Introduction and Context
We have grown so reliant upon our home electronics that we hardly notice them anymore. In the US, we take it for granted that most homes have several televisions and computers. Each of these main devices is often paired with its own set of support equipment: speakers, printers, displays, cable box, DVRs. The list goes on. Oh, and then there are all the independent small, battery-powered devices: coffee makers, vacuums, tools. And of course, our tablets and phones – which often have multiple chargers plugged in all around the house “just in case” we need them. However, we might be surprised to learn that these devices consume far more power than we imagine. Worse, these devices drain electricity from our homes even when not in use. Together, this drain — much of which we can avoid — has a great name: Vampire Load (also known as Phantom Load).
Upon close examination, you can sense this load. Maybe a device will hum or chirp. Or perhaps it will be warm to the touch. Regardless, we pay money for these devices to remain in perpetual standby mode.
How much do we pay for these Vampire Loads? And how can we avoid them? Keep reading!
But First: A Little Easy Math
To understand the magnitude of these vampire loads, we need to appreciate that power (the instant flow of electricity – or electrical energy) is measured in watts (W). Most of us are familiar with a 60W bulb (hopefully more often replaced with a 9W LED!). If that bulb operates 24/7 for a full year, it consumes 60 watts x 24 x 365 = 525,600 watt-hours of energy. Because this number is large, we prefer to quantify in kilowatt-hours (kWh), in this case 525.6 kWh. On average, we pay about $0.12 per kWh in the US. At this flat rate, that 60W bulb would cost us $63.07 for our year’s non-stop use.
Of course, most of us would NEVER leave the light on all the time! Particularly since a typical incandescent light bulb would only last 1,000 to 1,500 hours before burning out! But, effectively, that continuous use is EXACTLY what we do with respect to vampire loads.
What the Math Means for Vampire Loads
Think about all the watts required to heat up those chargers and other devices in our homes. On average, these loads account for less than 5 W each. But together, they add up! Especially if you look at big loads like a DVR (23-49 W), digital cable boxes (13-30 W), and televisions (0-22 W). The graphic below from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory helps illustrate these loads and others.
Since on average, each watt of vampire load costs us a little over $1 per year, it is easy to see how the cost adds up. In fact, a 2015 report from the National Resources Defense Council found that idle load accounts for 23% of annual household electricity consumption.
What the Math Means for YOU!
By now, you may wish to learn how much money you are spending on Vampire Load. But who has the time to run through all the calculations on their own?
Fortunately, you don’t have to! Duke Energy has put together a really simple calculator that helps expose your annual spending on idle load. Your only requirement: to count or to estimate the number of each device listed in the calculator. The tool then does the math for you. A good feature of the Duke Energy calculator is that it only examines idle load that we as consumers can mitigate by unplugging or using smart strips or plugs (see below).
Speaking personally, I ran through the calculator and “discovered” that I am likely spending at least $125 per year on my vampires. Time to get to work slaying them!
Savings Calculations for the Vampire Loads We Avoid
In calculating savings, Emporia considers that with diligence we can avoid a large number of vampire loads in our homes. Two strategies exist for removing these loads. First, we can unplug devices such as chargers while not in immediate use. Second, we can employ smart power strips or outlets – sometimes equipped with motion sensors. These aids prove highly useful where we concentrate multiple problematic devices, such as in the office, the kitchen, the family room, or the garage.
Although the NRDC report points to vampire loads’ consuming 23% or household electricity, Emporia recognizes that not all loads may be eliminated. Therefore, savings will fall within a range of 5% to 10%. As with other savings calculations, Emporia then scales these savings based upon the frequency of app use. Ultimately, these savings and others may achieve savings as high as 50% on energy!