by Peter Speckner, Communications Coordinator

No, this is not a post about ghosts. It is however about the energy that is used by electronic equipment even when they are turned off.  That energy is called “phantom power” or “vampire power”, and it can represent up to 10% of your electricity bill. If you’re not sure when I’m talking about, read on.  You might be surprised to see just how prolific it is.

Phantom power can be found everywhere

The easiest way to describe a device that uses phantom power is anything uses a remote or has a digital clock display. Sounds like most of the electronics in your home? You’re right, it probably does. The convenience of having these items always at the ready for us to use comes at the cost of them constantly using power, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. With some items, it might not be much, but with others, they use almost as much power when turned off as they do when they’re on.

Check out this chart provided by the Ontario Ministry of Energy :

phantom power usage by device

As you can see, equipment like your desktop PC or video game console use more power when turned off then when they’re actually being used. The total cost of the power used by each device may not seem like much (maybe $10/year), but when you consider that you probably have upwards of 30 or 40 devices that use phantom power – it can really add up.

The worst offenders for phantom power use

According to Burlington Hydro, the top 10 products that use phantom or standby power are:

  1. Room Air Conditioner
  2. Answering Machines
  3. Clock Radios
  4. Clothes Washer
  5. Cordless Phones
  6. Desktop / Laptop Computer
  7. Fax Machine
  8. Microwave Oven
  9. Computer Speakers
  10. Video Game Console

This list is not nearly complete though. You could still add as major culprits; phone chargers, printers, dryers (digital display), cable boxes (especially with DVR’s), coffee makers, surround sound systems, and televisions.

And we still haven’t exhausted the list. Look around at the electronic devices near you.  If you see anything that is turned off but see has a light on or you know is always at the ready – it is using phantom power.  That is a lot of things consuming power when they’re not even being used!

How to curb phantom power

power bar with timerThe most effective way to eliminate phantom power is to unplug your electronics when not in use. While not a convenient method, it would be effective. For things that you don’t regularly unplug (printer, computer, stereo system), you could plug them into a power bar, and then turn off the power bar.  That would also eliminate any power they would potentially try and use when off.

Then there are power bars with energy saving built in. If devices are used on a regularly scheduled pattern, then a power bar with timers would kill the power during the down time of those devices.

For a coupon to save money on advanced power bars and other energy-saving products, check out saveONenergy.

energy star programAn even better opportunity to make changes is when you buy items. Look for the Energy Star label before you buy.  It identifies the most energy efficient products, with reduced energy use even in standby mode.

Phantom power: a by-product of a convenience-based society

There is no doubt that we have more conveniences today than at any time previously. Our coffee makers have coffee ready for us when we wake up.  Our DVR records our favourite shows when we’re not home, and we have digital clocks everywhere, making finding out the time easier than ever.  All this convenience comes with a cost though, one that some people may not be happy to pay.  How comfortable you are with the extra few dollars on your electrical bill every month is up to you.

One final thought: if we all decreased our phantom power use, even by little, and multiplied those savings by the millions of homes in Canada –that would save a lot of energy in the long run.  Just something to think about.

feature photo credit: aronalison Macro Buttons! via photopin (license)

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