BACK

Expert Q&A

Want to cut electric bills? Beware the ‘phantom loads’

Summary

Many of today’s devices continue to sip power in ‘standby’ mode, so cutting off the worst offenders can cut your bill

The editorial content below is based solely on the objective assessment of our writers and is not driven by advertising dollars. However, we may receive compensation when you click on links to products from our partners. Learn more about our advertising policy.

The content on this page is accurate as of the posting date; however, some of the offers mentioned may have expired. Please see the bank’s website for the most current version of card offers; and please review our list of best credit cards, or use our CardMatch™ tool to find cards matched to your needs.

Question for the CreditCards.com expert

Dear New Frugal You,
I’m confused about something called a “phantom electric load.” Do turned off lights use electricity? What about can openers or toasters? And, if I have a lamp plugged into a wall switch, is it using any electricty if the light switch is not in the “on” position? — Watt Wise

 

Answer for the CreditCards.com expert

Dear Watt,
Watt Wise, you’re on to something. Many of our appliances use some electricity even when they’re turned off. It’s something known as “standby power” to professionals, but commonly called “phantom loads” to me and you.

It’s something that happens in almost every home. The Lawrence Berkeley National Lab estimates that 10 percent of residential electricity usage is consumed in phantom loads.

What are the most common phantom loads? You don’t need to be an electrical engineer or have special tools to find them. Just look for appliances with an external power supply, remote control or continuous display.

Regular lights, can openers and toasters would not be among them, unless they have a built-in timer or other instant-on feature.

The biggest culprits are televisions, sound systems and microwave ovens. A typical “instant on” TV will still be consuming 28 watts when it’s turned off. That’s about 20 kilowatts per month, costing you about $1.75. Your microwave or charging station consumes about half as much as the TV.

When you add them all up, it’s fairly common for the average home to spend $10 or more each month on phantom loads. What can you do about it?

Turning the appliance “off” isn’t the answer. You must cut off its source of electricity. The problem is that it’s not often practical to unplug each appliance from the wall outlet when it’s not being used. In fact, electric plugs and outlets aren’t designed for that. The solution is to plug your phantoms into a power strip with a built-in on/off switch. That way a simple switch cuts the power.

Unless you’re a real electric miser, you’ll be glad to pay for some phantom loads. For instance your telephone answering machine. Or the programmable coffee maker that has coffee ready when you get up in the morning (my favorite).

You may find that you’ll put some items on a power strip and decide that the convenience of standby power of other items is worthwhile. The experiment can help you make up your mind.

For those items that you really want the convenience of standby features, look for the Energy Star label when you replace those appliances. Typically Energy Star products have a lower standby usage.

Bottom line: Armed with a little information, you can control which “phantoms” you allow in your home!

See related: A generic budget: Guidelines for spending categories, Filling your car’s tires with nitrogen not worth the added cost, Buying a car? Know the 3 main costs of auto ownership, Don’t be afraid of online coupon services — they save money, too

 

 

What’s up next?

In Expert Q&A

QA with author Susan L. Hirshman

In her book ‘Does This Make My Assets Look Fat?,’ Susan L. Hirshman simplifies often-complicated material into girl-talk terms that any failed dieter can digest

Published: October 27, 2010

See more stories
Credit Card Rate Report Updated: May 23rd, 2019
Business
15.61%
Airline
17.50%
Cash Back
17.60%
Reward
17.62%
Student
17.79%

Questions or comments?

Contact us

Editorial corrections policies

Learn more

Join the Discussion

We encourage an active and insightful conversation among our users. Please help us keep our community civil and respectful. For your safety, do not disclose confidential or personal information such as bank account numbers or social security numbers. Anything you post may be disclosed, published, transmitted or reused.

The editorial content on CreditCards.com is not sponsored by any bank or credit card issuer. The journalists in the editorial department are separate from the company’s business operations. The comments posted below are not provided, reviewed or approved by any company mentioned in our editorial content. Additionally, any companies mentioned in the content do not assume responsibility to ensure that all posts and/or questions are answered.