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Garage Door Openers Are Always On

Which models have the lowest phantom load?

Posted on Jul 12 2013 by Martin Holladay

If your home has a garage, there is a good chance that you have an automatic garage door opener. Because these electrical appliances operate for only a few minutes per day, they don’t use much electricity to open and close your garage door. But there’s a catch: most garage door openers use three to five times more energy during the 1,437 minutes per day when they are “off” than they do during the 3 minutes per day when they are on.

Like any appliance that has a remote control, a garage door opener is always on. Even when it isn’t operating, it is warm and humming, listening for the radio signal that will tell the machine to spring into action. This type of electrical draw is called a “phantom load.”

Back in the 1950s, electrical appliances didn’t have phantom loads. When you turned them off — by flipping a toggle switch or knob that made a satisfying click — they were really off. Since then, however, appliance manufacturers have gotten sneaky. Even though the switch position may be marked “off,” the appliance is still warm. The only way to really turn it off is to pull the plug out of the wall.

Appliances with phantom loads include anything with a remote control, as well as any appliance that has a clock display or glowing LEDs. Appliances with phantom loads include a few obvious candidates, like set-top cable boxes, and several less obvious ones, like some washing machines and kitchen ranges.

In 2002, Mark Pierce, an energy expert at Cornell University, estimated that phantom loads cost the average U.S. household $200 per year. Other estimates are much lower, ranging from 329 to 569 kWh (about $40 to $70) per year. According to a web page on phantom loads maintained by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL), phantom loads typically represent “5-10% of residential electricity use in most developed countries.”

Since college students are heavy users of microwave ovens, computers, and electronic gadgets, student housing has higher phantom loads than average. A research study investigated phantom loads at an apartment complex near the University of Oregon campus in Eugene; the researchers found that phantom loads averaged 33% of the total electricity use in the apartments.

The more gadgets your house has, the higher your phantom load. Although the number of gadgets per U.S. home continues to grow, there is some good news on the phantom load front. In response to government regulations and prodding by the Energy StarLabeling system sponsored by the Environmental Protection Agency and the US Department of Energy for labeling the most energy-efficient products on the market; applies to a wide range of products, from computers and office equipment to refrigerators and air conditioners. program, some appliance manufacturers have reduced the standby power requirements of newer appliance models.

How much electricity do garage door openers use when they are off?

To return to the main topic of this blog: should you worry about your garage door openers’ phantom load?

One online source claims that “garage door openers can consume as much as 10 watts while they sit and wait to be activated by the car remote.”

As it turns out, the standby power use of garage door openers is all over the map. Curt Kinder, the managing engineer at Greener Solutions Air in Jacksonville, Florida (and a reader), calculated that the phantom loads at his home (which includes three garage door openers) amounted to 5 kWh/day, or 25% of his home’s total energy use during the months when he wasn’t operating his heating or cooling systems. That amounts to 1,825 kWh per year. (Depending on the cost of Kinder’s electricity, his phantom loads probably cost him more than the $200-a-year estimate for average phantom loads made by Mark Pierce at Cornell.)

Kinder posted some comments on his residential phantom loads in a web forum, noting that “5 kwh/day exceeds the total usage of our entire kitchen: fridge, chest freezer, range, dishwasher, etc. … We have three garage door openers, specifically Overhead Door Phantoms. They are quiet and have been relatively trouble-free. Imagine my shock at learning each uses 14.5 watts while sitting and doing nothing. Doing the math, the three (aptly named) Phantoms have cost us $200 in standby power since we built the house in early 2008.”

Of course, Kinder isn’t the only homeowner who has measured his garage door opener’s phantom load. A homeowner who posts comments under the nickname “A.Z. Doug” posted a comment on about a garage door opener manufactured by Genie. He wrote, “This Genie garage door opener system draws a whopping 8 watts of standby power, every hour it is plugged in, whether it is doing anything or not. That’s 70 kWh a year for doing nothing. If you have two or three doors on your garage, do the math.”

Measurements made by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory

Researchers at LBNL measured the standby power draw of 34 garage door openers. The watt draw of these units (when off) ranged from a low of 1.8 watt to a high of 7.3 watts; the average power usage when off was 4.48 watts.

Clearly, the researchers missed a few models, including Kinder’s 14.5-watt energy hog. Here’s a table summarizing the phantom load of garage door openers.

