Should You Unplug Small Appliances When Not in Use?

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With high prices dominating so many parts of a household — from groceries to utilities to even rents/mortgages — many Americans have been trying to find ways to cut corners and save a few bucks. Some have touted turning off small appliances when they’re not actively being used. But, does that trick really work?

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Related: Unplug These Appliances That Hike Up Your Electricity Bill

As previously reported, the U.S. Department of Energy has noted there are savings of about $100-200 a year for unplugging items like microwaves, coffee pots, TVs, computers and hairdryers when they aren’t in use. 

That can be considerable savings since utility prices are skyrocketing in 2022. According to the latest Consumer Price Index, released in mid-September, electricity is up 0.4% month over month, which may not sound like a lot but with constant increases for all of 2022, that puts the bill at 15.5% more expensive than this time last year.

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Another article also talks about cost savings when unplugging appliances you might not even think of. While powering down your desktop computer might be intuitive and could save 60-200 watts (or $21-66) a year, doing the same with your modem could cut down 5-17 watts (or $5-17) a year. 

Another big item that would be good to unplug is an aquarium as the tank’s heater takes up a lot of juice — that is, as long as it doesn’t harm the fish inside! If you’re able to, this could save 150-200 watts or $209 a year. Cooling fans too are a good one as unplugging saves 110 watts or $111 a year.

CNET also touts the advantages of unplugging, noting that some of the worst offenders are computers in sleep mode, phone, laptop and device chargers that “still draw power even if the device is not connected” and smart home appliances that are always “on” with an internet connection (refrigerators, washers/dryers). And really any standby modes or shadow modes are also big culprits.

According to CNET, they reported that the Natural Resources Defense Council found that “always-on” devices can add to an extra $165 per household every year. Not only that but the NRDC has also shared how much of a sustainability measure unplugging can be, saving 64 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity per year from all American households combined and would also eliminate 44 million metric tons of carbon dioxide pollution.

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Though USA Today isn’t necessarily sold on the practice, noting it may not be worth the effort to unplug everything for modest savings, the writer does point out there are some other ways to save money when it comes to appliances. 

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That includes swapping out incandescent bulbs with LED lights; using a smart thermostat that can allow you to control your HVAC when you’re not at home so you’re not wasting energy when you’re not inside; replacing older appliances with the latest models that might run more efficiently, and insulating water heaters.

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About the Author

Selena Fragassi joined in 2022, adding to her 15 years in journalism with bylines in Spin, Paste, Nylon, Popmatters, The A.V. Club, Loudwire, Chicago Sun-Times, Chicago Tribune, Chicago Magazine and others. She currently resides in Chicago with her rescue pets and is working on a debut historical fiction novel about WWII. She holds a degree in fiction writing from Columbia College Chicago.
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