Commercial HVAC Equipment

Don’t let phantom loads drive up your building’s energy costs

Thursday, January 26 2017 4:33 PM
By Jon Goering

Simple fact: if it’s plugged in, it’s consuming power, even when it’s turned off, something energy experts call “phantom load.”

If a device is plugged in, it's drawing power.

Let’s imagine you set your office computer or printer to “sleep mode” before leaving work for the day. Yes, it’s still plugged in, but you’re saving energy, right?

Not necessarily.

Electronic devices worldwide waste about $80 billion annually, largely because of the blind faith users place in their devices’ “power saving” settings, according to the International Energy Agency. In reality, many electronic devices use as much power in standby or sleep mode compared to when they are being used.

Simple fact: if it’s plugged in, it’s consuming power, even when it’s turned off, something energy experts call “phantom load.” Users still pay for it, and energy companies must find ways to meet the rising demand.

But realistically, who takes the time to unplug all their devices when they aren’t using them? Probably not a lot of people, or billions of dollars wouldn’t be wasted annually. What can be done to eliminate, or at the minimum, reduce all of this wasted energy?

In this post, we’ll examine a few practical ways to help eliminate unnecessary energy consumption by the devices you use at work and home.

Turn it off

Let’s begin by dispelling a common myth: turning a computer on and off every day does not consume more power than leaving it running. And it doesn’t shorten the life of the machine. According to Cisco, “a single work place device is left powered on for an average of 8,000 hours over the course of its use but only actually utilized 25-50 percent of the time.”

That’s a lot of wasted energy!

With this in mind, it makes sense that shutting off devices is the easiest way to save energy. Consider designating someone to turn off and on copy machines, fax machines and printers at the end and beginning of each work day. Ask employees to do the same. To make it easier, plug devices into an energy-efficient surge protector, and turn off the protector.

Changing human behavior can be challenging, however. Some people may refuse to turn off devices while others routinely forget. If asking people doesn’t make sense in your building, consider purchasing smart plug strips that automatically shut off devices when not in use. The strips utilize timers or sensors to detect downtimes.

A single work place device is left powered on for an average of 8,000 hours over the course of its use but only actually utilized 25-50 percent of the time.

To sleep, standby or hibernate

The terminology for energy saving software on computers – standby mode, sleep mode and hibernation mode – can mean different things on different computers, adding to the difficulty of communicating a consistent message for saving energy.

In Windows, standby and sleep modes are interchangeable. When a computer enters sleep/standby mode, all non-essential actions on the machine turn off (hard drive, monitor), and the machine puts into memory all open documents and applications. It’s like pausing a movie on your DVD player - still using some power, but not as much. And the machine starts up faster when reactivated.

When a machine goes into hibernate mode, it saves open documents and applications to your hard drive and shuts down entirely. Now it’s using minimal power but will take longer to turn back on. Designed for laptops, this feature may not be available on all PCs.

Another consideration: how long should computer monitors or CPUs be allowed to remain inactive before power-saving features activate?

The Environmental Protection Agency recommends turning off a computer monitor for inactivity periods of 20 minutes or more. CPUs should be shut down if not to be used for a minimum of two hours.

Visit this EPA page to learn more about the amount of money you can save by utilizing your computer’s power management system.

Other methods

Another way to save energy involves consolidation. The EPA suggests a ratio of one stand-alone office device per 10 or more users. The savings from elements such as electricity, paper, hardware and maintenance can reach 30 to 40 percent.

Also consider working with your company’s IT department to ensure you are purchasing the most energy-efficient devices on the market. Check to see if equipment has received an Energy Star certification. Products that achieve this certification must meet rigorous EPA energy-efficiency requirements.


People today use more electronic devices at home and work than ever before. Therefore, reducing energy consumption continues to be a critical focus in buildings.

While it may not be practical to expect employees to shut off electronic devices every day, consider implementing other methods to reduce your energy spend. Utilize sleep or hibernation modes or smart plug strips to power down devices when not in use. Consider purchasing equipment that has attained Energy Star certification. Finally, change human behavior by increasing awareness of the importance of reducing energy usage to save money and benefit the environment.

Click here to read the International Energy Agency’s full report. 

Does your building and its systems operate efficiently? Is energy a concern? Does your building have comfort issues? For more information, please email Jonathon Goering by clicking here or call 316-265-9655.

Knipp Services works with commercial and industrial building owners to identify solutions to reduce downtime and increase building efficiency. We provide services that enable building owners to have a high-performance building. “Making Buildings Better” sums up the mission statement of Knipp Services.

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