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Plug Loads

Updated: Jan 3, 2021

Did you know that about 20% of your electricity bill goes towards powering devices you aren't even using? Read this article to see how you could save up to $250 a year on your utilities while also reducing your carbon footprint by 4.6%!

Personally, I find this topic incredibly fascinating, but I understand if hearing “plug loads” causes your eyes to glaze over with boredom. So just stick with me here for a minute and I promise to get right to specific steps you can take to lower your carbon footprint. For those that find this interesting, take a look at the references section and get links to places where you can learn more about this subject.

Plug loads are, essentially, the electricity consumed in your house by electronics plugged into outlets. Toasters, plug load. Dryers, plug load. Phone chargers, plug load. Does it go into an outlet? Plug load. A study done by Stanford and The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) found that the average home in the United States has about 65 different electrical devices plugged in at any time. Many of these do not need to be plugged in all day long. In fact, most go over 22 hours a day being inactive. Below is a breakdown of what equipment accounts for the average home owners plug loads.

Figure 1: Breakdown of Various Plug Load Contributions

When all these devices are plugged in are essentially on “stand-by” and as such, continue to use electricity even when they aren’t being used. For the homes used in the NRDC study, all these plug loads add up to 1,300 kilowatt-hours of annual wasted energy use. This was 23% of the average home-owners total energy consumption! This is energy that these homeowners consumed, but never actually used. Knowing how to reduce these plug loads could save the average U.S. homeowner $100 to $250 a year.

Nationally, these plug loads translate to about 44 million metric tons of CO2 pollution, or $19 billion a year in “wasted” money for the U.S. alone. This is equivalent to 50 large (500 megawatt) power plants. Or, the same amount of electricity consumed by every resident of Arizona AND Alabama in one year. Producing electricity is one of the major drivers towards climate change. Reducing plug loads is essential to reducing our carbon footprint, and it is relatively easy to do as well.

Here are some steps to help you reduce your plug loads:

· Kitchen

o Coffee makers, toasters, kettles, etc. can all be unplugged when not in use.

o For people who own extra refrigerators/freezers, if they are largely unused most

of the year take the remaining items out and unplug your appliances until they

are needed.

· Entertainment Center

o Use power strips with an on/off switch for TV and other devices. Whenever you

go to bed at night or leave for work, flip the switch and turn off your entire

entertainment system including speakers and other devices.

o All additional speakers, amplifiers, subwoofers, etc. should be unplugged when

not in use or plugged into a power strip.

o Video game systems should also be plugged into the power strip. Another cool

feature is disabling the “instant on” setting. All gaming consoles are different,

but go into the settings and find a way to turn this off. This drastically reduces

how much power the console uses when on stand-by.

· Computers

o For those that have laptops in their home office, don’t leave it plugged in 100%

of the time. Instead, be sure to use the laptops battery and remove the

charger from the wall until needed.

o Monitors, printers, speakers and other accessories can be unplugged as well

when not in use.

o Turn on automatic sleep timers for your device so it powers down after 30

minutes of inactivity.

· Other suggestions:

o Unplug night lights, phone chargers, lamps, electric instruments, treadmills,

rechargeable shavers, etc. when not in use.

o Do not invest in towel heaters or whole house audio systems that cannot be

turned off. This can consume anywhere from $140 to $900 in annual

electricity bills when left on. They are huge energy hogs, and many do not

have low energy settings.

o Any devices that feel “hot” are wasting a lot of energy and should be turned off.

PLEASE NOTE: be careful if you choose to unplug and re-plug cords. Make sure they are in good condition and never mess with anything with exposed wiring.

Figure 2: Summary of Key Findings in the Stanford and NRDC study

The Stanford and NRDC study found that it doesn’t matter what the size of a person’s home, how many people live in it, or how old the home is, plug loads can be reduced by about the same amount no matter what anyone’s situation is. The best thing about this is sustainable strategy is it costs little to no money and takes almost no extra time out of your day. It just requires a little more thought. Give this a try and depending on how good of a job you think you’ve done, take 1% to 4.6% off your carbon footprint in 2021!

There is a lot more to this study so for anyone who is interested follow the link below.


Project managed by: Pierre Delforge (NRDC)

Research performed by: Home Energy Analytics (HEA), analysis of HEA data set Patti Sexton, in-home idle load audits Stanford Sustainable Systems Lab, directed by Ram Rajagopal

All figures and information presented are the sole property of NRDC. IP: 15-03-A

Article written by Nick Engler

Cut Your Carbon Footprint

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