Fight Back Against Vampire Power

Can we afford to spend $19 billion a year on idling appliances?

We’ve all been there: You’re late for work, you rip your laptop off its charger, and you come home to find the charger still warm where you left it, a tiny, unintentional space heater running next to the AC. Your charger is hot because it’s a monster, a vampire-cum-lamprey sucking energy from the grid and money from your bank account. A recent report by the National Resource Defense Council states that vampire power is costing Americans $19 billion a year. On average, that amounts to $165 per household annually. Altogether, the amount of energy wasted is equivalent to that produced by 50 large power plants.

Vampire energy — also known as phantom load, wall warts, phantom power, ghost load, and a multitude of equally ominous terms — refers to the electricity that appliances use, even when they’re turned off. The phone and laptop chargers we leave plugged in are obvious culprits, as are our constantly running internet networks, but pretty much anything with a digital component is idly using power. Today, that includes almost every appliance in your home: The stove with its digital timer, the inexplicably complicated ice maker , even that fancy European-seeming espresso machine.

The US Department of Energy, however, singles out two major offenders, both dear to our hearts: the cable box and video game console. On average, a cable box with DVR capabilities can rack up costs up to $43.46 a year, even when it’s just idling. And we’re all familiar with how long those Xbox One updates take to install after a reboot — it’s so much easier to just pause Fallout 4 and leave it running. Unfortunately, by the DOE’s estimates, those few minutes could be costing you up to $100 a year.

Until we can pressure manufacturers to design their appliances to minimize idle energy (and we should BTW) we’ve got to deal with these costs on our own. There are simple ways to get around them, and they just take a bit of extra effort. The obvious way to avoid feeding your energy vampires is to simply unplug them; because this can get tedious, given the number of devices we’re dependent on, the DOE suggests using power strips, which toggle power on and off to multiple devices at once. If you’re really dedicated, WattStopper/Legrand’s Isolé power strip has eight outlets, six of which are controlled by a motion sensor that shuts off power when no one’s around. With video games, simply save your game and power down — thankfully, new-generation consoles have much faster reboot times, so waiting won’t be as much of an issue. 

It’s impractical to think we can fight vampire power entirely, but by the NRDC’s estimates, if all homes reduced current idle energy usage to the level that 25% of homes already achieve, it would save Americans $8 billion on utilities as well as cut carbon dioxide emissions from residential areas by 4.6%.

Ready to put up a fight? The NRDC has put together a handy action guide to find the biggest perpetrators in your home.

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