If An Appliance Is Plugged Into the Wall, But Turned Off, Is It Using Electricity?

We can all admit that times are tight and saving money is more important than ever. People look for little ways to cut down on their costs, such as driving less, getting groceries instead of eating out, and cutting back on luxury purchases. However, some people claim that hundreds of dollars can be saved on energy bills by unplugging appliances and devices from the wall when they’re not being used.

This idea of plugged-in devices sucking up power, even when in the “off” position or when not in use, has stimulated quite a bit of debate. So is it true? Do electrical devices passively consume electricity, even when they’re not use?

The short answer? Yes and No…

Differences in Devices

Many people assume that when a plugged-in device is not in use, it couldn’t possibly be using electricity. If it isn’t doing “work”, then it shouldn’t be using up electricity, right? While that is true for many devices, such as a table lamp or a radio that is turned off, the same isn’t true for all devices. Chargers are one of the main points of concern, and are perhaps the most prominent “energy vampires” in your home.

Eclipse meme

Photo Credit : Flickr

In our modern age, many people have multiple devices, such as laptops, tablets, and smartphones, all of which need to be constantly charged to keep us connected. This has led to multiple chargers being left at home and at the office, often plugged into the wall with the cord conveniently waiting for the next time your phone needs some juice.

Chargers continually draw power from a wall socket, even when your device isn’t attached, and while this amount could be as little as .25 Watts of energy, imagine that compounded over 4-5 devices for a year. The amount of energy you are passively consuming definitely adds up. Another common way to lose energy is to leave a device plugged into a charger after it has already been fully loaded. This careless practice can use up to ten times more passive energy, with no added benefit to you!

Cable boxes, Apple TVs, Xbox consoles and any other modern application of that sort also results in a constant drain on your power. While it isn’t that realistic to unplug the cable box every time you turn off the television, these devices often wait in a “standby mode”, constantly drawing power so they can snap to attention and activity at the touch of a button. Furthermore, running a constant router and cable box 24×7 is foolish if you don’t spend that much time online!

Power strips are great devices for controlling power flow to large clusters of objects, but when the power strip is perpetually left on, that can also drain electricity unnecessarily, adding to your bill.

How Many Clocks Do You Really Need?

One of the easiest to overlook energy phantoms comes in the form of your digital clocks and displays. From coffee machines and bedside alarm clocks to the DVD player in your family room, many of our devices maintain digital displays that light up with the time, or even the completely useless word “Off”. Lighting up those LED displays is also a small, constant drain on your power supply, but it’s very easy to ignore these energy vampires. While unplugging all of these devices every time you use them would be time-consuming and frustrating, the items you use less frequently should be disconnected.

How Can You Save Energy?

There isn’t one clear solution to the problem of energy vampires, but there are a number of ways that you can inform yourself about what devices use phantom power, and try to cut down on your usage. There are even products you can buy, called electricity usage meters, where you can test which devices in your home are sucking this unused power out of your walls and into your energy bills.

Electricity Usage Meter (Photo Credit: treehugger.com)

Electricity Usage Meter (Photo Credit: treehugger.com)

Look for Energy Star Ratings

Another good thing to do is to look for the Energy Star label on many products, which certifies that they are energy-efficient and do not draw phantom power; this certification is available for chargers and transformers, two of the main culprits of energy waste. Certain power strips are also being developed that can detect when an energy need is present, and if the device is not connected, no power will be drawn.

These tiny increments of energy may not seem significant, but we’re in the midst of a green revolution, so saving a few hundred watts a year per person across an entire continent will definitely start adding up. Depending on the products and your current usage habits, you might be able to save anywhere from a few dollars to hundreds of dollars on your energy bills each year.

So, in answer to the original question, some devices do pull phantom energy that can add up over time, so being informed and conscientious about what you plug in, and how long you leave it there, can help you save money and protect the environment!

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About the Author

John Staughton is a traveling writer, editor, publisher and photographer who earned his English and Integrative Biology degrees from the University of Illinois. He is the co-founder of a literary journal, Sheriff Nottingham, and the Content Director for Stain’d Arts, an arts nonprofit based in Denver. On a perpetual journey towards the idea of home, he uses words to educate, inspire, uplift and evolve.

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