Cable boxes running up electric bills nationwide

Cable boxes running up electric bills nationwide »Play Video
Your cable box may be using more energy than your refrigerator even when you turn it off.

PORTLAND, Ore. – Something in your home is running up your electric bill when you're not even using it.

It’s your cable box, and it could be using more energy than your refrigerator.

Cable boxes, also called set-top boxes, consume the same amount of energy required to run every home in the state of Maryland for one year, according to a recent study by the Natural Resources Defense Council.

The study also found that in 2010, cable boxes in the U.S. consumed 27 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity, which is equal to the annual output of nine average coal-fired power plants.

“Coal power plants put out a lot of mercury and other hazardous chemicals into the air and we all and our kids breathe those chemicals,” said Gregg Hardy with the Portland energy consulting firm Ecova. “They’re a really bad deal from an environmental perspective and a personal health perspective.”

There are approximately 160 million cable boxes in the U.S. alone and the cable industry is exploring ways to make them more energy efficient.

If yours includes a digital video recorder (DVR), it's using 40 percent more energy than a normal box.

So what’s the answer to the energy consumption problem? Turn it off when you're not using it?

“It doesn’t really drop power at all. It just pretends to go off,” said Hardy. “It goes from 30 watts to 29 watts.”

The only real way to turn off your cable box is to unplug it, but Hardy says that could cause you to miss software updates that keep your system working properly. It could also make you miss that show you're trying to record.

So if you want to drop your consumption, go ahead and pull the plug, but be aware of the timing.