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  •Shedding some light on the subject
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Published Columns: February 2007
Curbing Your Consumption:
The Phantom Strikes Again

By John Ford

The silent waster in your home is at work day and night. It uses between 10% and 25% of the electricity you're paying for, and you're getting nothing for it. People often ask how I could possibly lower my consumption to single digit kWh per day. Part of the answer was finding and killing phantom loads.

Many of your appliances continue to use electricity to power standby circuits. How much do they actually use? The easiest way to identify the consumption of these appliances is by using a Kill-A-Watt or other meter. Leave it 'off' for a day, and record the useage.

If an appliance uses 50 watts when on for 1 hour a day, and 5 watts when off for the other 23, it's using 50 Wh for useful work, and 115 Wh a day just sitting there doing 'nothing'. The less you use an appliance, the larger the potential for a highly inverse ratio of useful power consumption.

I've seen treadmills that people keep plugged in down in the basement they use once a month for an hour. For the other 729 hours a month, it's racking up $1.20 in hydro costs. Less than 2% is going to useful work.

Make sure that baseboard heater is turned off at the breaker panel when not being used. Children might turn a thermostat just for fun, and leave you wondering where all that power was going.

If you have your computer equipment on a power bar, good work! But don't leave your printer and scanner and all that other stuff you use once a week on the same power bar. When you turn on the computer, there's no need to keep all that other stuff running in standby too. While you're looking at your computer, find the BIOS and program settings to turn unused parts in the computer off after being idle for a period of time.

A great way to control lighting is by using a timer. Other loads could also benefit from a timer, but be careful that the numbers add up. I once used a timer on a CF lamp. When I eventually measured the consumption of the timer itself, I found it was using more than the lamp. I could have saved money by leaving the lamp on 24 hours a day, or by replacing the timer with one with lower consumption.

One of the toughest leaks to find was my dryer. Although I use a clothesline for half the year, I need my electric dryer for the colder months. I discovered that when the dryer is finished its cycle, it continues to light the UV and illumination lamps in the interior until the knob is twisted to the 'off' position. Kind of like the old refrigerator light riddle, but this one's true. Just to make sure it is really off, I unplug it in the off-season.

Cut your bill by looking around and un-masking the phantoms in your home.

John Ford is a technology consultant, owner of a small energy conservation business, and the Energy Advocate for the Green Party of Ontario.