Get Rid Of "Phantom Power Usage" In Your Home

Trent at is on a mission to cut the extra fat from his budget, and he’s found that one step is to reduce the amount of unused power that goes into his home. Everything you leave plugged in continues to draw a small amount of power, and although the cost for these small drains is minimal on a per-item basis, they can add up faster than you think.

Whenever you leave a device plugged into a wall socket, it continues to constantly draw a small amount of energy, without cease. Usually, this is on the order of 1 to 5 watts, which means that it would take 200 to 1,000 hours for a single device to even use a single kilowatt hour, which costs $0.10.

Let’s say you can find fifteen such devices in your house, and they use an average of 3 watts. That’s 45 watts around the clock – more than a kilowatt hour each day. Three bucks, every single month, without fail, and that’s assuming your devices are minimally draining. For example, my laptop charger uses 30-40 watts all the time when it’s plugged in.

One option is to just unplug things when you’re not using them (provided you don’t need them to remain on in the background, obviously). Another is to use power strips or—what Trent recommends—a $40 SmartStrip that lets you assign one device as a “switch” to cut the power to other devices—for example, your computer tower can serve as the master switch for all your peripherals.

You won’t double your retirement savings or anything with this, but—like fixing leaky faucets, using CFL bulbs, and making sure your home is properly insulated—it will help reduce the unnecessary expenses that nick away at your finances.

“The One Hour Project: Kill The Electricity Phantom” []

“The One Hour Project: Making Your Home More Energy Efficient” []
(Photo: Getty)


Edit Your Comment

  1. Skiffer says:

    Let’s assume a $40 SmartStrip has 8 outlets on it – using the math from the example, that would result in a savings of $1.50/month and take over 2 years to re-coup the original $40…

    I’ve got better things to do with my $40…like build my own lunar lander, with blackjack and hookers. In fact, forget the lunar lander…and the blackjack.

  2. cyberdog says:

    Yeah… I could use the $40 for the doctors appointment to get rid of whatever the hooker gave me after you got done with her… ROFLMAO!!

  3. k4_pacific says:

    Not everything. This is only true for items with the power switch on
    the secondary side of a transformer such as newer TVs, anything with a
    wall wart, computers, etc. Things like most lamps, older electronics,
    power tools, and certain appliances really are using no power when they
    are off.

  4. Bryan Price says:

    So I’m supposed to reset the time on my VCR/DVD recorder all the time? Like I even know how?

    And I’m supposed to turn off my computer when I’m not using it? Like when I stop downloading some shows, and my kids want some music off it whenever they want?

    I’d do better kicking my kids’ a$$es when they leave their lights on, when they stop leaving windows and doors to air condition the outside.

  5. Consumerist Moderator - ACAMBRAS says:

    Energy efficiency + hooker reference = OK
    Hooker reference only = eh, not so much

    Skiffer’s comment at least addressed the topic at hand before the hooker reference. Yours, on the other hand, is completely off-topic and landed a complaint in my mailbox.

    So let’s elevate the level of discourse, ok? Now go take your penicilin.

  6. cmac says:

    I have to admit, I was a bit skeptical too…until I tried it. I never thought I “wasted” electricity until I started paying attention. Yeah, I added CFLs, turned down the water heater, etc. My electricity bill is down about 10-15% despite higher energy costs. I’m saving over $200/yr for a small amount of effort and no lifestyle difference. Paying attention to my microwave, laptops, cell phone, stereo, modem, and router further dropped my bill compared to years’ past. I was shocked.

  7. CapitalC says:

    Aren’t we wasting more energy by being online?

    Oh, and if anyone makes reference to “Blackle”, you can go stuff yourself – it’s BS.

  8. zolielo says:

    I just trip most breakers / fuses to areas I do not use or all of them if I am not home. UPS on all higher end electronics to save the settings.

  9. Hexum2600 says:

    I actually try not to use lights when I can help it… I always leave at least two computers on doing stuff during the day, so I make up for it in almost never using air conditioning or heat ( I like it very cold, and can tolerate it happily up to around 90), so my electricity bill in my last townhouse (two stories) was about $40 / month with the two pcs on all the time.

