What Are ‘Idle Loads,’ and How Are They Costing You Big Bucks?

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It’s never a bad idea to think about the amount of energy we expend in our homes. If we’re not mindful of it, our power bills could get outrageous!

Here’s a question that perhaps you’ve never thought about:

What Devices Are Hogging the Energy in My Home?

A 2015 report from the nonprofit Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) analyzed devices around the home that are considered “idle loads,” meaning that, even when they’re idle or turned off, they continuously consume energy.

Let’s take a look at these items, how many watts they use and how much money they could be adding to your power bill each year. Note that your figures could vary based on current energy costs where you live. (The NRDC report used homes in northern California.)

These Items Are Eating Up Your Home’s Energy

ItemWattage Used Annually (Running 24/7)Annual Cost
Fan110 Watts$111
Television2-54 Watts $2-$54
Desktop Computer1-49 Watts$1-$49
Modem5-17 Watts$5-$17
24/7 Lights4-104 Watts$4-$104
Audio/Video Gear7-40 Watts$7-$40
Set-Top Box16-57 Watts$16-$57
Aquarium9-67 Watts$9-$67
Hot Water Recirculation Pump28-92 Watts$28-$93
Fishpond Equipment220 Watts$220

How To Reduce Your Home’s Idle Load

The report lists some ways you can cut back on the amount of idle load energy different devices in your home are using.

Identify and Unplug Devices That Are Not in Use

Take inventory of the devices around your home that are always turned on or plugged in. Unplug the ones you use rarely such as TVs or computers in spare bedrooms.

Use Smart Outlets or Power Strips

For a small investment, you can take advantage of power strips or surge protectors with timers on them. You could set these devices to shut off or power down after a specific time every day.

The report also mentions “smart outlets,” which allow you to turn certain devices on and off at certain times.

Switch to Energy-Saving Devices

The NRDC report uses the example of a recirculation pump, which is used to keep water inside plumbing pipes hot, to explain how switching to an energy-saving device could also reduce idle load.

“A recirculation pump does not need to be on 24/7, such as in the middle of the night when everyone is asleep, or during weekdays when no one is home,” the report says. “It can be put on a timer to only run at times when occupants are likely to use hot water, or it can be upgraded to an ‘on-demand’ model.”


Other Ways To Save Money on Your Electric Bill

Change Your Light Bulbs

“LEDs use up to 90% less energy and last up to 25 times longer than traditional incandescent bulbs,” according to the U.S. Department of Energy. That means you’ll spend a lot less time changing bulbs around your house.

A 24-pack of Sylvania 12-Watt 60W A19 Soft White LED Lightbulbs retail for about $25 on Amazon.com and are rated among the best by Consumer Reports.

Program Your Thermostat

Constantly dialing your thermostat up and down can cause your energy bill to fluctuate wildly.

You can save a lot of money if you program your thermostat to shut off when you’re not home or sleeping.

Money expert Clark Howard has a Nest thermostat, which he set to dial the temperature down a few degrees at bedtime.

During the warmer months, Clark says he sets his Nest to stay at 78 degrees. 

Consider Going Solar

There may be a substantial initial cost with installing solar panels, but the energy savings through the years will more than offset those.

As for how much you’ll save? It depends on several factors including:

  • How much electricity you use
  • How much electricity the solar panels can generate
  • How much your power company charges you for electricity

First things first: You’ll want to see whether your home is a good candidate for solar. The truth is that solar isn’t right for everybody.

“Spend time on the EPA website and any other nonprofit website sites figuring out first,” Clark says, “Where you live, does it actually work for you to do solar?”


In addition to checking EPA.gov, Clark says try Energy.gov as well. “As far as effective tools, more than one federal agency has their fingers in this.”

Read our guide on things to consider before you go solar.

Want more ways to lower costs? Here’s how to save on your utilities.

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