The Hidden Cost of Convenience: Phantom Loads

By , September 28, 2009

Converting from the average middle class, tied-to-the-grid home to our off-the-grid, alternative energy homestead opened our eyes to conservation measures like never before. The first step in taking responsibility for generating the power one uses is to create energy savings wherever possible. When taking this step, one realizes quickly that the key to conserving energy while maintaining a comfortable lifestyle is not necessarily to take a few large steps, but many small ones. These steps can lead to energy savings in any home.

Western society relies on easily accessible energy. As such, so many of the energy-assisted conveniences with which we surround ourselves are not energy efficient. Until recently, there has been no real impetus, economic or otherwise, for designers and manufacturers to give us energy efficient products. A wide range of modern appliances actually use a trickle of energy to maintain themselves even when they’re turned off. A few of these power secondary conveniences, like a digital clock on a coffee maker. Others allow machines to be more responsive to your needs—they maintain a level of operation even when turned off, simply to spare you the inconvenience of waiting a few extra seconds for the appliance to turn on when you press the power switch.

Let me repeat that: most of your appliances are always on, even when turned off, so that you don’t waste precious seconds waiting for it to power up!

If these seconds are, indeed precious to you—if it frustrates you to hit the “on” button on your television, and not have it turn on that precise instant—read no further. I cannot help you save money. If you think you can live with that level of inconvenience, read on . . . .

The term used to describe these small energy draws from appliances is “phantom load.” These phantom loads add up quickly and significantly, costing you money. Each individual phantom load is small, but they accumulate as they remain on 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and as you discover just how many appliances use this “always on” feature. They draw enough power to be noticeable if you generate your own power and store it in a battery bank. If you’re paying for your power, you can bet your local electric company is aware of the draw.

The solution to phantom loads is incredibly simple: put your appliances on a power strip. When you’re not using the appliances, turn them all off with the strip’s on/off switch. These strips are inexpensive, easily available, and many of them also serve as surge suppressors, further protecting your investments.

Remember to turn each appliance off before cutting power at the strip. When we forget to do that, we have to reprogram our settings on the amplifier the next time we use it. If you make sure to power down the appliance first, you need not worry about losing settings, clocks, or other programming. Most appliances have a back up system that allows these features to be preserved when the power’s turned completely off. If it’s a big concern, you may want to check. If it does interfere, maybe those appliances should be allowed to keep their phantom loads. Cutting back wherever possible will reduce your cumulative energy costs. This need not be all or nothing. Again, take many small steps.

Setting up power strips does involve a little thought, or, as it has become fashionable to call it, “deliberate living.” If you time shift your television viewing with Tivo or a VCR, you’ll need to make sure your recorder and cable box remain on to cover the times you’re doing the recording. Your television, however, is probably not necessary to this recording process, nor is your amplifier and surround sound speakers. If you do a lot of recording, you might set up two strips for your home entertainment center, allowing some components to be left on while others are turned off.

These savings can also be applied to your home computer. Many computer experts leave theirs on constantly. They argue that turning on the machine each time it’s used causes unnecessary wear and tear on the CPU, and that the power expended by having the unit constantly on is not significant.

However, a young person in Juneau, Alaska conducted a study as his science fair project recently. I forget his exact findings, but he calculated the amount of power used by the computer during the 8 hours the average person sleeps each night. The cost of that power was impressive, amounting to a couple of dollars a day. Significantly for Juneau, I believe this study occurred before that city’s energy catastrophe in 2008. Avalanches wiped out the power lines from the local hydroelectric facility, forcing the city to use diesel power until repairs could be made. The cost of electricity soared accordingly.

This small savings may not be enough to change your habits, but if you were guaranteed to find one or two dollars on the sidewalk every single day, you might not dismiss that! As for the wear and tear on the computer: face it, computers these days are practically obsolete before you get them home! How many years does it have to last before you find a reason to upgrade it? If you upgrade every year, consider this: by the time you do, you’ll have saved $730 or more toward that purchase by turning your computer off each night!

Energy continues to be incredibly cheap in this country, but that is not likely to remain the case. As long as you purchase your electricity from a corporation, you are at their mercy. Recall what Enron did to their clients. Even at today’s prices, surely you could find something else to do with some of that money. Taking small steps to conserve can help redirect your resources toward those goals.

Leave a Reply

Panorama Theme by Themocracy