    Oh! Gas stove. Electric water heater turned waaaaay down, but gas stove.

  10. faust1200 says:

    Electric water heaters are like a money siphon.

  11. FLConsumer says:

    It may “only” be a few watts per device, but it adds up quickly. As a ballpark figure (pretty accurate for my electrical rates), every watt used 24/7/365 = $1 in electricity for the year. My cable box draws 60 watts whether it’s on or off…so you bet your ass that thing’s on a power strip. TV’s 25 watts, DVD player sips 8 watts when off…all on a power strip.

    Those who leave their computers running 24/7 (I do) might as well be throwing money out the window. My computer ends up costing me about $1.15/day to run. Doesn’t sound all THAT bad, except for that’s $419 of electricity a year it uses.

    With the cooler temperatures this week, my computer was responsible for 61% of my electrical usage… and I live in Florida, 100% electric everything (including hot water). Kinda sad. Even with the AC & dehumidifier running, the PC was still responsible for that much. ONE PC, not a ‘farm of ’em.

  12. doctor_cos wants you to remain calm says:

    Some of the newer TVs (I think Samsung and Mitsubishi) have a ‘power save’ feature which shuts down more of the idle circuitry in the TV when it’s “OFF.” The manuals do tell you that the TV will take longer to turn on.
    Of course, if we did turn “OFF” our TV’s, DVD players, stereos, then we’d have to get up off our fat butts and WALK over to turn them back on, thereby reducing the ‘fat’ trend, which you may or may not like. :)

  13. jeffjohnvol says:


    Not necessarily. Electric water heaters are better than gas in many places (depending on your cost of electricity (6.5 cents/kwh here) and the ever rising price of gas.) Not to mention if you have a gas water heater over 5 years old, electric would cost less. I have a cabin in TN, with a big propane tank. I put a propane water heater in it, but I basically screwed myself because electric would have been cheaper. It’d cost 500 to convert back though, too long to get my money out of it. I’ll know better next time.

  14. jeffjohnvol says:

    One of the best savings you can do is get a solar water heater. That saves tons of energy and has a quick payoff. Even a simple pre-heater (black tank in attic during summer) will save $100 a year.

  15. bohemian says:

    Kids are a significant energy drain. Mine open windows at night while the AC is on, leave lights on all over the house and computers on for no reason.

    Moving into a house with enough well placed windows to enable you to see by the daylight helps too. We don’t have to run lights during the day.

    We bought a bunch of these LED night lights and put them in strategic areas of the house. They also have light sensors and only come on when it is dark. You can see to move through unlit portions of the house at night so your not turning on lights as you go from one room to another.

  16. digitalgimpus says:

    This isn’t really cost saving, or even efficient.

    If you spent the same time/money and replaced just 1 light with an energy efficient light, you’d save more power and cash than bothering to do this.

    Technically you would save money by storing your food outside in the winter rather than use your own freezer. That said, is it really worthwhile venture to store your food in a cage (to keep animals away)? No not really. Do people actually do this? Yea, sadly. They might be wasting more energy/money by opening the door and letting all the cold air in their home though.

  17. tozmervo says:

    @Skiffer: great zombie jesus! a futurama ref!

    As to power strips – just be smart about what you group together. My TV and Stereo are on my “always on” strip, which only goes off when I’m gone for long periods of time. The rest of my entertainment stuff (wii, dvd, etc) is on another one that I only turn on when I need it. I have a similar setup on my computer equipment. Modem and wireless on the “always on,” printer, external harddrive, etc on the other. It only comes on when I actually need one of those devices.

  18. Myron says:

    “Everything you leave plugged in continues to draw a small amount of power”

    I don’t think so sport. We respect the laws of physics in my house.

  19. bluesunburn says:

    I use compact fluorescent lightbulbs for a few fixtures (bathroom and a few lamps), but I don’t like the quality of the light enough to use them for the main light source in a room that I’m spending a large amount of time in.

