If you’re considering buying your first pinball machine, you might be worried that it’ll cause your electricity bill to skyrocket.
If you’re considering holding a tournament or an exhibit, you might be wondering how many pinball machines you can plug in a single circuit without tripping the breaker.
So how much electricity does a pinball machine consume?
A pinball machine running with incandescent bulbs should use, on average, around 200W of electrical power while on Attract Mode and up to 250W while playing. The same pinball machine might use less than 100W if equipped with a LED kit. That’s less than an A+-rated refrigerator.
So how much will a pinball machine cost me, in terms of energy consumption?
The short answer is “about 3 cents per hour”, especially if you only ever turn it on to play. The medium answer is that it depends on the game you’re measuring, but even if you leave it on at all times, it shouldn’t cost you even one dollar a day — considering the average price of the kilowatt-hour in the US.
For the long answer, we’ll explain how to calculate the energy consumption of your pinball machine (and, indeed, any house appliance). If you consult the back of your machine or its manual, you may find it’s rated at an 8A amperage.
As a matter of fact, I even found information that modern electronic pinball machines use a minimum power of 2A and a maximum power of 10A.
However, the truth is that normal usage of your pinball machine will rarely, if ever, reach peaks of 4A — when starting up, for instance. The average current usage for a pin ranges from 1.6 to 2.6A.
If you multiply the amperage and the voltage of your line — 120V is the standard in the US — you will get the wattage, or power, of your pinball machine. An 2A amperage would, then, give us a 240W power capacity.
Energy consumption is calculated in kilowatt-hour, which you get by multiplying the power of your pinball machine by the time it stays on (in hours), then dividing by 1000. So, for instance, a pinball machine running for one hour at 2A would consume 0.24kWh.
That’s more or less what a desktop computer in use consumes. The residential price of the kilowatt-hour in the US varies wildly, from $0.09 in Louisiana to $0.32 in Hawaii — but at an average of $0.13, that would cost you 2.99 cents. Definitely not much for a playing session.
It’s somewhat hard to determine the precise energy consumption of a pinball machine. Unlike light bulbs, which consume a constant amount of energy over time, pinball machines have energy consumption peaks during use — when all lights are on at once, for example.
You can measure the exact consumption rate of your pinball machine by using a KW meter. Just plug your pin on the KW meter and the meter on the power outlet. A multi-meter can also show the average electrical current and the peaks if you choose the Amp mode, and the total energy consumption in the kWh mode.
LED Lighting vs. Incandescent Bulbs
One way to reduce the energy consumption of your pinball machine is to equip it with a LED kit. This can reduce the amount of power your pin draws by more than 50%, among other benefits. However, if you don’t make extensive use of your machine, maybe these benefits might not offset the cost of replacing the entire general lighting. Prices vary by machine, vendor, and LED kit contents but you can check current pricing here.
According to a science project by George Eikenberry for a 2011 science fair school project, a Bride of Pinbot machine consumes 4.59kWh over an entire day on Attract Mode with incandescent lighting, averaging an 191W power rate. LED lighting reduced the consumption to 2.14kWh in the same period, which gives us an average power of 89W.
Thus, that’s a very sharp reduction in the power consumption. But notice George left it on round the clock, which is not something a lot of people will normally do with home pinball machines.
A game’s specific LED kit costs around US$200 and, at the 3 cents cost for each hour-long playing session we just described, it’s hard to imagine this investment paying itself unless your machine is constantly on, and preferably busy.
There are other factors you should consider, however. First of all, LED generates a lot less heat than incandescent light. As a consequence, you’d not only spend less on the power consumption of the pinball machine itself, you’d also save on air conditioning. This is especially true if you have a lot of machines in the same room.
In addition, LED is way brighter than the classic lights in your pinball. In this aspect, it’s not only about personal preference — incandescent bulbs normally emit warm light, which is easier on the eyes. So a LED unit, if not properly regulated, can be really uncomfortable during play.
Lastly, you may also notice LEDs are not the best fits for the sockets, originally intended for incandescent bulbs. If you don’t place them correctly, they will fail much quicker than you expected.
Durability is, after all, also an important factor to take into account. This may not be a surprise, but cheap LEDs don’t last long. so you should be prepared to pay the price for quality replacement.
This is a strong reason to buy the game’s specific LED kit, since it’s tailored for that system, specifically — saving you the trouble of maybe having to beat a LED into place or other inconveniences.
How many pinball machines can I have at home?
Most residential circuits can take up to 15A or 20A at a 120V tension before the circuit breaker is activated. Since we know that pinball machines stay in the range of 1.6A to 2.6A of average consumption, it should be fairly simple to determine how many machines you can have in a single circuit. But while the math is fairly simple, electrical currents aren’t.
The first criterion you should take into account when loading a circuit is safety, and the National Electric Code determines that you keep the circuit continuously operating at a maximum 80% of the breaker’s limit. For 15A circuits, that’d be 12A; for 20A circuits, that’s a 16A limit.
Besides, keep in mind that while a pinball machine draws an average of 1.6A ~ 2.6A, spikes of up to 4A to 6A can occur when all lights are on at the same time or during resets. Thus, you could probably put eight pinball machines on a 20A circuit, but you probably wouldn’t be able to play any one of them without tripping the breaker.
The recommended maximum amount of machines you can have on a single dedicated circuit is 4 machines for a 15A circuit breaker and 6 machines for a 20A circuit. This way, all of them can be turned on or played at once, and you’ll still have a reasonable margin of error. In fact, commercial arcades usually have 6 machines per circuit.
Remember to follow safety procedures if you decide to upgrade your house’s circuits! Adequate wiring is just as important as a bigger breaker — after all, the breaker is there to prevent overheats and, ultimately, disasters. This means that simply replacing the breaker is not only inefficient — it’s also dangerous.
All in all, you should monitor your machines with a multi-meter to be completely sure of its energy consumption cost and how much power it’s drawing from your lines. You can do this with a multi-meter, but by following the general rules described here, you should be fine and enjoy pinball gaming without worrying about your electricity bill or your circuit breakers.