How to Lower Your Electric Bill by Killing Phantom Loads

A phantom load is energy used by electronic devices even when they are not in use. These can be devices such as TVs, computers, game systems, or even phone chargers. The easiest way to lower your electric bill is by identifying these phantom loads users and put an end to their energy waste.

Unfortunately, the guilty feeling you get when a light is left on for a prolonged period of time is about to get worse. There are devices all over your home that are using just as much energy as a bedroom light, even when they are turned off.

In this guide, we will walk you through learning how to identify these phantom load electronics, and how to prevent them from costing you money and adding to your carbon footprint.  

If you have decided to focus on strategies to lower your environmental impact by utilizing less energy, this project is the perfect starting point. Depending on how many electronics you have plugged into your home outlets, this project should only take an hour or two, at most, and could end up saving you hundreds of dollars on your electric bill every year.

To start, you’re going to need to pick up a device called a Kill A Watt Electricity Usage Monitor. This device can be purchased on Amazon, for usually less than $20, or you can often borrow one from your local library.

What the Kill A Watt is going to do is identify the Watts being consumed by various electronics. Measuring the Watts used will help you calculate how much money an electronic is costing you. To think of things simply, Watts cost you money on your energy bill, so you don’t want to be using them when a product is not in use.

Once you have your Kill A Watt in hand, you’re going to want to plug it into every electronic device that plugs into an outlet.

Only Test Your On/Off Electronics

These are devices that remain plugged into outlets but you only use them when they are turned on and don’t need them drawing power when they are turned off. Examples of these could be bedroom lights, TVs, cable boxes, computers, monitors, game systems, laptop chargers, stereos and coffee makers.

The following steps will help you identify which of these devices are drawing phantom loads.

  1. To begin, plug the chosen electronic directly into the Kill A Watt, and then plug the Kill A Watt into your outlet.
  2. As the Kill A Watt turns on, press the Watt button to display Watts. You will see a number and to the right of the number, the word WATT will display. If your device is displaying the letters VA, press the Watt button again to display the Watts.
  3. Turn on the appliance you are testing and watch the Watts on the monitor go up. Wait roughly 30 seconds to a minute for your device to fully power on and record the Watts that are displayed while the appliance is turned on.
  4. Turn the appliance you are testing off and watch the Watts on the monitor go down. After waiting roughly 30 seconds for the device to fully power down, one of two things will happen. If Watt monitor displays zero Watts, it is telling you this device is truly turned off and not using power when not in use (this is what we want). If the device continues to draw Watts, then you have located a phantom load-using device.
  5. Record the number of Watts the device uses while powered on and powered off.
  6. Continue this test with all electronics in your home.

Things to remember during testing:

  • If you use a power strip, don’t group electronics together by plugging the entire power strip into the monitor. Plug each device into the monitor individually to get accurate readings for each appliance.
  • The Kill A Watt monitor does not have its own energy source, so once you unplug it, all data is lost. Record each of your findings, as they won’t be stored in the device.
  • This monitor is large and will require the entire real estate of your outlet, so be prepared to unplug multiple appliances, if they’re connected to the same outlet.
  • If your appliances are in difficult to reach areas, use an extension cord and have a flashlight handy so you can read the monitor.

What To Do When You’ve Identified Phantom Load Appliances

The simple answer is to not use them, as they are costing your money. You will want to unplug then, thus ensuring they have no way of accessing power.  This is not always practical for some appliances that are used frequently or take time to power on, such as cable boxes or computers. – To make this decision, you’re going to want to calculate how much these electronics are costing you every month.

We recommend plugging electronics that use phantom load into power strips and manually using the power strip to turn the device off.

Calculate the Cost of Phantom Load

To find out how much your phantom loads are costing you, you are going to need to do two things, get your electric bill, and do a little math.

Step 1. Find out how many kilowatts your energy company charges your per hour. This information is usually on your bill. If you can’t find a bill, you can use the average cost of energy in the United States, which is 12-cents per kilowatt-hour.

Step 2. Add all of the Watts of the phantom loads you recorded. These were the Watts that were displayed on phantom loads after you powered down your device.

Step 3. Follow these simple math equations to identify how much all of your phantom loads are costing you every month.

  • (sum of phantom load Watts) / 1,000 = X
  • X * 730 * (your cost per kilowatt-hour) = _________

Once you have that final number, you will have the amount all your phantom loads are costing you.

It is not uncommon for someone to be spending an extra $10-$30 per month because of phantom loads.

If your phantom loads are high, invest in power stips with on/off switches and save hundreds of dollars every year.