  20. @tozmervo:
    I didn’t think this was a practical idea until you suggested having two sets of strips for each grouping. Because while I think this is a great idea to cut down on energy usage, how would my DVR record stuff when I am not around if I unplug when I’m gone? Doesn’t that defeat the purpose?

  21. Rupan says:

    I have converted most of the bulbs (I have a couple of fixtures they wont fit in) in my house over to CFL. So far it has helped a little. I have done it gradually over the last couple of months though so I wont really start seeing the difference in my bill until this month.

    Putting my entertainment center on a strip is impractical. It is positioned in such a way that I would have to move everything out of the way to turn it off and on. A huge hassle. I dont have a desktop PC (just a laptop) but I do keep the external monitor and printer on a power strip. Those are easy to turn off and on.

  22. Jim says:

    In my parents old home – almost every room had a receptacle controlled by a wall switch. This seems like the ideal solution. Next house we build I will add this in certain rooms – office, garage, kids room, etc. It would be much easier than crawling under a desk to turn on a powerstrip.

    Another option would be to plug your powerstrip into a time. During the hours you are at work – power down.

  23. suburbancowboy says:

    I know my Cable box is eating a lot of power when it is off. It stays hot all of the time. I would love to be able to just power it down. However, if the box loses power even for a few seconds, you have to wait at least 5 minutes for the thing to reboot.
    Scientific Atlanta boxes are garbage.
    There is no way I am going to wait 5 minutes every time I want to watch TV.

  24. mac-phisto says:

    to me, this is just like hypermiling – at the end of the day, the cost/benefit doesn’t really equate, but if you need a release for your OCD, all the power to ya.

    there’s much better methods to reducing your energy consumption that should be visited first. most of the previous posts covered the good ones. one i haven’t seen yet though – FRIDGES (or other major appliances that run constantly). a single refrigerator can use $20-30 worth of power/month (depending on age, size, etc.). if you have one in the basement that you use for “grocery overflow”, that sucker could be costing you $250/yr or more. is costco really saving you that much on chicken breasts? consolidate to one fridge & if it’s on its last legs, replacing it will pay for itself in a few years.

  25. bbbici says:

    morons: it is not about cost savings– IT IS THE RIGHT THING TO DO FOR THE ENVIRONMENT.

    And it is irrelevant that there are also other things you can do to save just as much energy– DO ALL OF THEM.

    RUPAN: ever hear of an extension cord?

    Man, there seems to be a case of idiocy in these ranks this morning.

  26. rdm24 says:

    A smart strip might be an expensive solution, but unplugging the things yourself is free.

    And if you can’t bring yourself to do it every single time, how about when you go away on vacation?

    And there are many indirect cost-savings not factored in here. If every person in LA unplugged their TV (or, more accurately, TVs) when not in use, we could probably avoid all those rolling blackouts.

  27. Consumerist Moderator - ACAMBRAS says:


    You’ve made some good points about the environment, but there’s no need for name-calling.

  28. @Skiffer: “Let’s assume a $40 SmartStrip has 8 outlets on it – using the math from the example, that would result in a savings of $1.50/month and take over 2 years to re-coup the original $40”

    We bought two smart strips and recouped in under 6 months. We plugged in the computer/peripherals array and the television and all its little friends. Several of our electronics are older and not energy star, so we probably recouped a little faster than people with newer toys.

    @Bryan Price: “So I’m supposed to reset the time on my VCR/DVD recorder all the time? Like I even know how?”

    The Smart Strips have “always hot” outlets so you can plug things you DON’T want shutting off into those. (They’re even color-coded!) For instance, in my office, all the computer’s peripherals are controlled by the computer (when it goes into sleep mode, they can’t draw phantom power), but the desk lamp is in an “always hot” outlet so I don’t have to turn on the computer to turn on the lamp. Similarly, our TiVo is “always hot” so it can do its TiVo-y job. As for the clock on the VCR/DVD, we just ignore it.

