“Vampire devices” are electronics that use small amounts of power all day, even when you’re not using them. These idle devices use up to 23% of total home energy, costing Americans up to $19 billion per year. An average American could improve their carbon footprint by 2% annually (an impact equal to 18 trees) and save $165 per household just by unplugging devices that are not in use (Source: NRDC).
Some of the most notorious energy sinks are large devices like refrigerators, ACs, TVs, cable boxes, stereos and speakers, gaming consoles, computers, printers, and routers. With their “standby” consumption, these devices can use energy equal to running a 75 or 100 watt light bulb continuously.
Automate it with a smart plug or power strip
The truth is: it isn't easy to remember to unplug your devices. One of the best tools to keep idle devices from sucking up energy is the humble power strip. Run key offenders through a power strip or plug that does two key things:
Surge protection: Use a surge protector to gain the added benefit of protecting devices from harmful power surges, preventing internal degradation and extending their lifetimes.
Smart scheduling: The best picks make it easy to set timers that do the work of “unplugging” devices for you. Smart devices also connect with Amazon Alexa or Google home for audio control, and offer the added benefit of allowing you to turn on or off lights or devices when you’re out of the house. Some smart plugs even allow you to monitor the relative electricity that different devices suck in.
Best smart plug
Best for: One-off or high-energy appliances Price: $15, or $7.50 per device (2 outlets)
A smart plug is a perfect gateway buy to target the couple biggest vampires in your home. They’re also useful for parts of your home where you only use one device at a time - say a lamp, fan, or stand-alone device.
Recommended by both Wirecutter and WIRED Magazine, the Wyze smart plug costs only $15 for two plugs. Wyze lets you set a timer for devices, track energy use in the app, and even set devices on vacation mode when you’re out for extended periods of time.
Make it go further:
Pair it with the Tripp Lite 12-outlet Surge Protector to hack together a smart power strip
If you’re in California, Texas, or Toronto, pair it with the OhmConnect app to program your biggest and most-used devices to only go off when energy is most expensive and dirtiest (e.g. fridge, AC)
Best for: Appliance-heavy areas in your home, and/or in combination with a smart plug Price: $55, or $4.60 per device (12 outlets)
The Tripp Lite 12-Outlet Surge Protector has enough outlets for all the cords in a device-dense area of your home, with protection from dangerous surges. The main downside is that you still need to remember to turn it off when you’re not using it.
A good affordability hack is to pair a Wyze smart plug with the Tripp Lite surge protector. This offers the same scheduling benefits as the Kasa strip below (with the minor disadvantage that all devices on the surge protector turn on and off together), with twice the outlet space and a lower price than the Kasa strip.
Best smart strip
Best for: Appliance-heavy corners of your home (e.g. entertainment, kitchen) Price: $80, or $13 per device (6 outlets)
The Kasa Smart Wi-Fi Power Strip can transform appliance-heavy corners of your home into power-saving machines, but at a price.
It has six independently controlled outlets for which you can set separate timers and triggers. For instance, you can set your wi-fi router to be on from 7:00 am to 11:00 pm, but your TV and stereo system to only draw power from 6:00pm to 10:00pm. The Kasa strip also comes with three USB ports and a long power cord.
Smart strips like this can be pricey - the Kasa costs $80. That said, if you can stomach it, you’re likely to make up the cost in energy bill savings in a couple years, and you might enjoy the added perk of energy monitoring by device.
Best outdoor smart plug
Best for: Outdoor devices (e.g. lights, heaters) Price: $25, or $12.50 per device (2 outlets)
The Kasa Smart Wi-Fi Outdoor Plug is a bulkier option, but perfect for outdoors, where you can’t use a traditional smart plug. The Kasa plug comes with two outlets you can control independently for $25. It’s great for lights or heaters that don’t need to draw energy all the time.
How we picked
We first considered the NRDC and Department of Energy’s recommendations for how to best save energy from vampire devices. Then we reviewed WIRED Magazine, Wirecutter, Best Buy, and EnergySTAR’s recommendations for the best smart plugs, smart switches, and surge protectors with these energy guidelines in mind.