How to slay energy vampires

There are demons that can suck the life force from you — and you unknowingly invited them into your home. Vampire electronics may not suck your blood, but they'll drain you of nickels and dimes for every dollar you spend on energy.

The Cost of Vampire Energy

Vampire energy is the electricity that electronics and appliances drain from the power grid when you aren't using them. Some electronics that are turned off still suck energy in standby mode, especially those with the following features:

  • Internal clock
  • External clock display
  • Panel display LED
  • Remote control sensor
  • Battery charger
  • Power-conversion pack
  • Portable units with a base (such as a cordless phone)

According to the U.S. Department of Energy, vampire electronics are responsible for 5-10% of residential energy use. In other words, if you slay your energy vampires, and you'll see a noticeable difference in your energy bills. CNN reported that you might have as many as 50 vamps lurking in your midst:

Alan Meier of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory has been studying vampire electronics for years. “Each home now has anywhere from 10 to 50 of these products, so that adds up and represents as much as a month of your electricity bill,” he says. We plugged a DVD player that wasn't even playing a DVD into a watt meter, and it showed consumption of 11.32 watts with the power on. “I've turned it off, and now its drawing six watts,” Meier says…Meier's home computer is just standing by. But it's drawing 65 watts.

I'm definitely guilty of letting energy vampires run amok in my own home. In fact, as I was writing this, I decided to take a look around to see what electronics were plugged in and running up the electric bill. I found the following:

  • 2 laptops
  • Printer
  • Back-up drive
  • 2 sets of speakers
  • 5 lamps
  • Clock radio
  • Camera battery charger
  • 2 phone chargers
  • Television
  • DVD player
  • Microwave

I should pull the cord on most of these electronics, like the extra laptop that rarely gets used, the printer, the back-up drive, and the chargers, but they stay plugged in day after day.

Put a Stake Through Vampire Power

So how do you dust these energy vamps? There are two factors to consider: One is energy efficiency, and the other is whether the device is on or off.

  • The first thing to consider is a device's overall energy efficiency, since in-use energy used can often be more important than standby energy if an appliance sucks a particularly large amount of power. The U.S. EnergyStar program provides energy efficiency ratings for various categories of electronics, so begin your search there when shopping for energy-efficient appliances, light bulbs, water heaters, windows, and more. While it's not possible for most slayers to replace all of their appliances and electronics, you can start to slowly swap older devices with energy-efficient ones when you need to replace something.
  • Second, take care of the vamps in your home. Unplug chargers and adapters when you aren't using them. When that's not practical (because you don't want to reset your clock 10 times a day or shutdown and unplug your computer every time you use it), consider a power strip like the Wattstopper Plug Load Control or Smart Strip Power Strip, which work two different ways to lower your bills.

The Wattstopper ($90) uses a “personal sensor” to turn off power after a device has been idle for a user-defined time period. The Smart Strip ($35) can sense when devices are on or off and shuts off power supply accordingly. According to the Smart Strip website, independent consultant tests showed that it can “save enough energy to pay for itself in as little as six weeks…up to $20 per month on your electric bill.”

Your wooden stake power strip will pay for itself.
J.D.'s note: Now's a good time to remind you of the Kill-a-Watt electricity usage monitor. This little gadget detects how much power your appliances use so that you can make smart decisions about electricity. You only need to use the Kill-a-Watt about once every year. So, do what we did: Buy one and loan it to all your friends so that they can find the energy vampires in their homes.
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Derek
Derek
9 years ago

Haha! Excellent post! It ties in nicely with Halloween, very clever.

Yes, energy is one of those things that we cannot see, but we can definitely see it show up in the electric bill. This is a great idea for all of us to shave a few bucks off from that bill every month. Every little bit counts!

Learn from my posting as well – save money and learn to invest.

http://www.lifeandmyfinances.com

Emily Anne
Emily Anne
9 years ago

I live in the Boston area- the public library here in Cambridge collaborated with high school students to make a pamphlet explaining energy vampires and acquire a bunch of Kill-a-Watt devices that library patrons can use to evaluate their energy use. Such a good idea!

Andrew
Andrew
9 years ago

1. Wouldn’t the Wattstopper itself be an energy vampire?

2. My solution to vampire energy is to use old-fashioned power strips. I have two: one for my TV, audio receiver, Wii, and DVD player, and the other for my computer, monitor, and printer. Whenever these aren’t actively in use, I just switch off the power strip. Sure, it looks a bit awkward since I keep the strips where they are accessible, but it makes it so easy and almost instinctive to flip the switch when I’m finished using the equipment.

