An Electrician Answers Your Question


First I have a bit of good news for any one concerned about the accumulation of mercury in the landfills from CFL light bulbs. GE has announced they are phasing out the manufacture of the CFL bulb With the improvements in LED bulbs retailers are seeing CFL sales drop and with the new Energy Star Ratings to change next year, CFL bulbs will have a harder time getting energy star rating.   I should note, the GE phase out of the CFL bulb is only in the United States, they will continue to be manufactured and sold abroad.

When I shared the results of energy saving measures over the last year on my home’s electric bill I mentioned that in the bathroom light fixture which can hold 5 light bulbs I have replaced the incandescent bulbs with two LED bulbs, leaving the other sockets empty.

In the comments, Anon shared what she had been told about these multi-light fixtures:

….regarding light bars with multiple lights, and say a kitchen ceiling with multiple lights on one switch.
— if you do not have all the sockets filled, with all the same watt/size bulb, it creates stress on the “system” of that unit, and can draw more electricity trying to balance, or create stress and overheat it all. I’ve been told if I don’t want to keep all the lights “filled”/working, to put a different fixture in.”

I promised to check into this. I contacted my oldest son who is a licensed electrician and this is what he had to say about leaving empty sockets in a light bar

“It doesn’t have any effect. The light bulb itself is what creates the resistance in the circuit. Without the light bulb no energy is expended into that part of the fixture so you actually save (albeit very little if using an LED bulb). It would be no different than having a quad receptacle box and not plugging something into every spot.”

I’ll paraphrase the rest of our conversation.

People are confused about the electrical current in the home because of the way our appliances and such operate  today.   Take for instance a light fixture. You plug it into the wall or operate it from a switch. Until the switch is turned to the off position there is current flowing to that light fixture. It is the act of turning the switch to the on position which diverts the energy from running through the wiring of your home uninterrupted to the fixture.

In years past any item that operated on the home’s electrical system had to be turned on or off. Take for instance the television. One had to walk over to the television and turn the knob to turn the television on. It would take a few minutes for the components to warm up and the picture quality to come into focus. Today, our televisions are on standby, using electricity, waiting for the button on the remote to be clicked.

We hear that any kitchen appliance with a clock is drawing electricity, even when not being used. But a better way of determining if an appliance draws electricity is if it has an off/on switch. Take for instance the microwave. Yes, most have a clock, but it also has a touch pad to enter your cooking time. That touchpad would not operate if the microwave did not have a steady current running to it. Now if you could find a microwave that had an on/off switch that had to be flipped before the touch pad worked you would know your microwave was not drawing what we call a phantom load, vampire power or leaking electricity.

In this case, both the microwave and the stove have both digital displays drawing electricity and you can see the touch pad on the microwave.
In this case, both the microwave and the stove have both digital displays drawing electricity and you can see the touch pad on the microwave.

It’s this confusion between what items in the home draw electricity and which ones do not that are to blame for the confusion on why we need to unplug our chargers for things like our tablets and phones. People think because the phone isn’t plugged into the charger it’s not using electricity. Take a look at your charger, there isn’t an on/off switch on it which means the current running through the house has been diverted to the cord the minute it was plugged into the receptacle regardless of whether you plug in your electronics or not, leaking electricity and driving up your electrical bill.

A simple solution for hard to reach outlets would be the use of a surge protector which has an on/off switch to turn all your electronics plugged into it off when not in use.

I hope this answers your question on how to reduce your electric bill.


Do you have any other questions on reducing your electrical use?


  1. The other thing you can do to see if your appliances or devices are drawing current when “not in use” is to use a power meter like “Kill a Watt” or “Watts Up”. Basically you plug the meter into the wall and then plug your appliance or device into the meter, and the meter will tell you how much electricity is being consumed. Most of them will track the usage and allow you to download it so you can see how the usage changes over time. I know all about these devices because CatMan actually wrote the software for one of the more popular brands. Here in Denver you can check them out from the library. Of course, they only work for things that can be plugged in, not for stuff that’s hard wired.

