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Phantom Energy Could Be Costing You Over $300 Per Year

Phantom Energy Could Be Costing You Over $300 Per Year
Jason Wuerch Oct 7, 2015
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If you’re a frequent user of electronics in your home like I am, you’ve probably noticed the high fees that appear on your energy bill. What most people realize is that a lot of these costs come from when these appliances are not in use. Phantom energy is the term that describes energy drained from your outlets when appliances aren’t in use.

What Exactly Is Phantom Energy?

As long as your appliance or electronic device is turned in, it has the potential to continually withdraw electrical energy from your outlets. While this energy won’t be as much as when the device is in use, it still can add up to quite a bit.

The best example of this is your refrigerator. It’s rarely in use, but that constant humming sound that it makes let’s us know that it’s using up at least some type of power to keep your food cold. Most electronics won’t be as obvious in their power consumption since they display “phantom-like” behavior when it comes to draining energy, emitting no sound or light.

Your TV, cable box, game consoles or even our iPhone charger will continue to drain power long after they’re not in use. Let’s not forget all of the other things we might not think of, such as your garage door, dishwasher or your washing machine.

As long as they’re plugged in, your energy use will still be in use, thus increasing your utility bill. How much they actually consume is another question entirely.

How Much Energy & Money Is Wasted Through Phantom Energy?

The Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBL) conducted a survey that showing that the average household contains 40 products that are continually draining power. The devices that are turned off but are continually plugged in take up as much as 10% of energy use, and ever since the study was conducted in 1996, this number has only grown.

The devices that take up the most power are usually ones that use a remote control (TV), a continuous display (alarm clock) or some type of charger. Older devices generally don’t draw as much energy in standby mode since they aren’t expected to do anything. This includes appliances such as dishwashers and washing machines without any digital clocks that use manual dials.


Many newer television sets are expected to meet energy consumption standards and draw in less energy, but it’s always difficult to determine how much energy an appliance is actually draining without a Kill-A-Watt Electric Usage Monitor. These cost around $25, so is it worth it to actually buy one?

Let’s Do An Example

Just to get a basic understanding, each time a device uses 1 watt of energy per day translates into about 9 kilowatt-hours (kWh) per year.

Let’s take the example of a VCR. These are usually left on 24 hours a day with some type of digital clock displayed on the front. On average they drain 13 watts a day. Multiply the two numbers mentioned (9 kWh x 13 watts per day) and we conclude that a VCR uses up about 117 kWh per year.

After researching various costs from different utility companies, I found that on average it costs 11 cents per every kWh used, making the total cost of using your VCR $12.87 per year. Looking at this number, I’m led to the conclusion that it isn’t a great deal of money, even taking into account how frugal I am.

It’s when I calculate the other 20-30 devices that are left on standby in my house that I really start to be concerned. Assuming I had just 20 devices that are constantly plugged-in draining only half of the power consumed by the VCR, I’m still spending around an extra $120 per year.

What if you had 30, 40, or even 50 devices left plugged-in? It can definitely add up, and some devices will drain more power than others. I counted up all of the devices in my house, and I found out that there’s a total of around 70 (I have a lot of housemates). This means I could be spending $300 – $400 per year in phantom energy.

Energy Star estimates that the average household spends a little over $100 per year on this so-called phantom energy. While it may not seem like much, it’s always best to get an accurate reading by using a kill-a-watt energy meter or by unplugging a device when not in use.

I’m very set on saving money, but what I detest is saving money when it eats up a lot of your time. That’s why we’re going to mention a few quick and easy ways to reduce your electric bill without a lot of effort.

If you want to figure out the exact amount of power that your appliances are drawing, Standy Power created a summary table that lists commonly-used devices and their power consumption.

Use Power Strips

I highly recommend plugging in a set of devices into a power strip. This way, when you go to unplug each device, you can simply power off the power strip or unplug it instead of having to unplug each one individually. Power strips are designed not to draw any power when not in use. You can even get one for as little as $6 on Amazon.

For those wanting to be lazier yet willing to spend a bit more, there also exist smart power strips that can set a “master device,” in which power is automatically shut off to peripheral devices not in use (e.g. speakers, keyboard, monitor etc.) while still giving power to your master device (e.g. computer).

Of course certain devices need to be left on, such as your refrigerator, but the least you can do is turn off the ones that are most obvious. Usually this includes ones that having some type of light or digital clock display.

Final Thoughts

Overall, you’re not going to save a lot of money by unplugging devices not in use, but it could cut your energy bill by as much as 10 – 15% without a lot of work. I highly recommend using power strips so that you can unplug and plug back in a set of devices all at once without having to do so individually.

Are there any devices that you’ve noticed that use up phantom energy that aren’t so common? Let us know in the comments below so that we can unplug them too. Thanks for reading and happy frugaling!

Jason Wuerch

My name is Jason Wuerch and I'm currently located in Madrid, Spain running a personal finance blog called Frugal For Less. My goal is to help everyone and anyone willing to make and save money through easy and simple ways that don't require much effort. Just because you're frugal doesn't mean you have to give up life's luxuries.

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