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New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services

Ideas for a Cleaner Environment
Published monthly by the NH Department of Environmental Services Watershed Assistance Program, Concord, NH (603) 271-7889

September, 2006

Spook the Phantom - Plugging Electricity Leaks in Your Home

From our wallets, to the environment, to our health, energy use continues to be in the spotlight. If you are concerned about how much energy you use, you may want to think about how much energy is trickling away from your appliances and electronics without your knowledge.

Energy used to power small household appliances and home electronics is one of the fastest growing energy loads in the home. Unfortunately, most idle small appliances and equipment, like TVs, DVD and CD players, cable boxes, computers, microwaves, and cordless phones continue to use energy even when switched off. This phenomenon is referred to as "standby power," "leaking electricity," or "phantom loads." A typical home has as many as 12 to 15 appliances on standby power that are consuming electricity 24 hours a day, or about 5 percent of the average total electric bill. The total phantom load of the United States could power the countries of Greece, Peru, and Vietnam combined. Phantom load increases demand for power, which adds to the negative effects from power plants including greenhouse gasses, respiratory problems, and acid rain.

Phantom load electronics or appliances may have standby options waiting for us to tell them what to do or little transformer boxes that continue to draw electricity even when not in use. Electricity leaks vary. According to the US Department of Energy, compact audio systems have leaks varying from 1.3 watts to 28.6 watts. Many cable boxes and several models of compact audio equipment and VCRs use the same amount of electricity whether they are on or off.

In your home and office, electricity leaks are easy to plug. First, inspect for electrical devices that have a clock, need a remote control, charge a battery, are plugged into the wall with a wall cube or transformer, or don’t have an "off" switch. You could unplug these devices when not in use, but that wouldn’t be very convenient. Instead, consider plugging multiple devices into a power strip that can then be turned off. For a single device, plug into a smaller outlet switch available at most hardware or home improvement stores. Then, turn off the switch. Remember to consider which devices you can afford to lose programming on. An elaborate home entertainment system may not be practical to re-program and your home answering machine would obviously become ineffective, but the microwave, VCR, and cable boxes would be a safe place to start plugging the leak.

You can also make a difference by considering the phantom load when purchasing a product. For purchasing devices that are impractical to turn off, consider buying ENERGY STAR products. The Environmental Protection Agency is beginning to include standby power limits in their qualifications for the ENERGY STAR program.

Addressing leaking electricity can be a great way to complement an existing energy conservation mindset at home or work. Let’s say you already turn off your lights in your home when not in use, buy energy efficient appliances (checking for the ENERGY STAR label), replace all of your light bulbs with new compact fluorescent lights (CFLs), and have a well insulated home. You may want to add to your list "reduce leaking electricity."

For more information about leaking electricity, visit the US Department of Energy Web site. For more information about energy efficiency, visit the NH Department of Environmental Services Web site or contact the NHDES Air Resources Division at (603) 271-1370.

NH Department of Environmental Services | 29 Hazen Drive | PO Box 95 | Concord, NH 03302-0095
(603) 271-3503 | TDD Access: Relay NH 1-800-735-2964 | Hours: M-F, 8am-4pm

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