Annual phantom load of garage door openers (assuming 12.5¢/kWh electricity)

Average annual energy use for one garage door opener Average annual energy use for two garage door openers
Most efficient model measured by LBNL 15.8 kWh ($2) 31.6 kWh ($4)
Average of all models measured by LBNL 39.2 kWh ($5) 78.4 kWh ($10)
Least efficient model measured by LBNL 69.9 kWh ($9) 139.8 kWh ($18)
Curt Kinder's energy hog model 127.0 kWh ($16) 254.0 kWh ($32)

When garage door openers are operating, they draw between 400 and 500 watts; units with high-wattage light bulbs use more than units with CFLs, of course.

Some newer models are getting better

Although it’s still possible to purchase a garage door opener with a phantom load of over 5 watts — in other words, an energy hog model — some newer models are better designed. To learn more, I spoke with Ron Brogle, the marketing product manager for LiftMaster. (LiftMaster is a division of the Chamberlain Group, a manufacturer that markets its garage door openers under its own name as well as the Craftsman, Sears, and Wayne Dalton brand names. The other major U.S. manufacturer of garage door openers is Overhead Door Corporation, which markets its products under its own name as well as the Genie name).

“Historically, most garage door openers are sitting there idle, consuming quite a bit of power,” Brogle told me. “Across the board, we had seen, in our products and others’, that garage door openers drew 5 to 8 watts in standby mode. What we have done here at LiftMaster is to attack that. A lot of the openers had transformers that were sitting there creating waste heat. So we converted to a switch mode power supply, and we targeted the electronics. Our newer models shut down unnecessary circuitry during idle mode. Of course the radio receiver is alive, but we power down everything else. Some of our newer models are down to around 1 watt on standby.”

According to Brogle, the LiftMaster garage door openers with the lowest standby loads are the LiftMaster 8360 and the somewhat more expensive LiftMaster 8550 — both of which have DC motors — and the LiftMaster 8355, which has a 1/2-horsepower AC motor. I plan to measure the standby power use of several models of garage door openers during the next few weeks; I will report my findings in a future blog. [Addendum: According to my measurements, the LiftMaster 8550 has a standby power draw of 3 watts. For more information on my measurements, see the postscript at the end of my blog about washing machines.]

I also invite GBA readers who have measured the standby power use of garage door openers to share their findings.

Hooking up your garage door opener to a solar panel

If you enjoy tinkering, you may be tempted to buy a battery-equipped garage door opener that is designed to operate during power outages. (Most major garage door manufacturers now offer models with battery backup.) Because these garage door openers have DC motors, they can be disconnected from the power grid and hooked up to a small PVPhotovoltaics. Generation of electricity directly from sunlight. A photovoltaic (PV) cell has no moving parts; electrons are energized by sunlight and result in current flow. panel that charges the unit’s battery. (Of course, you'll need to install a charge controller between the PV panel and the battery.) This jury-rigged appliance will be more likely to operate well through stretches of cloudy weather if you add a second (larger) battery, wired in parallel to the factory-supplied battery.

More information on off-grid garage door openers is provided in an entertaining YouTube video on the topic.

Are we gaining ground or losing ground?

Is the average phantom load in U.S. homes growing or shrinking? According to LBNL, “It’s probably growing. Programs directed at consumer electronics have stimulated manufacturers to cut standby power use in many products. At the same time, the number of new appliances that continuously draw power is increasing rapidly.”

In other words, we are winning a few battles, but we're probably losing the war.

Do we really need garage door openers?

Garage door openers are a useful convenience, especially for the elderly and handicapped. But I would be derelict in my duties as a green advice columnist if I didn't mention that our grandparents didn't have garage door openers. If they needed to open a garage or barn door, they got out of their cars, or dismounted their horses, and opened the door the old-fashioned way.

This type of daily exercise helped keep our grandparents slim and fit.

Martin Holladay’s previous blog: “Keeping Cool in a Two-Story House.”

Click here to follow Martin Holladay on Twitter.

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Image Credits:

  1. LiftMaster

Jul 12, 2013 8:42 AM ET

LiftMaster 3595
by Andrea Lemon

We have the LiftMaster 3595 (3/4 HP) and it draws 3W.

On a related note, you know you're an energy-efficiency geek when you leap out of your chair and hunt for your Kill-a-Watt to measure the phantom load of your garage door opener, all before breakfast.

Jul 12, 2013 9:02 AM ET

Edited Jul 14, 2013 1:50 PM ET.

I love you guys
by Eric Sandeen

It's so nice to know there are other geeks who measure garage door idle power. ;) Back in 2010 I measured my LiftMaster (sorry, not sure which model) at 3W as well.

On a related note, my doorbell transformer also measured at 3W. Here's one guy's solution to that problem; I haven't done this yet.

LBL's Home Energy Saver web tool accounts for both of these and more on their other appliances input form...

