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Vampire Power 101: Is It Bad to Leave Electronics Plugged In?

You might want to start unplugging appliances. Here's how vampire power sucks your energy, impacting the planet *and* your electricity bill.

Written by
Kylie Fuller

You flip off the light switch when you leave a room. But something many people don't think about? All the electronics that stay plugged in 24/7. While it doesn't seem like there's any harm to that, a little something called vampire power is still sucking energy... even when things are turned off.

Vampire Power: 101

When devices are plugged in, they consume energy. Even when they're turned off or on standby mode, they continue to suck up energy, earning them the nickname "vampire appliances" or "phantom load." It may not seem like your unused microwave could use a lot of energy, but the average home has twenty vampire appliances, which adds up to $3 billion in energy costs annually in the U.S. alone.

According to the US Department of Energy, 75% of the electricity used by home appliances is consumed while they're turned off. Not only is that a massive waste of electricity, but that ultimately affects the environment, too. Because most of these vampire appliances are running off of fossil fuels, they're contributing (more so than we might think) to the production of emissions and air pollution.

Even just leaving your phone charging overnight can use a lot of energy. According to studies from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, the average cell phone used 3.68 watts of power while it’s charging and 2.24 watts after it's fully charged. In a year, that adds up to 6.5 kilowatts of electricity.

The average household uses about 4,000 kilowatts of energy per year, so charging your phone overnight isn't a huge contribution. But experts do estimate that almost 10% of a household's energy bill comes from other vampire appliances, like space heaters, microwaves, and clock radios.

To put this into perspective, it's expected that standby power consumes enough energy every year to account for 107 billion pounds of coal, 100 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, or 8 billion gallons of fuel oil. And that all comes from unused devices.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) encourages everyone to turn off and unplug unused appliances and devices, for both your electricity bill's sake and the environment. But we know unplugging every appliance in your house isn't realistic. Instead, here are six fuss-free ways anyone can reduce vampire power and their carbon footprint.

How to Eliminate Vampire Power

1. Identify Running Appliances

The first step in reducing your phantom load is identifying the culprits. The most common vampire appliances are small, personal items. Think clocks, radios, and space heaters. You'll want to look for things that you don't have to power on to use (like microwaves) or things with lights on all day.

2. Use a Power Strip

An easy way to reduce your phantom load is to put these electronics on a single power strip or surge protector. Not only can you use a timer or manual switch to turn them all off at once, but power strips also keep these devices from using as much energy while they're on or in standby mode.

3. Unplug Appliances After Use

Getting into the habit of turning your appliances and devices on before you need to use them and back off right after you're finished can save you money and reduce your phantom load drastically.

4. Only Charge Tech to 100%

Who else is guilty of keeping your phone or computer on the charger long after they've reached 100%? While they won't suck up nearly as much energy as other appliances, they still consume energy. When your battery hits full charge, take it off the charger. (And don't forget to unplug your charger, too!)

5. Use Battery Saving Strategies

You can avoid needing to charge your devices as often (and thus save some energy) by doing small things to extend your battery life. Settings like night mode, low brightness, and turning off Background App Refresh can go a long way.

6. Choose Appliances with Low Standby Power

Some devices suck up more energy than others. Researchers from Cornell University recommend buying appliances that use less than one watt of standby power. When doing research, the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab can help you find energy-efficient appliances.