Does Unplugging Appliances Save Electricity?

Inspire Clean Energy

16 min read

category: Sustainable Living

Learn how can unplugging appliances save energy

There’s a lot of advice out there about how you can start saving money on your utility bills, but sometimes it can be hard to tell what advice will really make a difference come the end of the month. One common question many people have is whether it’s necessary to not just turn off appliances you’re not using, but to unplug them altogether.

We’re going to answer that question and give you more guidance on which appliances are most likely to drive up your energy bills.

Does unplugging appliances really help save money?

The modern home is full of electrical devices, and if you think about everything you have plugged into the outlets or extension cords around your own house, you might be surprised by the sheer number of devices you own, especially if you include chargers!

Then there are appliances like refrigerators and freezers that we never turn off. They are a constant drain on electricity, and apart from making sure you have energy-efficient versions, there is little you can do to reduce their power usage except by ensuring you open them as infrequently as possible.

For everything else, we know that when devices are in use, they cost us money and when they are off, they don’t. Or at least, that’s what common sense would tell us. But is this really the case?

Devices that you actually unplug from the outlet can’t use electricity, but if you leave them plugged in, they can continue to draw energy when they’re switched off, even if it’s only a little. This tiny draw of electricity can add up over time and drive up your usage and thus your electricity bill, so unplugging devices can actually save you money.

Should you unplug your appliances when they’re not in use?

In 2015, the Natural Resources Defense Council estimated that devices left on 24/7 (even if only on standby) cost the average US household around $165 every year. That’s $19 billion worth of electricity wasted across the country in a world where we have become increasingly aware that energy generation often comes at an environmental cost. The NRDC reports that this wasted energy adds up to around the amount of electricity that’s produced by 50 large (500-megawatt) power plants – every year. That’s an alarming statistic.

The problem is that one device isn’t going to make a huge amount of difference. For example, a TV that is always on standby might only cost you a few dollars a year. Of course, when you multiply those few dollars by the number of other devices you leave plugged in, including chargers, you can quickly see how the money adds up.

Look around the room at all the things you can see plugged in around you – I can see 20 different devices in my direct line of sight that are plugged in. 20 x $2 a year is $40. $2 isn’t money anyone would worry about, but $40 or more? Now it starts to make sense why it might be worth unplugging the devices we don’t use 24/7!

What uses the most electricity in a home?

Anything that heats or cools, whether that is a furnace, a hairdryer, a refrigerator, or an air conditioner, will consume a lot more electricity than, for instance, a new TV or a phone charger. In most homes, the biggest power users are:

Technology has improved a lot in recent years. Not so long ago, a TV on standby consumed almost as much electricity as it did when it was on. That’s no longer the case, but many things continue to suck up electricity while they are left plugged in.

Any device that you can use a remote to turn on is consuming power all the time. It’ll have a circuit monitoring the room for a signal and will be ready to wake up the device when activated. Again, looked at individually, it will add up to a tiny amount, even over a year, but added together with other devices, it can become significant. And oftentimes you don’t even realize it’s happening.

What can you do to lower your electric bill?

Reducing the amount of phantom electricity you are consuming often means a change of habit. We have become used to leaving appliances plugged in; it is so convenient, after all! But is it so difficult to plug something in before using it? You probably don’t need your microwave to tell you the time, so unplug it when you aren’t using it.

Using power strips can help, especially when you have several separate devices that are typically used together. Having your TV, game consoles, and home cinema system all plugged into one power strip makes sense. Not only does it make the best use of your electrical outlets, but pressing one rocker switch or removing one plug is a lot easier than taking out five or more.

New smart power strips also allow you to control individual sockets from an app on your smartphone or use your smart speaker, so if convenience is important to you, it may be well worth the investment. They allow you to be more efficient in your electricity usage and also include surge protection. Smart plugs allow for more intelligent use of appliances and help avoid unnecessary power consumption.

When you need to replace a device or appliance, be sure to choose one with energy efficiency in mind. Any upgraded appliance, even if you choose the cheapest on the market, will be more energy efficient than one that’s 5+ years old, so it may actually be better to replace an old appliance than repair it.

If you habitually leave your computer on, consider saving electricity by turning it off when you don’t need it. If you don’t want to inconvenience yourself, look to items you genuinely don’t use often. For example, many printers now live in standby mode, but it’s really no trouble to go and plug it in prior to use.

