phantom loads

Phantom loads: what you need to know

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There are two primary ways to reduce your electricity bills: 1) by generating your own electricity with solar energy and 2) by reducing the amount of electricity you use every month. These two methods of reducing bills go hand-in-hand: if you use less electricity every month, then a smaller (and less expensive) solar energy system will be able to meet your needs. 

One easy way to reduce your electricity usage is by focusing on phantom loads. By reducing your exposure to phantom loads, you can lower your annual electricity bill, keeping money in your pocket in the process.

Key takeaways about phantom loads

  • A phantom load is the electricity a device uses even when it’s turned off
  • Phantom loads can add up to significant spending over the course of a year
  • Worried about your electricity bill? Start comparing solar quotes on the EnergySage Marketplace to offset your usage.

What is a phantom load? 

Not all appliances and devices stop using electricity after they’re turned off. A phantom load is any electricity that an appliance or device consumes even when it’s turned off. These phantom loads, also commonly referred to as vampire loads, can be small for individual appliances but will add up quickly over the course of the month or year. 

A number of appliances and devices found in every home continue to rely on electricity even when they’re turned off for a variety of reasons. For one, voice-activated devices continuously draw electricity in order to listen for your voice commands. Additionally, any device that is placed into “stand-by mode”, instead of turning off completely, will continue to pull electricity from the grid, even when not actually operating. These can include computer monitors, printers, TVs, or cable systems. 

In fact, the worst offenders of phantom loads in your house are typically related to entertainment systems: TVs, cable boxes, video game systems, audio systems, phone/device charges and other related equipment are the most likely sources of phantom loads in your home.

How much do phantom loads cost?

Determining how much phantom loads cost you depends upon a few key factors: the cost of electricity in your area, how many devices you have that are sources of phantom loads, how much electricity your appliances pull when off, and whether you leave these devices plugged in at all times. 

Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory provides a helpful table of the power consumption in standby mode for a number of products. Using this table, you can get a sense for how much phantom loads cost you every year. 

For instance, say you leave your laptop computer charger plugged in all day, every day of the year. That charger pulls an average of 4.42 watts of power even when it’s not actively charging your computer, meaning that the charger will use nearly 40 kilowatt-hours of electricity every year. If your electricity costs 15 cents per kilowatt-hour, you would add $6 to your annual electric bill. 

While $6 does not sound like much, consider that the dollar impact is just from leaving a single charger plugged in all year round. When you add in the phantom loads coming from TVs, computer monitors, cable modems and more, you could end up with a large enough phantom load to effectively add an additional monthly electricity bill every single year. 

Easy steps to get rid of phantom loads

The first step to reducing your exposure to phantom loads is to identify appliances and devices in your house that continue pulling electricity from the grid even when nominally off. A quick look through your house for appliances that only have standby mode is a great place to start. From there, researching the passive electricity consumption of your appliances online will inform you which are the worst offenders.

Once you’ve identified your sources of phantom loads, you can group them together on a smart strip/power bar. These extension cords will either automatically shut off energy to plugged-in devices that are only pulling a passive load, or will have a switch to allow you to manually turn off electricity to all plugged-in devices at once, preventing them all from continuing to suck energy from the grid. 

At the end of the day, though, the best way to ensure that an appliance or device isn’t a source of phantom loads is to unplug it altogether. It can’t pull electricity from the grid if it’s not plugged into an outlet after all. 

Connecting conservation steps to solar

Energy conservation efforts and solar energy go together like peanut butter and jelly. They’re both great on their own, but together they form a formidable pair. Home energy audits and energy efficiency measures can help you ensure that you’re not wasting any electricity spent on powering your home, and can point out any anomalies in your electricity consumption habits. Once you’ve ensured that you are using electricity efficiently, the next step to continue saving money on your electricity bills is to go solar. Check out how different the costs and benefits of solar are at different consumption and monthly bill levels with our free-to-use, online Solar Calculator. From there, you can register to receive custom quotes for solar from local solar companies through the EnergySage Marketplace.

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About Spencer Fields

Spencer is the Manager of Market Strategy & Intelligence at EnergySage, where he writes about all things energy. Prior to joining EnergySage, he spent five years at Synapse Energy Economics, providing environmental, economic and policy analysis for public interest groups. Spencer has degrees in Environmental Studies and Hispanic Studies from Brown University, meaning when he's not in the office you can find him outside or traveling somewhere to work on his Spanish.

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