Phantom Electricity Loads – Daily Financial Tip

electricity outlet - phantom electricity loadsAs you sleep, when you’re on vacation, when you’re at home and when you’re not, appliances around your house are secretly using small amounts of energy even though they have been turned off. This power usage is referred to as “phantom electricity loads” and depending how how many electric gadgets you have around the house, can be costing you quite a bit.

The origins of the phantom electricity load problem dates back about 30 years to the mid 1970s. Before that, when you turned off an appliance, it was truly off. Today when you “turn off” an appliance, it’s a bit misleading because it really isn’t turned off — in reality it’s sleeping so that it can instantly be ready to work when it’s called for duty. While in this “sleep” state, each appliance uses tiny amounts of energy.

While a single appliance by itself would not be a big deal, when you add up all the different appliances and systems you have, the phantom electricity load will reach $20 a year in most homes and can even reach $100+ in houses that have a lot of electronics.

To put it into perspective, the average TV’s phantom electricity load costs about $5 – $10 a year. If you use your microwave oven an average of 7 minutes a day or less, the clock on the microwave oven will actually use more energy during the year than microwave itself! When you start adding in the stereo systems, VCRs, DVD players, answering machines, fax machines, electric razors, electric toothbrushes, computers, printers, scanners, modems, routers and other kitchen appliances, the energy used becomes more significant. In fact, TVs and VCRs alone cost Americans $1 billion a year in electric bills while not in use.

The first step to figuring out how much energy may be wasted in phantom electricity is to take a stroll around your house to see what is plugged into all of your electricity outlets. If it’s an appliance that you don’t use regularly, consider simply unplugging it. If it’s an appliance which us used regularly, consider placing all the appliances in that general area onto an power strip which can be switched on and off easily. By taking these steps you can save some money on your electricity bill and cut down on electricity waste at the same time with little effort on your part.

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10 Responses to Phantom Electricity Loads – Daily Financial Tip

  1. Max says:

    ” … scanners, modems, routers and other kitchen appliances … ”

    I thought I was the only weird guy who had his scanner and router sitting on the coutertop in the kitchen next to the toaster.


  2. samewriter says:

    There’s a cool gadget at amazon called the “Kill-a-watt” that you can plug into the wall between your appliance and the wall socket that will tell you the power usage from that device.

    Of course the problem is that you’re generally seeing a snapshot of only one device at a time, and any one load will seem pretty minimal. But if you have a power-strip with all of your ‘standby’ computer devices plugged in, it’s interesting to see what the actual combined usage of those is (still generally pretty minimal, though).

  3. mahanda says:

    i will have to apologize to my husband after this, he always unplugs everything, and i thought he was being silly.
    thanks, every penny saved…..

  4. Scott says:

    The easy solution is to use power strips where you have lots of items plugged in together. You can usually get one for free around the holdiays (after rebate – of course!). Plug in you TV and all associated items, then turn the power strip off and on as needed. I do that for the TV area and the computer collection.

    Another phantom electricity load are those special circuit breaker outlets installed in damp areas. If you are installing one, install a switch that controls when power goes to it, or that will drain power too.

  5. makingourway says:

    I purchased the Kill-o-watt. Unfortuantely I left it pluggedi into something and never really checked. That’s a problem with inconveniently placed outlets.

    I’m also curious, I remember reading somewhere about dc power adapters, those black boxes that are attached to all your electronic devicees (cordless phones, printers, scanners, etc…). Do they draw and use power when the device isn’t running?


  6. jim says:

    makingourway – yes. The only devices that likely won’t draw power are those where you need to flick a switch of some kind (the switch connects a circuit).

  7. hon_jr says:

    makingourway : Yes, the “wall warts” (transformers) attached to devices use electricity all the time they are plugged in. Not only is this wasteful, it reduces the life expectancy of the transformer, and (if one fails in a major way), can be a fire hazard. Our house fire in ’04 was caused by a boom-box that didn’t protect the way it should have.

    Also, just because an electronic device has a switch, doesn’t mean it isn’t using electricity! Anything with a remote has to use electricity all the time, or the remote wouldn’t turn it on! But some things without remotes use power all the time, too: the manufacturer uses a low-voltage switch in the face-plate, which is cheaper for them to make, but the transformer still pulls nearly full power all the time.

    That’s what phantom power usage means.
    Don’t use it? Unplug it!

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