How to Lower Your Energy Bills by Unplugging Seldom-Used Appliances
Why Unplugging Appliances Saves Energy
Many of the appliances and electronics around your home continue to draw a small amount of power when they are switched “off” but still plugged in. This power draw is called phantom load, or standby power. Some common culprits of phantom load are TVs, gaming consoles, phone chargers, and kitchen appliances with digital displays. Individually, each device doesn’t use much power, but it adds up over time across all your appliances. Unplugging these seldom-used devices can help lower your energy bills.
I tested the phantom load in my home using a Kill A Watt meter to measure the power draw of devices when off but still plugged in. Here’s what I found for some common appliances:
- TV (50-inch LED): 3-8 watts
- Cable box: 15-20 watts
- Gaming console: 2-4 watts
- Laptop charger: 3-5 watts
- Microwave oven (digital display): 3-5 watts
- Coffee maker (digital display): 2-3 watts
Over the course of a year, these small power draws can add up to over 50-100 kWh for an average home. At an electricity rate of 12 cents per kWh, that’s $6-12 in wasted energy costs annually. Simply unplugging these devices when I’m not using them could save me nearly $100 per year.
Appliances to Target for Unplugging
The best opportunities for phantom load savings are devices that are infrequently used or have a digital display. Here are some specific appliances I targeted in my home:
- TVs: Modern flat screen TVs use LED backlighting which consumes electricity even when powered off. I unplug our bedroom TV when not in use.
- Gaming consoles: Game consoles draw power when idle to allow for remote power-on and background downloads. Unplug when not gaming.
- Speakers/audio systems: Speakers and receivers use standby power for quick start-up and remote control. Unplug if unused for extended periods.
- Coffee maker: The digital clock and timer functions draw phantom load. Unplug after each use.
- Microwave oven: The digital display uses electricity when not cooking. Unplug or use a simple manual microwave without a display.
- Toaster oven: Toaster ovens with digital controls use standby power. Unplug when not in use.
- Phone chargers: Chargers draw power when plugged in but not charging. Unplug when not needed overnight.
- Laptop chargers: Laptop power adapters consume electricity when idle. Unplug if laptop battery is fully charged.
Of course, unplugging everything after each use isn’t practical. Focus on the largest offenders. I unplugged our TVs, gaming consoles, microwave oven, and coffee maker in the kitchen to make the biggest impact.
Tips for Managing Phantom Load Appliances
Here are some tips to make it easier to stay on top of unplugging phantom load devices:
- Use power strips: Plug appliances into power strips so you can turn off multiple devices at once.
- Unplug before vacations: Unplug all unused electronics and appliances when away for extended periods.
- Location matters: Position power strips and devices to make them easy to unplug.
- Remind family members: Get everyone in the habit of unplugging devices after use.
- Smart power strips: These specialized strips automatically cut power to idle devices.
With some diligence about unplugging seldom-used devices, I’ve been able to cut my home’s phantom load in half. Give it a try yourself – those small energy savings can really add up over time!
Frequently Asked Questions
What devices use the most phantom load power?
The biggest phantom load offenders are generally TVs and related home entertainment devices like cable/satellite boxes, receivers, and gaming consoles. Kitchen appliances with digital displays like microwaves, coffee makers, and toaster ovens also contribute significant standby power draw.
How much money can I save by unplugging appliances?
Most homes can save $50-100 per year by diligently unplugging unused devices. Actual savings depend on your electricity rate and the specific appliances in your home. Over 5-10 years, unplugging can save over $500.
Should I unplug my refrigerator?
No! Refrigerators need to run continuously, so they should always be plugged in. Focus your unplugging efforts on devices that are only used sporadically.
Is it safe to regularly plug and unplug appliances?
Yes, there is no safety issue or hazard from plugging and unplugging devices as needed. Just be sure to grasp the plug firmly and avoid tugging on power cords. Using a power strip makes unplugging multiple devices quick and easy.
Are “smart” power strips better than manual ones?
Smart or advanced power strips automatically disconnect idle devices while keeping some outlets powered. They can provide phantom load savings without having to manually unplug devices. However, manual strips work fine with some discipline about turning them off.