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Phantom Load

Surprise -- your TV uses electricity even when turned off. Same goes for your stereo, coffee maker, garage-door opener, microwave oven, clock radio and other electronics. Yes, even chargers for cell phones and MP3 players siphon energy when plugged in - even if they're not charging a thing!

A "phantom load" is any appliance or electronic gizmo that uses energy even when turned off. Some people call them "vampire appliances" or "energy vampires."

If your home is typical, you live with 20 vampires. They add about $200 to your annual energy bill, according to Cornell University. That's because the "off" button doesn't really mean "off" these days; instead, it means "standby." In fact, your TV with remote control likely uses more energy during the 20 hours a day that it's turned off and in a "standby power" state than it does during the hours you watch the tube.

The upshot, according to Cornell, is we're using the equivalent of seven electrical generating plants just to supply vampires that are turned "off."

Here are some clues to identify your energy suckers: They're appliances with remote controls, such as TVs, VCRs and audio equipment. They feature a continuous digital display -- like those glowing clocks on stoves. They feature rechargeable batteries, such as cordless phones (which use energy even after the battery is charged). And they're appliances with external power supplies, such as inkjet printers and iPod chargers.

How can you combat vampires?

  • Kill vampires by using a power strip sold at hardware stores, home-supply superstores, discount stores and the like. Step 1: Plug all components of a computer or home entertainment system into a power strip. Step 2: Turn off the power strip with a single switch. Anything plugged into the strip now is truly turned off.
  • Unplug "vampires." Unplug rarely used appliances. Ditto for chargers that aren't in use. Unplug the TV, toaster oven and other well-used appliances before you leave on vacation (or more frequently). If it's not plugged in, it can't suck energy.
  • Buy energy-efficient appliances bearing the Energy Star label. That way, at least your vampires will suck away less energy. Find a list of products at EnergyStar.gov.

Reprinted with permission of Hearst Communications, Inc.

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