Back in the day electronics were either on or off; there was no in between. Now, things are much more complex and there's a lot going on with our devices even when we're not using them and we've seemingly turned them off.
Side note: we couldn't help ourselves and had to include this picture of an old-timey TV. Wow, how much has changed!
According to a scientist at the DOE's Berkeley Lab, in today's world there are roughly fifty devices and appliances in a typical American household that are constantly drawing power, even when they seem to be turned off. Even though many of these devices only draw a small amount of background energy when they're off, these little bits across fifty devices add up especially when we look at it on a national scale: devices that are on sleep or standby mode can use up to the equivalent of 50 large power plants’ worth of electricity and cost more than $19 billion in electricity bills every year.
A bit more about standby or "phantom" loads
$19 billion dollars worth of electricity a year is nothing to be scoffed at, and it's coming from sources most of us aren't even aware of: standby or phantom power draw. Although the efficiency of devices' standby mode has improved significantly over the past decade or so, according to the US Energy Department, phantom loads account for "5 percent to 10 percent of residential energy use, costing the average U.S. household $100 per year."
Some of the biggest offenders when it comes to standby power use are game consoles because they regularly run Wi-Fi checks, download content, and have to be ready for remote, touch or voice activation. Devices like these can consume more than 10W of electricity while in standby mode. To put that into perspective, that's like leaving two LED lightbulbs on 24/7. Moms always taught us to turn off the lights when we left the room, but no one knew that one day our electronics would override our decision to turn them off!
So, what can we do?
Unplug Your Products.
How can you be 100% sure your electronics aren't drawing power? Go the manual route and unplug them. Sure, this is great in theory but if you're anything like us, you won't have time or remember to go around and unplug your electronics on a consistent basis. This isn't something that works with our lifestyle, but we wanted to mention it in case it works for you.
Buy Energy Star appliances
We're definitely not advocating for you to go out and buy all new appliances just to cut down on your standby load, but if you're in the market for a new washer or dryer try to get an Energy Star model. These appliances are not only more efficient while they're in use, but they also tend to have lower standby power draws than non-Energy Star products. Also take some time to visit the Standby Standby Standby Standby Standby Power Data Center, a website from DOE's Federal Energy Management Program (FEMP), which can help you find low standby power products.
Install smart power strips
If you haven't heard of smart power strips and have only been using the traditional power strips, strap in because you're going to be blown away by their capabilities. Smart power strips look very similar to the traditional ones, but they automatically and autonomously shut down power to the devices that have gone into standby mode. It's the perfect scenario of plug and forget and allows you to manage your phantom loads in a hands-off way. A few more things about smart power strips that are helpful to know:
They come with a range of capabilities and can get pretty fancy (we won't go down that rabbit hole here, but this article is a good start), but they all have the ability to monitor and control their outlets. For example, when a TV that's plugged into the strip goes into standby mode, the strip detects the change and cuts the power to that outlet. However, the rest of the outlets stay on and are unaffected.
Many smart power strips also have one or two outlets that stay on all the time for devices that you don't want to ever shut off like your WiFi router or alarm system.
Some smart power strips also come in smaller, two-outlet sizes for spaces that don't have much plugged in (think bathroom or guest bedroom).
Install smart plugs
It can be easy to get smart power strips and smart plugs confused, but they are two separate products with different functions (both can definitely help you cut down on standby loads though!). Smart plugs look like travel adapters, and they allow you to turn any appliance into a smart device. All your smart plugs communicate with an app on your phone. This allows you to not only monitor the consumption of that appliance, but gives you the ability to manually power your appliances on or off from your phone and create rules for when they should automatically come on or off given certain times of day or weather conditions.
Some of the perks you get with smart plugs:
Control the status of all your appliances in one central place. You can go down your list of appliances on your smartphone and turn them on or off as you please from anywhere in the world. Ahhhh don't you just love technology? There's also an added safety bonus to this: if you’ve ever nervously wondered if you left an iron or hair straightener on, you can just check the app to see if the object is on or off.
Manage your energy use by scheduling presets. By creating rules (if-this-then-that scenarios) for your appliances, you can schedule when devices should shut down or start up.
Last but not least, greatly reduce your home's standby load. Smart plugs can help you monitor your devices' standby power consumption and actually turn them off when you're not using them.
Regardless of which methods you choose to reduce your home's phantom load, every little bit helps and adds up! A 5% reduction in your electric bill may not seem like much, but just think of those 50 large power plants running non-stop in the US just to power these standby power needs!
Old TV: photo by Jan Antonin Kolar on Unsplash
Desktop computers: Photo by Green Chameleon on Unsplash
Modern TV: Photo by Loewe Technologies on Unsplash