Phantom energy and reducing your bills

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Smart power strips can help conserve energy

By Maryellen Garrison

Energy costs are monthly expenses that fluctuate throughout the year, since much of our heating and cooling usage depends on Mother Nature. However, you can make your home more energy efficient and reduce some of your energy expenses by locating and switching off sources of phantom energy in your home.

Phantom energy usage occurs when a device is not performing its primary task but is still using electricity. Phantom energy users include many products that have a standby mode, such as microwaves, coffee makers and similar products that constantly display the time. Devices with remote controls, external power supplies and battery chargers are other examples of phantom energy culprits. These include televisions, cell phone chargers and cordless phones. These devices use electricity 24 hours a day when plugged into an outlet.

The easiest way to reduce phantom energy usage is to unplug these products when they are not in use.  Sometimes this is easier said than done, especially if you regularly use the product. If you find yourself in that situation, you may want to consider purchasing a smart power strip to manage a group of electronics or a conserve power switch for small appliances.

Smart power strips are equipped with control outlets, switched outlets and constant outlets. The control outlets manage much of the power coming into the strip.  When you plug a device into a control outlet and it goes into sleep mode, the strip will cut off the power to it and other devices placed on the switched outlets. The constant, or hot, outlet continuously provides power only to the product plugged into it. This is beneficial if you have devices like a fax machine or digital video recorder that need to stay on regardless. Smart power strips are available at office supply stores and supercenters.

Conserve power switches are handy if you find it cumbersome to unplug all your small appliances or electronics after each use. These have an on/off switch that you can flip to control the power to a device, so you’re not constantly plugging and unplugging your appliances or electronics. These switches are available online.

Reducing phantom energy use is one way to become more energy efficient. If you’re interested in learning about other ways to manage your home energy use, the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service has a program to teach you how to use an online home energy self-assessment tool. This tool can help you understand how your home uses energy. For more information on this program or phantom energy, visit the Henry County Cooperative Extension Service.


Educational programs of the Cooperative Extension Service serve all people regardless of race, color, age, sex, religion, disability or national origin.