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


As the temperatures rise across the nation, it’s good to be mindful of the amount of energy we expend in our homes. If we’re not careful, the power bill could get out of hand.

To make sure that doesn’t happen, it’s a good idea to know what’s consuming the most energy inside our homes.

What Devices Are Hogging Your Home’s Power?

I found information from a report from the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), an international nonprofit environmental organization.

The NRDC report analyzed devices around the home that were considered “idle loads,” meaning that, even though they were idle or turned off, they continuously consumed 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.

These Items Are Eating Up Your Home’s Energy

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

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

“LED bulbs last 25 times longer than incandescent lighting,” according to the U.S. Department of Energy. That means you’ll spend a lot less time changing bulbs around your house.

The key to LEDs efficiency is that they emit comparable light but around 20% less heat than standard incandescent light bulbs.

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 has 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, such as:

  • 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.”

Here are some 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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