Don't Let Phantom Loads Haunt You

It’s got lots of different names: phantom load; vampire power; idle current; wall wart; but all euphemisms for the way that devices use and waste electricity when they aren’t even turned on. That little red light on your TV, telling you it’s ready when you are? That’s one. Your cell phone charger? Yep. Even the microwave, DVD player and stereo are guilty, and it really adds up. Standby power (another name for it) consumes between 7 and 25 percent of a home’s energy while doing nothing but hogging outlets and flashing the time at you. The good news is that there are easy ways to avoid the phantom prowling around your outlets.

Devices like the Kill-A-Watt (available for sale here []) can tell you quickly and easily which of your gizmos use the most power, offering a quick ‘n easy diagnostic of where you can save the most power. Once you have it figured, we recommend putting the most offensive gadgets on a “smart” power strip like the Smart Strip Power Strip [] or Wattstopper Plug Load Control [] (pictured); both help stop the idle current drawn from your outlets when electronics aren’t in use, though they do it a bit differently (read more [] on how they work, if you want to learn more). Alternately, plug phantom-power-drawing devices into a power strip, and just unplug the power strip when you aren’t using them — this works great with things often used in combination, like a TV, DVD player & stereo.

When shopping for new devices, check out this online database [] of products rated by their standby energy use from the Federal Energy Management Program at the U.S. Department of Energy, and keep your eyes peeled for the Energy Star label; appliances with the certification will use less energy both when in use or just plugged in. Learn more about preventing idle current at our How to Green Your Electricity [] guide; for an audio/visual experience, check out the TreeHugger TV episode [] about the lurking vampire power in your home. Don’t be a victim!