Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation



Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation

October 18, 2012 11:40 ET

Electricity: Phantom Loads in Your House

MONTREAL, QUEBEC--(Marketwire - Oct. 18, 2012) - Today's household electrical devices offer a range of convenient features such as LED lights, timers, clocks, remote controls, built-in battery chargers, and "instant on" capability; however these features can increase your electricity costs by contributing to the phantom load.

Phantom load is the term used to describe the continuous consumption of electricity by an electrical device even when it is turned off or is in standby mode. The average North American household can have 25 or more devices using standby power including answering machines, clock radios, kitchen appliances, clothes washers, furnaces, computers, audio/video systems, and game consoles. This standby power can account for up to 10 per cent of your household electricity bill. Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in the United States reports that standby power use can range from less than one Watt for the power supply to a mobile phone charger to as much as 80 Watts for an inefficient computer in sleep mode. Considering that one Watt continuous usage roughly corresponds to $1.00 per year in electricity, these costs can add up depending on the number and type of devices in your home.

BC Hydro estimates that the electricity savings in reducing standby power for all appliances and devices nationwide to one Watt would equal the amount of electricity needed to power 400,000 homes. Furthermore, pollutant emissions reductions would be equivalent to taking a large coal-fired power generating unit offline. By reducing phantom loads in the home, one can save money and energy and reduce pollutant emissions associated with electricity generation.

Reducing phantom loads

There are a number of ways that you can reduce the phantom load in your house.

Identify which products use standby power - the most easily identifiable ones will have a light or digital clock even when turned off. Chargers will be warm to the touch even when not charging the intended battery or device. Alternatively, you can purchase an off the shelf electricity meter to determine if your devices are consuming power when turned off and how much energy they are consuming.

Consider unplugging devices that are used infrequently but be aware that they may need recharging at some point if they continue to draw standby power from an internal battery.

Ensure that the power saving mode setting is used for game consoles, computers, and similar devices if available.

Some appliance timer displays can be deactivated when not in use.

Purchase a power strip with surge protection that allows you to shut the power to all plugged in devices at one time. You can choose to switch off the power strip before going to bed each night or when not in use. Alternately, timers can be used to shut down power to these devices. "Smart strips" sense the amount of energy being used by your computer and shut down power to all other devices plugged into the strip when the computer goes into sleep mode. All of the devices are automatically restarted when the monitor is activated.

Cordless devices can use more energy both through standby power as well as during recharging cycles. Consider purchasing devices with cords if possible.

Some devices are necessary and cannot be switched off, such as smoke detectors, programmable thermostats, and fire alarms. Consider purchasing only ENERGY STAR devices and appliances that are designed to consume 30-65 per cent less energy or look for appliances that do not use standby power.

With a bit of advance planning, the electrical circuits in a new home could be organized so that electrical outlets serving equipment and devices such as audio/video equipment or computer work stations could be switched off with the flick of a switch located in a convenient location such as the front door or in the master bedroom. Special, colour coded switches and outlets are available to remind you which electrical outlets are deactivated by the all-off switch.

For over 65 years, Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) has been Canada's national housing agency, and a source of objective, reliable housing information.

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