P3 Kill a Watt: Does it Work?

By Lauren Keith

CAPE GIRARDEAU, MO (KFVS) - The P3 4400 Kill a Watt promises to help you spot the "power hogs" in your home and then decide whether to toss the old appliance, or turn it off more when it's not in use.  In turn, that should cut down on your power bill, but Does it Work? I head to the home of Dale Humphries of Cape Girardeau.

"There are a lot of buttons here!" notes tester Dale Humphries of Cape Girardeau.
Hopefully, one of these buttons is the "money button" - so to speak - to help Dale and all of us save on our electric bills.  Just plug any appliance into the Kill a Watt device, push the appropriate button, and read what kind of power it's pulling.
Then, you make a decision whether to replace the item or turn it off more based on how efficient it might be.  Sounds easy enough, but that's before Dale and I opened the instructions.
"So, if I had an electrician beside me this would be helpful!" laughs Dale, all the while making a good point.
Turns out I'm really glad I asked electrician Chris Clubb of C&J Electric to join us.  The Kill a Watt manual isn't written in laymen's terms at all.  So, Chris tells us what to do.
"On this toaster, turn it over.  Look for what we call a 'name plate' reading.  It tells you how much volts, watts, etc. this appliance should pull when in use.  It says here this toaster should be 1800 watts," says Chris.
Therefore, when we plug the toaster in, our reading should be 1800 watts or less.  Otherwise, this toaster is toast!
"That I can understand," says Dale.
Now she's on the hunt for more of these nameplate readings to compare how much power her appliances should be pulling.  In that quest, we got a little carried away.  We blew a fuse while testing the coffee maker, but that's our fault.  We plugged our Heartland News high-voltage camera lights nearby.  We should have used a different breaker.  Good thing we have an electrican on hand!  Ok, back to testing....
"So, your coffee maker is pulling 7.4 amps and the rating was 7.5 so, that's good," says Chris.
What about the big ticket items that are the big energy suckers?  Dale's computer is the most telling of all.
"130 watts even when it's not being used!" says Chris.
Whoa! That's incentive enough for Dale to start turning the computer fully off in between her internet sessions.  Our electrician here lets us in on another tip.  He makes his own children always turn off the printer when they're finished using it.
"You have that little on/off button on that printer that'll draw power.  It's a little amount, but that adds up when kept on 365 days  a year," says Chris.
"Do you see yourself changing some habits after doing this?" I ask Dale.
"I think I would unplug a few more things, but it might be a good idea when you're going to be gone all day, I could turn more off then.  I do think this has helped me learn where I can save money by turning things off," says Dale.
But, we both wonder...do we need a device like this to simply change our habits?
"I did learn a lot from Chris, rather than the Kill a Watt.  However, the more items we tested, the more I really see where you can save money.  You can also use it to identify if it's truly time to get a new appliance, especially if it's a power-sucker based on these readings.  Still, this is something you likely won't use that often, so you have to keep that in mind," says Dale.
The electrician says to get the true benefits of this product, you'll want to leave an item plugged in for a length of time to better identify just how much electricity it's using.  Then, if you want to get even more technical, you could calculate what your utility charges per kilowatt hour and multiply that by the reading the Kill a Watt shows
"I'd give it a B minus," says Chris.
Conscientious homeowners might really like this device, even though it's not the most user-friendly product I've ever tested. 
The $25 P3 4400 Kill a Watt powers up a good grade B minus on this Does it Work test.  You can buy it online at a variety of sources, such as sears.com and radioshack.com.