Nicole
Nicole
9 years ago

The smartstrip sounds neat. We will have to look into that. Right now we just have a regular strip that we can turn off for our living room stuff.

Elizabeth
Elizabeth
9 years ago

Here in Ontario we have “smart meters” where electricity is priced based on time of day. While vampires may not be as much of a drain during non-peak periods, they can be extra costly during peak periods! (The peak period rate is almost double the off period rate — not including delivery fees, taxes, etc.)

I figure every little bit helps.

Jon
Jon
9 years ago

Someone wrote a blog post about this same topic several years ago, and I began turning off everything possible whenever we weren’t using it. It made no appreciable difference in our electricity usage – the biggest portion of our e-bill is running the fan and heat exchanger for our heater/ac. Worse, it was seriously inconvenient to manually power up the cable modem, wireless router, and individual pc or laptop when I had insomnia, and wanted to surf in the middle of the night, or if (wife and I work out of home offices) we needed to do some work after… Read more »

Wayne Mates
Wayne Mates
9 years ago

I never really thought about this. But just in the kitchen alone, I can see a cordless phone, and LED clocks on the microwave, stove and coffee maker. Plus, there is the desktop PC and the wireless router that are running all the time. The issue is that it’s not practical to shut them down, except maybe the PC.

Everyday Tips
Everyday Tips
9 years ago

I had no idea about the devices that would automatically shut off power to idle electronics. I need to look into that. Thanks for the info!

Leah
Leah
9 years ago

Vampire power is totally a beast. I don’t pay for electric now, so I’m not sure how much my efforts currently help, but I do know I was able to get my electric bill down to $15 for a two bedroom apartment in Michigan one summer by diligently killing vampire power with my roommate. Here’s some things we did: 1. had the microwave on a power strip. when you want to use it, just turn the strip on. We set the strip right next to our micro, but you can also wall mount it or set it on top. the… Read more »

tb
tb
9 years ago

i have very few items plugged into the wall directly. i started doing it because i lost like 3 tvs, 2 computers and 2 vcr/dvd players to lightening coming through the cable. i continue because i have become a little obsessed. i carry the big flashlight that came in my drill set around the house in the evening and bring my solar lights in as my nightlight. i don’t even have a lamp in my room anymore. i can go almost 3 days without having to recharge it. i charge my cell by hooking it to the computer or in… Read more »

Tom S.
Tom S.
9 years ago

You need a sense of proportion and a reality check when considering “vampire power”. Ferinstance, a USB type charger that delivers 5 volts at .5 amps might consume 3 watts at full output if it is an efficient design. Even if you are charging at full power 24/7 it would only cost you perhaps 30 cents a month. When not charging it consumes virtually no power. It’s going to cost you a lot more (in terms of dollars or dreaded CO2) to replace worn-out outlets and power strips than you’d ever save. When it comes to larger appliances such as… Read more »

Kevin M
Kevin M
9 years ago

I’ve heard some libraries have Kill-A-Watt devices ready to loan out. I’ve not seen it personally however. We use a SmartStrip for our living room – TV, DVD player and stereo are all plugged in and all shut off when the TV is off. I’ve been meaning to get another for our computer equipment.

DanT
DanT
9 years ago

I agree with Tom S. (#8) about the potential for shortened life of some products. I bought into the whole vampire power fear, and purchased the Kill-A-Watt a couple years ago, and then I did the math based on its readings. I remember my laser printer taking 5 watts in standby/sleep mode. That means that every 200 hours it’s on standby it uses 1 kilowatt-hour. We pay roughly 10 cents/kw-h, so that’s about 36 cents/month to not have to run into the other room to turn on the printer. To me, that’s worth it. All of my chargers (cell phones,… Read more »

C.R.
C.R.
9 years ago

Kevin M beat me to it. My local library has Kill-A-Watts for loan, although I haven’t used it yet. Even if your local library does not, maybe you can request it.

El Nerdo Loco
El Nerdo Loco
9 years ago

Hi J.D.

Spelling Nazi reporting for duty here.

It’s run amok, not “a muck”. Amok is a Malaysian word is the equivalent to our “go postal”, but in English we have adopted as going nuts but without the mandatory killing rampage. In the case of energy vampires it’s perfectly appropriate usage and close to the original meaning. Nothing to do with fertile swampland soil though.

