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Published on June 22nd, 2010 | by shefali


Smarten Up: Reduce Your “Phantom” Power Use

standby power

Did you know your TV uses electricity, even when turned off? So does your iHome, coffee maker, microwave oven, hair-dryer, clock radio, and other electronics. Yes, even chargers for cell phones and laptops suck energy when plugged in—even if they are not charging anything! Surprised?

Well I certainly was when I learned this and ever since then have made a conscious effort to unplug any appliance I’m not using (ie fans, chargers, lamps, and even microwaves). But who really has time to go around unplugging everything in their home or office when they’re not using them? Turns out there is a cheap, quick, and easy solution.

The Smart Strip power strip features advanced circuitry that not only offers excellent power surge protection and line noise filtering, but is actually able to ‘sense’ the flow of electrical current through the strip’s control outlet. Because of this unique ability, the Smart Strip can turn off selected equipment when it’s not in use, creating benefits that no other power strip on the market today can offer.

Most importantly, the smart strip prevents a “phantom load.” Honestly, I had no idea what this term meant. It sounded scary and I was more than happy to invest in a Smart Strip at that point if it prevented the “phantom load.” Turns out, a “phantom load” is actually any appliance or electronic gadget that uses energy even when turned off. Sometimes they are referred to as “vampire appliances” or “energy vampires.” If your home or office is typical, you live with at least 20 vampires (if you’re a Twilight fan, this may excite you more than it should). That adds about $200 to your annual energy bill, according to Cornell University.

The “off” button doesn’t really mean off anymore—it means “standby.” Your TV with remote control likely uses more energy during the majority of hours a day that it’s turned off and in a “standby power” state than it does during the hours you’re actually watching. According to Cornell, we are using the equivalent of seven electrical generating plants just to supply these vampires that are supposedly turned “off.”

Here are some of the most common energy suckers:

  • Appliances with remote controls (ie TVs, VCRs, audio equipment).
  • Appliances with a continuous display (ie clocks on microwaves and ovens).
  • Appliances with rechargeable batteries (ie cordless phones or digital cameras).
  • Appliances with external power supplies (ie printers and iPod chargers).

Again, how can the smart strip help? Use a smart strip for all of your major electronics—it senses the current draw of the main device that your accessories are serving. When the TV or PC is turned on, the smart strip energizes the outlets that power DVD players, printers, and scanners. A smart strip will save you from having to turn all of the peripheral devices off. All you have to do is turn on the main device and all of its “followers” will come on as well.

Check it out below—looks exactly like any other power strip! (except this one is smarter)

A smart power strip

A smart power strip

Learn more energy saving tips here.

Shefali Bhardwaj is a marketer and active blogger for the Viv Biz Club (Viv). Viv is an eco-buying group that helps small businesses pool their purchasing power to save up to 80% on eco-friendly supplies, including biodegradable food packaging and recycled office supplies. The Viv team has rich knowledge and expertise in an array of green products and has been testing out the “Smart Strip” technology at their office in SOMA, San Francisco.

Looking for other ways to cut energy use around the house? Check out options such as LED lighting, energy efficient appliances, and even netbooks in the Green Choices product comparison engine.

Image credit (top): delphaber at Flickr under a Creative Commons license

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13 Responses to Smarten Up: Reduce Your “Phantom” Power Use

  1. Catherine says:

    Wow. I never knew that about my phone charger using energy even when its not charging my phone. I think I left my charger in the wall the entire year and I blaming my electricity bill on my roomates for leaving their lights on! Thanks for the tip. I’m going to look into these smart strips for school next year!

  2. Shefali says:

    Catherine–I’m glad this information was helpful to you! The smart strip is definitely work investing in. At a price of $25, it is completely worth it. Especially in college when the electricity bill can rack up fast!

  3. Letty says:

    Wow! Did not know that. We leave our tv on continuouslly. How do I order the smart power strip? Sounds Awesome!! Thank you. Great article!

  4. Bob Roger says:

    I didn’t know before that elect appliances suck energy while plugging though not working. We can save the wasting electric energy.Thanks in this regard

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  7. Naomi says:

    Why doesn’t Smart Strip make a power strip that has more than one control outlet?

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  13. Ray Fallon says:

    Phone chargers don’t consume a lot of power (1-3W), but they are a fire hazard, in fact one of the greatest in homes today. Remember you don’t buy a phone because it’s got a cool charger, you buy the phone because it’s cool. So if you were a phone manufacturer, would you invest in the charger? Plug them out when your phone is no longer charging.

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