Electricity is needlessly trickling from dozens of devices in each of our homes, costing Americans $3 billion in energy costs each year.1 Vampire power, also called phantom power, ghost load or idle current, is a slow but constant flow of electricity that occurs even when devices appear to be off. Although vampire power is sneaky and probably lurking in your home at this very moment, a little knowledge and a few great products will turn you into a vampire slayer – no garlic required.
Let’s face it, we all use electricity and we don’t like feeling guilty about it. In response to the 1973 oil crisis, President Nixon asked Americans to “accept some sacrifices in comfort and convenience so that no American would have to suffer real hardship.”2 Today, if we eliminate just the electricity we waste in standby mode, we would meet 10% of Nixon’s reduction goals with absolutely no sacrifice in comfort or convenience. In fact, you won’t even notice until you get a lower electricity bill.
Many of our previous blogs have highlighted easy ways to save a lot of money by using electricity more efficiently (with CFLs, LEDs and other ENERGY STAR qualified products, just to name a few), but stopping vampire power is about conservation. So what’s the difference? Energy efficiency depends on technology to get the most out of each kilowatt of energy you buy. Conservation, on the other hand, is just plain using less electricity, regardless of the method. Eliminating vampire power is conservation without the sacrifice.
Vampire Hunting: How do you identify the extent of vampire power that is drawn in your home? Basically every device that rests in standby mode or has an indicator light is drawing power – and we have a lot of these. I found out how much electricity I was wasting a while ago when I stumbled to the kitchen in the middle of the night for a glass of water. I was shuffling my feet across the floor, sure that my dog was laying in my path, when I realized that I could actually see. My fire alarm indicator, VCR (yeah, I have one of those), DVD player, TV, speaker, laptop charger and microwave clock provided just enough light for me to see the heap of fur in the hallway and the water glass in the kitchen. Groggy, I returned to bed thinking about those twinkling eyes staring at me in the darkness. These were the eyes of vampires that were sucking my electricity – and money!
How to Identify Vampire Power:
- External power supplies
- Large plugs (some cell phones)
- Chargers with brick batteries (laptops)
- Indicator lights and continuous display (clocks)
- Devices with remote controls
Listen for a hum indicating an active drive or a fan
Feel for warmth indicating the flow of electricity
Measure the draw of electricity using a monitoring device
Sometimes that small draw of electricity is necessary. Devices with internal clocks, cable modems or routers, and appliances with temperature monitoring functions (such as refrigerators and HVACs) actually need to be on all the time. For most people, the biggest unnecessary drain of electricity comes from AV and office equipment with lots of peripherals, or accessory electronics. For instance, in my home office I have a desktop computer, laptop, printer, scanner, internet router and computer speakers. Even when I did remember to turn all of these devices off at night, they were still drawing electricity in standby mode. I will admit that I never – and I mean never – bothered to unplug them all. The same goes for my TV and its peripherals. There is no way I would tackle that mess of wires just to prevent what seemed like a mere few watts of electricity sacrificed to the vampires. When I learned from energystar.gov that an average US household wastes over to $100 annually on standby power, I realized it was worth taking action.
The Worst Offenders*
- Desktop computer: $7/month
- Game consoles: $6/month
- Plasma or LCD TV: $5/month
- Cable box with HD DVR: $3/month
- Laptop with screensaver images: $1.50/month
- DVD player: $1/month
*Data from: Lawrence Berkeley National Lab
Weapons for Slaying Vampire Power: Of course, the quickest fix is to unplug all of the devices that you are not using. This may be reasonable for the television in the guest bedroom, but are we really going to unplug all of these things every night and each time we leave the house for work or vacation? Probably not. Even if you’ve purchased ENERGY STAR qualified devices with the lowest power consumption in standby mode, you can take it one step further.
Smart power strips are the most powerful tool in your vampire slaying arsenal. I bought this BITS Smart Strip Power Strip and now I need to turn the lights on when I get up during the night! I plugged my television into the blue Control outlet, my cable modem and phone into the red Always On outlets, and the peripherals like my DVD player in the green Energy Saving outlets. It’s pretty remarkable how my peripherals power up automatically when I turn on my TV. Once the TV is switched off, the power strip stops the flow of electricity to all outlets except those designated to stay on all the time. It just doesn’t get any easier than that.
A host of other devices will accomplish the same result. The Save A Watt TV Standby Killer ensures your TV is actually off, not just in standby. Chargers like the Belkin Conserve Valet draw no current once your phone is fully charged. Better yet, if you want to make an informed decision about where to start conserving, you can always use an energy monitor like the Kill A Watt to measure the amount of electricity used and cost of operating your devices even when they appear to be off.
How to Slay Vampire Power:
- Unplug devices that aren’t in use
- Use smart power strips
- Switch to ENERGY STAR qualified devices with low standby power use
- Use chargers that power down once the device is fully charged
Forewarned is Forearmed: Now that you know how much you stand to save and how easy it is, get out there and do something about it! Without sacrificing your way of living, you’ll begin to notice your electricity bill creep downward. Once you’ve been bitten by the energy savings bug, you’ll thirst for more. Check back often for more energy saving tips and product information.
© 2013 Energy Earth LLC. All Rights Reserved.
vampire power infographic: http://www.radiant.co.za/blog/index.php/about-standby-vampire-power/
vampire tools image: http://www.savvyhousekeeping.com/antique-vampire-killing-kits/