Sorry. A minor case of OCD, an itch I must scratch, etc. Thanks.

tinyhands
tinyhands
9 years ago

My solution was a heavy-duty, multi-day programmable timer. Yes, it uses a tiny bit of electricity, but it shuts off the even bigger drain of my home theater equipment (TV, receiver, NMT, subwoofer), cable modem, and router while I’m asleep and at work. It turns the power back on about 30 minutes before I typically get home. Since it has multi-day programs, I can have it not shut off the juice on the weekends, when I’m home. And there’s always the override button to leave everything on when I’m playing hooky. It was so easy to set up, I need… Read more »

Brent
Brent
9 years ago

Vampire energy as a whole may be 5% of all usage, but that doesn’t seem to be the lowest hanging of the fruit for power efficiency. By the time you get a killa-watt and identify your leakages you could have checked your tire inflation, cleaned your furnace filters or wrap your hot water pipes.

Tyler Karaszewski
Tyler Karaszewski
9 years ago

Lots of things, like lamps, don’t draw power when they’re off. for any piece of electric equipment to draw power, there must be a complete circuit running through it. A lamp is basically just two wires attached to a lightbulb with a switch spliced into one of the wires. When the switch is “on” electricity can flow in one wire, through the switch, through the bulb, and out the other wire. When it’s switched “off”, then the wire isn’t even connected. No electricity can flow through it. It is exactly the same as being unplugged. This isn’t true for things… Read more »

tinyhands
tinyhands
9 years ago

@Tyler-
Put your hand on the “brick” of any device like a laptop or battery/cellphone charger. If it’s warmer than ambient, even when the device is off or not charging, it means that electricity is being converted to heat.

Derek
Derek
9 years ago

And remember, energy vampires are not vampires in winter: they’re converting that power into heat, which you need.

I’m just saying! 😉

Atticus175
Atticus175
9 years ago

This article recommends relying on Energy Star to determine whether devices are energy efficient, but that’s terrible advice. Energy Star certification is worthless, as a Government Accountability Office investigation recently revealed.

http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-10-470

Atticus175
Atticus175
9 years ago

I should have noted that the Energy Star program claims to be in the process of fixing the problem, and said back in April that it would have it resolved by the end of the year.

http://www.energystar.gov/ia/news/downloads/Joint_Letter_with_DOE_EPA_Building_a_Stronger_Energy_Star_Program.pdf

But for the meantime, consumers would be wise to look for more than an Energy Star stamp before assuming they’re getting an energy-efficient product.

retirebyforty
retirebyforty
9 years ago

I have the TV and stereo hooked up to the power strip and I used to religiously switch it off over night, but I got lax this past year. 🙁
It’s tough to keep up if you’re lazy. I’ll start again.

chacha1
chacha1
9 years ago

Smart Strip sounds like a good idea for us but I somehow doubt we will bother. Our power bill averages less than $40/mo and I can easily see it taking $10/wk worth of time to turn appliances off/on, reset clocks, wait for printer/fax to warm up, wait for computer to come online … . Our big power savings is not using the A/C unless it’s over 85 degrees outside, which is rare, and/or over 80 degrees inside, which is very rare indeed. All that said, I am honestly looking forward to the day when we can live without clocks and… Read more »

cc
cc
9 years ago

we just go the boho-frugal route of living in a cheap apartment with pathetically sparse electricity. you can’t use what you don’t have!

Karen in minnesota
Karen in minnesota
9 years ago

I’m skeptical that doing all this really saves much energy or power. My electric bill is 99.9% due to electric firing up of my gas furnace needed to heat my home during the subzero midwestern winters–I find it extremely hard to believe that unplugging everything in my house would make any difference. I like and use the clock on my programmable coffee maker and also my digital alarm clock–it’s part of the function of these items. And who would leave a CD player turned on when not using it? If you turn it off but leave it plugged in, it’s… Read more »

Jane
Jane
9 years ago

I was all worried about vampire power a few years ago, and we bought some smartstrips for our electronic equipment. But I think the numbers thrown around about how much energy these tactics will save are totally exaggerated. In general, I distrust percentages that I hear all the time. People are really gullible. Once I read that cleaning the coils on the back of your fridge would save you like $20 a year on your electricity. Really? People believe that? Having said this, I do unplug things that are obviously warm to the touch that I don’t always need. This… Read more »

John
John
9 years ago

The vampire load myth. Unfortunately misinformation spreads like the plague. I’ve seen it on tv, had to deal with people who’ve heard it from Oprah, stood baffled at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Seem’s everyone has jumped on this misinformed propaghanda bandwagon. I’m sure you’ve heard it too, you’re electronics and appliances are wasting energry, stealing your dollars, and making your lawn turn yellow. Ok so there’s some truth to that fact that some devices in the off state draw some current, but I’m still calling foul on this, and for many reasons. First off these devices in the off state… Read more »

pun man
pun man
9 years ago

If you run amok, you create a lot of muck.

