It’s almost Halloween and that means all things scary, creepy, and fun! What’s the scariest thing you can think of this time of year? A black cat? Vampires? Ghosts? Those crazy photos of you as a kid your parents like to show off?

While all of those things can be frightening, there is something far more creepy lurking within the walls of your home. It’s the Phantom Load. These phantom loads, also called plug loads and vampire draws are the energy devices that suck the electricity in your home silently, without notice.

A long time ago, in a land far, far away, people used electrical devices, and then shut them off. When they were in use, they used power; when they were turned off, no electricity flowed.

Then one day, an evil so fearsome, so pervasive, so threatening that no one could imagine it was born. It was the Remote Control (insert blood curdling scream). Using a Remote Control allowed someone watching television to change the channel, turn up the volume, or turn off the TV, from across the room. The people were overjoyed! Imagine, there was a time that you had to get off the couch and walk across the room to change the channel. Yikes! With the remote control, people eagerly abandoned their old televisions in favor of new ones that would allow them to watch their favorite shows in peace, without having the bother of getting out of their chair. Oh, the horror!

In order for the remote control to work, the television had to be able to receive the signal. And, in order to be able to receive the signal, something inside of the television had to be drawing electrical power. Little by little, as electronic devices all were powered by remote control more and more electricity was being drained by the phantom load. In spite of electronics becoming more efficient, electrical bills remained the same, and people didn’t know why.

The evil phantom load crept stealthily through the homes of the people, invading more and more of their possessions. Computer power supplies! Laptop computer charge cords! Cell phone chargers! Microwave ovens! Ceiling fans! Anything that had an LED clock, a bulky transformer somewhere in the cord between the outlet and the device, or could be turned on instantly via the evil remote control all used electrical power all of the time, even when no one was home!

What to do? People were upset! “How can we stop this evil menace from devouring our energy budget?” they cried. Fortunately, this story has a happy ending!

All of us here at NEED have heard the cries of the people, and are here with energy-saving tips. First, completely power down computers when they won’t be used for long periods of time, such as when at work or sleeping at night. Second, completely disable screen saver programs because they use more power. Third, install surge-protecting power strips between the electrical outlets and devices. They can be used to completely power off an entire bank of electronics, such as the television and all of its components, with one switch. Finally, unplug anything you aren’t using, such as the coffee pot, toaster, and even the microwave if possible, until next use.

The people were delighted! “Thank you for saving us from these phantom and vampire loads,” they cheered. “Now we can begin to save energy, save money, and reduce our carbon footprints!”

Want to do some fun research and math lessons with your students? Check out NEED’s Plug Loads curriculum guide.