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Home » Eco-Friendly Savings, Lifestyle Finance

Stop Wasting Money on Electricity! Your Guide to Identifying & Unplugging Standby Power Appliances

Last updated by on April 19, 2016

Roughly 10% or more of your electrical bill comes from appliances that you have ‘turned off’. Not pissed yet? Try this – according to the U.S. Department of Energy, 75% of appliance energy use comes from when the appliance is turned off!

For the environmentally conscious, this one might inspire: ‘leaking electricity‘ will account for more than 90 percent of the growth in carbon emissions from the buildings sector between 1990 and 2010.

Let’s do something about this!

What is Standby Power, Vampire Power, Vampire Load, Phantom Load, or Electricity Leaking?

electrical leaking standby power appliancesThey are all fancy names for the same thing – electricity that is wasted while you are not using an appliance. And you might be surprised to learn what appliances fall on the list. Standby power is used to not only keep remote control powered appliances ready to receive a signal – which, in itself, might be a surprise to many people – but it is also used in some devices that you might never have expected. So which appliances are we talking about? Let’s start with the likely suspects.

Remote Ready Electricity Leaking Appliances

In order to receive a remote control signal, appliances need to use electricity to ‘be on alert’. I’ll list the wattage used while ‘turned off’, if applicable, based on research done by the Lawrence Berkely National Laboratory on Standby Power.

In many cases, disturbingly, the amount of energy used when ‘off’ is close to the amount of energy used when ‘on’. For some context, the average LCD computer monitor uses 55W when turned on, a notebook computer uses 70W, and a CFL light bulb uses 18W.

The most common culprits here that most of us would guess are:

  • TVs: 48.5 W
  • Stereos: 24.58 W
  • VCR or VHS Players: 9.9 W
  • DVD or Blu-Ray players 10.58 W
  • DVR: 43.61 W
  • Satellite TV box: 33.6 W
  • Cable box: 30.6 W
  • Video game console: 2.13 W
  • Garage door opener (didn’t think of this one at first!): 7.3 W

Obvious Non-Remote Phantom Load Electrical Appliances

This next category of electrical leaches are the ones that are not controlled by a remote, yet still, rather obviously, waste electricity:

  • Cable modem: 8.62 W
  • Wireless phone: 7.4 W
  • Answering machine: 2.55 W
  • Clock: 3.61 W
  • Microwave (w/clock): 4.9 W

Not So Obvious Phantom Load Menaces

And last, but not least (in electrical waste), are the appliances that you wouldn’t really expect to be using electricity while turned off and not even charging:

  • Cell phone charger: 1 W
  • Computer LCD monitor: 3.5 W
  • Desktop computer: 9.21 W
  • Computer stereo speakers: 5.6 W
  • Plugged in laptop (not charging): 50 W
  • Fax machine: 8.72 W
  • Furnace: 9.8 W
  • Air Conditioner:
  • Ink jet printer: 4 W
  • Coffee maker: 2.7 W
  • Musical instruments: 4.2 W
  • Gas range: 1.7 W
  • Night light (off): 0.34 W
  • Surge protector: 6.3 W
  • Electrical toothbrush: N/A
  • Shaver: N/A

How to Stop Electrical Leaking:

Power strip with switchYou have a few options, in order to cut down on your electrical use on these products:

1. How much electricity are you wasting? Figuring this out is key. The Kill-a-Watt energy monitor is a nifty little device that tells you how much energy each of your electrical devices is using. You plug it into the wall and then your device into the monitor to get the readout. The goal in using the device is to figure out how much that electrical item is costing you if you keep it plugged in (on or off). This device will actually tell you exactly how much money you are wasting with each device. And how much CO2 as well. Ignorance is not bliss when it comes to wasting energy.

Update: I have since purchased the Belkin device and found out how much electricity it costs to power each of my household devices.

Update #2: Using the knowledge gained, I was able to cut my electric bill 22% with the Belkin device!

2. Kill the big energy wasters: The Belkin Conserve Energy Saving Power Strip is a surge protector that allows you to control if your TV peripherals are getting electricity. You simply plug your TV into the control outlet and if your TV is off, it shuts down standby power to the other outlets so they aren’t draining energy while your TV isn’t even on. If it’s on, it turns on standby power. This could work on a computer too. It could save you $67 per year.

