• Mike Roberts

Cut Energy Costs by Managing Idle load


As you and your family snooze soundly at night, your appliances, electronics and home systems still silently draw energy. This idle load can be responsible for as much as a third of your electric bill. Read on for steps you can take to reduce idle load and save money.

What is idle load and what causes it?

As the name indicates, idle load is the amount of electricity that appliances and systems consume when you aren’t actively using them. The situation is similar to your car idling while you sit at a stoplight. You aren’t in motion, but the car still runs.

There are three main contributors to idle load.

  1. Appliances that operate constantly, such as your refrigerator, freezer and ice maker.

  2. Electronics, such as your television, DVD players, satellite TV boxes, sound systems, computers and modems. Even when these devices aren’t being used, electricity keeps internal clocks, time displays and standby modes operating.

  3. House systems, such as analog thermostats, tank water heaters and ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCIs).

These products and systems are sometimes called energy vampires because they suck power all the time, adding to your energy bills.

Calculating your idle load

You can measure your idle load in several ways, depending on the type of electric meter your home has and whether your electric provider works with an app called Green Button.

If your home has a smart meter and your provider participates with Green Button, simply log onto your online account and view your idle load on the app.

Alternatively, if your online account shows your usage across days, study your lowest usage occurring daily. This is your idle load in kilowatts or kilowatt-hours.

If your home has a digital meter but your utility doesn’t participate with Green Button, put all your house’s systems, appliances and electronics in the idle modes they would be in at night. Check the meter. The number of kilowatts shown is your idle load.

Finally, if you have an analog meter with a spinning dial, replicate the most idle time of the day for all your electrical devices and systems, then go to this website to calculate your idle load.

Measuring idle load per circuit

After determining your overall idle load, you can determine how much each device and system contributes. Alternately unplug them, or turn off the electricity to individual circuits at the breaker box, and note the reduction in idle load.

Reducing the energy drain

Here are some tips for controlling your energy vampires.

  • Where possible, unplug rarely used electronics, such as televisions, cable boxes and DVRs in guest rooms, when not in use.

  • Unplug garage freezers or refrigerators, or even better, get rid of them. Better to have one refrigerator with a freezer large enough to hold all you need than an extra unit that’s barely used. You can also replace older models with more energy-efficient ones.

  • To save the hassle of unplugging several audio-visual electronics every day, plug them into a power strip with an on/off switch. When you want to use these items, turn them on at the toggle switch, then off when done. Do the same with computers and peripherals such as printers.

  • Plug your water heater into a timer set to keep the water hot during waking hours, but not overnight. Program the timer so that water heats 45 minutes before morning showers.

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