Ask LH: Will Electricity Smart Switches Damage My Equipment?

Ask LH: Will Electricity Smart Switches Damage My Equipment?

Dear Lifehacker, I recently had free government-sponsored Embertec smart switches installed which help save power by turning off appliances in standby mode. The equipment works well, however, I have heard of concerns about using these, mostly about the temperature of the electrical equipment in standby mode and how this changes with the equipment being fully switched off. Do you know if there is any real risk of damaging AV equipment by using smart switches? Thanks, Switching Teams

Smart Switch picture from Photobucket

Dear ST,

For our non-Victorian readers, the Embertec SmartSwitch is a power-saving device that residents can opt to have installed free in their homes through the Victorian Energy Efficiency Target (VEET) scheme. (A similar initiative has also been introduced in South Australia.)

To answer your query, we haven’t come across any major concerns when it comes to smart switches and their effects on the durability of AV equipment. In fact, some enthusiasts suggest that turning your equipment off (rather than leaving it in standby) can prolong its lifespan.

That said, the actual power savings you make from a smart switch will depend on the wattage of your A/V equipment. If you have a basic TV/DVD player/console setup, the difference to your electricity bill will be negligible. We’ve also heard people complain about having to constantly override their smart switch by fiddling with their remote controls — ignoring the notification leads to an automatic shutdown, which can be annoying if you happen to be taking a toilet break, for example. If you’re happy with the device though, I wouldn’t be too worried.


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  • I’m fine with my system. Make sure nothing with a hard drive is plugged into the ‘power saver switch’ if it’s writing your lvl 99 save file for a final fantasy game you will be in big trouble if it auto shuts off!

      • I don’t believe so, might depend on the product. The one we were given starts to flash after it has on detected a channel change / IR signal for a period of time. If an IR signal is not detected after 60 seconds it shuts whatever devices are plugged into it off.

        I only have our TV plugged into it and not our IQ. If the foxtel IQ gets turned off it takes forever and a day to turn on again….

        • lol what? I’m not sure how that even makes sense.. So if you’re not switching channels every minute it just turns off? :/

          It would surely work by detecting that a device had been using the exact same amount of power, which is lower than its peak draw, aka – that it was 99% likely in standby for a period of time.

          • There are 2 versions. A TV one and a PC one.

            For the TV you can set the timeout on the IR sensor. Mine is set at 2 hours. At 2 hours it warns you that it is going to cut the power off in 60 seconds with a flashing LED. If you don’t use the remote control in that time, it switches off. I just adjust the volume If i need to. If you don’t it completely cuts the power. Most of your stuff gets plugged into the power saver slot. There’s an always on slot as well thats unaffected by the IR sensor (good for my XBOX)

            The PC version works differently. If the power usage drops on the PC slot (like when you turn off/hibernate/sleep) it turns off everything in the power saver slot.

  • Probably the only thing you really need to worry about is a movie/data projector. These usually need to keep the cooling fan running for a few minutes after the lamp is turned off. You may see shortened lamp life (or maybe even heat damage) if you don’t allow the sequence to complete.

  • My mother in law has tried a number of me and they all get incredibly frustrating. IMHO the few cents you’ll save in electricity are not worth the stress of minutes spent mashing the power button on the remote because the blasted thing won’t turn on.. then you have to reach around behind the wall or somewhere in order to manually get the device to do what you want. You end up spending the electricity you would’ve saved on keeping beer cold as a de-stresser afterwards.

  • I prefer the master/slave power strips. When I turn on my media PC, it wakes up the TV and the amp. When I turn it off, it sends them back to sleep. Yay!

  • Make sure you don’t put your PS3 in it, if the power thing turns off while the playstation is on, it wants to verify the HDD and takes about four hours on mine.

  • I have two power boards under my TV – one with the Embertec device and a couple of ‘always on’ devices (HTPC) and another connected to the ‘slave’ port of the Embertec, which get switched off once the TV goes off (DVD player, apple tv, etc).

    You can change the timeout setting from the default 1hr to 3hrs for undetected IR use as well. From memory you hold in the button on the IR receiver on the Embertec until it flashes and then I think you press once for 1hr, twice for 2hrs, etc.

  • I found the Embertec switches so annoying (they kept switching off stuff when I didn’t want then to) that I ended up uninstalling them. I’m now using an EcoSwitch to turn off my standby power – it’s so much easier and works a treat.

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