Jul 12, 2013 11:10 AM ET

Response to Andrea Lemon and Eric Sandeen
by Martin Holladay

Andrea and Eric,
Thanks to both of you for sharing your Kill-a-Watt readings. What a great community of geeks and nerds.

Jul 12, 2013 6:52 PM ET

Edited Jul 12, 2013 6:57 PM ET.

New garage door opener
by Ray Smith

Maybe not the cheapest, but no phantom loads.

Jul 13, 2013 1:08 AM ET

Edited Jul 13, 2013 1:12 AM ET.

My "three little pigs"
by Curt Kinder

I'm pleased to see this category of phantoms given some attention as well as being able to provide useful data for discussion.

Kudos to Ron Brogle and Liftmaster for contributing to this discussion and offering products that address the problem. All my home energy audit reports contain information about phantom loads. I will add specific advice about garage door openers. My own trio comprise about 25% of my total phantom load, an outsized chunk given the total number of phantoms 5 fully wired people have in our home.

Moving on to other phantoms - I have refused to activate our doorbell's transformer. I'm tempted to order and post a placard reading "knock, remove headgear, wait for permission to enter", but I doubt I'd be allowed that.

We have a dozen or so smoke alarms, some with CO sensors, scattered throughout all 4 levels of our home. I went well past code on those. All share a 14/3 Romex cable arranged in a great loop and powered by a dedicated circuit breaker. It is on my to do list to measure that circuit's load. I learned the hard way that if the breaker is inadvertently off or tripped for a month or so, the smokes start eating pricey 9 Volt alkaline batteries by the bucketload. The buggers seem to be time aware, since they inevitably start their low battery chirping at around 2 AM.

Some 24/7 loads are arguably not strictly phantoms - we cherish always-on high speed internet, so that gear stays powered 24/7. A recent addition is a mobile phone WiFi extender to mitigate perennially weak mobile phone signals within our steel reinforced ICF house, something of a Faraday Cage. Similarly, the trickle charger for the standby genny's cranking battery, measured at 5-7 Watts, is a small but critical bit of infrastructure in our rural, storm-prone area.

Jul 14, 2013 3:08 AM ET

Edited Jul 14, 2013 8:06 AM ET.

UK Study - "Powering the Nation"
by David Martin

Thanks for the article, Martin. I didn't think about my garage door opener. I've got a two car garage, but I usually park under the carport. I use one garage door occasionally, the other never. I'll definitely unplug the one I never use. I might just unplug them both. They're not that heavy to lift by hand. I need the exercise anyway.

For someone who had to have a garage door opener, why couldn't they come up with a switch in the drive that opened the door when you ran over it with your car, eliminating the need for the radio signal? Not cost effective, eh?

Phantom loads--
I wonder what the US estimates is its total phantom load consumption for households, if there is such an estimate. Brian Keane, of the energy efficiency think tank SmartPower, was quoted in a USNWR article in 2009 as saying it is between 5 and 10% of total consumption.

The UK's Energy Saving Trust conducted a detailed study of home energy consumption, titled "Powering the Nation", which concluded the actual phantom load problem of 9-15% is about twice the previous estimate of 5-10%.

TV watching --
I wonder how often the TV is on with no one watching it, which is much worse than a phantom load. That used to be common in my large family as a kid.

The study found that TV's were on about 6 hours per day. The previous estimate was 5 hours. I knew that flat screen plasma's use a lot more energy than LCD's, but it was a surprise to find out that they both consume more energy than older CRT's. In kWh per year,
CRT 118
LCD 199
Plasma 658

Single person households--
Another troubling finding had to do with single person households, which were 29% in 2010 of all households in the UK, and increasing. The study found that for cooking and laundry, lone dwellers consumption was equal to or greater than that for families.

There's a lot of interesting points in the report. There's a link to 2 hour presentation on the website.

I wonder if similar findings would come up if such a study was conducted here.

Jul 14, 2013 5:36 AM ET

Response to David Martin
by Martin Holladay

Q. "For someone who had to have a garage door opener, why couldn't they come up with a switch in the drive that opened the door when you ran over it with your car, eliminating the need for the radio signal?"

A. They used to have rubber hoses on the asphalt at the old service stations, hooked up to a doorbell, so the attendant could come running out to wash your windshield. But you never see those guys any more. The main reason you suggestion isn't used -- in addition to the cost-effectiveness issue -- is security. You don't want the door to open for strangers.

My article quoted the LBNL estimate that “5-10% of residential electricity use in most developed countries.” Other estimates, as you note, as significantly higher; the LBNL website notes that this category of electrical use appears to be rising.

