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What is “Always On” Power?

What is Always On power? We explain what it is, which devices use the most, and what you can do about it.

Always On is an important concept in the Sense ecosystem and, ultimately, your home. Many devices, from consumer electronics to major appliances, silently sip energy, unbeknownst to most homeowners. You might be familiar with the concept by other names like “idle load,” “phantom energy,” “phantom load,” “standby power,” or “vampire draw.” We like the term Always On because, whatever status these devices want you to think they’re in, ultimately they’re On, and costing you money and energy. If you’re interested in the technical particularities of how we calculate Always On, check out this article in our Help Center.

Sometimes, there’s a good reason for a 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. Others, like Wi-Fi routers need to maintain a constant connection. However, devices such as microwaves and printers will also continually draw power when not in use, even though there’s little concern over reboot time. Devices like these, which add to your electric bill without adding any kind of utility, are what make Always On power so frustrating.

The Costs of Consumption

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 US accounts for 23% of power consumption in the average household, or a quarter of any given electricity bill. Our own research confirms this. The costs are staggering: Based on the U.S. average monthly utility bill of $111.67 and an average price of $.1289 per kWh, the typical household now spends $308 annually to keep their gadgets running continuously, even when they are not in use. That’s a lot to pay for a whole lot of nothing.

In Sense homes, the average Always On usage is 288W at any given moment, but we’ve seen users with Always On consumption in the staggering five-digit range as well as users sipping a measly 50W, like our very own King of Always On. Consumer electronics are the most common culprits, but major appliances like pool pumps and furnaces can also make major contributions to your Always On usage. Here are some common vampire power offenders and their average Always On power usage (based on research from the US Department of Energy):

  • Desktop computer: 21.13W
  • Laptop computer: 15.77W
  • Laser fax/printer: 6.42W
  • Subwoofer: 10.7W
  • Cable modem: 3.85W
  • Digital cable/DVR set-top box: 43.46W
  • DVD or Blu-Ray players 10.58 W
  • Video game console: 23.34W
  • Garage door opener: 4.48W
  • Microwave: 3.08W

In our research referenced above, we found that consumer electronics like these can have a very strong effect on your energy usage. In homes with 15 consumer electronics devices, the total energy usage doubled and the Always On usage quadrupled. It should be obvious by now: Reducing your Always On load can result in significant energy and cost savings in your home.

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. We recently released a major update to the Always On screen in the mobile and Web apps that should help to both inspire change and to drill this device list down.

Tapping on your Always On bubble will now reveal a newly detailed Always On screen, complete with detailed stats and comparisons that indicate how much your Always On usage is costing you and how you compare to other Sense users. If you scroll down, you’ll now see an Always On device breakdown that lists your smart plug devices that are contributing to your Always On usage. Below this, you’ll see an even more detailed breakdown of how much your Always On usage is costing you.

Sense should be doing a great job of tracking your Always On devices that are on smart plugs, but detecting the rest of your Always On devices is challenging. Given that they’re running constantly, Sense is unable to capture the important on and off events that are so important to device detection. We’re working hard on ways to help with this, but there’s some manual work you can do in the meantime to further drill down your Always On device list:

  1. Make a list of likely culprits. Keep an eye out for any devices in your home that include 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 half second in real time. If you turn a device on or off, you’ll see the Power Meter fluctuate in response.
  3. Pick a time when your home is “electrically quiet” and 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 that 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 usage, unplug what you can, and use the suggestions below to manage other devices.

How To Reduce Your Always On 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. You might even try timed power strips, motion-sensing power strips, or so-called “advanced” power strips that can detect when devices are idle and automatically shut off power to them.

These are all great solutions, but there’s an even better one: smart plugs. We integrated with smart plugs from Kasa and Wemo last year and they’re proving to be a fan favorite integration of our users. Smart plugs do a couple really great things: (1) they net you immediate detection of any 120V devices that you connect them to; (2) they give you remote control, directly from the Sense app; and (3), they feed us valuable data that will make device detection better for everybody. All of these points will hopefully help sway you to pick up some smart plugs, but the second point is particularly relevant for reducing your Always On load. Rather than having to remember to shut off your power strips, or painfully reach behind the entertainment console to hit that small rocker switch, you can turn off your smart plugs directly from the Sense app. Controlling those Always On devices couldn’t be easier.

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

Has reducing your Always On load netted some significant savings in your home? Let us know at Sense Saves.