In practically every house in America, money is being wasted on energy consumption.  That’s because on average 35% of the power used is actually wasted.  This is neither good for your bank account or the environment. So, if you looked around your home today, could you identify the appliances that are costing you the most money every month?

We have taken a non-scientific look at an average home and identified some likely power vampires for you.  By simply unplugging some of these power junkies, you might be surprised at what it can save you.

Even when these appliances are off, they’re using energy.  How?  Smart appliances when they are in the “off” — go into standby mode. According to the US Department of Energy, vampire appliances and electronics account for 10% of energy used in an average home. When you include all US homes, that totals about 100 billion kWh per year or about 50 large-size power plants.  

If we assume that an average large-size power plant is 500 Megawatts (MWs), and 1 MW powers 720 average- sized homes, that’s enough power to keep the lights on in 18 million average US homes.  

How to Identify Energy Vampires

Typically, energy vampires in your home have the following characteristics: 

  • An external power supply
  • A remote control
  • A continuous display (including an LED), such as a clock, or anything with a clock
  • Charges batteries (something that contains a charging battery – not always obvious – but a good rule of thumb is anything that is a “smart” device – if you can program it, it’s a Vampire)

How Can You Stop Energy Vampires?

  • Unplug appliances and electronics, especially cell phone chargers and video game systems, when not in use.
  • Use power strips that will turn off all appliances (TVs, cable/satellite boxes and DVD players) or electronics (all computer equipment) plugged into them.
  • Turn off routers, printers and other peripheral computer equipment when not in use.

How Much do Vampire Appliances Cost?

Our home gadgets and appliances—from TVs, computers and coffee makers to clothes dryers—often suck up power even when we’re not using them.  These energy vampires take quite a bite of our utility bills.  Now, we know just how much.

Smart meter data from 70,000 homes in Northern California show that devices not being used—many in “sleep” or “standby” mode— consume electricity around the clock and account for nearly one fourth of a home’s power use.  The biggest energy hogs include aquariums, pay-TV set-top boxes, and hot water recirculation pumps.

The U.S. cost of all these idle loads—ranging from $165 to $440 per home—totals $19 billion annually.

A study by the Natural Resources Defense Council or NRDC, an environmental group, revealed that consumer electronics such as printers and gaming consoles account for half of this amount.

The cost isn’t just financial.  The report, “Home Idle Load,” says the electricity generated for these always-on devices represents a lot of carbon pollution contributing to global warming but could be avoided.

The problem may be widening.  While many devices are becoming more energy-efficient, there are more of them.  Once purely mechanical devices, such as refrigerators, are going digital with electronic displays and controls. Increasingly, they’re also gaining Internet connectivity. The “smarter” the device or appliance, the more energy it consumes. 

“The digital controls are not designed with efficiency in mind,” says report author Pierre Delforge, NRDC’s director of high-tech sector energy efficiency. “This is not rocket science,” he says, noting the technology exists to keep devices connected at half a watt or less.

He says the report, in addition to detailed audits of 10 homes and an analysis of 2,750 San Francisco Bay area homes, contains the broadest use ever of smart meter data to assess idle loads. “We were surprised by the huge number and variety of energy hogs,” noting there was an average of 65 devices in the audited homes.

Delforge says consumers are using many of the same devices nationwide.  Also, he says results did not vary much based on a home’s location, age, size, or number of occupants.  Half of the smart meters were in mild climates along the Pacific Coast while the remainder were in more severe inland climates.

What mattered most, he says, were the devices themselves.  The report urges more incentive programs for consumers and mandatory efficiency standards for manufacturers.  Delforge says the federal government’s voluntary ENERGY STAR program, which gives a yellow label to efficient products, is a “good start,” but more needs to be done.

Delforge said he audited his own home and found its idle load uses 70 watts—less than half of the 164-watt average for the 70,000 California homes evaluated.  He said his biggest energy hogs are his computer modem, using 20 watts, and his electric car charger, 15 watts.

The Top 12 Most Energy Draining Appliances in an Average Home (Source: US Department of Energy)

  1. Central Air Conditioner (2 ton): 1450 kWh/month ($284.35)
  2. Water Heater (4-person household): 310/kWh/month ($60.79)
  3. Refrigerator (17-20 cubic foot): 205 kWh/month ($40.20)
  4. Dryer: 75 kWh/month ($14.70)
  5. Oven Range: 58 kWh/month ($11.37)
  6. Lighting 4-5 room household: 50 kWh/month ($9.81)
  7. DVR: 42 kWh/month ($8.24)
  8. Dishwasher: 30 kWh/month ($5.88)
  9. Television: 27 kWh/month ($5.29)
  10. Microwave: 16 kWh/month ($3.14)
  11. Gaming consoles: 15 kWh/month ($2.94)
  12. Washing Machine: 9 kWh/month ($1.77)

If we use the average kWh price for California (see our article on California Energy Costs August 2020):

“California average residential price for the 12 months ended June 2020 was 19.61 cents/kWh, 55.1% higher than the US average of 12.64 cents/kWh for all states other than California. California’s residential prices remained the 7th highest in the nation.”

The identified top 12 appliances in the list above would cost $448.48 monthly.  Note, this is not all of the devices found in homes – as the NRDC study noted – an average-home has an 65 devices using energy.  To this, we would have to add the cost of the “stand-by” power.

Five Things You Can Do to Reduce Your Costs

For people who are motivated, they can reduce their idle load by half or more by either using technology that can detect the biggest energy use offenders or doing the following: 

  1. Unplug devices not in use or used rarely, such as a DVR set-top box in the guest bedroom, a second fridge in the garage, or the furnace in the summer (switch it off if hardwired).
  2. Plug devices into a power strip, or consider installing a whole-house switch that remotely turns off controlled outlets with the flip of a switch.  
  3. Plug them into a timer. A digital timer is better than a mechanical one because digital timers typically have a lower standby load. Use a timer for hot water recirculation pumps, instant coffee machines, or towel heaters.
  4. Adjust power settings.  Set your computer to go to sleep after 30 minutes or less of inactivity. Turn it off when you’re done using it. Disable the “quick start” setting for TVs if they use more than a couple of watts, and disable the “instant on” mode for game consoles if you don’t need it.
  5. Buy ENERGY STAR equipment when possible, because it minimizes energy use for idle and active modes.


Look to the Future

Since energy costs are likely to increase in California, stand-by power costs will also increase as we move to 100% renewable power.  Better management of our “smart” devises at home may be a way to cut some of our power bill, but if Governor Gavin Newsom’s plans to ban the internal combustion engine go through – get ready for a brand new massive vampire to plug into your house – your car.