Save an Easy $100 by Unplugging These Devices

Just because the TV is turned off doesn't mean it isn't consuming energy. Millions and millions of watts of "phantom energy" are used every day by unsuspecting electric customers. When the next utility bill arrives, think about how the family can save electricity (see Cheapism's infographic below).

The Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory measured the watts consumed by various household appliances on a daily basis when they are plugged in but not in use. Multiplying the total kilowatt hours by the average cost of electricity (11 cents per kilowatt hour) for 20 common household products comes to nearly $100 for a 12-month period. In other words, you could save far more than pennies simply by unplugging electric devices and appliances that are just on standby.

Sure, there are energy-sucking appliances that would be impractical to unplug when inactive (the washer and dryer, for example) or would disrupt what is a necessary continuous service (the refrigerator, say, or electric alarm clock). But consider this: More than $40 worth (40 percent) of phantom energy is eaten up by the digital cable box and DVR. If your routine calls for recording TV programs only in the evening, pull the cord before going to sleep and reconnect prior to the next recording session. If you have multiple cable boxes, disconnect them all until their services are needed. Here is a golden opportunity to save electricity.

Desktop computers raise similar issues. If the computer, excluding the monitor, is completely off but remains plugged in, the average annual cost of electricity is just $2.74. However, if "off" in your mind really means "idle," you could be spending more than $70 a year for the convenience of being able to jostle the computer awake with a swift shake of the mouse. Putting the computer into "sleep" mode is more energy efficient than leaving it to sit idly but still adds an average $20 a year to the electric bill.

Devices such as a fax machine, CD player, and furnace cost only about $5 each for a 24/7 electric hook-up. Spending $1.52 a year to avoid having to plug and unplug my laser printer every time I need it seems like money well spent. I'm also willing to shell out small amounts to keep critical devices on standby: $1.49 for the DVD player, $1.09 for the computer monitor, and $1.10 for the coffee maker.

The truth is it wouldn't take much to unplug these items when they're not in use. You probably don't use the printer, scanner, or even the computer every day unless you work from home. And in most households, the coffee maker perks up just once daily. A little attentiveness to usage patterns and two seconds of action could yield measurable results in the form of lower outlays for electricity.

Start by unplugging your mobile phone and charger at the same time when you grab the phone for the day. Do the same with the coffee maker after your morning java, and completely turn off the computer when the tasks at hand are finished.

Cost of Plugging in 20 Common Household Products*

Annual Cost
LCD TV 1.92 16.8 $1.85
Plasma TV 9.59 84 $9.35
DVD Player 1.55 13.58 $1.49
Digital Cable
Box with DVR
43.46 (off by remote) 380.71 $41.88
Desktop Computer 2.84 (off) 24.87 $2.74 (off)
73.97 (idle) 647.98 $71.78 (idle)
21.13 (sleep) 185.1 $20.36 (sleep)
Desktop LCD
Computer Monitor
1.13 (off) 9.9 $1.09 (off)
1.38 (sleep) 12.09 $1.33 (sleep)
Laptop Computer 8.9 77.96 $8.58
4.42 (power cord only) 38.72 $4.26 (power cord only)
Inkjet Printer 1.26 11.04 $1.21
4.93 (on) 43.19 $4.75 (on)
Laser Printer 1.58 13.84 $1.52
Flatbed Scanner 2.48 21.72 $2.39
Inkjet Fax Machine 5.31 46.52 $5.12
DSL Modem 1.37 12 $1.32
Cable Modem 3.84 33.64 $3.70
Game Console 1.01 8.85 $0.97
CD Player 5.04 44.15 $4.86
Surge Protector 1.05 9.2 $1.01
Central Furnace 4.21 36.88 $4.56
Coffee Maker 1.14 9.99 $1.10
Cell Phone Charger 0.26 2.28 $0.25
Irrigation Timer 2.75 24.09 $2.65
Total $97.64

*Based on 11 cents/kilowatt hour; 1 watt = 8.76 kWh
Source: Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory; calculations