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Vampire Loads or Phantom Loads. How Much Do They Cost Us?

Vampire electrical loads or phantom loads waste energy. These silent thieves also known as standby power or phantom loads and refer to devices that continue to draw power when supposedly "off".  One recent study showed that vampire loads or phantom loads account for approximately 7% of the electricity used in the U.S. or Sixty four million megawatt hours, costing over three billion dollars worth of energy.

Why do we have phantom electrical loads?

The reason many appliances still draw power when "off", is because we have grown accustomed to having electronic devices such as our televisions startup immediately, or respond to the push of a remote control button. For this to happen so quickly, circuitry in the appliance must be "listening" all the time for a remote control signal.  It can put money into your wallet to simply put these devices on a power strip with an "on - off" button, and be a little more patient in letting them start up. As for the remote, everyone could use the exercise gained by getting up to turn on a power strip before a TV watching session.

There are many other devices in our homes that create standby power loads. Appliances in your kitchen, such as mixers and bread makers may contain electronics that continue to draw energy when supposedly off..

This quote is from the U.S. Department of Energy...

"Many appliances continue to draw a small amount of power when they are switched off. These "phantom" loads occur in most appliances that use electricity, such as VCRs, televisions, stereos, computers, and kitchen appliances. In the average home, 75% of the electricity used to power home electronics is consumed while the products are turned off. This can be avoided by unplugging the appliance or using a power strip and using the switch on the power strip to cut all power to the appliance."

Wow! Seventy five percent of the power used by our home electronics is used when they are off.

How To Identify Phantom Loads Around The Home

The first step in getting rid of phantom electrical loads is to determine which appliances in your home are drawing power when they are off.   One way to find vampire or phantom loads is to use a device

that reads the amount of wattage an appliance is drawing. The  Kill A Watt power meter  is one such device. The Kill A Watt measures voltage, hertz, amps drawn, watts used and kilowatt hours used. To use it you simply plug the suspected energy wastign appliance into the Kill A Watt, leave it connected for about a minute and read the display. When you press the "watts" button, you will see how many watts the appliance is drawing. The "kilowatt hours" button will tell you how many kilowatt hours the device is using. Multiply the kilowatt hours displayed by your hourly rate (mine is 12 cents) and you will know how much the device is costing per hour to leave plugged in. The longer you leave the device plugged in the more accurate the kilowatt hours reading. It may take a couple of minutes for low wattage devices such as cell phone chargers to register on the Kill A Watt.   

    Kill A Watt power meters are now being rented for free by some city libraries, such as in Austin, Texas.

 If you find that an appliance or other device is using more than a watt or two, you should do something about it.

How To Eliminate Phantom Loads Forever and Save Electricity      

The best way to get rid of these loads, save energy, and still have the appliance ready for use is to put it on a power strip with a switch. Power strips can be purchased  for less than $10 at your local discount or hardware store, and that money will quickly be repaid, especially when used on energy hogs such as satellite TV receivers and cable boxes. You can save as much as $400 per year on your electricity bill by getting rid of phantom loads, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

Smart strips are another great way to eliminate phantom loads in your home office. A smart strip senses when the computer or TV is on or off. It shuts off things such as DVD players and printers, which can draw up to thirty watts when off.  Most smart strips feature at least a couple of plugs that always remain always on, for things such as WiFi routers. A smart strip's other plugs will automatically turn off when you power down your TV or computer, eliminating any phantom load caused by those devices. In addition, smart strips provide the same surge protection that a regular surge suppressor does, with up to 2875 joules of protection for devices such as flat screen TV's and computers.

Smart strips run anywhere from $30 to $40 in price, but can pay for themselves in less than a year, depending on the number of computer peripherals, etc, that you have.

Another method that is slightly less effective,  but still saves energy is to put certain devices that create phantom loads on a timer. You can put a timer on your entertainment center for example, so that it shuts all of the devices such as your TV, VCR, Cable Box, etc., during  certain hours, such as midnight to five in the morning. Digital timers which feature an internal battery backup to keep the clock straight, cost around $20. Most timers have an override button you can push if for some reason you are up at those hours and want to watch TV.

Timers such as these work very well on other loads, such as garden fountains or bug killers, which don't need to be on during the wee hours of the morning or when you are at work. (Most pool pumps can be put on a timer so that they work less but still deliver the same cleaning results.)

Other Phantom Loads You May Just Have To Live With

There are some phantom loads that you can get rid of, others you may just have to live with. You can easily unplug phone and other chargers when not in use and save a few bucks per year on your electricity bill.   Chargers typically draw from one to ten watts of electric power and it is therefore worth unplugging them.   Other phantoms that you may be unaware of include wired smoke detectors, thermostats, alarm systems, stove clocks, washers and dryers and motion lights.  These you just have to ignore for safety's sake but they are the reason your meter still slowly spins when you have everything else in the house unplugged.

Saving energy makes sense for the planet and for your wallet in these tough economic times, so hunt down those vampire loads and kill them one at a time!

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