Hahahaha.

El Nerdo Loco
El Nerdo Loco
9 years ago

@Karen in Minn– no need to leave your computer plugged overnight for charging. Usually a couple of hours will suffice. Leaving phones plugged overnight has busted us a couple of cellphone batteries (“overcharged” said the repair dude), not sure the effect is equally destructive on laptops but better safe than sorry. @ #28 John – Having lived in a solar-powered home, I can attest personally to the veracity of the “power vampire” effect. Leaving “remote-ready” TVs and satellite boxes on for the night sure eats batteries– you can see it in the meter. Also (a minor digression), any kind of… Read more »

EnergyNrrrd
EnergyNrrrd
9 years ago

Two cents from a card carrying residential energy analyst… It is true that vampire or parasitic load is usually not the “low hanging fruit”. Here are two reasons to still care about it. One, money is money. Why throw it away if you don’t have to. Two, look at the larger energy picture. Energy security is no joke. Neither is the larger social cost of “dirty” power. Think about it. If you want to fight the vampire here’s a tip. Focus on your TV entertainment center and the sprawling computer, printer, amplified speaker, tangle cabled beast that so many of… Read more »

Reaver
Reaver
9 years ago

For all you nay-sayers out there… we started working on this last year. After 2 months our electric bill was down $20/month with all the changes we implemented. (it took time to get in the habit) I have an old computer power strip with individual switches for our entertainment center. Essentially we switch it all OFF when not in use. Or leave the TV+DVD on standby during the day. There are video game systems (3), speakers, VHS, Remote Harddrive on it, we switch as needed. We did this with our phone chargers, computers, microwave and a few other devices. I… Read more »

jim
jim
9 years ago

TomS #11 and DanT #13, There is truth to the vampire load idea but it varies and some things are very negligible. You really have to measure your devices yourself to know whats wasting meaningful amount of power. I measured my own appliances and devices with a kill-a-watt meter. Only way to know for sure what your stuff is using is to measure it. Generally for me the newer electronics were better and used less energy when off. My old 19″ tube TV was the worst and used 8W while off. My CRT computer monitor used 3W off and the… Read more »

SuperT
SuperT
9 years ago

In 1945 scientists probably imagined a future that had extremely accurate digital clocks in every room of your house and coffee makers that would turn themselves on in the morning and televisions in your living room that you could turn on from your kitchen. And what will it cost to continually power these amazing conveniences? Just pennies a day. At first only the elitist wealthy will have access to these amazing conveniences, but eventually everybody will have them. … After which will develop an elitist class that continually brags about not using these conveniences.

Kate
Kate
9 years ago

A woman I met just finished building her house. They installed a “kill switch” for the downstairs. It’s a wall switch by the stairs that kills all the power to the downstairs. Her electrician recommended it for saving money. I’m not sure how much extra he charged her to wire the house that way, but she was able to cut her electric bill by more than 50%. (She also has a no electronics upstairs rule.) Kind of works like a giant powerstrip!

Mrs. Money
Mrs. Money
9 years ago

My husband was leery of vampire energy but I know it’s a fact! I’m always making sure to unplug his cell phone charger because I can’t stand it staying plugged in!

Glenn
Glenn
9 years ago

I have done a lot of testing in my house for vampire power draw and here is one thing I discovered about laser printers: My laser printer consumes 4 watts when idle, but when it first turns on, it requires 1800 watts for 15 seconds to warm up. It does every time the power switch is manually flipped. So it actually saves money to just leave it on, rather than turn it on with the monitors and speakers, etc… when I use the computer. Make sure and take initial power up current into account when deciding whether or not to… Read more »

AMANDA
AMANDA
9 years ago

Great reminders! A friend mentioned it and I put a power strip by our computer (which was always on) and by our TV/VCR, etc. We were using about 9 kwh the month before these changes. Went down to 4 the next month!

I do keep our internet connections plugged into the wall for convenience.

I will start unplugging our microwave. We always did the other appliances in case of fire hazard…

Thanks for the info on lamps. It was REALLY annoying to unplug my lamp all the time and I thought I had to!

Jay
Jay
9 years ago

The best trick I was able to come up with was putting everything in the entertainment center (55′ TV, Xbox, DVD, Roku) on a power strip, and then plugging the power strip into the lamp outlet. For those of you not familiar with the term, it is the outlet attached to a switch that you turn on light any other overhead lamp. Mostly designed for a standing lamp in a room it made a great power saver for the biggest energy hog in my house. One side note you do sometimes have to reset the Xbox login if you kill… Read more »

David/moneycrashers
David/moneycrashers
9 years ago

I had dismissed this entire concept for the longest time–thinking it was all nonsense.