We have plenty of other tips and tricks to help you save energy, too:

How can I tell which appliances are using the most electricity?

Energy usage figures for appliances are often available, but the best way to get a picture of actual power consumption is by using an electricity monitor.

Electricity monitors are a cost-effective way to discover which appliances are power-hungry and which are using less. Simply plug one into an outlet and then plug the appliance into the monitor. You can measure how much power is being pulled, how many watts it consumes, and how much the device costs to run if you input your electricity unit price. It won’t take you long to find out which of your appliances are energy-efficient and which should be used sparingly or turned off when not in use.

A monitor not only gives you a snapshot of an appliance’s power consumption but can allow you to see what the operating costs are over a certain period of time. You may be surprised by how much electricity an individual device uses on a weekly or monthly basis!

You can take many steps to minimize the amount of phantom power used in your home, but the first is to realize it's happening. The more things you unplug or physically turn off, the better. Not only will your electricity costs go down but if everyone takes similar steps, the demand for energy generation for the whole country can be reduced.

With fears about climate change becoming more common and the global struggle to produce enough clean and sustainable energy, reducing our personal electricity usage is a must. Lowering consumption is necessary for everyone, but cutting phantom electricity is a no-brainer and can save you money, too.

If you’re not sure you can cut your energy usage but want to do your part for the environment, we’re here to help. We can help you switch to renewable energy so that you can rest easy knowing that no matter how much energy you use, it’s all supporting clean resources. Click here to find out more or to make the switch to sustainable energy today.

Does leaving plugs in use electricity?

Everything that is connected to power will use some energy. Because it's so often connected with equipment in standby or inactive mode, standby electricity loss is also known as phantom or idle electricity. Many appliances continue to use electricity even when they are shut off. The same goes for all those chargers, whether or not they are charging a smartphone.

Everything you leave plugged into an outlet—appliances, computers, consoles, chargers, lamps, and more —draws energy even when not in use. Energy is not only converted for household use, it’s  also used by power suppliers. As long as it's connected, anything with a transformer (those black boxes on power cords) consumes power. These boxes waste up to three-quarters of the electricity that travels through them due to poor design.

According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, the cost of plugged-in but unused equipment costs around $165 per home annually or $19 billion in the United States. This equates to around 44 million tons of CO2 or 4.6 percent of total household electricity generation in the country. According to the Department of Energy, the loss is estimated to be between 5 and 8 percent of a single-family home's annual usage, or a full month's energy cost. 

Take a tour through your home and count the number of devices you have plugged in, and you might discover you are wasting 25 percent of your energy bill feeding phantom power sources. Connecting an item to a charger after it has already been fully charged is another popular way to waste electricity. Without providing any additional benefit, this reckless activity can burn up to 10 times more passive energy!

In addition, cable boxes, Apple TVs, Xbox consoles, and any other modern application of this type consume electricity continuously. While it's not practical to remove the cable box every time you switch off the TV, these devices frequently operate in "standby mode," sucking power continuously so that they can be brought to attention and activity at the touch of a button. Furthermore, if you don't spend that much time online, operating a continual router and cable box is a waste of money.

Electric clocks and LED displays are also a minor, persistent drain on your power source, but these energy vampires are easy to overlook. While turning off all these gadgets every time you use them would be time-consuming and inconvenient, the less-often used devices should be disconnected. As you can see, homes are set up to drain energy from more sources than most people expect!

How do you tell what is using the most electricity?

The most known offenders for electricity usage are air-conditioning, water heating, appliances, lighting, and electronics such as computers and televisions. You might not be able to do much about the draw from each item you have plugged in at home. However, you can at least keep track of how much electricity you use. 

It's feasible to do so for each device, but it takes some effort to track down all the phantom energy. The kilowatt hour (kWh) is a unit of energy measurement that refers to the amount of fuel in something or the amount of energy used over a given time period. While the term kWh implies energy is consumed over a period of time, it’s actually the equivalent of one kilowatt (1 kW) of continuous power for one hour.

You simply need one gadget to gain specifics on your energy usage: an electricity usage monitor that shows you exactly how many kWh a device or appliance is using. The monitor can be as simple as a "plug load" monitor that plugs into an outlet and then has the device or appliance plugged into it. The consumption is usually displayed on an LED screen. 

In addition, you can buy whole-house electricity monitoring tools, but these require installation by an electrician. A wireless energy monitor can offer a real-time display of total power consumption that works on items that are not plugged in, like air-conditioning. 

