Phantom of the …Electricity?

— Written By N.C. Cooperative Extension


Phantom of the…Electricity?

 While away at work or sleeping, do you ever think about the appliances or electronic gadgets you left plugged up at home? For most of you, the answer is a simple no. But what if someone told you that these devices can consume an alarming amount of energy and run your utility bill up, even when turned off?

There is an unheard of, for the most part, phenomenon happening in your home. A phenomenon called phantom energy. Phantom energy is nothing more than your household items drawing in unneeded electricity while turned off. Also called standby or vampire energy, the United States Department of Energy has stated that phantom energy consumption can account for up to 15% of your energy bill, though most homes will not reach this percentage. While with many of the these items’, phantom energy loss may be small in terms of the electricity actually being consumed, when you have 20 different unused items plugged in at the same time, the loss of energy can be substantial.

Some of your appliances perform useful tasks while you are away or sleeping, like refrigerators and your heating and cooling system. But there are many devices that are useless to you while absent. Things like televisions, gaming consoles, modems, microwave ovens and stereo systems are all unneeded and unnecessary to have consuming energy when not being used. You even lose small amounts of energy through your unused cellular telephone charger when it isn’t being used.

One free option you could try is to unplug an unused device. While inconvenient at times, this method is completely free to implement. You could also try purchasing a power strip. These can be used where you have devices grouped around one outlet. Using power strips is an inexpensive option and easy as well since they are sold at most, if not all, hardware stores. Other tips may be to turn electronics, such as computers, to sleep mode when not in use. This still draws some energy in, but not nearly as much if you keep it running for hours on end when you aren’t even using it.

Many Americans have picked up bad habits from lack of knowledge that devices still use energy when turned off. This has led to a disincentive for many manufacturers to make products that combat the problem. But with the rising energy costs, many people are becoming aware of their careless behavior and helping themselves to lower their utility bills. There are also programs, like Energy Star, that are promoting the production and use of energy efficient products to help the public lower their costs on electricity.

This occurrence of standby energy use is relatively unknown throughout American as of now. But with growing knowledge of said occurrences and participation from the public, phantom energy use will be a thing of the past, leading to lower costs on energy, more efficient practices at home and a better environment for us and generations to come.


For more information about phantom energy, or to attend an upcoming energy workshop, please contact Drew Hatley at 919-496-3344 or email