Eco Friendly Home Maintenance

Published on May 6th, 2014 | by Peter Young


Checking for Phantom Loads Using a Watt-Meter


Eliminating phantom loads (vampire power) from your home is a great way to save money on your monthly utilities. What’s a phantom load? A phantom load is the amount of energy your electronic devices will use when they’re plugged in, but not turned on. That’s right, many electronic devices (especially older ones) will actively draw a small amount of power when they’re plugged in but not turned on, and while it may not be a significant amount initially, overtime it can cost you. Detecting these phantom loads is easy to do and doesn’t require any special training. Just follow these easy steps to start saving today:

Tools you’ll need:

  • Watt-Meter of some sort
  • (potentially) smart strips and power strips

Instructions: how to check for phantom loads

1. Unplug your appliance (TV, Stereo, DVD Player etc.) Then plug the appliance into the watt-meter.

2. Plug the watt-meter into the wall, with the appliance plugged into it. If your watt-meter is displaying any energy used, you’ve located a phantom load. This will be true of most older appliances. However, with new energy efficiency standards in place many appliances, especially ENERGY Star models, will register little to no phantom loads.

3. Repeat this process for all of the appliances in your home. Reducing or eliminating phantom loads can add up to significant monthly savings. For example, most DVR’s use more energy than your refrigerator!

4. Assess the situation and potentially just leave things unplugged. In many cases, residents don’t know their appliances and gadgets are wasting power when plugged in. If it’s something that’s not used often, simply unplug it and let the person plug it in when they need it. In cases like coffeemakers, toaster ovens, microwaves and the like, it’s simple enough to unplug and replug things in when needed.

5. Otherwise, place items with phantom loads onto a power strip or a smart strip. This way you can control when your appliances draw power, and, according to the manufacturers of some smart strips, save ~$40 per year! If using a power strip, simply turn the power strip on to use your appliance, and once you’re done be sure to turn it off. If you’re using a smart strip, use the “hot” outlets for anything that absolutely needs to stay on 24/7, the “control” outlet for anything that is a master device (like a TV), and the “switched” outlets for anything that only needs to be on when a master device is on (like a DVD player or speakers for your TV). The smart strip will stop vampire power and also help minimize the chance you’ll forget to turn off the DVD player after watching a movie and flipping off the TV.

Proper use of a smart strip

If you’re looking for more ways to save energy around your home, try installing a water efficient shower head or flow valve. Both devices will help to reduce the amount of heated water used during your shower, thus you’ll save on both your water and electricity bills!

Be sure to check out some of our other green home improvement projects: Green Living Ideas, after all, is a top 20 home improvement website!

Photos courtesy of SLO County and Shutterstock.

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About the Author

graduated from Pacific Lutheran University (PLU) with a degree in journalism and has made sustainability and eco-conscious living mainstays of both his professional and personal life. It was during his time at PLU that he began his journey with sustainability and it's what has led him to writing for Green Living Ideas. He currently resides in Honolulu and works for Pono Home, an energy efficiency company focused on reducing carbon emissions and promoting a healthier, greener lifestyle.

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