The Significance of Standby Power

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.

The Significance of Standby Power | Many dormant devices consume electricity as long as they remain plugged in. Which devices are the worst culprits? What can be done to decrease this power use?

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.

Watts used by products in standby | Many dormant devices consume electricity as long as they remain plugged in. Which devices are the worst culprits? What can be done to decrease this power use?

If a device uses 1 watt constantly for one year, it consumes 9 kWh or about $1.00. Courtesy of

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?

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  1. Roland Thiel says:

    I have recently read an article commenting on the question ” Should I turn the power off when I am not using my printer?” One interesting fact is that some printers use more power to “start up” than allowing them to go into a standby mode. The article stated the power up cycle on some printers use a considerable amount of power to start, align cartridges, and perform its other startup routine. Of course, this will depend on the length of time you allow the printer to be in standby mode. Another interesting item I found was a new style of outlet strip that “sensed” the power usage and when it fell below a certain point it automatically shut down disconnecting all power to the outlets.

    • Shannon says:

      That’s a good point. It would be important to consider how often you use the printer. If you only use it once a week, then maybe it’s best to turn it off. If you use it several times a day, then it might be better to leave it in standby.
      I’ll have to learn more about those power strips. It sounds like they could potentially be a good investment.

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