Unnecessary Household Power Use: Appliances and Electronics

By Laurèn DeMates.

Did you know that many household items still consume power when they are plugged in but aren’t in use? This standby power or vampire power is defined as electrical power used by appliances and equipment (e.g., microwave ovens, computers, printers, DVD players) when they are off or not performing their primary function. Other items don’t have an on/off button or switch so are always on and consuming power (e.g., internet modems and some digital clocks). This unnecessary power used by electronics and appliances is not at the forefront of conversations about home energy use, but it does add up and is worth looking at. Inspired by the New York Times article “Just How Much Power Do Your Electronics Use When They Are ‘Off’?” by Tatiana Schlossberg and using a $20 Kill-a-Watt power meter, I set out to measure the power consumption of electronics and appliances in my apartment that I could easily address by unplugging or using a power strip.

Electronic/Appliance Item Power measured in watts when item is on or in use* Power measured in watts when item is off or in standby mode** Notes
iPhone 5 6 1 Charger doesn’t consume electricity when not plugged into device
iPad 6 3 Charger doesn’t consume electricity when not plugged into device
Apple Macbook Pro 51 13 Charger doesn’t consume electricity when not plugged into device
AT&T Pace modem 7 7 Always on
Sony turntable 1 0.6 On/Off button
Sherwood Stereo Receiver Turntable Amplifier 27 1 On/Off button
Workrite sit-stand desk 3 0 Automatic shutoff
Mr. Coffee 12-cup programmable coffee maker 1.4 1.4 Automatic timed shutoff
Lamps Vary 0 On/Off switch
*Apple products are plugged in and charging **Apple products are plugged in and 100% charged

Drawing 13 watts of power when charged, my Macbook Pro is the number one culprit of standby power. Other noteworthy electronics that consume a lot of power are my charged iPad and internet modem (which is always on). The coffee maker and stereo also consume a considerable amount of power even though they both have an off button. This experiment provides insight into potential unnecessary energy use at home and is a great reminder why it’s worth unplugging some appliances and electronics when they’re not in use, or using a power strip with an on/off switch.

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