Expert Advice: Phantom Power

Published on
November 6, 2023

In the third article of our ‘Expert Advice’ series, Timothy Telford, Owner & Electrical Engineer from Telford Electric, gives advice on simple ways to cut down on phantom consumption.

In today's world, conserving energy is not only important for the environment but can also help lower your electricity bills. While many consumers think about turning off lights and appliances when not in use, there's one hidden energy-waster we often overlook: phantom power. Phantom power, also known as standby power or shadow load, refers to the energy that electronic devices use when they're in standby mode or plugged in but not actively in use. These devices can add up and account for a significant portion of your energy consumption.

In the third installment of our Expert Advice series, Mr. Timothy Telford from Telford Electric gives phantom power energy-saving tips to help you take control of your energy usage and reduce your electricity bills.

Understand stand-by mode

According to Mr. Telford “Common misconceptions about devices in standby mode include believing they use no power, thinking turning them off and on consumes more energy, and only electronics use stand-by mode.”

Alarm clocks, electric toothbrushes, smart devices, TV’s, gaming consoles and phone chargers are common energy ‘vampires.’ Washing machines, dishwashers and microwaves may have a standby mode and are thus still drawing some electrical current. However, standby mode is also useful, as it consumes significantly less power than full operation. When not in use, set your devices to enter sleep mode after a certain period of inactivity. This feature is especially helpful for computers, monitors, and printers, which often consume a lot of energy when left on.

Identify signs of phantom power

“Common signs of phantom power in a household include warm electronic devices, LED lights and displays that remain lit, and devices with constant digital clocks or timers.”

You can identify devices that are using phantom power by looking for certain signs. If your device has a display that stays on, an internal clock, or needs to receive signals, it's using power when it's not actively being used. Other appliances that monitor temperature or are activated by light also draw power. Your thermostat, water heater, outdoor sensor lights, and certain spotlights fall into this category.

Unplug devices when not in use

“To reduce phantom power usage, consider unplugging devices, using smart outlets or power strips, and investing in energy-efficient models.”

One of the most obvious ways to stop phantom power is to unplug your electronic devices when you're not using them. It may seem like a small change, but it can make a big difference. This may seem tedious and impractical but will get easier as you get into the habit. Start with chargers, small kitchen appliances, and entertainment devices like gaming consoles and speakers.

Focus on devices that use the most energy. Think of the ones you have forgotten about or left on stand-by because you don’t think they are costing to run. Some appliances like refrigerators and freezers need to stay plugged in to accomplish the functions that they’re meant for.

Use smart power strips

“Smart plugs and power strips prevent devices from drawing power in standby mode and manage power usage more efficiently.”

For devices that are difficult to unplug or need to be on standby, consider using smart power strips or smart plugs. These allow you to turn off multiple devices at once with a single switch or through an app. Smart power strips are particularly useful because they group various devices into one outlet, making it easy to cut power to all of them when needed. Smart plugs can be automated to turn off power to specific devices during certain hours.

Invest in energy-efficient appliances

“To reduce phantom power usage in your home, consider energy-efficient devices like LED bulbs/lighting and EnergyStar-certified appliances.”

When you're shopping for new appliances or electronic devices, pay attention to energy efficiency labels and ratings. Look for products with the ENERGY STAR label, which means they meet strict energy efficiency guidelines. These appliances are designed to use less power, both when they're running and when they're in standby mode.

Conduct regular audits

“To maintain optimal energy efficiency, create a maintenance schedule that includes an annual professional inspection and perform regular cleaning.”

Consumers should conduct routine energy audits in the home to find out which devices are using phantom power. This includes inspecting and updating lighting and other appliances and checking the conditions of electrical wiring, outlets, and switches. Replace any damaged or worn components to prevent energy wastage.  

Reducing phantom power consumption is a simple yet effective way to save energy and money. The amount of savings depends on how many devices you use and your habits with them. By following these energy-saving tips, you can minimise the hidden costs associated with standby power. Small changes in your habits and some smart choices can make a significant difference.