How much can you actually save on electricity by unplugging appliances?

Unplugging something when you’re not using it saves money and energy.

Chris Monroe/CNET

You’ve probably heard it before: Unplugging your appliances when you’re not using them will save you electricity and money. Even if the devices are turned off, they may be performing certain functions in the background if they are still plugged in, so unplugging them would prevent power from draining silently and increasing your bills.

But how much money does unplugging devices save? Are the energy savings you get from unplugging appliances even significant? And is it worth constantly plugging and unplugging devices? Below, we’ll explore why unplugging devices can save money, how much you could save, and ways to make it easier to turn off plugged-in devices.

Read more: 28 ways to cut costs at home right now

Why does unplugging devices save money?

It seems counter-intuitive to unplug devices. After all, they are extinct, so why would they suck energy?

The thing is, your devices are still consuming power even when they’re turned off but still plugged in, according to Energy.gov. Whether the device is off or in sleep mode, some of the worst offenders are:

  • A device that may still consume power in the form of permanently on lights or other displays indicating that the device is off
  • Computers that have simply been put into sleep mode
  • Chargers that still consume power even when the device is not connected
  • Media players that continually consume power, especially those that may still check for updates in the background
  • Phones with screens that show up when not in use, such as cordless phones
  • New smart home appliances like refrigerators, washers and dryers with always-on screens, internet connectivity and electronic controls

The energy that is used by these devices when not in use is often referred to as standby power, but it also goes by other names such as phantom load, phantom loads, quiescent current, or even vampire power.

Read more: Save money by placing your thermostat in the right place

Save electricity and money with standby power control

Many people are shocked to realize how much standby power can add up. Standby power accounts for 5-10% of residential power consumption, depending on the US Department of Energy. Unplugging appliances could save the average household up to $100 a year.

However, the amount you save may depend on the number of devices you use and your habits with them. For example, a teaching experience of Colorado State University found that a combined radio/CD player/cassette player used 4 watts continuously whether or not it was in use. Unplugging it when not in use would save 100 times more energy over the lifetime of the device.

A study out of The Natural Resources Defense Council found that reducing the load on always-on devices would save consumers a total of $8 billion per year and avoid using 64 billion kilowatt hours of electricity per year. It also has environmental benefits, such as preventing 44 million metric tons of carbon dioxide pollution. The NRDC has estimated the cost of always-on appliances at up to $165 per household per year on average.

How to control standby power

The first step is, of course, to unplug anything that isn’t actively in use or isn’t used often. An example of devices that could easily be unplugged include televisions and set-top boxes in bedrooms. It’s also usually easy to unplug media players when not in use, such as a radio or CD player. When you remove your device from its charger, it can also be helpful to get into the habit of unplugging that charger as well. You might also be surprised at how many devices we’ve plugged in that we don’t even use anymore. Examples might include old cordless phones, old media players, or lamps that are more decorative than functional.

However, unplugging everything and plugging it back in can become very tedious, especially if your outlets are in hard-to-reach places. If the socket is inaccessible, it will be difficult to follow. So you can also implement ways to make the phantom load shutdown process more automatic. You can plug devices into power strips. In this way, a single press of the power switch button can turn off multiple devices. You can also get timers for plugging in appliances or smart plugs so you can automate when power is connected to a device. For example, you can set the TV’s power-on time so that it’s only connected during peak hours like evenings or weekends.

You can also consider getting Energy Star products. Many of these products are rated to have lower standby power consumption than products that are not rated by Energy Star.

More resources to save electricity

As electricity bills rise and become more erratic over time, finding ways to save on electricity costs is more vital than ever. For example, in addition to unplugging appliances in the house, you can consult our guide on turn off the lights when not in use. Another key way to improve your electricity/heating bill is to know the ideal temperature you need to set for your home. You can also check our guide on Quick tips to save on your gas and electric bill, like turning down your water heater or changing your air filters.

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