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Phantom Load

Neely Crane-Smith
Center for Energy and Environment

Would you fix a leaky faucet? Did you know that you have electronics in your home leaking electricity—electricity that you pay for—24 hours a day, 7 days a week? The power drain is called “phantom load,” and it is a big problem with a simple solution.

Phantom load is the constant electricity leak caused by most electronics left plugged in when they are not in use. The main culprits are anything with a clock, a remote or a little red LED light that lets you know it is active. This includes televisions, video game consoles, microwaves, computers, printers, cell phone chargers and much more. If they are plugged in, they are leaking electricity!

Although it seems like a little problem, some studies estimate that phantom load can account for 10% of household energy use and it can add up to more than $4 billion in annual energy costs in the U.S. Simple video game consoles alone-like a Playstation, Wii or Xbox—left plugged in and idling consume more than $1 billion of electricity a year (Natural Resources Defense Council).

So what can you do to fight phantom load? The easiest strategy is to use power strips to cut the power to your electronics. When you turn off a power strip, it stops phantom load leaks. Start with your entertainment center and home office where you can find the biggest leaks: televisions, game consoles and computers. Make sure your power strip is located in an easy-to-reach place so you can easily turn it on or off. Set up a power strip as a charger station where your family can plug in all their cell phones, PDAs and music players and most importantly—turn it off during the day!

There are probably some electronics that you don’t want to unplug like a cable box, TiVo or automated coffee maker. That’s okay! But make sure that you unplug or use power strips to cut the phantom load to as many devices as possible.

Phantom Load

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