Charge Your Electric Car For Less: Switch Off Unused Appliances

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2011 Chevrolet Volt 240V charging station

2011 Chevrolet Volt 240V charging station

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One of the reasons people make the switch from a gasoline car to an electric car is to benefit from the reduced running costs. 

With some careful planning -- and special time of use tariffs that make night-time electricity cheaper -- charging an electric car can be pretty cheap.

But what if you could make charging your electric car at home even cheaper, by changing one simple thing: killing standby.

Meet the vampire

Go around any modern home, and you’ll see any number of games consoles, smartphone chargers, computers and gadgets, all plugged into wall outlets. 

Even when they’re not being used, if these gadgets are plugged into the mains and in standby (or even off), they will consume small amounts of electricity. 

110V outlet

110V outlet

The larger your family and home, the more likely you are to have gadgets plugged in sucking power from the grid, like energy-hungry electrical vampires.

Hungry, hungry, appliances

While many consumers have made the switch to laptop computers, leaving a computer of any sort plugged in and switched on during the day can lead to incredibly large amounts of wasted electricity. 

According to the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, an average desktop computer consumes 2.84 watts of power when switched off but left plugged in. A laptop, on the other hand, consumes 8.9 watts of power. 

Leave it switched off and plugged in for an entire year, and you will have wasted 80 kilowatt-hours of electricity. 

Even leaving just the laptop power adaptor plugged in for a whole year  without a computer connected to it would wasted 40 kilowatt-hours.

It gets even worse if you leave your computer switched on but in sleep mode: an astounding 189 kilowatt-hours would be wasted in an entire year of computer sleeping.

Real-world, not theory

The figures we’ve given you represent a year’s continued lack of use of each gadget, which isn’t how the real world works. 

2011 Chevrolet Volt home charging

2011 Chevrolet Volt home charging

Enlarge Photo

Even in the real world however, the figures are still scary. 

Take that sleeping computer for example. Leave it sleeping rather than switching it off at the mains every night for eight hours, and you’ll have wasted 63 kilowatt-hours in a year. 

Take a family of four, all the sleeping cellphone chargers, computers, games consoles and television sets left plugged in unnecessarily over the course of a day, and we think that figure could jump to well over 350 or maybe even 400 kilowatt-hours of wasted electricity every year. 

kilowatt-hours saved = free miles

Unless you are constantly leaving your computers on, your gadget chargers plugged in and your television on, its unlikely you’ll save the equivalent of a years’ worth of electric car charging in electricity. 

However, the average daily distance travelled by an urban-based car in the U.S. today is around 36.5 miles, meaning that very few electric car owners will be recharging their cars from empty every night. 

Instead, it’s more likely that cars like the 2012 Nissan Leaf will use between 10 and 12 kilowatt-hours when recharging every night. 

If you can save your household between 300 and 400 kilowatt-hours every year by unplugging electronic devices when you don’t need them -- including your electric car charging station -- that equates to a month or more of daily electric car charging. 

Try it and see

We’re currently carrying out our own experiments to see how much electricity can be saved killing standby, but we’d like to know what your experiences are. 

Have you tried switching off standby on devices? Do you unplug things in your home to help reduce the impact having an electric car has on your utility bill? 

Let us know your thoughts in the Comments below.


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Comments (12)
  1. While I appreciate the tone of this article and do agree there is a lot of electricity to be saved. Much of the advice is very outdated a misleading.

    I have reduced my household electricity consumption by 75% and have an account of what each device in my house consumes.

    My advice put your computer to sleep whenever you are not using it. If it was purchased in the last couple of years, it will only consume a couple of watts whether it is a desktop or a laptop. And yes, use a laptop rather than a desktop, or better still, an ipad.

    As for the cell phone chargers, don't worry about it. This problem was fixed a couple of years ago thanks to the EPA.

  2. The real vampires are more likely to be the microwave (have mine on a timer switch), the older tv/stereo and associated gear (also on a switch), and the network equipment.

    Also, older refrigerators (or 2nd ones), dishwashers, top loading clothes washers, all consume about 2x the electricity of a modern one (thanks to the EPA again).

    Switch frequently used lightbulbs to Philips Ambient-LED.

    And of course electric driers are pigs (hang my clothes up).

  3. John,

    While more modern equipment is more energy efficient, there's still a drain going on in older tech -- not to mention stuff we leave on thinking it will have no effect.

