Fighting phantom power: How to plug an energy leak

Standby power can cost the average household about $100 a year. It's electricity that's wasted by leaving some of your appliances in standby mode, feeding power into devices that are doing nothing.

If gaps around your front door are leaking heat in the winter, you might want to invest a little time and install weather stripping to keep the lid on your heating bill. Especially considering electricity costs are set to rise  by 50 per cent over the next 10 years.

Perhaps after completing that job, you'll plop yourself on the couch, reach for the remote and turn on that brand spanking new flat-screen TV. What you may not realize is that your state of the art TV has been inflating your energy bill — even when it's turned off.

Phantom power — electricity sucked up by appliances even when they're turned off or in standby mode — may be responsible for up to 10 per cent of your annual electricity bill or more than $100 for the average household.

The International Energy Agency has been pushing for global limits on the amount of power electronic devices should use while in standby mode. The graphic below illustrates the power that could be slipping through the cracks of your energy-efficiency plan.

When standby power is necessary

While you strive to reduce the amount of energy you use, it may not be practical to eliminate standby power. There are instances when it's necessary. They can include:

  • Maintaining the ability to receive signals (remote controls, telephones or computer networks).
  • Monitoring temperature or humidity (such as in a refrigerator).
  • Powering an internal clock.
  • Charging batteries (although a battery's capacity to recharge diminishes over time).
  • Continuous display (such as on a clock or alarm system).

The federal government amended the Energy Efficiency Act in 2009 allowing it to:

  • Set energy efficiency standards not just for products that use energy, but other products that affect energy consumption, such as windows and doors. The government can now also set standards for devices that regulate energy consumption, such as thermostats.
  • Require reports on what products are covered in Canada's standards and how stringent Canada's standards are compared with other countries and other jurisdictions in North America.
  • Set standards to reduce the amount of energy consumed by electronic devices when they are turned off but still plugged in.

How much does it cost to run your appliances?

Try this energy cost calculator.

Natural Resources Canada's Office of Energy Efficiency had proposed standards to limit the amount of power consumed by electronics on standby mode to two to four watts in 2010 and to one to two watts in 2013. Those deadlines have been moved back to give stakeholders more time to prepare. The limits are to apply first to:

  • Stereos and other compact audio players.
  • Televisions.
  • Video players and recorders such as VCRs and DVD and Blu-Ray players.
  • Printers.
  • Multifunction devices that can work as printers, copier, scanners, fax machines.

The Office of Energy Efficiency said it would conduct further consultations and analysis before extending the limits to other devices.

Tips for reducing standby power consumption

Conservation can have a big impact on your power bill. If you don't use a device often, unplug it.

Use a power bar with an on/off switch for clusters of computer or video devices. This makes it easy to turn off all power to these devices with the flick of one switch.

When you buy new electronic devices look for the Energy Star label. Those products meet or exceed the lowest standby power standards.

Buy a low-cost wattmeter and measure the power used by the devices in your home. This will arm you with the information you'll need to reduce your electricity consumption.