It might be convenient, but what’s the true cost of standby – to your energy bills, and to the world?

It’s those little red lights that do it. Take a wander around your house at night and you’ll see them staring out from your TV, DVD player, sound system. In the age of the remote control it’s much more convenient to switch things off from the comfort of your sofa. Busy lives mean we’re charging phones, toothbrushes and laptops all night long, while MP3 players sit juicing-up in their docks even when there’s no music playing. And who doesn’t turn on the dishwasher or washing machine for a quick cycle before bed?

The Energy Savings Trust estimates that each UK households spend between £50 – £90 a year powering appliances left in standby mode or not in use. To get a real picture of what’s secretly slurping up energy in the average home, we asked a friendly family of four to do a few sums…

npower customer, Helen, her husband and two sons each have a mobile phone, which they put on charge every night before they go to bed. That’s up to 8 hours of standby charging a day, times by 4 people, which equals 32 hours. It’s not good for their phones, the battery life, or for their wallets. Take the standard npower electricity tariff of 15.897p per kW, times it by the 0.002kW per hour a mobile uses when plugged in, and their surplus charging could be £3.71 a year. Not much… but then there’s the TV and surround-sound stereo system which are never turned off at the plug, sitting in standby for around 20 hours a day. That’s 7,300 hours a year, a potential £31 saving. And Helen works from home in the day, confessing to a good 4 hours after work when her computer, monitor and peripherals are all left on – at a cost of £6 a year. When you think about the extras – the microwave, broadband modem, toothbrush and shaver chargers, the boys’ Xbox –you can see how it soon adds up.

It might not sound like a huge amount, but it’s wasted money. You wouldn’t put those crisp, clean notes in the bin, would you? Helen certainly wouldn’t. When we asked her “What would you do with an extra £40 or more?” she was quick to reply. “Hire a babysitter!” she laughed.

Money-saving aside, there’s a much greater cost associated with the problem of standby; unnecessary energy usage means unnecessary carbon emissions. One expert estimated that leaving electrical equipment on standby produces as much CO2 emissions as 1.4 million long-haul flights. If we look more closely at individual culprits, the Energy Saving Trust estimates that stereos left on standby emit a massive 1.6 million tonnes of CO2 costing £290 million, while TVs emit 480,000 tonnes at a cost of £88 million.

How does seemingly ethereal electricity usage create real, tangible CO2? Forgive us if you already know but in case you don’t, electricity is made from burning fossil fuels like coal, and when you burn coal CO2 is created. So the more electricity required, the more coal is burnt and the more CO2 is made.

But don’t worry, it’s not all doom and gloom – there’s a lot you can do to save on standby costs and make a real difference to your energy bills.

Standby-saving tips

  • Switch it off at the plug. It’s a habit that’s well worth getting into. Post-it notes can help you to remember.
  • Socket timers are handy for more than just deterring burglars. Unless you’re recording programmes during the night, you can set a socket timer to turn your TV and audio equipment off during the wee small hours. Same goes for your mobile phone charger.
  • Find out the real energy zapping culprits by using an energy consumption meter like those at
  • An extra treat, a star on their good behaviour chart, or a day out with the money you’ll save… get the rest of the family to do the work!