    “And I’m supposed to turn off my computer when I’m not using it? Like when I stop downloading some shows, and my kids want some music off it whenever they want?”

    You don’t turn it off; when it goes into standby mode, that tells the smart strip that since the control appliance is drawing less than X watts, none of the subordinate appliances can draw their phantom power. The computer (or TV or whatever) still draws its phantom power, but it’s much less. I just have my computer set to a relatively short idling period before standby and I’ve had no inconvenience.

    We adore our Smart Strips. They’ve made a noticeable difference in our electricity bill, which is important with Ameren screwing us as often as possible. I’m seriously going to give them as housewarming gifts to new college grads!

  29. @Skiffer: oh, PS, my Smart Strips have 10 outlets each and they have a few spaced out (lovely!) for those big ugly transformer plugs that cover three outlets on a normal strip and cause so much aggravation. But the Smart Strips do come in a few different configurations with different #s of plugs. The $40 one (and we bought on sale and paid less than that), though, has 10. Plus fax/modem plugs.

    And it does do a good job surge protecting, I can tell you from several storms.

  30. pestie says:

    @rdm24: You know rolling blackouts in California were the result of utility deregulation, right? And the one year where they were big news, that was pretty much all Enron’s doing.

  31. jeffjohnvol says:


    Does your house follow the laws of electromagnetism?

    Unless you have a switch to your device (like light switch or power strip button) it DOES draw power sport. It runs through a transformer unless something breaks the circuit. These are even inside the DVD players, cable boxes etc. They may not draw as much power when not fully on, but they do draw some power. Just like the wallwarts on your wall. Do you think they stay warm because of some secret force?

    Go home and feel if there’s any heat on your VCR when its off.

    I save power to save money. CO2 hysteria is just for the people who worship Algore’s nonesense. BTW, did you know that H20 is a greenhouse gas with the same spectrum properties of CO2?

  32. thepounder says:

    Quite a few high-minded jackasses on here today. This hysteria over “I’m saving the environment” is just hogwash and you know it as well as I do. This is all about saving money… that’s all.

    Unplug your stuff if you want to, and if you don’t then don’t bother… it’s hurting exactly nobody either way. If you think I’m “destroying the environment” by not unplugging everything in my house each time I leave for the day, please stick a finger in a light socket and waste a touch of electricity on yourself. wah

  33. Myron says:

    @jeffjohnvol: What current is a lamp drawing when not in use? A fan? A toaster?

    The statemement “Everything you leave plugged in continues to draw a small amount of power” is patently false, sport.

  34. jeffjohnvol says:


    Reread my post. Lamps, fans and toasters have a switching mechanism. Any electronics that uses DC current would use it, unless switched.

  35. lockdog says:

    @jeffjohnvol: It’s worth pointing out that that switch in the wall will actually need to be a switch to really kill the current. Those fancy dimmers, the touch pads and the switches with little lights in them all leak a little or draw some current on their own. I miss the old timey switches that made a “hear it three rooms away” audible *click*. Like my Model M keyboard, the tactile sensation is awesome.

  36. aniaksdh says:

    I live in rural Alaska, where electricity is over 50 cents a kW, so the power strip with switch is extremely valuable. I’ve always known that a transformer (plug end of a video game system, recharger, calculator, etc.) stays hot 24/7, so it’s drawing a lot of juice. I just ordered a Kill-a-Watt to determine just how much something like the office calculator is sipping.

  37. Steverenos says:

    Is this all about the global warming religion or about saving money because it is the prudent thing to do. If solar wasn’t so expensive to install, I’d love to install it and get paid back from the utility company. Waiting 20-40 yrs is a long time to break even.

  38. Steverenos says:

    As for the CFL bulbs – those are great for the environment right? What about the mercury and calling hazmat if you break one? At least I’ll feel good about having them in my home when the grandkids come over and topple a lamp! Why can’t we just be sensible about or consumtion and build more refineries and nuclear power plants. Hold the government accountable.