Reuben Saltzman

Phantom loads: should you unplug electrical stuff when leaving town?

I recently blogged about stuff to do when you’re leaving your house vacant for a while. I touched on plumbing, heating, and general stuff, but I didn’t mention anything regarding electricity usage. After writing that post, someone told me it’s a good idea to unplug stuff all over the house to help reduce phantom loads. A phantom load is the electricity being used by something when it’s not being used; for instance, the power it takes to operate the clock on your microwave.

I have a Sense Home Energy Monitor installed in my electric panel, so I did a fun experiment to see how much money I could save by unplugging everything. To help establish a baseline, I had to start by unplugging or shutting down the power to everything that regularly turns on and off by itself, such as the furnace, heat recovery ventilator, powervent water heater, and refrigerator. I shut down my desktop computer and my wife’s (sorry), which both pull quite a bit of power.

One thing that surprised me with this experiment was the power consumption for the lighting in my garage. I’ve added about a gazillion LED lights throughout my garage, all controlled by a single switch, and they use nearly 500 watts. Oof. Don’t forget to turn off the garage lights, kids!

Once I established a stable baseline of power, I unplugged everything I could think of that could create a phantom load:

  • Two laptop chargers
  • Two Chromebook chargers
  • Three televisions
  • Toaster oven
  • Boot dryer
  • Microwave
  • Coffee maker
  • Several computer monitors
  • Several phone chargers
  • Six Alexa devices
  • Two stereos

After unplugging all of these devices, I decreased my total power consumption by approximately 10 watts. It doesn’t sound like much, but what if I’m gone for an entire month? If I multiply 10 Watts x 24 hours x 30 days, I get 7,200 watt-hours, or 7.2 kilowatt hours (kWh). I currently pay $0.14/kWh, so this constant 10 watts would cost me 7.2 x .14, or just a hair over $1. Yep, one dollar’s worth of electricity for a month.

This was a lot of work to unplug everything, and the savings would be tiny. While phantom loads are real, they’re minimal. If you want to save electricity, shut down your computers when you’re not using them.

3 responses to “Phantom loads: should you unplug electrical stuff when leaving town?”

  1. Gerd
    March 22, 2023, 9:55 am

    500W LED lighting in a single garage? Must be Jay Leno’s garage. I mean 5 traditional 100W bulbs in a 3-car garage would make a lot of light. Given that LED light has a 10x greater efficiency (light per watt), that would be equivalent of 5000W traditional light bulbs. Not buying that, That would be enough to blind anyone!

  2. Reuben Saltzman
    March 22, 2023, 10:05 am

    Hi Gerd, I have nine of these 50-watt LED shop light strips (, and a couple of LED tri-bulbs. It’s not that tough to get to 500 watts.

  3. Gerd
    March 22, 2023, 10:14 pm

    I stand corrected! That is a lot of light.

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