This Halloween—and throughout the year—you likely have some “vampires” lurking around your home! They may look like everyday objects. But phantom loads (also known as “vampire loads”) are sucking energy from the grid and gouging your bank account unnecessarily. In this post, we share how to find and reduce phantom loads. Address these loads, and you will uncover significant energy (and cost!) savings.

What is a phantom load?

Many appliances and devices in your home rely on electricity even when they’re turned off for a variety of reasons. First, voice-activated devices continuously draw electricity in order to listen for your voice commands. Second, any device that is placed into “stand-by mode” — either to provide continuous displays or to start up more quickly — will continue to pull electricity from the grid. 

While this electronic readiness is convenient, it comes with a price tag, measured in electricity use. A phantom load is any electricity that an appliance or device consumes even when it’s turned off. 

How much electricity do vampires really draw?

These phantom loads can be small for individual appliances. But they can quickly add up over the course of the month or year since they are pulling electricity 24/7.

It can be tricky to put a specific price tag on these energy vampires. The total cost to you depends on a few key factors:

  1. How many of them you have in your home
  2. How much each device or appliance pulls when on “stand-by”
  3. Whether you leave your “vampires” plugged in at all times
  4. The price of electricity in your area

However, a joint study between the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and several other agencies put that price at a frightening 10 percent of your monthly energy bill. And according to NRDC, the average household spends $165 – $450 per year on plugged-in devices that aren’t in use. Yikes!

Most products listed on WattDoesItUse include this data (referenced as “Standby”). The Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory also provides a useful table, which breaks down the power consumption in standby mode for common household electronics and appliances. You can estimate how much phantom loads cost you every year by combining data from these sources with your electricity rate.

As an example, say you leave your laptop computer charger plugged in all day, every day of the year. On average, that type of charger pulls 4.42 watts of power whether it’s actively charging your computer or not. This means it will use almost 40 kilowatt-hours of electricity every year. Using the average cost of a kWh ($.1310), this plug alone adds about $5 to your annual electric bill. 

Now add in the phantom loads coming from TVs, computer monitors, cable modems and other phone/computer chargers. You could end up with a large enough phantom load to effectively add an additional month of electricity every year!

How can I eliminate phantom loads in my house?

Put your devices to sleep.

If you do nothing else and read no further in this post, put your devices to sleep. Contrary to popular belief, the screensaver on your computer does not save energy. If you’re leaving your work station for more than a few minutes, enable the “power-save” or “sleep” mode.

Find your worst offenders.

The best way to ensure an appliance or device isn’t a source of phantom loads is to unplug it altogether. But first, it might help to identify your worst offenders so you can start by addressing their vampire loads. WattDoesItUse can help with this. But we also recommend measuring power consumption directly. So invest in Kill-A-Watt and Belkin WeMo Insight, and start testing! This will enable you to understand which appliances and devices are drawing the most energy in an idle state.

Use power bars & smart strips.

Once you’ve identified the vampires in your home, you can group them together on power strips. These extension cords automatically shut off energy to plugged-in devices that are only pulling a passive load. They also have a switch so you can manually cut off electricity to all plugged-in devices at once, thus preventing them from continuing to suck energy from the grid. Flip the switch before you leave the house for the day to save electricity and money!

A newer type of power strip, called the “smart strip,” makes this process even easier. When you use a smart strip with your computer or TV, it will switch all peripheral devices (e.g., DVD players and streaming devices) on or off automatically. This means that when you turn on your computer or TV, the peripherals will all turn on, and vise versa.

Install LED lightbulbs.

Replacing your incandescent or florescent bulbs with LEDs can significantly reduce the amount of power your home consumes. While they still draw electricity when not in use, they sip rather than gulp. In addition, while LED bulbs cost more, they can last considerably longer. Many LED bulbs are also “smart,” meaning they can join your Wi-Fi network for automation and control. Some can even change colors!

Invest in smart thermostats

Smart thermostats enable you to easily adjust heating and cooling settings from your smartphone, tablet or smartwatch. As an example, Ecobee3 now works with optional wireless sensors for room-by-room comfort. Many can even automatically optimize settings based on the weather and whether you’re home or not. According to Ecobee, smart thermostat users save an average of 23 percent per year on heating and cooling costs (compared to holding 72˚F).

Choose Energy Star-certified electronics and appliances.

The worst offenders of phantom loads in your house are typically related to entertainment systems (e.g. TVscable boxes and streaming devicesentertainment and video game systems). As we’ve mentioned, phone/device charges and other related equipment can also draw phantom loads. So in addition to taking steps to minimize unnecessary electricity draw, make sure to purchase Energy Star-certified products. These electronic devices and appliances are guaranteed to be more energy efficient while still providing the same performance.

By embracing these pro tips, you will keep your electricity bill from haunting you year-round! Let us know in the comments below which steps you take and how much you’re able to reduce your bill. We can’t wait to hear!