Myth Buster: Always-On Devices and Your Dollars

Myth 1
Keeping devices plugged in doesn't use a significant amount of electricity.
Myth 2
Always-on appliances and devices don't make a difference to your electric bill.

Like many others, in recent years I’ve been trying to become more energy efficient and save money in the process. Beyond changing out my lightbulbs for more energy efficient ones and turning down my heat when I’m gone, I’ve always wondered what else I could do. In the past, you might have heard the terms always-on load, vampire load, or standby load. These refer to the amount of energy being consumed by plugged-in devices or appliances when not actively being used. Many argue that always-on load is so minimal that it isn’t even worth thinking about. This could be true . . .  or not.

Most households use devices and appliances only a fraction of the day. The rest of the day they remain unused and disregarded. However, many devices continue to consume energy which could contribute to a home’s overall energy costs. As someone who is always looking for new ways save money and energy, I decided always-on energy consumption was worth testing out.

The Analysis

To start off, our team of data scientists selected several everyday devices for the experiment, including an alarm clock, Amazon Echo, cable box, coffee maker, desktop computer, DVD player, furnace, microwave, oven/stove, printer, refrigerator, router/modem, stereo, TV, and Xbox.

In any household, some of these devices and appliances would never naturally be turned off or unplugged. Therefore, the alarm clock, Amazon Echo, furnace, microwave, oven/stove, refrigerator and router/modem were excluded when making adjustments. The rest of the devices received an adjustment to the time that they were plugged in. This adjustment ranged from 5 minutes to 4 hours depending on the device’s purpose, as opposed to their original standby time of 24 hours per day.

Data from these devices were collected across several homes, but do represent what may be typical of the average home. This experiment looks exclusively at standby load. Therefore, the results did not take into consideration active device energy usage, which has much higher variation between households.

The Results

When comparing the cost of the new, adjusted load to the old standby load, the results were clear. Even though seven devices remained on at all times, we reduced the estimated annual standby cost of these devices by nearly 58%.

Surprisingly, the cable box’s standby load was costing the most annually. With an adjusted standby time of 4 hours per day instead of 24 hours per day, the cable box went from having an annual standby cost of $35.08 to $5.85. Adjustments made to the Xbox also made a significant impact. Adjusting the Xbox’s standby time to 4 hours per day, in addition to using the Xbox’s “Energy Saving” mode, decreasing the annual standby cost of the gaming platform from almost $20 to $0.11. Similarly, unplugging the coffee maker for all but the 5 minutes it is used decreased its annual always-on cost from $2.76 to $0.01. Both the Xbox and coffee maker represents a cost reduction of over 99%. That’s pretty great if you ask me.

Overall, these small adjustments to always-on devices decreased the annual cost of their standby load from $120.44 to $50.76. That is almost $70 in savings per year. While the exact savings from each will depend on the cost of electricity in your area, that is still almost 58% of your annual always-on energy usage, which will likely be significant. This percentage is again subject to change depending on what appliances and devices are in your home. However, no matter what appliances and devices you have, it’s clear that you can save money by simply making small adjustments to your always-on devices.

Now you know. Always-on devices are using energy and sucking up a significant amount of money in the process. Hopefully, you can use that money for more enjoyable endeavors.