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Why do all plugged in electric items use electricity when turned off?

By FPL Expert

Asked on: August 9, 2012 by John D., St. Augustine

Why do plugged-in electric items use electricity when turned off? If current isn’t flowing, why are they taking power?

Don’t get spooked, but you may have energy phantoms lurking in your home. Phantom energy, or phantom load, is electricity consumed by an electrical device when it is in the "off" mode. The good news is that these energy phantoms account for only a tiny fraction of the energy use compared to when devices are "on." There are several reasons why home appliances and electronics still use up to a few Watts even when turned off. Many devices in your home are ready to operate or receive power even when they are not being used, but are plugged in. To stay ready for use, current continues to flow to items such as cell phone chargers, televisions and kitchen appliances. That is why adapters plugged into the wall feel slightly warm even when the device is “off.” Common energy phantoms in your home include appliances with time displays, like microwaves, and remote-controlled devices, like TVs and cable boxes, that need only a small amount of power to receive the signal. VCR’s have clocks and little computers to turn them on and off automatically at specified times, which is called standby power. Phantom loads can be as little as one Watt, particularly in ENERGY STAR® electronics and appliances and, in older electronics it is typically only a few Watts. Keep energy phantoms at bay by unplugging items until needed. Also, use power strips to cut power to multiple items with one switch. To see how much your appliances cost you on a monthly basis, use our appliance calculator at www.FPL.com/appliance.

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Comments [5]

  1. pat m.

    What about a lithium battery charger for a cordless grass trimmer ? How much electric does that use?

  2. Diana Rose

    My new tower fan states I should unplug it when not in use. Will not unpluging it cause a fire or cost me electricity? Why should I unplug my fan?

  3. Melissa

    Very true about the cable box! Even when it is off, I hear it making sounds and is very warm… so I turned off the power strip and felt that it was too inconvenient to wait so long for it to boot back up and load the channel/show information. Yet I feel like I am wasting electricity by leaving it “sort of on” when it’s off. I wonder how much electricity it is using when it isn’t on- perhaps Comcast should come up with a green solution

  4. Edward Fox

    I LIKE the appliance cost calculator!!!

  5. Joseph Buch

    Everything in this article is true. The real question should be, “Is the power saving obtained by unplugging the device significant enough to warrant the inconvenience. If you unplug a Comcast digital cable box, for example, the box will take 20 minutes to reboot and reload the allowed channels and the electronic cable program guide.

    To determine if the device is consuming power when off, simply put your hand on it. If it is using significant power it will feel warm. If it is at room temperature, leave it plugged in. My cell phone charger does not feel warm once the cell phone is fully charged so I leave it plugged in.


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