The 'phantom devices' that could be costing you money

Pointing remote control towards HD TV.
Leaving devices on standby could be costing you money. (Getty)

With prices soaring, many families are looking for ways to cut their electricity use - both to save on bills and to help save the planet.

Some estimates suggest that up to 22% of Britain’s electricity bills can be down to ‘phantom devices’ - including devices left ‘on charge’ needlessly and devices which never fully switch off, even when not in use.

And, with electricity prices rising by 66.7% in the 12 months leading up to March 2023 (according to the Office for National Statistics), being aware of this has never been more important.

In most British homes, there are still multiple devices drawing power, even after all the lights have gone off and devices such as cookers and washing machines have powered down.

These include phones and laptops left ‘on charge’ (which often don’t need to be) and devices such as TV boxes and games consoles which remain on.

What is sleep mode?

Environmentalist and sustainability expert Claire Bradbury says that households need to move beyond the idea that everything needs to be ready to activate in an instant, at any time of the day.

Bradbury says: "We are used to keeping devices in standby or sleep mode so that they can leap back into action in seconds. During the working day, a laptop that can quickly restore our session obviously makes a lot of sense but we don’t necessarily need this functionality once we’ve clocked off for the day."

"Switching off at the wall doesn’t damage our appliances and is a myth that should be dispelled.

Switching off at the wall is the best way to be sure that gadgets really are actually off, Bradbury advises.

Using a power strip (with several devices plugged into it) is a good way to nudge yourself into a new habit of switching off at night.

Bradbury says: "There are some home appliances like fridges and freezers which need a constant power source, but as part of our night time routine, we should be switching off the devices and appliances that aren’t necessary while we sleep."

"The best way to switch off appliances is to turn them off at the source (the wall socket). Using a power strip or board can help rewire our home habits – by using them, we only need to remember to turn one switch off rather than several.

Devices such as televisions can still consume fairly large amounts of power when on standby - research by EcoCostSavings found that average modern TVs use 58.5 watts while in use, and 1.3 watts on standby.

But older sets can consume more while on standby (generally speaking, newer devices tend to be more energy-efficient, due to increased regulation around sustainability).

What does standby really do?

Research by British Gas suggested that 60% of households leave a TV on standby for 20 hours per day on average.

Bradbury says: "Household electricity consumption is still on the increase; the number of gadgets – especially smart devices – available to us is increasing, driving the energy load upwards."

On average, British households now have more than 10 internet-connected devices, according to research by Aviva.

How can smart meters help?

Bradbury suggests that households should also ensure they use a smart meter (if their electricity provider offers it) to boost their awareness of ‘phantom power’.

Research by Smart Energy UK found that families with smart meters are 23% more likely to have adjusted their energy use in recent months.

Bradbury says that tech can give families an edge in keeping up with phantom power.

She says: "Plug-in energy usage meters can also help us track the electricity usage of particular appliances, while water meters and room thermostats can assist with usage/temperature control around the home."

"Smart meters give access to real-time electricity usage, so if these are available from your energy provider, take them up on it. Being able to see the money on a real time basis gives us a very tangible way to keep track.

But remembering to switch off properly is easy.

Bradbury says: ‘The type of behaviour change that we need in the home isn’t as scary as we might think; we’re really talking about subtle adaptations to our habits rather than any seismic lifestyle shift.’

Dwellbeing: Finding Home In The City by Claire Bradbury is published by Flint Books (The History Press), £20