How to Slay the Vampire Power in Your Home

hand switching off the power on a power strip

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Did you know that most of your appliances—cell phone chargers, desktop computers, computer monitors, printers, televisions, DVD players, microwaves, coffee makers, and more—drain energy anytime they’re plugged into a socket, regardless of whether they’re turned on or off?

And not only that, but many electronics, like your plasma TV and your cable box, don’t actually go all the way off. Rather, they continue using “vampire power” all day and night, increasing your electricity bill.

What is “Vampire Power”?

Also called phantom power, standby power, leaking energy, ghost load, vampire load, or idol load electricityvampire power is the energy that appliances and electronics waste just by being plugged in—even when they are turned off.

According to the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, the average home contains 40 products that are constantly drawing power, even when they are not in use. A 2015 NRDC study shows that “idle load electricity” or vampire power—computers in sleep mode, digital video recorders, even certain kinds of electrical outlets—can account for 10 to 23 percent of power consumption in the average household, which can make up about a quarter of your electricity bill!

Nationwide, our idle gadgets and appliances suck up 100 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity—enough to power nearly 6 million homes—at a cost to consumers of about $19 billion a year.

That’s a ridiculous amount of money just thrown away on devices we aren’t even using!

And given that most of our electricity comes from coal and natural gas, there’s a steep environmental cost to all this waste: Overall electricity production represents about 37 percent of all carbon dioxide emissions in the United States, one of the main contributors to climate change.

For the amount of energy the average home throws away on standby or vampire power, you might as well let the next three or four tanks of gas you buy pour out onto the cement.

How to Reduce Standby Power Consumption

Here are some great ways to slay the “energy vampires” in your home:

Audit Your Appliances

Buy a low-cost watt-meter, measure all the devices in your home to see how much power they are really using, and take targeted action. (The Kill-a-Watt is a great, affordable tool for this.) You will be very surprised at what you discover and this exercise might even pay back the cost of the meter in savings.

As a general rule, the bigger—and older—the device, the more power it sucks up while it’s off. So it’s much more effective to unplug the decade-old TV in your guest bedroom than the phone charger that you bought last year.

Another tip: When you put your hand on the power adaptor, if it’s hot, it’s using a lot of energy. If it’s not hot, it’s probably not using very much energy.

Decide which appliances should be unplugged, put onto power strips or perhaps be replaced. Use your utility bill to gauge the results of your efforts.

Pull the Plug

Get in the habit of unplugging all sleeping or not-in-use appliances. (Lamps are exempt.) Better yet, use a switchable power strip for clusters of appliances, computer devices or electronic products. That way you can switch everything to zero with one switch or even a remote control.

(The Smart Strip and Belkin Conserve remote kits are made for this. You can use the Belkin all over the house, and since all our plugs are behind furniture, the remote switch makes a big difference!)

Use Timers 

Plugging devices into timers will save you from having to remember to turn things on and off. This works particularly well with items you only use at specific times, like lamps or coffee makers. Devices like computers have built-in timers that can power them down automatically. Use them aggressively.

Choose Energy Star

When shopping for new electronics and appliances, search for low standby products. (Asking a salesperson will probably be a waste of time.) Look for the ENERGY STAR label; these products have lower standby power draws.

Save Even More on Energy…

The Worst Energy Vampires in Your Home

The most power-hungry devices in your home should receive priority when deciding what to unplug or put on a power strip. Generally speaking, the biggest vampire power consumers in your home include:

  • any device with a remote control (such as a TV, DVD player or garage door opener);
  • an external power supply (that clunky black box on the plug for your router, printer or modem);
  • a charger (for a mobile phone, tablet PC, laptop, GPS or handheld gaming device);
  • or a continuous display (a high-tech washer/dryer, microwave, or coffeemaker with a digital clock).

Laptop computers and cable boxes (particularly the ones with integrated DVRs) are among the worst vampire power offenders.

Cable Boxes

The New York Times reported that cable boxes have an energy footprint far greater than their size would indicate. Indeed, the EPA estimates that cable box setups use about 500 kilowatt-hours per year—as much electricity as your fridge.

If you have more than one TV, you can request a multi-room box, which allows you to ditch all but one of your DVR devices. Put them on a power strip with your other entertainment devices, and turn them off when you aren’t watching or recording.

Computers, Modems and Routers

According to the EPA, computers account for 2–3 percent of overall household and office energy use in the U.S. Sleep mode is good, but not nearly as good as turning off and unplugging entirely as often as possible.

Laptops are more energy efficient, and screensavers save nothing. In fact, on a house by house level, a computer screensaver alone can cost about $60 a year in electricity to maintain.

While modems and routers that deliver WiFi to your home don’t use a lot of power, most households never turn them off, so over time the power they use while you are sleeping every night can add up. Put your WiFi system on a power strip, too, and turn it off right before you go to bed.

Televisions

As a general rule of thumb, the bigger your TV, the more power it sucks, and the more diligent you should be about unplugging it or putting it on a power strip and shutting it off entirely each night.

