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Phantom Load – A Waste of Money and Electricity

February 5, 2009

Did you know that when you leave an electronic device plugged in the wall that it draws electricity even when the device is turned off?

When a device is powered “off” it is actually in a standby mode so that it is ready to be turned on at a moment’s notice.  While most devices don’t draw as much electricity as they do when they are “on”, there is still a minimal flow of electricity called phantom load, standby power, vampire power, or leaking electricity.  In fact, the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory estimates that 75% of the energy a device uses occurs during standby mode.

Homes have an increasing amount of devices that don’t use energy efficiently like microwaves, coffee pots, ipods, cell phones, computers, television systems, clocks, and stereos. Devices such as microwaves and VCRs take advantage of that power by including features like a clock or a remote control in its design.  The only way these features could be effective is by having a constant supply of electricity to the device.  Here is what the US Department of Energy has to say on the subject:

Many appliances continue to draw a small amount of power when they are switched off. These “phantom” loads occur in most appliances that use electricity, such as VCRs, televisions, stereos, computers, and kitchen appliances. These phantom loads can be avoided by unplugging the appliance or using a power strip and using the switch on the power strip to cut all power to the appliance.  [Click here for the Energy Savers web site.]

The book Low Carbon Diet – A 30 Day Program to Lose 5000 Pounds by David Gershon notes that powering on and off your television and accessories can save you $30.00 a year in energy costs and keeps 600 pounds of CO2 from unnecessarily being released in the atmosphere.  Nationally, the range of total energy from phantom loads costs Americans anywhere between $4 billion and $10 billion annually.   By taking action to reduce total phantom load, we are on our way as a country to reducing our need for fossil fuels and the need to build new coal-fired power plants.

The Smartstrip reduces the impact from energy vampires.

The Smartstrip reduces the impact from energy vampires.

Taking action:  What can you do about phantom load?

  • Install power strips for devices and turn off the strip when it is not in use.
  • Certain power strips are now available that will shut off power to all connected devices when a control device like a television or computer is shut off.  Local stores are increasingly beginning to carry these power strips.  Check out office supply, hardware, or electronics stores.
  • Unplug devices when they are not in use.  Except the refrigerator, of course.
  • Unplug your cell phone charger when it is done charging.
  • For those “energy efficiency enthusiasts” out there, consider buying a Kill-A-Watt device.  Plug it into a wall, plug any device into the Kill-A-Watt, and then take the readings of how much energy your device is using in “on” or “off” modes.
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