According to the California Energy Commission (CEC), nearly 20 percent of the electricity used by appliances is consumed while they are sitting in standby mode or charging, but not being used. Experts call this leaking electricity, because the appliances continue to draw electricity constantly from outlets even when switched off. The average American household constantly leaks about 50 watts of electricity, leading to more than $5.8 billion of wasted energy each year and 87 billion lbs. of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS).
Video equipment, such as TVs, cable boxes, DVD players and satellite dishes account for the largest portion of leaking electricity -- about 35 percent -- according to the CEC. These appliances appear turned off, but they are really in standby mode so they can respond to your remote control. Audio equipment, such as CD players and stereo components, makes up another 25 percent of standby losses.
Communications devices, such as cordless phones, answering machines and fax machines also use a lot of energy while not in use but waiting for a call or fax to come in. According to CEC, this equipment makes up for about 10 percent of home electricity losses, perhaps more in offices and business settings.
The UCS reports that some of the biggest energy wasters in most homes are the adapters that come with rechargeable battery-operated devices like cordless phones, cell phones, laptops, digital cameras, handheld vacuums, electric toothbrushes and anything else that needs to charge to operate. These draw power whenever they remain plugged into an outlet, regardless of whether the device is attached to the charger, even when the battery is fully charged.
Several other household appliances continue to draw electricity when not in use, including microwaves and ovens with digital clocks, computer monitors with screensavers and anything with a light or display. According to Science News, different appliances leak varying amounts of energy when not in use.
Ways to Cut Loss
The best way to prevent appliances from leaking electricity is to unplug them. But manufacturers have found ways to reduce standby losses by redesigning circuits to reduce leakage or replacing transformers with switched-mode power supplies. Consumers can also purchase appliances with the Energy Star rating, which means that they use lower amounts of energy. For example, televisions approved by Energy Star can save 75 percent of standby electricity losses, according to the CEC.