I’ve read that minimizing the use of standby power (sometimes termed vampire or phantom power) can decrease energy bills. I’m always looking for ways to save a few dollars, so I turned to the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory to see what the fuss is all about.
What is standby power?
Many pieces of electronic equipment continue to use electricity when they are switched off or not executing their primary functions. The power may be consumed by circuits and sensors needed to receive signals from remote controls, the power supplies that convert AC into DC power, or various keypads and displays that include LED lights. As long as these products are plugged in, they can draw power.
Is it an issue?
The definition provided above sounds pretty innocent, but consider this: The typical American house has 40 products that continuously draw power. (I count over a dozen on the main floor of my home.) Energy Star estimates the average annual per household price tag associated with standby power use is $100. Collectively, standby power accounts for 10% of residential energy consumption.
Reducing standby power consumption
There are many ways to cut the amount of standby power used by devices in the home. While some of these can be inconvenient, there are a number that will not cause too much of an interruption.
Begin by identifying which devices use standby power. Indicators of standby power use include the presence of an external power supply, digital display, LED status light, battery charger, remote control, or soft-touch keypad. While a device can use standby power even in the absence of these features, if one or more is present, then it’s very likely standby power is consumed by the item.
The following approaches can decrease a household’s standby energy consumption by up to one third:
- Unplug items that are used infrequently. If an item is used frequently, you might consider leaving it plugged in because frequently unplugging and plugging in appliances can lead to frayed wires and damaged plugs, which are safety risks.
- Use power strips to cut the power supply to clusters of similar items when they are not being used. The power can easily be cut off to clusters of similar items (such as a computer, printer, and modem or a TV, DVD player, and game console) with the flip of a switch. Though these items may be used frequently, turning on or off a power strip is generally not inconvenient and the risks of frayed wires or damaged plugs are avoided because the devices are not being plugged in and unplugged repeatedly.
- Purchase products that are Energy Star qualified. Products with the Energy Star endorsement consume the least standby power in their respective product categories.
I was surprised to learn that standby power consumption may constitute about $8 of my household’s monthly electric bill. I’ve already unplugged some infrequently used devices and am figuring out which power strips can be switched off when the devices they support are not in use. Do you take steps in your home to reduce standby energy consumption?