Taming “phantom loads” - Carolina Country

Taming “phantom loads”

Control energy used by appliances and electronics that stay on even when not in use

By Brian Sloboda

Taming “phantom loads”

As children, most of us were told to turn off the TV when no one was in the room to avoid wasting energy. But with today’s televisions, turning them off doesn’t save as much energy as you think. “Off” doesn’t really mean off anymore.

Lights, air conditioning and heating use most of your home’s electricity. However, all of the TVs, computers, printers, phone chargers and other devices add up. Many gadgets use energy even when off, commonly referred to as “phantom loads” or “energy vampires.” Phantom loads can be found in almost every room, but a favorite “coffin” is your entertainment center.


Most televisions slowly sip electricity while waiting for someone to press the “on” button. They use energy to remember channel lineups, language preferences and the time. DVD players, DVRs and cable or satellite boxes also use energy when we think they’re turned off.

So, which devices are okay to leave plugged in and which need to have a wooden stake driven through their hearts?

Identify “plug parasites”

Microwave ovens and alarm clocks, which use relatively small amounts of standby power, are OK to leave plugged in. A digital video recorder (DVR) uses a fairly significant amount of power when turned off, but if you record programs frequently you will want to leave it plugged in.

You don’t have to worry about unplugging items with mechanical on/off switches, such as lamps, hair dryers or small kitchen appliances like toasters or mixers―they don’t draw any power when turned off.

How do you save energy on the other devices in your home? Try plugging electronics like personal computers, monitors, printers, speakers, stereos, DVD and video game players, and cell phone chargers into power strips. Not only do power strips with surge suppressors protect sensitive electronic components from power surges, you can quickly turn off several items at once. (Routers and modems also can be plugged into power strips, although they take longer to reactivate.)

Smart strips = easy savings

Power strips, however, are often hidden behind entertainment centers or under desks and forgotten. A better solution may be “smart strips.” Payback generally can be achieved in less than one year, depending on the equipment the strips control and how often they are used. (See graphic for more information.)

About the Author

Brian Sloboda is a program manager specializing in energy efficiency for the Cooperative Research Network, a service of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association.

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