That was until I tried it around my house and actually saw about an 18% drop in my bill.

It works–and you can make an impact by just unplugging the stuff you really don’t use.

I’m not saying plug in and unplug the computer that you use multiple times per day, but the other stuff that you can unplug without it even becoming inconvenient.

Rosa
Rosa
9 years ago

It’s a bigger percentage (not a bigger total amount of power) if you don’t heat/cool with electric, too – we saw a huge jump in our electric bill when we switched from an old gravity-feed boiler furnace to a newer boiler that has a fan and pump. But it was well offset by our savings on gas (about 1/2 as much for a warmer house). We did offset about 15% of our total electric bill by finding all the “energy vampires” – but that’s because we have mostly gas heat, a gas stove (now upgraded to a gas-using-electric stove), and… Read more »

Nick
Nick
9 years ago

i saw a tv spot on this about a year ago, honestly not many people have the time to make sure every little thing is unplugged all the time…

Edgar from Norway
Edgar from Norway
9 years ago

Hi, I’ve read grs for a long time but have not posted until now. Vampire power is a pet peeve for me as this is as much discussed in Norway as in the US. Vampire power has no effect on your bill if: 1. It’s colder outside than in the room with the vampire, and 2. You heat your home with electricity Now, I don’t know how normal #2 is across the pond, but #1 is valid for most of Norway, most of the year. I guess it is for parts of the us too. The reason I like to… Read more »

Uli
Uli
9 years ago

While it’s not always possible to throw away older appliances and buy newer ones with a better efficiency, from time to time I take a look at the energy efficiency levels of the power supplies connected to the appliances. To only exchange the power supply with a newer, more modern one, is not only cheaper than buying a complete appliance, but can save a whole lot when it comes to the electricity bills. Even those that have been around for only like two years are a lot less efficient than those on the market today. Just as April pointed out,… Read more »

SF_UK
SF_UK
9 years ago

I have two solutions: 1) get into the habit of turning off (not onto standby!) anything that’s not being used. This includes things like the washing machine and microwave, as well as the TV. It also includes removing chargers that aren’t doing charging. I keep them next to a power strip under a side table, so it’s still easy to charge. 2) for the computer, I have a gadget that you plug the computer into one socket of, and a power bar into the other. Then all your peripherals go into the power bar. It senses when the computer stops… Read more »

Money Reasons
Money Reasons
9 years ago

After some research, I now turn off my computer nightly. The power strip is a great idea, but not always the most convenient. Nobody like a flashing digitial clock display on the VCR (yeah, we still have one).

So mainly, to my family… I harp about turing the TV, light and computer off!

Great post (in mine I used a similar vampire analogy too, it just makes sense… Although really perhaps leeches would make a better analogy)

Chetan
Chetan
9 years ago

I have removed (physically) the battery in my laptop. Therefore, I HAVE to plug in the laptop every time I use it.

To conserve the battery, I attach it back to the laptop and charge & use it occasionally.

This has the following advantages:

1. No vampire power at all. Laptop shutdown = power shutdown.
2. The normal life of a battery is about 2 years, mine is 4.5 years old and going strong.

Joe
Joe
9 years ago

Alot of devices are designed to have low standby power usage (TVs, receivers, etc.), heck my laptop only draws 10 watts when its ON (idle). But those of us that still use cable/FiOS/whatever, I have yet to see a set top box with low standby power. It drives me CRAZY, I would love to see the process behind some of it. “When they turn off the box, lets not turn off our video processing circuitry, lets just output a black frame.” Most STBs I have checked draw 20-30 watts all the time, whether you are watching an HD show with… Read more »

Rene
Rene
9 years ago

I leave the lights plugged, leave the alarm clocked plugged in as I need it. I have two TVs, the second one is on a power strip along with an old sewing machine that I use for quilting, these two items are only on when I need them, otherwise, it is off-line when not in use and not drawing power. I unplug my toaster as I don’t use it on a regular basis and I do the same with my dryer, but not with my washer. Plugging the microwave into a powerstrips is a bad idea says my dad the… Read more »

jim
jim
9 years ago

Re #44 Edgar from Norway:

About 60% of US homes use natural gas for heat. 30% use electric and 10% use fuel oil, wood or other stuff. Electricity is often/usually the most expensive heat source in most of America.

About 80% of homes have air conditioning and we spend about 50% as much on cooling as we do on heat.

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