3. Unplug the damn thing! Reach down and unplug/plug in the device as you use it. Tough, I know.

I’d recommend using a combo of these two strategies. You could use the power strip in the three places where most of your appliances sit:

  1. Your office (computer, monitor, speakers, modem, phone, printer, fax, router)
  2. Your entertainment center (video game console, TV, stereo, DVR, DVD/Blu-Ray, cable box, satellite)
  3. Your kitchen (coffee maker, microwave, toaster oven, range, etc.)

Everything else? Just get down there and unplug it! You’ll get a little extra exercise, waste virtually no time at all, and save a ton of money!

Electrical Appliance Energy Savings Discussion:

  • Did you realize that all of the listed appliances use standby power when turned off?
  • Will you start unplugging them after reading this?

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About the Author
I am G.E. Miller, & this is my story. My goal is financial independence ASAP. If you share that goal, join me & 10,000+ others by getting FREE email updates. You can also explore every post I have written, in order.

  • Adelle says:

    I had no idea… I just walked around the apartment and unplugged stuff. I already had all of my tv components on surge protectors, so I moved them to a more convenient place to switch on and off. Question – what about lamps that are plugged in but turned off?

  • Ron Ablang says:

    There are some things that you have no choice but to leave on all the time. My #1 would be the garage door opener. Also, I wouldn’t dream of turning off my cable modem or router. What if the network fails to connect up?

    • Prowse! says:

      Not to mention that most Cable Modems can take up to an hour to get back up to top D/L speeds (this is normal in home systems, not so much for “guaranteed” business systems). And, leaving your modems on will help your ISP push any firmware updates to the modem – which normally you would want to happen ASAP.

  • JLH says:

    Anyone use one of the smart power strips they have now? So you don’t have to manually unplug or turn off the strip?

  • stephanie says:

    I have a Chefmate microwave that randomly starts beeping, displaying 6s, and not working if it’s plugged in for too long (upon googling, I found out this is relatively common). So I have kept my microwave unplugged when not in use for quite some time now! It only takes an extra 5 seconds to plug it in and reset the clock when I want to use it, I don’t even notice the extra effort anymore.

    Although I keep a few things plugged in at nearly all times when I’m at home, I had read about this “phantom” a while back and routinely unplug almost everything when I’m out of town for more than a day. In the past few months I haven’t been plugging anything back in until I actually use it, and often unplugging things again when not in use. My electric bills have been $25 or less, so I can definitely see myself keeping this up. (Then again, I only own 3 or 4 things from the entire list you’ve posted of culprits, so that makes it pretty easy to keep things unplugged when not in use.)

  • HK says:

    I never understood why American wall outlets did not have an on/off switch. I come from India and we have them for everything. You could also have a master switch that will turn everything off as you leave the house (a lot of hotel rooms require you to drop your magnetic key in a receiver to provide electricity for use in the room). Your major equipment that REQUIRES uninterrupted electric supply (truly, only the fridge, A/C, answering machine, clocks and alarm systems). As you enter your home you can flick everything on (everything you had on before you left) with the flick of a single switch. Convenient and prudent at the same time…

    Plus, you don’t risk getting electrocuted plugging something in and you do not have to plug outlets for kids or pets (the outlets in India are not placed close to the floor).

  • Michael says:

    If you do this, be sure you know that your surge protector doesn’t actually protect your electronics when it’s off. Unplug the whole thing if you have concerns about power surges.

  • G.E. Miller says:

    @ HK – some do…but I tend to plug in lamps to those because they are usually in rooms that don’t have ceiling lights.

    @ Michael – good point, I think that is a common misconception.

  • caesar says:

    i have a guitar amp..when not on no lights come on..if its plugged in am i wasting electricity

  • mommo says:

    I’m an old grandma-8th decade. I don’t understand so much electronics it is laughable. I knew about vampires many years ag, but forgot about them. My deceased husband was an elctronic genius and we had/have tons of electrical equipment. I wouldn’t begin to know how to turn off the BOSE system, TV and rest of everything connected to it. Would I have to hire an elctrician to guide me and end up buying lots of on/off power strips? Oh, how about the dimmables, like the DR chandelier; wall switched fans/w lights? I’m getting a headache just asking!!!


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