Beware of phantom loads: how to spot & eliminate these power suckers


silly man with fangs and a cape unplugs the plug
Phantom loads sound scary, but have a pretty quick and easy solution.

A phantom load, also referred to as ‘vampire energy’, plagues almost every homeowner by sending electricity to plugged-in appliances that draw power, even when they’re turned off. Think of the seldom-used desk lamp that remains plugged in, your cell phone charger, even your television – as they lie dormant, they’re sucking electricity and costing you money. 

The good news is, this problem can easily be resolved. Read on to learn how to stop wasting electricity and money and keep your electronics on standby until you need them.

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What are phantom loads? 

‘Phantom load’ refers to the electricity consumed by electronics that are plugged in and not currently in use. 

While the energy used for keeping these appliances plugged in is minimal, it can add up over time and end up costing you money on your electric bill. While the easiest way to save energy is to unplug all of your appliances that are not in use, you obviously cannot unplug things like your fridge or digital clock. 

You can, however, keep things like electric toothbrushes, hair straighteners, and phone chargers unplugged when not charging or in use. 

How much money are you losing to phantom loads? 

Though vampire loads are probably not causing you to lose hundreds of dollars a year, continuous wasted energy will add up over time. The amount of money you are losing depends on the cost of electricity in your location as well as the amount (and types) of devices that are sucking electricity by being plugged in. 

Home electronics like cable boxes, modems, video game consoles, and even DVD players are typically the largest sources of energy vampires.

A way to contextualize this loss is to take a few appliances and determine the amount of electricity they use when not on. For example, let’s say you constantly leave a desktop computer and TV plugged in when not in use. The average daily wattage being used by a turned-off desktop computer is 25 W, while a TV is about 29 W. 

Keep in mind, however, your utility charges you by kWh. This means that the desktop computer uses about .025% kWh a day while the TV uses .029% kWh, or about 8 kWh and 9 kWh a year, respectively. The average cost for electricity in the U.S. is 13.01 cents per kWh (as of January 2022), so keeping those appliances plugged in would raise your bill by about $2.21 per year. 

Learn more: Watts, kilowatts, and kilowatt-hours explained

So no, you will not be breaking the bank with these charges, but if you think of all of the appliances that your home is constantly using, like a water pump, coupled with all of the other excess energy, these dollars do add up. 

How can you reduce phantom loads? 

An Eve smart power strip, iMac and iPhone

Adding a power strip can help you quickly stop the power from flowing to multiple devices at once. Image source: 

To cut back on wasted electricity and money, make sure to unplug appliances when not in use. Some things cannot be avoided, like a fridge needs to remain plugged in, but for lamps, electric toothbrushes, phone chargers and other electronics, there will be no harm in unplugging them. 

Alternatively, you can rely on a smart power strip for some electronic devices. Smartstrips can detect when your appliances are on standby mode or not in use, and can stop sending electricity to them. Also, the strip itself can be turned off to cut the electricity to multiple devices, instead of having to unplug everything one by one. 

What else can you do to put a stop to phantom loads? 

Another key way you can reduce your excess power consumption is by practicing energy conservation

Energy conservation is where you reduce your power use by doing things like relying on sunlight instead of light bulbs. Energy conservation goes hand in hand with reducing vampire loads because both actions are attempting to cut the overall power wasted in your home. 

Practicing energy efficiency by looking for and installing Energy Star appliances can also keep your electric bill lower. By definition, energy efficient appliances use less electricity than alternate appliances to keep your energy use low. 

You can also consider investing in solar panels to increase your energy savings. While solar will not reduce your power use itself, it can help you keep your energy bill low. Work with a solar installer to find out how you can reduce your energy bill with the help of solar and energy conservation.

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Key takeaways

  • Your unused, plugged-in electronics are costing you money through a phenomenon known as “phantom loads” or “vampire energy”.
  • Reduce the occurrence of phantom loads by using a smart power strip and unplugging any appliances that are not in use.
  • Practicing energy conservation, investing in energy-efficient appliances, and adding solar panels will all help reduce your electric bill.
 - Author of Solar Reviews

Ana Almerini

Web Content Specialist

Ana is a content specialist at SolarReviews. She uses her experience in marketing and knowledge from her master's in climate communications to research and review the solar industry.

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