Phantom Load

You probably didn’t even know you had a phantom load, but you do, and ignoring it can cost you money. A phantom load is the energy equivalent of a leaky faucet. Household electronics and small appliances you think are turned off may actually still be using small amounts of electricity. And if you’ve got a house full of these draining phantoms, it can add up quickly.


Today we have more small-sized and medium-sized appliances than ever before, and many of these are never really completely off. They use some amount of electricity all the time. For example, if the television has a remote, then part of the TV is always on and waiting for a signal from the remote. If there is a clock on the microwave, then the microwave is always using some electricity. Experts call this usage “standby consumption,” “phantom load” or “leaking electricity.” Whatever you call it, once you realize how much it is costing you, you’ll want to stop the energy leaks throughout your home.

Get the facts about phantom load

  • In the average home, more than 50 percent of the electricity used to power electronics is consumed while the devices are turned off.
  • In the United States alone, phantom load costs consumers more than $3 billion a year. That is equal to the output of several full-size power plants.
  • Each load may range from just a few watts to over 20 watts.
  • Standby consumption, or phantom load, use to account for only one percent of a home’s energy bill. Today, it’s more like 10 percent and growing.

Find out where your home’s phantom loads are lurking

  • Phone and other portable device chargers constantly draw some power
  • Devices with digital clocks
  • Entertainment devices, like TVs, DVRs, VCRs, Blu-rays, CD players, radios
  • Office equipment such as computers, computer displays, printers, scanners, fax machines, copiers
  • Digital picture frames, projectors
  • Personal electric heaters
  • Desktop and floor lamps
  • Coffee makers
  • Toaster ovens

Check and unplug any equipment or appliances that are not in use (turning off may not be enough; some appliances draw phantom loads, even when off) or use a power strip and switch the entire strip off to cut all power to the appliance. There are even power strips that allow you to turn off most of your electronics while leaving others on.  

Advanced Power Strips

When you reduce your phantom load, you save money every day because you’ve reduced the minimum level of energy (base load) your home uses every day. But what if you regularly forget to turn off your power strips? Then you’re not getting rid of your phantom load, right? Consider purchasing an Advanced Power Strip. These “smart” power strips cost more than the regular ones, but they shut-off automatically. Need help picking a power strip that's just right for you?
Download an infographic from the U.S. Department of Energy (PDF).

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