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ASK A TECH GEEK: How Wasteful is it to Keep My Chargers Plugged in When Not Connected to Their Devices?

by , 07/02/11

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Each week renowned gadget expert Peter Rojas from gadget Q&A site GDGT.com answers your questions about green technology in our Ask A Tech Geek Series. Read on for this week’s installment and submit your questions below!

How wasteful is it to keep chargers/adapters plugged in when not connected to their corresponding devices?

- submitted by Benjamin Lozovsky

PETER ROJAS:
The short answer is: not very much. At least not usually.

But that’s not the whole story. Read on to find out more.


ask a tech geek, ask a tech geek series, how wasteful are chargers when not connected to a device, green gadgets, green technology, green gadget advice, ask a tech geek inhabitatimage © Joshin Yamada

When not plugged in most wall chargers for smaller gadgets like digital cameras, cell phones, MP3 players, etc. draw a fraction of the power they use when charging something. Most end up using somewhere between 0.5 to 2 watts when plugged in (but not connected to a device), which isn’t a whole lot in the grand scheme of things. Even if you completely forgot about a charger and left it plugged in all day, every day for a month you’d probably end up adding at most about 10 or 15 cents to your electric bill.

ask a tech geek, ask a tech geek series, how wasteful are chargers when not connected to a device, green gadgets, green technology, green gadget advice, ask a tech geek inhabitatimage © Michal Zacharzewski

Far more energy is wasted from simply leaving our gadgets plugged in longer than needed or leaving things like TVs and DVD players plugged in 24/7 even though we only use them an hour or two a day (so-called “standby power”). These are power hogs compared with the trickle of electricity used from leaving a charger or two in a wall socket, and so if I were going to focus on changing something, it’d be that.

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Even so, every little bit helps, and while leaving a wall charger plugged in might not make even a noticeable difference in your home’s total energy consumption, in the aggregate, having billions of these things plugged in when they’re not being used does add up. That’s why more and more electronics companies are introducing chargers that draw very little or even no power when not connected to a gadget — and that automatically shut off when a gadget is fully charged. There are also companies making a host of power strips that automatically switch off bigger electronics like TVs when they are not in use, eliminating vampire power.

If you’re really concerned — or just want to know exactly how much power you’re wasting — buy a power meter like the Kill A Watt or Watts Up Pro. They’ll let you measure exactly how much energy you’re using when these things are plugged in.

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WANT TO ASK A TECH GEEK?
Do you have a green technology question you’d like to ask Peter? Submit it to him by leaving a comment on this post or tweeting it to @Inhabitat and/or @peterrojas with the hashtag #AskATechGeek!

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13 Comments

  1. caroliner December 4, 2013 at 3:53 pm

    Hi
    Does leaving your battery on charge after it is fully
    charged affect the life of the battery?

    Cheers
    Caroline

  2. choffee July 9, 2011 at 2:26 pm

    I always turn off my chargers before jumping in my car to drive to the shops. I wonder how a year of standby compares to a mile in the car? ( An average UK car and consume 40kwH/day http://www.inference.phy.cam.ac.uk/withouthotair/c3/page_29.shtml )
    If everybody makes just a tiny difference to their own energy consumption then together we will make a tiny difference.

  3. wholebuffalo July 9, 2011 at 11:45 am

    The kill-a-watt is a great too for finding which electronics are wasting energy in your home. We found a lot of waste with older electronics like printers, monitors, and game consoles. Newer devices tend to be much better in standby mode, except DVRs, which tend to use close to as much energy in standby as when in use. Even worse, you generally cannot just connect a DVR to a powerstrip to save energy, since they take 10-40 minutes to boot up.

  4. Joy Sian July 8, 2011 at 3:14 pm

    I like the idea of a “master switch” seen in power strips as it makes the action as habitual as turning off a light in a room. Great advice, thanks.

  5. Jim Huang July 5, 2011 at 2:19 am

    Ever stay at a hotel where essential power was available when you plugged in your hotel key, and all power in the room turns off when the key was removed? If we had individually assignable outlets, or even a programmable circuit that turns designated outlets or circuits on/off gracefully based on a master switch, that would be a simple and effective sustainable design!

  6. Ana Lisa Ana Lisa Alperovich July 1, 2011 at 3:32 pm

    As Rebecca Paul said on the above comment, it is a really good idea to switch all charges and appliances to one power strip to turn everything off in just one switch.
    As well saving up some money, switching appliances off means less heat produced, less energy consumed and less background noise.
    That should add up for a better and good night sleep!

  7. drada dobluth June 30, 2011 at 10:44 pm

    This article doesn’t emphasise the point enough. Two devices at home, the WDTV and some LG computer speakers when in standby sucked up 14 and 12 watts respectively. The wdtv used 23 watts and the speakers about 20 when running. Makes no sense.

  8. greenspan June 30, 2011 at 6:26 pm

    I’m working on a solar fashion line. Wish me luck.

  9. Sarah McGovern June 30, 2011 at 3:23 pm

    I am an interior designer that focuses on design that facilitates sustainable behavior. If you are planning a remodel or new home or office, you should put a switched circuit in every room, and plug all devices into these outlets. It really makes shutting everything off much easier to remember and accomplish.

  10. rebecca paul June 30, 2011 at 1:00 pm

    I’ve really been making an effort lately to unplug my television when I’m not using it, and I just recently switched my whole set up to a power strip where I can just turn it on or off. From what Peter has to say, it seems like it’s worth the extra time after all.

  11. Dan Mendes Dan Mendes June 30, 2011 at 12:59 pm

    Interesting that there are auto-shut off power strips for TVs and larger devices, with 5 TVs in the house, stereo equipment and others, it would probably save me a few bucks to get one of these strips!

  12. Yuka Yoneda Yuka Yoneda June 30, 2011 at 12:58 pm

    I’m thinking about getting a Kill-a-Watt now. Thanks Peter!

  13. Diane Pham Diane Pham June 30, 2011 at 12:58 pm

    power strips people! it may not seem like a lot on your energy bill, but multiple that by the millions of other people doing it and it’s a serious waste.

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