient as possible.

“Frank really challenged us to find ways to shut things off,” says Quisisem. “Initially, he wanted to turn everything [completely] off, without understanding that some of these devices have reboot times. The ReQuest digital media server, for example, can take 15 to 20 minutes to check the hard drive when it turns on, depending on how much you have stored on it. A satellite receiver with a DVR will take 10 minutes to come back when it’s turned back on.”

The original electronics system that SoundVision specified for the Levinsons’ house would have used a whopping 4.5 kilowatts while idling, Quisisem says. That was unacceptable, so SoundVision set out to find the energy hogs and eliminate as many of them as possible. “We redesigned the system to make the most efficient use of the equipment we had,” says SoundVision’s engineering manager, Kevin Frye.

Out went a Panasonic keyphone system with voicemail and six cordless chargers that used a total of 360 watts of power, 24-7, according to Quisisem. And in went more efficient systems like AudioControl whole-house music amplifiers. The process was difficult, because, as Quisisem says, “We don’t have a lot of awareness of how much power these devices actually consume in full use and in idle mode.”

The total electricity used now while all electronics are idling, or in standby mode, is about 1,200 watts (1.2 kilowatts). When the two media rooms and secondary Crestron touchpanels are put into sleep mode, that number goes down to about 800 watts.

There are still improvements that could be made. Ironically, for all its processing power in helping to regulate these energy loads, the Crestron home control system is a large user of energy. Even when the audio/video systems and secondary touchpanels are put into sleep mode, Levinson can shave another 250 watts by flipping the circuit breaker for the Crestron system. Part of the problem, Quisisem says, is that the Crestron touchpanels require dedicated power supplies, and they aren’t efficient in converting high-voltage AC power to the low-voltage DC required for their use. That means that much of the energy being drawn by the system is wasted.

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Steven Castle - Contributing Writer
Steven Castle is Electronic House's managing editor. he has been writing about consumer electronics, homes and energy efficiency topics for two decades. He is also the co-founder of GreenTech Advocates.

Equipment List

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Systems Design and Installation
SoundVision, Novato, CA

Don Larwood, Berkeley, CA

Mahoney Architects

Solar Systems Installation
Sun First!

Agilewaves hardware

SunPower 12-kW photovoltaic system with dual inverters
Heliodyne solar thermal system and Takagi tankless water heater

Pioneer Elite KURO PRO-150FD 60-inch plasma
Mitsubishi PD-5065 50-inch plasma
Chief PDR-2042B articulating wall mount
Chief PDR-UB universal articulating wall mount
Sanus extension mount SA-VMB1B
Sanus low-profile plasma mount SA-VMPL2B
Audio Control Model 860 12-channel 60-watt amplifier/equalizer
Audio Control Model 1160 16-channel amplifier/equalizer
Axis 243SA video server
Denon AVR 3808 receiver
Denon AVR 4308ci receiver
Panasonic, Blu-ray DVD player with SD card slot
Panasonic Blu-ray player set up for multiregion DVDs (2)
ReQuest F2.400 250-GB music server
Velodyne 3000-Watt Dynamic sub amp (2)
Leon Speakers Hz616 center-channel speaker,
Leon Speakers PR606-60 Profile series on-wall speakers (2)
Leon Speakers HZ414-LCR left, right, center speaker for 50-inch plasma
SpeakerCraft Aim Wide 5 in-ceiling speakers (24)
Velodyne in-wall subs (2)
Active Thermal Management cooling system
Extron video switchers
Panamax MAX 7500-PRO power conditioner & voltage regulator
Panamax power conditioner with 20-amp circuit
Panamax Powermax 8 Series surge protector

Crestron home control system
Lutron HomeWorks system
Netgear Ethernet switches

Channel Vision P-0921 2-door telephone entry system
Holovision intercom entry system

Middle Atlantic racks
Pro-Series HDMI cable
Terk XM antenna
Tributaries Series 5 audio cables

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