When picking out an appliance, a person in an off grid home is constantly asking, “Does this appliance have a phantom load?” A phantom load is an appliance that draws power when it isn’t being used and even when it is turned off. For example, your old VCR that had the clock display that flashed 12:00 all the time was a phantom load. Even though the machine is off, the clock is taking power from the home. Take a quick survey of your home to assess how many phantom loads you have. Look for how many of your appliances have digital clocks or displays. When my wife and I were first married, we had several appliances that had phantom loads; our coffee maker, microwave, toaster oven, and conventional oven all had clocks on them, and that was just in the kitchen. Was I obsessed with telling time from every angle in the kitchen? No, in fact, I didn’t even notice it until I became aware of my power consumption while I was planning my off grid home.
However, the fact almost every major appliance has a clock on it does fascinate me. Do company executives sit in their meetings discussing putting random clocks on their products? “We need a gimmick; an added feature. I know, let’s put a clock on it.” First of all, if this scenario is true, and you are an executive who has witnessed this first hand, I am only partly sorry I made a joke at your company’s expense. Next time could you be the one to suggest, how can we make this product more efficient or how can we eliminate unnecessary phantom loads? We the customers don’t need another clock.
Unfortunately, digital clocks displays are not the only thing that draws phantom loads. Amazingly, the energy star appliances that have “smart” computers in them are also consuming power while they are off. They are not as energy efficient as they claim for the off grid home or those people concerned about power consumption because they take power while not in use. The companies will tell you that I am being overly conscious of the issue and their draw on the electric system is miniscule and barely measurable, and they are right. But, have you ever heard of the old saying, “death by a thousand cuts?” If all your appliances are drawing miniscule electricity while turned off, that adds up to much more than a miniscule amount, especially when you take into account the time you are at work, sleeping, or gone on a vacation. Eliminating phantom loads will not only save enough energy to provide a few more days of power, but it will also save money on an electric bill for those still on the grid.
When we decided to make a change, we had a garage sale or gave away our appliances to people who just needed them, and we began shopping for older, rebuilt, or new appliances that didn’t have “smart” computers in them. For telling time, we use our cell phones since the cell providers are always adjusting the time anyways. From the cell phones, we adjust our old, 8 day, windup, mantel clock, which is probably my favorite item in the house. We also bought a propane stove from a garage sale that has no computer or digital display, just plain old manual dials, and we use a match to light the pilot lights. Our washing machine is a rebuilt Kenmore from an appliance repair shop, once again, no computer just manual dials. The coffee maker is a Krups coffee maker that stores the coffee in an insulated craft, but we use the French press more often now. We have our TV, DVD, VCR, and wireless Internet router all on six strips that we turn off when not in use, so they do not take power throughout the day when we are not using them. My alarm clock is battery operated and doubles as a shortwave/weather alert radio. Our hot water is on demand, and it is setup to not take power when it is not in use. We also only use laptop computers with a self-contained battery. We charge them when needed and use the battery the rest of the time. Our old desktop computer took so much power, 6 amps, that it wasn’t worth the energy it took compared to the function it had.
Surprisingly the one item that we leave on that has a phantom load is our inverter which converts DC to AC power for the home. It takes an average of 1.6 amps when the house is not drawing any power from it. At night during the winter months, I shut it down, but during the spring and summer I leave it on all night figuring the convenience of having it available will be replaced by the sun early the next morning.
Our other phantom load appliances we have is our fridge and freezer. However, they are drawing power straight from the battery bank and do not need the inverter on to be in use. We do not mind the minor draw they have because they keep the food from spoiling. On an average night in the winter, they usually draw between 1.5 – 3 amps of power throughout the night because our house is so warm from the wood cook stove. Our temperature in our home during the winter usually ranges between 69 to 78 degrees F, or sometimes higher, during the day. The warmer home temperature causes the freezer and fridge to run more.
When you get a chance, check out your appliances and see which ones have a phantom load.