Do I Really Need to Unplug My Toaster? How Real People Handle Energy Vampires

When people suggest that unplugging appliances lowers their electric bill, I always have a good laugh followed by a not-so-good sigh. While I can be trusted to unplug my new laptop from the wall when there’s a lightning storm; I absolutely cannot be trusted to unplug every single item in my home—who am I, the outlet police?

The truth is, we live in an age of complete and utter convenience. It’s just plain against our nature to unplug every appliance that we own every single day. However, after learning that a household full of appliances can easily carry a phantom load of 100W—roughly equivalent to $100 per year in wasted electricity—I decided to take a closer look at my own habits. According to an NRDC study, phantom loads waste more than 20% of our household’s annual electricity. If I can’t keep all of my outlets clear, perhaps there are other things I can do to lower my bill and make a small environmental impact.

Which Appliances Really Matter

When I lived in Europe for a few months, I was chastised almost daily by my Hausfrau. She insisted that I turn off the power strip that held my computer, lamp, and phone charger while I was away at the university. “It wastes electricity!” she insisted, and I begrudgingly went along with her request despite my aversion to inconvenience.

She may have actually had a point. Of all the appliances in the home that can be easily unplugged (unlike your washer/dryer combo or your stovetop), computer AC adapters are some of the biggest standby power culprits. According to the US EIA, computer systems eat about 2% of your electricity each year—which doesn’t sound like a lot until you realize that cooling/heating your entire home only accounts for 18%. It’s not a good idea to keep your laptops plugged in 24/7 when they’re already charged, so just go ahead and unplug when you can.

Another big power drain? Set top boxes. If you’ve ever had to configure a media center, you’ll know that components require a lot of ventilation. Even when not running, these electronics get hot—which means they’re guzzling electricity by the minute. The EIA study found that cable boxes use about the same amount of electricity as your refrigerator, if you can believe it! If you can live without constant DVRing, you can unplug it when it’s not in use. Or, sign up for a streaming service instead (which is the most energy efficient way to watch TV anyway).

So What Don’t I Need to Unplug?

Unplugging small electronic devices is a good habit to get into. It’s a great way to teach your kids about energy consumption and can help us all to be more conscious of our daily use. However, there are certain electronics that just don’t carry a phantom load worth speaking of. And those really don’t need to be constantly unplugged. Toasters and lamps are a few members of this group.

What is it that makes these electronics different? Today’s computer-based electronics (with notable examples like phone chargers) usually contain transformers that are always at work converting voltage. These coils create a constant electromagnetic field that cannot be terminated, even when the appliance is “off.” The only way to ensure that our more advanced electronics are not vampires drawing phantom current, is to shut off the power supply by either unplugging or by cutting power at the source (in this case, the outlet). Your basic toaster, however, doesn’t contain a transformer and doesn’t have this issue.

Common Energy Vampires Electronics Without A Phantom Load
DVRs Floor Lamps
Modems Pop-up Toasters
Desktop Monitors Blenders
Speaker Systems Aromatherapy Diffusers
Printers Heated Hairstyling Tools
Laptop/Phone Chargers Stand Mixers
Game Consoles Electric Kettles


You can spot an appliance with a phantom load if it has a digital clock, a small light that’s continuously burning, or if its plug remains warm even when the device is switched off. I’d recommend getting your hands on a portable wattmeter so that you can test your appliances for yourself if you’re curious. You might be surprised which items in your home don’t actually need to be unplugged.  

Smart Power Strips Give You Touchless Power

If a member of your household is constantly unplugging literally everything from the wall (and annoying everybody in sight), I feel your pain. My family and I had just arrived to our beachside condo for some much-needed R&R when we discovered that none of our electronics worked. Appliances throughout our summer home were non-operative, from my bedside clock radio to the TV in the living room (and the router—which caused an immediate WiFi crisis for everyone). After flipping “on” switches over and over, we finally discovered that every single appliance had been unplugged from the wall before we arrived. Yes, even the coffee pot.

Friends, I don’t recommend putting yourself in such frustrating circumstances. Instead, invest in some new tech that will make your life a whole lot easier: smart power strips.

Most of us use power strips to cram as many electronics as possible into one measly ill-placed outlet behind the sofa. But we’re suggesting that you use power strips in a totally new way to get the most benefit.

Traditional power strips have an on/off switch, like those our European cohorts have on wall plugs in their home. Somehow they knew that flipping a switch was so much easier than unplugging your entire house. You can set up this kind of power strip at your work desk to plug in your computer, printer, and lamp. Then when 5 o’clock rolls around you, just flip that switch off and say goodbye to wasted energy. The problem with these traditional power strips is that you’re stuck trying to remember to flip a switch twice a day.

However, smart power strips give you the same benefit without even lifting a finger. Some allow you to leave specific sockets running 24/7 (like your DVR) while the others only turn on when you turn on the lights. Some smart power strips will automatically shut off power to an appliance when it’s not operative. Or an entire group of appliances will turn on when you power up the first one. It’s a genius idea that can save you around $100 a year on your electric bill, which means it pays for itself.

By pairing your smart power strip with your favorite smart devices, you can even experience a life with touchless power: You enter the living room after a long day of work. You ask your Google Home to turn on the TV, and your speaker system, components, and new game console come on automatically. When you’re done bingeing on the latest Netflix show, you can enjoy a significantly lower electricity bill. So ditch the unplugging and switch flipping game and let modern technology take care of your wasted electricity woes.

At Liberty Power, we understand your drive to keep your electricity use environmentally friendly and your bill low. Dealing with the energy vampires in your home can help you achieve these goals, as can choosing an energy plan that makes sense for you. We offer both fixed and competitive market rate plans as well as the option to buy renewable energy credits to promote clean, sustainable power generation. Contact us to learn more about how partnering with a third-party energy supplier can help keep your household costs low—and to develop even more strategies to keep those energy vampires in check.

Liberty Power Editorial Team
The Editorial Team at Liberty Power is a swashbuckling group of passionate and creative Energy experts bringing you the hottest topics on exciting market trends, booming products and services, and the latest news in the industry.
September 21, 2017