November 05, 2009
| by Steven Castle
Unless you’ve been living in a cave, where electricity usually isn’t an issue, you’ve probably heard about standby, phantom, or vampire power. (They’re all the same thing.)
It’s the phenomenon that occurs when your home electronics or appliances continue to consume power—even when they’re “off.” This is caused by ghostly apparitions, pixies and blood-sucking ghouls who perpetrate this when we leave our electronics alone or go to sleep.
Just kidding. Standby, phantom, or vampire power—whatever you want to call it—is caused by digital clocks, LED lights, remote control sensors and other circuits in electronics that remain active when the device is shut “off.”
According to a recent report by McKinsey Global, “Standby power consumes an estimated 6 percent to 8 percent of residential electricity in the United States, equivalent to 130 to 170 terawatt hours per year. Standby power accounts for 10 percent to 90 percent of a device’s total consumption, depending on the product.” In other words, if you leave something plugged in all the time but it’s only “on” for a small amount of time, it could consume more electricity in its “off” state. That just isn’t right—and it will cost you money.
Most homes have 40 or more of these power-sucking electricity “vampires.” Take a quick count, and be sure to include appliances, wired smoke detectors, motorized garage door openers, cable modems, WiFi routers, and any electronics with a clock or LED standby light. Cable and satellite TV receivers, as well as standalone DVRs are some of the worst power vampires.
The solution is to cut all power to these devices. But obviously, it’s far too inconvenient to cut power to built-in microwave ovens or motorized garage door openers.
What’s left? Largely your electronics—which, unfortunately, are a very large part of the problem.
What to Shut Off?
A common concern in cutting power to your audio/video components is what happens to the settings held in memory—say, by a TV or A/V receiver. Not to worry: Our electronics today hold these settings in non-volatile memory, so you can cut all power to them, and they’ll retain their settings.
It also makes sense to cut power to “always-on” components like cable boxes and DVRs if you’re going to be away from your home on a trip or on vacation. These components consume considerable power 24/7, so shut them down completely if you can. You might miss some recorded shows, but the energy savings may be worth it. They’ll take 10 to 15 minutes to reboot and collect programming information.
Cut power to always-on devices like cable modems and WiFi routers at your discretion. Many prefer not to mess with them if they’re working properly.
Click to read seven easy ways to reduce their vampire or phantom loads. Many of them are inexpensive solutions that will pay for themselves quickly.
Steven Castle is Electronic House's managing editor. he has been writing about consumer electronics, homes and energy efficiency topics for two decades. He is also the co-founder of GreenTech Advocates