    Things like monitors, DVRs, Microwaves etc etc :)

  4. Sure, but the numbers listed for laptop versus desktop drain are no longer representative of shipping products.

    Also, all electrical "bricks" (Wall hanging AC to DC converters) now have to be energy start complaint (thanks to California and the EPA). That means the old story about cell phone chargers is no longer true. I would focus my attention on other issues than cell phone chargers.

    By the way, Apple mobile products are some of the best in this efficiency game (but the desktops are still pigs.).

  5. We did a specific energy audit, using our meter, and observing EACH electrical item in the house. It was eye opening to say the least. We discovered the biggest savers were to turn off our multi-media electrical strip, make use of our induction hob instead of the electric stove or microwave and to use our LED fixtures more. [We also made greater use of the solar oven, but that's another story.] We are also pondering what to do with one of our inefficient freezers.

    Funny unrelated side benefit. Our water use/bill has gone down as well. Perhaps simply from awareness.

  6. I've done quite a few things to reduce my consumption. One interesting thing I did was change all my exterior lighting from 4 light bulb fixtures to 1 light bulb fixtures. So instead of using four bulbs at 25 watts per bulb for a total of 100 watts per fixture, I'm now using 1CFL bulb for a total of 13 watts per fixture. And of course being that these are exterior lights they are only on during off peak hours. And during the day we use no lighting the few areas in my house that are dark in the day I've taken steps to install extra windows and openings to make full use of natural light.

  7. I have a Kill-a-Watt meter can be hooked up to any 120V device and records wattage being used instantaneously and also over time. Cost around $22. Surprised to find my 19 inch TV/monitor draws all of 24 watts, but may reach all of 25 if the volume is turned up. Far and away the average house's largest juice consumer is its heat pump - consumption of course varies but is usually around 65 to 85 percent, as memory serves. I've found that overhead fans are valuable in the heat. The water heater is usually the next sizable consumer (10 to 20%),as I recall. Automatic timers are available. For me it's strictly a matter of dollars and cents. We can make all the cheap electricity we could ever use, if we wanted to. But that's a long story.

  8. I understand the goal, but the standby powers these days are so low and it won't make much impact on the total power consumption. The big users are A/C, Stove, Oven, Dryers and Lighting. Those are KW consumptions vs 2-3 W. Sure, it will add up over time. But is it worth the hassle of plugging/unpluggin your kitchen appliance such as Microwave, toaster oven....etc? Changing all lights to CFL/LED will save more power than your standby power combined from computer/cellphone charger...etc.

  9. EVs uses about 5x12KWhx52 = 3120 KWh of charges per year... FAR more than those standby power.

    3 W per devices, 3 computers, 2 TVs, 2 audio/video devices, 3 game consoles, 5 Kitchen Appliance and 5 other devices will be 60Win total power. About the size of a light bulb. Assuming that you don't use them at all and let them stay in standby mode. That is 60x24x365=525KWh per year. Or about $11 per month @ $0.25 per KWh. That is a lot of devices on standby for a home...

  10. I've done several things in our house to reduce the juice. The biggest one I've found is to replace regular incandescent light bulbs with high output LED bulbs. Going from a single 75 or 100 watt bulb to a couple of 9 watt bulbs is huge. In most cases, I am getting more light at fraction of the energy use. LED bulbs are not cheap, but they beat CFLs and last a very long time. Another area we reduced in was with the TV set. Replacing a 3 year old Sony LCD set with cold cathode backlight for a new LG LCD with edge LED backlight saved a nice amount of money. Estimated cost for a year of the cold cathode set was $45, and for the LED it's about $11. We already had all the major appliances updated in the last couple of years.

  11. I'd start with line drying clothes and solar hot water. We also use off peak for the freezer (timer) and 520 watts of off grid PV for peak shaving (television). I agree with Mr. Briggs that standby power on most devices is minimal compared with the big items. We installed a wood stove for those cold days that a seer 16 heat pump can't handle without resistance heat. Sure, a lot of little things adds up, but a lot of big things really makes a difference. We blog about it at

  12. I have a 2,000 square foot house and use about 3,650 KWH annually. Vampire loads can only be reduced so much. I shut off mostly everything. WiFi for example if left on uses 60 watts per hour. I have solar panels and gas heat and now a Volt. Solar panels produce about 1,000 excess KWH annually so I will get about 4,000 miles of free driving on my Volt.

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