    When I had a home energy audit done, they used one of them on my refrigerator. Since the fridge is over 15 years old, I was fully expecting them to tell me that it was gobbling energy, but the meter found that it’s actually just as efficient as a new one would be, so I didn’t have to replace it.


    • Wow, you have a brilliant CatMan! How nice that your library loans out the kill a watt. I think if more people checked their old appliances using one of these devices they might find the old ones are just as efficient as the new ones. In the past companies wanted to make the best product they could but it wasn’t a practice to advertise the energy it used. How nice your fridge was one of those saving you money both using it and not having to replace it.


  2. I have recently heard a lot about CFL bulbs being a fire hazard, also. Kind of scary, if you ask me. I’m trying to get changed over to LEDs. Now that the price is starting to come down, that should help.
    Lighting and the ‘Phantom Loads’ drawn by electronics are not the biggies that use electricity in the home. Heat, Air, Hot Water, Refrigeration and Cooking use the majority of your power. Turning the heat down and the air up, even a little will save bunches. The water might not need to be quite as hot as it is. Keeping the fridge and the freezer full will help, since the food will stay cold better than the empty air space around it. Updating appliances also helps, but is usually cost prohibitive. Cooking fewer, bigger meals helps, but isn’t for everyone.


    • I agree – turning down the furnace by a few degrees makes a HUGE difference. This might not work for everybody, but I find that I only really need piping hot water in the winter when I like to be able to soak in a hot bath to get warmed up. In the summer time I turn the temperature way down – it both saves on energy needed to heat the water, and there’s also less heat radiating into the house that way.

      Liked by 1 person

      • My furnace doesn’t do much to raise the electric bill as it runs on natural gas. The pilot is an electronic start and of course there is the thermostat that runs on electricity but it doesn’t show a measurable difference on the electric bill. I have been checking into converting the hot water tank with a tankless model as it’s usually just me here and I don’t need a tank of hot water all day for one person. Unfortunately it’s pretty involved to change. You need a larger flue and there are conflicting reports on how much you can save.


        • I had to have the hot water heater replaced a few years ago and I looked into the tankless models too. For several reasons I decided against it. First of all, they are MUCH more expensive. I think if you use a lot of hot water the savings might pay for itself over time, but I’ve calculated it out and hot water only contributes about $5/month to my total energy bill – so totally not worth it. The other reason I decided against it is that they won’t work in the event of a power outage. Not sure about other places, but we tend to get power outages during big blizzards, so it happens every 5 years or so. With a standard natural gas hot water tank, you’ll still be able to have hot water even if the power goes out, and by filling up the tub, sinks and placing containers around the house, you can keep it warm enough to keep the pipes from freezing. That was my reasoning anyhow!


          • Yes, they are much more expensive and if I have to have all the pipes modified it would surely add to the cost. I never thought about them not working in a power outage but that’s another reason to consider sticking with what I have. So many of the things I had dreamed of doing if I ever had my own home are slowly being chipped away and rethought, such as tankless hot water heaters and solar panels.


    • Cindy, they are. When they die, unlike an incandescent bulb that pops and goes dark, a CFL will melt and burn. My son had one do that and days later you could still smell the smoke/burnt plastic. Here’s an article on the dangers. After that happened my son switched out all his bulbs to LED, which aren’t all that much more expensive anymore. If you want to change out your bulbs to LED you may want to check with your local electricity provider they may have a program in place to save you on the purchase. For instance, my son’s electric company has a deal with Costco to sell them LED bulbs for under $2 each.

      I agree that in homes where heating and hot water are electric those will be the biggest drain on the electric bill but if you use an electric clothes dryer those are the biggest hogs of energy in the home. I kept the information here on the question I was asked which is why I didn’t go into the larger appliances other than how they affect your bill if they remain on stand by.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I operate like Cindy does. This was a good education, Lois. I will never stop using a certain amount of electricity, but I try to minimize where I can. We are an all electric community here. Not my favorite but not much I can do about it. My son has been changing us out to LED but I didn’t know that about the CFL’s. I dress pretty warm in my house but if I get an older person for company, my heat gets turned up a bit till they leave. It’s usually at 62 all winter. Brrr. Can you tell I’m still catching up?


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