Is switching off a socket the same as unplugging?

The only method to ensure no electricity flows through an appliance is to turn it off at the socket and pull the plug out. However, because the socket switch could be broken, this method isn’t always effective. Instead, go to the consumer unit/fuse box and turn off the main power. Turning off a surge protector or suppressor, as some call them, is essentially the same as disconnecting it; it saves a little amount of electricity and is slightly safer in a storm than leaving it on.

Why is it important to unplug appliances when not in use?

First, unplugging appliances and other electronics when not in use saves you money. Second, unplugging reduces your carbon footprint while also helping the Earth and everyone on the planet. Because fossil fuels provide the majority of the energy that powers our houses, unplugging items lowers your energy demand and carbon emissions. 

When your devices are plugged in but not in use, they consume electricity, known as the phantom effect. As a result, unplugging those devices can save electricity. Do not worry about unplugging every gadget; simply plug what you can into a power strip so you can unplug less. 

Finally, look for appliances that have the Energy Star label. According to its website, Energy Star helps conserve enough energy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Which appliances use electricity even when turned off?

You would be shocked by how many appliances continue to use electricity even after they’ve been switched off. Any appliance with an LCD, light, or clock, such as your DVD or DVR player, cable box, television, or microwave, consumes electricity even when turned off. Sleep or standby power mode devices are never entirely turned off; instead, they go into standby mode. Rather than turning off fully, most televisions, cable boxes, monitors, and PCs will choose standby as their go-to option.

Even if your computer is entirely turned off, it will continue to use power to keep the motherboard running. Any appliance in your home that utilizes an external power supply, such as a mobile phone charger, computer speakers, or any other appliance with a square block plug, will use power. Many appliances have an active LED screen that continues to zap power, such as the microwave, air fryer, and oven. 

Which appliances should I unplug to save energy?

When not in use, try to turn off computers, televisions, phones, stereos, microwaves, coffee makers, and traditional lamps. Larger appliances are far too difficult to unplug, as they are often very tightly wedged against the wall. Instead, focus on smaller items that are easier to unplug or plug multiple devices into one surge protector. This will allow you to unplug multiple items at one time. 

Do not leave your phone, laptop, or other small electronics plugged in once they are fully charged, as this will continue the energy stream. Other items, like modems and desktop computers, may only need to be unplugged at night. Check other plugs, though, like printers, fax machines, docking stations, instruments, electric toothbrushes, and gaming consoles. 

What are the benefits of unplugging appliances?

Saving money is one benefit of unplugging appliances and devices. However, not everyone sees how this can help the planet. Energy goes through a circuitous route before entering a home. First, power plants generate electricity and send it to a transformer for transmission; the transmission lines carry the electricity over long distances to a neighborhood transformer. The power lines then transmit the energy to homes. 

This process costs money and creates emissions at every step. By reducing your energy usage, you can improve this system. If more people use less energy, the entire world benefits. Switching to greener energy sources can help you as well as the planet. Added benefits of unplugging unused items, especially those with the ability to create heat, can protect you from power surges and fires. 

What are other ways to save electricity?

The best way to save electricity is to reduce the number of electric devices you use or reduce high-wattage electric devices. It's a good idea to look at the Energy Star ratings when replacing old appliances in the kitchen. Energy Star appliances are meant to operate better and provide long-term benefits, such as lowering your home's carbon footprint. Even a little reduction in energy consumption can result in significant electricity cost reductions over time.

Next, consider improvements you can make to your home. Older heating systems are inefficient by today's standards. Undeniably, cooling systems older than 10 years of age are candidates for replacement. You can also choose a programmable thermostat with improved controls to save electricity. 

Additionally, insulate the attic in both older and non-energy-efficient homes. The attic is a popular site for heat to escape, as it rises. An extra layer of insulation in an under-insulated home might save money and pay for itself in four or five years. Furthermore, add ceiling fans to help circulate air in conjunction with the HVAC system. Examine your water system, including toilets, plumbing, showerheads, and faucets. Finally, reduce wattage utilization by switching to LED or CFL bulbs to cut energy usage and expenditures.

Consider getting a home energy audit to better understand how your home uses energy. An evaluation may help you determine how much energy inefficient homes use. It can also identify problem areas and solutions that can save you money and improve the comfort of your home. Lastly, look into green energy sources that may save money and help reduce energy usage.

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