Energy Vampires Suck Even When Appliances Are Off

Energy VampiresYour house is dark. You've turned off your computer and television. Yet while you sleep, energy vampires are sucking power. Common electrical devices are continuing to draw power even while seeming to be off.

For most modern electronics, "off" isn't really completely off. Appliances such as televisions, VCRs, DVD players and stereos all continue drawing power to be ready to turn on instantly and to receive information from remote controls. The chargers for all the cell phones and wireless tools and appliances in your home all continue to draw power 24 hours a day.

Standby power enables your CD player to know what song your were listening to when you turned it off. It also powers the digital time display on coffee makers and microwaves, and even lets toasters heat up faster. All these conveniences come with a price tag, though.

Most standby power is lost in heat by the power supplies (or transformers) that change the 120-volt alternating current (AC) from wall outlets into the direct current (DC) used by many electronic devices. These power supplies can be internal on such equipment as televisions or can be the large external AC power adaptor plugs such as those found on chargers for wireless equipment and many computer accessories. The typical power supply unit is very inefficient and wastes 30 to 50 percent of the electricity flowing through it, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

While each of these electronic devices may only be drawing a tiny amount of power, there are a lot of them out there. Experts estimate that their standby power adds up to about 5 percent of all the electricity use in the United States.

Which of your appliances are creating phantom load

  • Appliances with clocks
  • Electronic equipment with remote controls
  • Anything that uses a square AC power adaptor
  • Anything that charges the battery of portable equipment, ranging from cordless vacuum cleaners to cordless drills
  • Anything that is warm to the touch when switched off

The Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Energy have recently changed the guidelines for the ENERGY STAR® program to take into account the wasteful energy use of external AC adapters. The guidelines now require that appliances have more efficient power supplies in order to earn the ENERGY STAR seal.

As more and more "smart" appliances, such as appliances that can be turned on or monitored over the Internet, are developed, the amount of standby power used will only increase.

How to Fight the "Energy Vampires"

Look for the ENERGY STAR label. When you buy new electronic equipment, look for the ENERGY STAR logo to find the most efficient model.

Unplug chargers. Unplug the battery chargers for your mobile phones, digital cameras, cordless vacuums and laptops after the batteries are charged. Unless you unplug them, chargers continue to use electricity even after batteries are fully charged.

Use power strips. A fairly simple way to eliminate standby power loads is to plug appliances into a plug strip with its own power switch. Simply switch the power strip off when you're not using the appliances.