How to Save Electricity by Reducing Phantom Load, Part 1

A woman unplugging an appliance from power outlet

In the effort to save energy in your home, there are a lot of different things you can do and we've come a long way from simply reminding each other to turn off lights when you leave a room. These days, the vast majority of the options you have for power efficiency are positive ones, either bringing new gadgets into your home or replacing old appliances with new, more efficient, and much smarter ones. Replacing lights with smart LEDs that both use less power and can be easily turned off even if you're far from the switch is a great place to start, as is choosing Energy Star rated windows, doors, and appliances, but there is drain on your power that almost no one sees coming.

When you think of turning off a lamp, TV, or coffee pot, the natural thought is that they are no longer using power. The lights and displays are off and the buttons don't work if you press them, so there's no power right? Unfortunately, this isn't actually true.

What is Phantom Load?

Many devices and appliances continue to draw power even if they're in their own 'off' setting. Power still flows out from the wall and is counted against your power bill even if the devices aren't actually doing their jobs. This is invisible use of power is known as Phantom Load and every home and office deals with it. In some cases, especially with devices you only use once or twice a day or even less frequently 75% of their annual power consumption occurs while officially off or idle.

Phantom load comes from:

  • Battery Chargers (when batteries are full)
  • Appliances
  • Computers and Accessories
  • Device Chargers (when not connected to devices)
  • Lights

Stopping Phantom Load

So how do we deal with phantom load? If turning off an appliance isn't enough to actually turn it off, isn't that a problem for the manufacturers to deal with? Technically, yes. And those who qualify for an Energy Star rating are currently producing models that either have a minimal phantom load or effectively switch themselves all the way off of wall power when turned off, but this is a recent development as most of the world is only just discovering that phantom load is a problem.

The good news is that you don't actually have to replace every appliance or only buy Energy Star brands to deal with your phantom load. The principle behind ending phantom load is to cut off your appliances from wall power so that they cannot keep drawing energy when it's not needed and there are several clever ways to achieve this goal ranging from physically unplugging each device to working cleverly with your smart home for a nearly self-managing house.

Know Your Appliances

The first step to handling the phantom load in your home is to know where it's coming from. Not all appliances and devices create phantom load, but many of them do. You have two options, either assume that all items create phantom load and universally implement your solutions or find out the exact phantom load of each device and address them accordingly.

To do your research, pick up a few smart monitor plugs that sit between the outlet and your device. They will read the amount of power your devices are pulling from the walls, both on and in the off position, and send the information to a smartphone app for your analysis.

Once you are monitoring your outlets, you will get a much clearer idea of which appliances are drinking more than their fair share of power, especially when they're supposed to be off. Of course, as you may have guessed, this is only the first half of our two-part article. Join us next time and we'll talk about a few specific methods to efficiently reduce phantom load without having to personally unplug and re-plug every appliance.