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Phantom energy load

Phantom energy: Do appliances use electricity when plugged in but turned off?

The short answer is yes! A variety of different electronic devices and appliances, including televisions, toasters, lamps, and more, when plugged in, can consume electricity even when they’re turned off.

This phenomenon is commonly referred to as a “phantom load” or “vampire energy.” A phantom load is any electronic device or appliance that consumes electricity when turned off but still plugged into an outlet. These appliances and electronic devices provide the modern-day conveniences we rely on, but they also waste energy and cost money. The U.S. Department of Energy says on average, 75 percent of the electricity used to power home electronics and appliances is consumed while the products are turned off.

Which appliances use the most electricity when plugged in but turned off?

Your home or apartment is filled with vampires (appliances and electronics) that use electricity when they’re plugged in but turned off. In this section, we’ll discuss some of the worst offenders that lead to phantom energy loads and higher utility costs. 

1. Electronics in your entertainment center

When the television is turned off, it isn’t really off. It’s sitting there, waiting for someone to press on the button of the remote, and waiting uses energy. TVs use energy to remember channel line-ups, language preferences, and the time. DVD players, DVRs, video game consoles, cable or satellite boxes, and stereos also use energy when turned off.

2. Home office equipment

Home office equipment such as power strips, desktop computers, monitors, printers, lamps, and anything with a digital display can use electricity even when they’re not plugged in.

3. Kitchen appliances

Kitchen appliances, including microwaves, coffee machines, mixers, smart speakers, toasters and more can often use a significant amount of energy, which can add to your utility bill.

4. Chargers

Many of those chargers around the house that keep cell phones, power tools and MP3 players at the ready constantly draw power when plugged in.

Find and eliminate your phantoms by using our phantom load calculator.

How to reduce electricity use for appliances that are plugged in but not turned on

The best way to stop appliances and electronics from using electricity while they’re plugged in but turned off is to unplug them every night or when not in use. That being said, that isn’t convenient or easy to remember. Some of your devices might even need to stay on in a standby mode to work properly. Although it can be inconvenient at times, unplugging as many electronics and appliances as you can, when they’re not in use, can save you money on your next utility bill. 

Here are some additional ideas on how to reduce the amount of energy your appliances and electronics use when they’re plugged in:

  1. Group appliances and electronics together on power strips and switch on only when needed, ; however be careful not to overload your power strip.
  2. Unplug unneeded night lights.
  3. Screen savers do not reduce energy use by monitors; automatic switching to sleep mode or manually turning monitors off is a better energy-saving strategy.
  4. Turn off your computer when not in use for 20 minutes or more and both the computer and monitor if away for two hours or more.
  5. Unplug battery chargers when the batteries are fully charged or the chargers are not in use.
  6. Buy ENERGY STAR equipment, in which standby power use may be lower than one watt.
  7. Purchase and use “smart strips."

 

Member household phantom load example

Product type

Total phantom loads  Monthly phantom load Annual phantom load 
Watts Energy use (kWh)

Energy cost (Dollars/Cents

Energy use (kWh) Energy cost (Dollars/cents)
LCD TV (<40") 3 2.19 $0.22 26.28 $2.63
DVR 37 27.01 $2.70 324.12 $32.41
DVD player 1 0.73 $0.07 8.76 $0.87
Audio system 8 5.84 $0.58 70.08 $7.00
Cordless phone 2 1.46 $0.15 17.52 $1.75
Desktop computer, monitor and speakers 8 5.84 $0.58 70.08 $7.00
Computer modem 5 3.65 $0.37 43.80 $4.38
Multi-function printer 6 4.38 $0.44 52.56 $5.26
Power tool charger 4 2.94 $0.29 35.04 $3.50
Totals 74 54.04 $5.40 648 $64.80

Costs are based on an average rate of 10 cents per kilowatt hour.  Totals shown only reflect the device’s use when turned off. Many electronic devices use significantly more energy when on, and on but not running. The above scenario is just an example, your actual phantom loads and total electronics use may be more or less depending on the amount of electronics in your home and how often they are used. If you have more than one of any device, multiply the monthly or yearly totals by the amount of your devices to get your totals.

For informational purposes only. Check with your product’s manual for specifications, as some devices need to stay in standby mode to work properly. Convenience and lifestyle will dictate how you use this information.

 

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