Should you turn plugs off at the wall to save?

Everybody likes saving money. We’ll put that another way; everybody likes spending the money they’ve saved. If you buy a car for £500 less than the first price you were quoted, then you’ve got £500 to treat yourself to anything from a European city break to the latest games console. The actual act of saving money, on the other hand, is sometimes not so much fun. Some people don’t enjoy haggling over the price of that car, for example, while others spend year after year putting up with paying more than they should for their gas and electricity.

In fact, 54% of all energy customers have spent the last three years simply sitting on the default tariff of their energy provider according to Ofgem. If you speak fluent energy provider then you’ll know that ‘default tariff’ translates as ‘the most we can get away with charging’, which is why it’s what most providers tend to charge if you don’t make the effort to find a better tariff. It’s not just about energy tariffs, either. Some people don’t take any notice of energy saving tips no matter how many times they’re given them. They see that the advice on reducing central heating costs includes getting your walls and loft insulated, and they assume that it’s going to be a lot of hard work.

There are two problems with this:

  1. Insulating your loft, walls and windows doesn’t have to be hard work. In fact, there’s a government scheme called the Energy Company Obligation (ECO) which means that some energy companies will carry the work out free of charge for certain customers.
  2. Lots of energy saving tips are quick and simple, including using EU Energy Labels to find out which are the most expensive appliances to run, using individual thermostats on radiators and only putting as much water as you need to boil in your kettle.

Myths and nonsense

There are also lots of myths to cope with when it comes to saving energy. Painting radiators black won’t save you any money, in fact you’ll be down however much it cost you to stock up on black paint. Turning lights off and on again doesn’t use more energy than just letting them stay on. Most of the heat doesn’t escape from your house through the windows (it’s the walls, unless you’ve had the cavity insulated).

Should you turn off plus at the wall?

One question which often comes up when discussing saving energy in the home is this: should you turn plugs off at the wall? In other words, does leaving a plug socket on use electricity? The answer is that an empty plug socket isn’t using any electricity, because the current doesn’t flow unless there’s a plug completing the circuit and an appliance switched on. So you really don’t have to go round turning every socket to the off position, even when it’s a socket in an empty room.

The issue of whether appliances use electricity when plugged in but turned off is a little bit more complicated. That’s because many modern appliances, when you point the remote control at them and turn them off, aren’t actually turned all the way off.

What happens instead is that they slip into standby mode – not fully turned on but ready and waiting to spring to life when you press the button again. Another reason for the growth of standby mode in a huge range of appliances is that we human beings tend to be extremely lazy. Picture it – you’re lying in bed, the programme finishes and it’s time to go to sleep. You could get up and walk over to the TV set and turn it off at the switch but look… that’s at least 10 feet you’d have to walk and you’re exhausted after that last episode of Game of Thrones, so you reach for the remote control and put the TV on standby.

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Stand down standby

Unfortunately, the Energy Saving Trust, which knows a thing or two about saving energy (the clue’s in the name) estimates that appliances left on standby cost the average home £80 a year. Just think about your home. As well as the TV set (or, most likely, multiple TV sets), you’ve probably got set top boxes and games consoles, all sat there with just the one light blinking through the night to remind you that they’re still costing you money. In addition to these, you can include all of those devices, from radios to cookers and microwaves, that have a clock flashing away at 12:00 because you never got round to setting it properly. They may not be turned on, but the flashing clock shows they’re still drawing power, and a few pence here and there soon builds up across a whole house and over the entire year.

A similar rule applies to chargers for devices such as mobile phones, tablets and laptops. In every case, if the charger is still plugged in but not attached to the device, it’s still drawing some power from the system. The same applies if you plug a phone in to charge and the battery is full in two hours. Leave it plugged in and charging while you sleep through the night and you’ll be paying for electricity that’s literally doing nothing.

So the simple answer is that it saves to turn most devices off at the plug socket, or unplug them altogether. Some, like a set top box, need to stay in standby to keep downloading data, but in most cases standby is simply a luxury we can manage without.

You know what you shouldn’t manage without? Getting your energy on the cheapest possible tariff. Come to Look After My Bills to be switched and we’ll make sure you switch to a cheaper deal and keep on switching every time something even better comes along.