Many gadgets, electronic devices and appliances in your home consume electricity even when they appear to be off.   These devices contribute to the energy-wasting phenomenon called “phantom power,” or vampire energy. Simply put, this is the power that is used when electronic devices draw energy from the grid into your home just by being plugged in, when you aren’t looking and you aren’t using them.

The most likely culprits are appliances that can be operated with a remote control, or have power clocks or timers with miscellaneous LED status lights.  Common phantom energy wasters include TVs, microwave clocks, DVD displays, telephones, and computer peripherals.  The vampire power is consumed by power supplies (the black cubes—sometimes called “wall warts”—converting AC into DC) which have two teeth (the plugs) and “suck” electricity all day and night.

Phantom energy can account for about 10 percent of a residential home’s electricity use. It might not sound like much, until you consider that eliminating that 10 percent is like getting over a month of free electricity every year! Phantom loads add up to a huge waste of electricity in the U.S. that costs consumers more than a billion dollars per year and many billions of kilowatt hours of increasingly precious electricity.  The total phantom load in most American homes varies from 1.5 to 4 kilowatt-hours per day, or several dollars per month for most families.

One way you can eliminate phantom loads from devices like TVs, stereos, DVD players and computer externals like printers is by plugging them into a power strip that is equipped with its own power switch.  Simply switch the power strip on and off when you need to use the appliance.  Note that any appliance that has a cube-shaped transformer (cell phone chargers, laptop power cords, ect.) on the end of its cord is creating a phantom load.  That’s why these transformers feel warm even when the device is off.

Consumers can benefit from low-consumption appliances by always looking for the Energy Star® label when buying appliances.  When buying new electronics, check for low “stand-by” energy use; most Energy Star® rated appliances have the lowest standby levels.

Many new technologies can improve the efficiency of power supplies, manage power use more carefully, and limit power use of displays. Experts believe that it is technically feasible to reduce standby power by 75 percent overall. Most savings will be less than a watt, but other cases could be as large as 10 watts.

By keeping phantom power levels low and unplugging devices when not in use, home owners can really make a dent in their utility bills and improve energy conservation levels.