Eartha Steward: Targeting vampire power suckers |

Eartha Steward: Targeting vampire power suckers

A few of my co-workers are notorious for leaving their computers and power strips on overnight. I know that it’s a waste of energy but I don’t know much more than that. What do you know about phantom loads?


Dear Anonymous,

Great question! Phantom loads are a waste of energy and money. Before we divulge our favorite methods for killing phantom loads, let’s cover the basics.

You may believe that when you turn an appliance off, it is, in fact, off. However, most of your appliances have clocks, digital timers, remote controls, or standby modes that still pull electricity when not in use. This phantom loading (also called vampire power, standby power, or leaking loads) accounts for a large amount of our energy use.

Approximately 8 percent of residential energy use is the result of phantom loads. This adds up to millions of tons of CO2 and billions of dollars of waste annually. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, around 75 percent of the energy used by our home appliances is drawn while we think they are “off.”

When we think about energy efficiency, we often concentrate our efforts within our homes. However, the places where we work, shop, play, and learn account for nearly half of the nation’s energy use. While your co-workers are not at work, their appliances and electronics are hard at work stealing energy (even when not in use). Yikes!

While some would consider garlic to be the most obvious way to kill your vampire loads, the more logical solution is to simply unplug unused devices. In our office, we karate-chop phantom loads by plugging our electronics and appliances into a power strip that has an on/off switch. Power strips control the incoming electricity, and when they are off, the electricity flowing to the appliance is cut off.

For those of you who love your gizmos, there are all types of timers or activity sensors available to tailor your phantom load reduction. One particularly appealing gizmo is a Smart Strip. The strip works for combinations of electronics that work together, like a computer system. You choose one electronic component as the control or master outlet. When the master outlet is turned off, all the connected outlets that are plugged into the strip are automatically shut off. Last but not least, when replacing electronics or appliances, consider purchasing those that use less energy and are Energy Star certified.

Eliminating phantom loads saves energy and money. If you give a flip, remember to unplug your devices and flip off your power switches.

Eartha Steward is written by Jennifer Santry and Erin Makowsky at the High Country Conservation Center, a nonprofit 501(c)3 organization dedicated to waste reduction and resource conservation in our mountain community. Submit questions to Eartha at or to High Country Conservation Center, PO Box 4506, Frisco, CO 80443.

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