Phantom Loads and the 5 Worst Offenders

Aleksandar Cvetanovic

The term “phantom load” sounds scary, and for good reason. Phantom electric loads can run up your energy bill and cost you tons of money every year. Phantom loads are easy to fix but can be hard to spot. Here’s what you need to know about an easy way to save money on your electric bills.

Phantom Loads Explained

Phantom loads – also called standby power, vampire power, or vampire loads – are the electricity that appliances used when they’re turned off. According to scientists at the Department of Energy, about half of all common household appliances sap power while turned off. Those phantom loads account for roughly a quarter of an average family’s energy usage in a year. 

What makes phantom loads so dangerous is that many people don’t know they exist, or the extent that they consume energy. Modern appliances are almost always online, even things like TVs and fridges. This change has largely created harmful phantom loads, but there are ways to solve the issue.

Costs and Solutions

Berkeley Lab, an offshoot of the Department of Energy, created a helpful table to show how much energy various appliances use while turned off. Here you can get a sense of the total impact of phantom loads on your home, and you’ll probably be surprised at what you find. For instance, even a phone charger plugged in but not in use can consume as much as 1 watt. While that’s not a significant power drain, think of how many chargers you may have sitting in outlets 24/7, and consider how that power adds up over time.

Phantom loads vary between households, but on average they cost families $100 each year. Luckily, even knowing about this issue is half the battle. In fact, the solutions are pretty simple. Even just unplugging appliances as opposed to leaving them off but plugged in can save you money. To be even more efficient, you can buy a power strip, consolidate your appliances, and shut off the strip whenever the appliances aren’t in use.

Once you’re armed with info on how to beat phantom loads, the fix is easy!

The Worst Offenders

1. Computers: Desktop computers, combined with modems, sap serious energy while in sleep mode, and still drain power while off. Cutting out phantom loads from computers can save roughly $10 annually on average.

2. Video Game Consoles: Each video game console you own can end up sapping a few dollars each year through phantom energy use. No one console alone will present a significant impact on your bill, but if you own a Nintendo Switch, Xbox, and PlayStation, suddenly your costs will begin to add up.

3. DVRs and Cable Boxes: Your TV isn’t perfect when it comes to phantom loads, but alone it’s not a serious offender. Your cable box and DVR (if you have one) are likely where the biggest energy drain comes from. The average phantom load of a DVR alone costs about $30 per year, while your cable box and TV contribute roughly $10 each.

4. Printers: The older your printer is, the less you need to worry about it. However, newer multi-function home printers can drain significant energy, and waste as much as $10 annually on your power bill. 

5. Garage Door Openers: Although garage door openers do not use as much phantom power as the others on this list, many people may not realize it has an impact at all. Over the course of a year, a garage door opener will likely cost you a few bucks from its phantom load.