Phantom/Standby Energy Use by Home Electronics and Appliances

Reviewed and Revised on 11/04/2013

Power Buttong

Consumer electronics and appliances amount to about 15% of a home’s utility usage. Did you know these modern conveniences can cost you a lot of money even when they are turned off, but still plugged in?


Today an average American home is brimming with consumer electronics and appliances- televisions, DVD players, stereos, kitchen gadgets, etc. Most of the times these appliances stay plugged in, and are just turned off (but not unplugged) when not in use by a homeowner. They draw power however because they are not unplugged. The power so drawn is called “phantom,” “vampire,” “leaking energy,” or “standby” energy use. Products with clock displays, remote controls, and other features also draw phantom power 24 hours a day when plugged in. A simple way to figure out if your appliance is drawing power is to touch the plug (transformer). If warm to the touch, it is drawing power. The amount of power drawn by an individual product may not be much (a few watts to up to 40 watts), but since a typical American home could have about such 40 products which draw phantom power, cumulatively they call can be responsible for up  to 10% of the power bill.

Here are several ways to reduce the phantom energy consumption of appliances:

  • Use a high quality power strip as a central power supply for clusters of computer, video (TV, DVD, video games, etc.), or audio products (receivers, amplifiers, etc.), so everything can be switched off with one action when the equipment is not in use. Do not overload a circuit with too many items plugged in, as it is dangerous. Most circuits in a home are 15 AMPs, but only use 75%, which is about 11 AMPs. Look at the amount of AMPs that each item uses. Heating products use more AMPs than the products. Contact an electrician or your local utility company if you need more information about AMPs.

Photo of power strip

  • Sometimes it is not possible or convenient to keep on turning off the power strip when the plugged in appliances are not in use, say at work when stepping out for a few minutes, thinking of a problem or discussing something with a colleague etc. In such situations Smart Power strips can be very useful to help turn off the plugged in equipment. Smart Power strips are of three kinds-  timer equipped, occupancy sensing and current sensing (Energy Star, 2013). 
    • Timer Equipped: As the name suggests the power outlets of these strips are controlled by programmable timers. One can set times of day or night when one would like the plugged in devices to be automatically turned on/off.
    • Occupancy Sensing: The power outlets in these strips are sensitive to motion. The plugged in devices automatically gets turned off in response to motion sensed after a certain period of elapsed time.
    • Current Sensing: These strips have a master power outlet and rest of the outlets are controlled by this outlet. Depending upon if the device plugged in master outlet is turned on or off the other devices get automatically turned on or off. For e.g. if the computer plugged in the master outlet is turned off, the printer or scanner plugged in controlled outlets automatically get turned off.
  • Unplug chargers for cell phones and power supplies (the black cubes that convert AC power to DC) when the equipment is fully charged or not in use.
  • Enable power management features on your computer, monitor, and other office equipment.
  • Avoid using a screen saver on your computer’s monitor; allow the monitor to switch to “Sleep” mode, “Power-down” function, or turn it off when it’s not in use.


Energy Star. (2013). More IT Energy Saving Tips. Retrieved on November 05, 2013, from