Last updated  Sunday July 8, 2012

Phantom Power -- Part 1 

How to reduce Phantom Power Consumption in the Home:

Phantom power is the energy that your appliances use even when you are not using them. The microwave oven clock, cell phone charger, and TV. They all serve a purpose but they all draw a tiny amount of power when they are plugged in but not running.

Initially, it may seem that phantom power isn’t significant enough to even worry about. But phantom power consumption actually makes up more than 10% of an average home’s electric bill?

A 1 watt reduction in phantom power results in an energy savings of $1.00 per year (at 11.4 cents/KWH). A 100 watt reduction could net $100/year.  --John Loveless Sr.  

This guide will show you how to reduce your phantom power consumption and even save money in the process.  

There are two rules that you should follow when making efficiency improvements:  

Rule#1:  Save energy without sacrificing convenience and luxury.  

Rule#2. The efficiency improvement must save enough energy overtime to pay for the expense of making the improvement.

If the efficiency improvement does not follow these rules, there really isn’t any point in making the improvement.

When I spend money on a more efficient appliance, if at all possible, I sell the old appliance to offset some of the cost in buying the newer, more energy efficient one. Often, this shortens the ROI, (return on investment) from 12+ years to 1-5 years or less.

· Get yourself a Kill-A-Watt meter here.

As Lord Kelvin wisely said, “If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it”.

· Plug in each appliance into the Kill-a-watt meter one at a time and make note of what each appliance draws while in standby. A spreadsheet makes it super easy to sort and sum up the total.

· Some appliances, (if they are hard-wired or run on 240 volts), can’t be measured using the Kill-a-Watt meter.  In this case, it would be beneficial to use a whole house monitoring system like TED Home Pro.

They're pricey but is well worth the investment.  But if you don’t want to buy one, just do your best to estimate what the stand-by power would be. Try checking on-line for specs for that particular appliance. Although standby power is not well advertised on most home appliances.  

· I like to include things like DSL or Cable modems as well.  While they aren’t technically standby power, they do run 24-7 and that justifies them being in this category. They would certainly contribute toward your total energy use too.

· If you leave a PC (or a server) on 24-7, include it’s power consumption as standby power.

· Cycling appliances like air conditioners, furnaces and refrigerators are not included. They fall into the “operating power consumption” category.

· After you have gone through your whole house measuring stand-by power, total up all the watts that are being consumed 24-7.

· I derived an easy-to-remember rule of thumb. Every watt of stand-by power costs you a $1 every year. This assumption is based off of electricity costing 11.4 cents per KWH.  

· Attacking the low lying fruit first, look at your list and highlight all phantom power consumptions greater than 10 watts.

· Computers:

    • If you leave your PC on 24-7, set it up to go to sleep after 30 minutes of non-use.
    • Computers with SSD hard drives go into and out of sleep mode so fast you will never notice that it was asleep before you sat down and clicked the mouse.
    • Use SSD drives in your PC and Laptops.  A typical, magnetic, mechanical hard drive draws about 10-12 watts.  The “green” variety draw about 5-7 watts.   Solid state drives draw 0.6 watts to 2.5 watts.  
    • If you are computer savvy, go into the BIOS and turn off any hardware that you don’t use, (Onboard graphics, COM and parallel ports, modem ring features). Remove unnecessary PCI cards.   
    • If you overclock your computer, measure the difference in power consumption between its default clock/voltage settings and the over-clocked ones, using your Kill-a-watt meter.  

      If the power consumption is vastly different, decide if the extra expense of running overclocked is worth it or not. Even with super fancy video cards, a modern PC (2011 or newer) running idle should only be drawing 40-100 watts.  
    • If the PC power supply is not 80+ Bronze certified or better, consider replacing it with one that is. Verify the new supply meets the 1 watt initiative for stand-by power. If you are running a server that must run 24-7, replace its power supply with an 80+ gold certified one. This cost will be recouped in energy savings in a couple years. For example, if your server draws 400 watts all the time, replacing its 65% efficient power supply with an 80+ gold certified supply bought on sale for $59, will pay for itself in 5 months.
    • Networked printer. Set up the printer to power down after a few minutes of un-use. My printer used to draw 7 watts all the time. After I went in and set up the standby settings, it now only draws 2.2 watts in standby. When a print job comes along, it wakes up and prints the job just like before. Only now, it uses nearly 5 watts less
    • Computer monitor:  Measure power consumption of the computer monitor itself.  If it is more than 65 watts, consider upgrading it.  Modern LED backlit monitors draw less than 20 watts, even for a large 23” one.  
    • Networking equipment. Buy Ethernet devices that have low power Ethernet capabilities. This ramps down the power consumption when the wired connection is less than 20 meters. D-link states that this can reduce the power consumption by over 66%.  

  • Home Theaters:

    • Unfortunately, satellite and cable boxes must remain on if you want to still be able to record your favorite TV shows and receive schedule updates. But all of the other audio/video equipment can be put on a power strip and shut off when not in use.
    • There are some really cool smart power strips that make this super convenient. One appliance is plugged into the always-on outlet. When that appliance (TV for example) is turned on, the power strip automatically turns on all the other equipment.  
    • For appliances that draw more than 10 watts in standby, ask yourself why you are hanging onto such an inefficient dinosaur. If it draws that much in standby, it probably draws a lot more turned on than a new one would. It is quite possible that you will be able to justify buying a new one simply by the energy savings alone. If you absolutely can’t replace the old appliance, put it on a power strip with a switch and turn it off when not in use.  
    • If you are ready to replace an appliance anyway, make energy efficiency a priority and only buy appliances that carry an energy star rating. They will save you energy and money. I recently bought a new cordless phone. I went to the energystar website and found a few modles at the top of the low-energy-consumption list. I bought a phone with a super efficient wall adapter. It was a phone with 2 handsets so I was able to replace 2 old cordless phones with one new purchase.

· Seasonal Appliances. Unplug these while in the off season.

    • Central Air, turn off its breaker during colder months. My central air draws 33 watts all the time. I don’t know why.  It doesn’t have to be running in the winter so when the fall, I turn its breaker off.  
    • Sprinkler timers. Do you run the sprinklers when it’s snowing? Un-plug it.  But make sure it has a working battery backup lest ye lose the programmed watering schedule come spring time.
    • Power adapters.  Is the wall adapter heavy?   If so, it is probably a linear supply (as opposed to a switching supply) and as such, draws way more power than it needs to. If the wall adapter draws more than 5 watts even with the appliance turned off, put the appliance on a power strip with a switch.

By following these steps, you should be able to reduce your phantom power consumption to well under 200 watts. I got mine down to 150 watts, then 120, then 96 watts and now I am working to break the 60 watt phantom power barrier.  

OK, so you have done all the easy things and reaped a pretty significant savings.  Come back next time for part 2 where we will delve into ways to reduce your phantom power consumption by another 50% or more.