Vampires, Phantoms, and Wall Warts

Posted on: December 7, 2012

Home Pest Control:  Vampires, Phantoms and Wall Warts

Pests, which by definition are considered detrimental to humans, are typically not welcome in our homes.  However, while have fought to keep rodents and insects from invading our living quarters, new pests have moved in.  Vampires, phantoms, and wall warts are now found in most US homes.

Vampire (or phantom) loads and wall warts are all terms used to describe electronic devices that use “standby” power.  Standby power is the energy used by devices when they are turned off, but still plugged into an outlet.  The terms vampire or phantom load refer to these devices sucking energy from your home for no useful purpose.  Some examples of devices with standby power include appliances with clock displays, timers, and most devices that have an indicator light.  Wall warts, or the bulky AC adaptors used to charge electronic devices (phones, pads, modems, etc.) also draw power when they are plugged in – even if they are not charging a device.  That’s right – even when you disconnect your phone but leave the cord plugged in, the electricity continues to flow, albeit at a reduced rate.

According to the US Department of Energy, the amount of energy used by products in standby mode is significant.  The average US household spends $100 per year to power devices while they are off/in standby mode.  Nationally, standby power accounts for more than 100 billion kilowatt hours of electricity consumption and more than $10 billion in annual energy costs.

You can reduce energy consumption from standby power in several ways.

–          When replacing appliances, look for the EnergyStar rating.  EnergyStar-qualified products must meet testing standards that verify the product is among the lowest power consuming in that category in standby mode.

–          Be aware of buying “extra features” on small appliances like microwaves, coffee pots, and telephones where clocks, lights, and other electronic displays will require constant power.

–          Adjust power management settings on computers, monitors, and televisions so that they go into power save mode when not in use.

–          Use power strips.  Power strips can allow you to completely disconnect several pieces of equipment with one flip of a switch (computer, printer, monitor, etc.).  You may also want to look for “smart strips” which will automatically disconnect peripheral devices when you turn off the primary unit.  For example, if you have the television as the primary unit and your DVD, stereo, gaming devices, and receiver plugged into secondary positions on the smart strip, the strip will power off all of the secondary units when you turn off the television.

  • Be aware – for devices on a timer, such as an alarm clock, coffee pot set to brew before you wake up, or Digital Video Recorder (DVR) set to record a program, the device must remain plugged in and allow for standby power in order for it to function as you intended.

–          Unplug your chargers.  When your phone or camera is charged, unplug the wall wart to eliminate energy draw.

If you are curious about quantifying the amount of energy being consumed by various devices in your home, there are a variety of products on the market.  These products range from simple meters which monitor one device at a time, to complex systems which can monitor your entire home.  Simple meters, like the Kill a Watt or Watt’s Up meters range in price from $20-$100 and can help you to calculate both the total energy consumed by a device (using 120 VAC) and the standby power.  To see a video on using these devices, check out the BaseLoad Episode on WxTV:  http://wxtvonline.org/2011/09/baseload/

Whole home monitoring systems or smart grid monitors can provide information on all circuits in the home, but vary in price and complexity.  These systems range in price (starting between $200-$300), but the user interface and complexity of the data output can vary.

Eliminating the impact of vampires, phantoms, and wall warts begins with awareness.  Consider taking simple steps to unplug and reduce electrical energy consumption in your home.