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Slaying the Energy Vampires

Energy vampires are lurking all around your home. Learn how to identify them to save electricity – and money on your energy bill.
power strip with color-coded labels

Ghosts. Vampires. Phantoms. Sounds like something out of a Scooby-Doo episode, right? But what if we told you that these supernatural beings were lurking in your home right now? Sure, you can call Ghostbusters, but it’s easy enough to take the problem into your own hands. We'll teach you how.

Standby power goes by many names -- ghost power, vampire power, and phantom load to name a few -- but what is it, exactly? Standby power consumption is the term used to describe the electricity consumed by appliances and electronics that are turned off, or in standby mode.

According to the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science, standby power consumption costs the average household almost $200 per year.

Many electronic devices are working even when you’re not using them, whether it’s to power a clock or display, or to check for software updates. The only real way to guarantee that a device is not consuming electricity is to unplug it.

Fending Off the Phantoms

Before you mount an attack on your appliances and electronics, take a few moments to learn which items are responsible for the largest draw of standby electricity. It doesn’t make sense to unplug everything in your house as soon as you finish using it (and definitely not a good idea for things like refrigerators!), but some devices draw far more power than others.

You could google the amount of standby consumption that occurs with the following devices, but it's entirely based on your device and its manufactured year. The easiest way to see for yourself - or convince a household the value of changing habits - is by seeing your exact numbers. 

Is that even possible? It is! For roughly $15 or a trip to certain local libraries, you can get your hands on an Electrical Meter Socket aka Power Meter Plug. From there it's as simple as plugging in devices and noting which electronics are your biggest drains. 

Remote-Ready Electronics & Appliances

Anything powered by a remote control needs to stay alert for signals from that remote. The obvious culprits including:

  • TVs
  • Gaming consoles
  • Stereos,  DVD, Blu-Ray players

But streaming devices, cable/satellite boxes, and electric garage door openers draw vampire power as well.

Non-Remote Electronics & Appliances

These sneaky systems aren’t powered by remote controls, but they still sap energy when not in use. There’s not much you can do about your cable modem, given how interconnected everything is these days, but take a look at the number of clocks in your home: are they there simply because they’ve always been there, or do you really rely on them for the time?

  • Wifi/Cable modem
  • Cordless phone
  • Clock
  • Microwave (w/clock)

The Not-So-Obvious Suspects

This group consists of appliances and electronics that may not come to mind initially -- many of them draw little to no standby power, like the charger for your electric toothbrush, but there are probably things on this list that are used infrequently and can therefore be unplugged. Your “idle” desktop computer, for example.

  • Cell phone charger
  • Computer LCD monitor
  • Desktop computer (off or idling)
  • Plugged in laptop (not charging)
  • Furnace
  • Air Conditioner
  • Printer
  • Coffee maker
  • Electric musical instruments
  • Night light (off)
  • Surge protector
  • Electric toothbrush
  • Shaver

High-Tech Hocus-Pocus

A necklace made of garlic is not going to help this time around. But there are things you can do to take back wasted electricity. Here are some ideas:

  • Unplug the charger from the wall when the device reaches a full charge. If it’s warm to the touch, it’s converting the electricity to heat, which is wasted energy.
  • Consider setting up a charging station in your home, where all the frequently used chargers are plugged into a single power strip. A “smart” power strip can cut the power to all of your devices with a single switch.
  • Check your appliance manuals to see if there’s a “power save” mode that will turn off unnecessary displays when the device is not in use.
  • Shopping for a new appliance? Look for ENERGY STAR® certified products, which use up to 50 percent less power than their conventional counterparts.
  • Opting out of features you don’t really need can save you money twice: If you’re unlikely to set the timer on your coffeemaker, a model without that option will cost less to purchase and save on your electricity bill.
  • Entertainment devices are some of the largest consumers of standby power. When you’re finished watching TV, for example, be sure to turn off not just the TV itself but the peripherals as well (DVD player, speaker system, set-top box, etc.). Devices you use infrequently should be plugged into a “smart” power strip so they can all be turned off at once.
  • Home electronics may also have “power save” modes that can be used to conserve energy when not in use. Check your user’s manual, or poke around in the device settings to see if that feature is enabled.

Key Takeaways:

  • Energy vampires can account for as much as 20 percent of your electric bill.
  • Home entertainment devices consume most of the phantom power in your home. A “smart” power strip makes it easy to turn your entire system on and off to save money when it’s not in use.
  • and can both offer online catalogs featuring energy-saving solutions for your home or business, from “smart” advanced power strips and LED light bulbs to rebates and incentives for ENERGY STAR® certified devices such as programmable thermostats.
  • Devices with large plugs or bricks, such as laptop computers, consume electricity in standby mode. If the plug is warm to the touch, that’s a sign that electricity is being wasted in the conversion to heat energy.