Sense Blog
busy power strip

What is “Always On” Power?

The Always On bubble is a regular feature of your Sense app, but what does it mean? We explain what Always On power is, which devices use the most power even when you think they’re turned off, and what you can do about it.

If your home is like that of most American families, your Sense app will feature an “Always On” bubble, well, always. Always On refers to a type of energy usage that you might also know as “idle load,” “phantom energy,” “phantom load,” “standby power,” or “vampire draw,” but despite the long list of names, Always On represents a pretty simple concept: it’s the energy that some electronics pull even when they seem turned off.

Sometimes, there’s a good reason for an device to be always on. TVs, for example, take a substantial amount of time to turn back on and connect to a signal after being completely turned off, which is why when you press the power button, your TV screen will go dark, but will stay in “standby mode,” continuing to draw power. However, other devices, such as cell phone chargers, will also continually draw power when not in use, even though there’s no concern over rebooting time. Devices like these, which add to your electric bill without adding any kind of utility, are what make phantom power so frustrating.

The Money

The economic consequences of vampire power are more substantial than you might think. A study by the Natural Resources Defense Council found that the energy use from Always On devices across the U.S. adds up to about $19 billion a year, or $165 per average U.S. household. Some estimates have found that Always On devices account for 23% of power consumption in the average household, or a quarter of any given electricity bill. That’s a lot to pay for a whole lot of nothing.

What’s more than a normal amount of phantom power?

The average amount of Always On power that we see across homes with Sense installed is 288 watts (learn about what a watt is), but of course your Always On amount may vary. Here are a few common vampire power offenders and their power usage (taken from source):

  • DVD player: 1W
  • Cordless Phone: 2W
  • Plasma TV: 3W
  • Printer: 6W
  • Desktop computer and monitor: 8W
  • DVR: 37W
Common "Always On" culprits
A graph showing the common culprits of “Always On” power

The Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory has a resource listing the vampire power usage of even more devices, including unexpected offenders like coffee makers and air conditioners.

How Do I Find My ‘Always On’ Devices?

With a little detective work, you can use Sense to figure out how much standby power individual devices in your home are using.

  1. Make a list of likely culprits. Looking at the links mentioned above, and keeping an eye out for any devices in your home that includes a battery charger, remote control, external power supply, or continuous display, and jot down the devices you have that might contribute to your ‘Always On’ load. You might even want to set up a simple spreadsheet.
  2. Open the Sense app and navigate to the Power Meter. You’ll notice it updates every second in real-time. If you turn a device on or off, you’ll see the power meter fluctuate in response.
  3. Unplug each device on your list. Did your total use go down? If so, by how much? Write those figures down on your list.
  4. Add up use across your list. Is this close to the ‘Always On’ figure that Sense is reporting? If not, it’s possible there are more hidden devices in your home that might be consuming excess power. Try this same activity while switching off breakers in your electrical panel to see if you can isolate the circuits that may have a hidden consumers, and continue your investigation from there.
  5. Decide where you can reduce. Now that you know what is contributing to your ‘Always On’, unplug what you can, and use the suggestions below to manage other devices.

Why Doesn’t My Always On Bubble Change Immediately?

Sense calculates your ‘Always On’ load as an average across 24 hours, so just hold tight! Your hard work will show when Sense has had a chance to calculate a new average.

Isn’t My Refrigerator Always On? Why Does Sense Detect It Separately?

Your refrigerator actually cycles on and off many times throughout the day. You can check out the pattern in the Power Meter inside the Sense app. There are some interesting stories of Sense users who have identified problems with their refrigerators by noticing they were cycling on and off more frequently than usual. Did you know that a spare refrigerator in your garage or basement often costs more than $100/year to operate? Think carefully about whether you need to run that year round, or just around big holidays. Maybe you can get rid of it altogether!

How To Reduce Your Vampire Load

Most people are familiar with the good old fashioned power strip; flip the switch, and it will cut power to all plugged in devices. Flip it again, and power returns. This is the most commonly recommended method of dealing with phantom power:

Power Strip

Now, if everybody on earth consistently turned their power strips off when they were done with their appliances, phantom power wouldn’t exist and nobody would be concerned about unnecessary charges on their power bill. But of course this isn’t the case. After all, who remembers to turn off the power strip switch all the time? And isn’t it such a pain to cut off power to the TV, and then have to wait five minutes while it resets the next time you want to turn it on? Power strips can be very helpful, but they are an inelegant tool, unless you get fancy with them.

Luckily, here at Sense, getting fancy with energy usage is what we do. To make the power strip solution not-lame, you need to find some not-lame power strips.

A timed power strip comes with a built-in timer, so it remembers to turn itself on and off for you. This means you don’t have to walk around the house switching off power strips before bed, and can set the devices to turn back on early in the morning, so you don’t have to wait five minutes for your TV to reboot before watching the morning news.

timed power strip

hd power strip

If you really want to go above and beyond, there are a few more elegant power strip options for this civilized age:

Remote controlled power strips

Humankind invented the remote control for a reason. Avoid the hassle of standing up by switching your power strip on and off from the comfort of your own couch or bed.

Remote control power strip

Motion sensor power strips

These power strips turn off after ten minutes of inactivity in a room. Forget worrying about turning anything off, let the motion sensor do the work for you.

Blog-motion-sensor-power-strip

However you choose to shrink your Always On bubble, as always, we wish you Happy Sensing!