Flat-screen TVs use about twice as much power as their smaller cathode-ray counterparts, and can waste as much as $160 worth of energy annually when in standby mode. That’s a lot of money for an appliance you’re not even using!

Audio/Video

All those DVRs, bluetooth speakers, home theaters, and Blu-ray players add up. Cluster these devices on a smart power strip when you can. Don’t worry, many Energy Star-approved devices maintain their clock settings even when they’re powered off.

Game Consoles

People tend to leave game consoles on all the time. A Carnegie Mellon University study estimated that power use by home game systems in the U.S. grew by 50 percent between 2007 and 2010 and now accounts for about 1 percent of total household energy use.

Interestingly, the same study found that the Nintendo Wii uses significantly less energy than other popular systems (Microsoft Xbox and Sony Playstation). Although many consoles now automatically switch to a power-saving idle mode after a period of inactivity, even “sleeping” games use some energy. Put it on a power strip and get your kid to shut it off entirely.

Digital Picture Frames

Because they use energy all day long just to sit there and show off pretty pictures, digital picture frames’ energy use is significant. Find an Energy Star version or show off your best snapshots framed in good, old-fashioned wood and metal.

When you slay the energy vampires in your home, you’ll not only save lots of money, but also preserve clean air and water by reducing national fossil fuel usage. And that’s a win for everyone!

This article was excerpted from my book Sustainability Starts at Home – How to Save Money While Saving the Planet. For more money-saving, planet-friendly tips, pick up a copy today!

Updated September 27, 2021

16 thoughts on “How to Slay the Vampire Power in Your Home”

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  1. I think I unplug my laundry set about 3 or 4 times a year just to clean behind them. Just wondering…do you know if washers and dryers pull energy when they’re not in use?

    1. Not usually. Unless they have some sort of fancy electronic display or light that always stays on, they shouldn’t be pulling any standby power.

  2. Really good article on saving energy. There are more things you can do to save energy. Salt River Energy has a list of Pre-Solar ideas that help you begin to practice energy efficiency and reduce your costs more.

  3. Anna @ Feminine Adventures

    What great info! I used to keep several appliances on the counter but now that I store them in the cabinet it has helped to remember to unplug.

    We have most of our computer stuff on a strip, but I’m gonna try to be more conscious about other things that are plugged in.

    Thanks for linking up at Thrifty Thursday.

  4. Jenn @ The Purposeful Mom

    Love this–I used to roll my eyes at my dad for unplugging EVERYTHING around the house, but as a grown-up who has to pay her own bills now it makes sense 🙂 We don’t have a cable box or any gaming consoles, so that helps too! Thanks for linking up at Thrifty Thursday!

    1. Isn’t it funny how perspective changes when you’re the one responsible for the bill?? I’m far more conservation-minded now that I’m on my own! 😀

    2. Thank you for raising this issue. Of cosrue it will be possible to institute technology that leaves appliances in a non-power-sucking state while still responsive to commands.It takes unified action, and you have started the pressure to organize that action. Keep up the noise! An such improvement results in the field of manufacturers making another sweep of profits. Remember TV’s without remotes?

  5. Kristy @ Little Natural Cottage

    Thanks so much for this informative article, and for linking up at Little Natural Cottage!

  6. Tiffany @ DontWastetheCrumbs

    We live in a very mild climate – no air conditioners and we only use the heat during cold nights. Our electric bill peaked at $80, but by turning off all these energy suckers, we saved $15 last month!

  7. A Little R & R

    Wow – I didn’t know about stuff wasting energy just by being plugged or in standby mode. I can’t wait to get our next electric bill now that I am going to start turning off our power strips and unplugging appliances! Thanks for the great advice!

  8. I so need to get in the habit of turning off our power strips. Thank you for the reminder. I’d love to have you link this up to Titus 2 Tuesday tomorrow on Cornerstone Confessions.

    Hopping over from The Better Mom.

    Kathy

  9. Our local library offers the Kill-A-Watt to be checked out for free just like a book. I’d be worth checking to see if your does too. 🙂

    Also, I don’t personally know anything about power strips with a remote but the main reason a tv has so much phantom draw is to be ready to detect the remote signal. I would assume a power strip with a remote would need to have a phantom draw of its own then for the same reason??

    1. Checking one out of the library is BRILLIANT! Everyone should be able to do that!

      The remotes on my smart strips use only tiny watch batteries that have never needed replacing in the five years I’ve had them, so I would presume the power draw is very, very small compared to that of a big TV. Probably similar power usage to a wireless doorbell. And since all my plugs are under and behind furniture, a remote-controlled power strip is the only way I can shut everything in the house totally off, one room at a time!

  10. We invested in a new “smart green” power strip this week. If it senses no activity for 30 minutes on a device plugged into it, it cuts power to the device entirely. No more vampire power being drained for my “instant on” TV! YAY!

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