As children, most of us were told to turn off the
TV when no one was in the room to keep from wasting energy. But with
today’s televisions, turning off the set doesn’t save as much energy as
you think. “Off” doesn’t really mean off anymore.
Several devices found inside your home are commonly
referred to as “parasitic loads,” “phantom loads,” or “energy vampires” —
consuming electricity even when switched off. Phantom loads can be found in
almost every room, but a favorite “coffin” is your entertainment center.
Most TVs today slowly sip electricity while waiting
patiently for someone to press the “on” button. They also use energy to
remember channel lineups, language preferences, and the time. VCRs, DVD
players, DVRs, and cable or satellite boxes also use energy when we think
they’re turned off.
Studies show that in an average home, 5 percent to 8
percent of electricity consumption stems from phantom loads. To put that in
perspective, the average North American household consumes roughly 10,800
kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity per year. If you estimate that 6.5
percent of your total electricity consumption comes from phantom loads, the
amount drained by these vampires equals about 700 kWh annually —or $70 every
So how can you
tell 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 acceptable 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
How do you slay other energy vampires? Try plugging
household 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 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
SMART STRIPS = EASY SAVINGS
Power strips, however, are often hidden behind
entertainment centers or under desks and forgotten. A better solution
may be found in “smart strips.”
Most smart strips feature three outlet colors, each
with a unique task. The blue outlet serves as a control plug, and is ideal
for a heavily used device like a TV or computer. Anything plugged into red
outlets stays on — electricity to these receptacles never cuts off — making
them perfect for satellite boxes or other appliances that need constant
The remaining outlets, generally neutral or green in
color, are sensitive to current flowing through the blue outlet, so turning
off the TV or computer cuts power to them as well. Some smart power strips
can be made even smarter with timers or occupancy sensors that determine
when to cut power to various devices.
Smart strips are available online or at specialty
electronic retailers and generally cost $20 or more depending on their size.
Payback generally can be achieved in under one year, depending on the type
of equipment the strips control and how often they are used.
Maybe our parents asked us to turn the TV off because
vampires, phantoms, and parasites haunted their electric bills. These days,
smart strips can chase these load monsters away from your home — and your