Jul 14, 2013 2:00 PM ET

Hoses & doorbells
by Eric Sandeen

The hose idea for the garage door wouldn't be bad if it could simply engage power to the garage door when you run over it, and then require the normal remote to operate the door. But then you'd have a standby circuit waiting for the signal from the hose!

I did think about putting the garage door opener on a heavy-duty rotary timer. On the off chance that I need to get into the garage at 3am there is always the key lock & manual cable to take it off the opener track.

Regarding doorbells, I looked at prices for 16V toroidal transformers for a doorbell retrofit. They aren't terribly expensive, I found one for about $11 retail. If LiftMaster was receptive to phantom-elimination efforts, I wonder if NuTone might do the same, offering more efficient doorbell transformers?

3W always on at $0.10/kW is about $2.50/year. So $10 extra for a toroidal transformer would pay back in 4 years...

Or maybe we should just go back to the manual/twist doorbells which are actually bells!

Jul 14, 2013 3:51 PM ET

Response to Eric Sandeen
by Martin Holladay

My off-grid house runs on 12 volts DC, so my doorbell is an inexpensive $4 buzzer from Radio Shack, wired to a push-button (momentary) switch at the door. No phantom load.

Jul 14, 2013 11:22 PM ET

I find it handy / easy to show / remember...
by Curt Kinder

...that every Watt of phantom / standby / 24/7 usage costs about a buck per year. Obviously that varies with electricity rates, but at the national average it is pretty close, and a real handy way to explain. A Watt doesn't sound like much, but most folks would rather not part with any more dollars than they have to.

Is it really worth 30 minutes labor at minimum wage just to power a conventional doorbell? Why not just knock?

Jul 15, 2013 12:16 AM ET

by Todd Folmer

Another great article, Martin. I too immediately dug out my Kill-a-Watt meter and plugged it in to my garage door opener. I also hadn't thought about measuring it. We have a pretty old Stanley 1/2 hp opener and I thought I would have very high standby power readings. This is what I came up with.

Standby: 0 watts
Operating: around 490 watts
Closed with the lights on: 175 watts, I have (2) 100 watt light bulbs in it. (not good, I know) :)
After 8.5 hours of sitting idle the total KWh reading was 0.00

Is the standby power so low that it doesn't register with the Kill-a-Watt? It has a remote so it must use some power all the time, right?

Jul 15, 2013 4:51 AM ET

About confusion on Kill-a-Watt readings
by Mike Swift

Todd. The Kill-a-Watt meter is a very good tool, and accurate to 0.2% plus or minus 1 Watt. This means at the bottom end of its range it can be off by about 5 Watts. When I need very low Watt measurements I use an old electro-mechanical power meter, and loop the current sense wire through the current transformer ten times, then divide the reading by ten.

Jul 20, 2013 2:36 PM ET

Does it make sense to not have a garage door opener
by Kurt Hanushek

Unless you drive a Prius, Volt, or similar vehicle with low idle energy use (not zero energy use because you probably are running lights, heater or air conditioner, sound system, vehicle information systems, etc. off a battery even though there is not a gasoline engine idling), there is increased vehicle idling time plus and additional stop and acceleration if you stop, get out of your car, open the door and get back into your car.

I know, you could shut off the engine before you get out of the car, but, realistically, how many people actually do this. For the real people who will let their cars idle, I will assume one minute if idle per door opening or closing for 500 trips (one opening and one closing) per year or about 1.36 trips per day. Many different rates of fuel consumption are given for a car idling, but 1/4 gallon per hour seems to be in the ball park. This means that a little over 4 gallons of gasoline are will be burned waiting for the driver to open or close the door. Convert the gasoline to kwh gives 137.5, or a little more than Curt Kindler's phantom load. With this, I have not counted the little tap on the accelerator to get the car moving again to pull into the garage or get it back up to speed coming out.

This tells me that getting an energy efficient door operator has a real payoff, but eliminating the door operator won't save energy, it may actually cost energy, but certainly will sour your mood when you get out in the pouring rain to open the door.

Jul 21, 2013 1:35 AM ET

That's an excellent point about external costs
by Curt Kinder

However, the "we-can-only-save-the-planet-by-collectively-shivering-naked-dirty-hungry-and-in-the-dark" crowd will insist we all need to forgo the garage altogether, as well as the car.

Jul 21, 2013 5:34 AM ET

Response to Kurt Hanushek
by Martin Holladay

I loved your calculation of the amount of gasoline required to keep a car idling while the driver steps out of the car to open the garage door. You make an excellent point.

Small quibble: I bet the average driver could open a garage door in less than a minute. But we'd have to run some tests to see.


Jul 25, 2013 1:54 PM ET

How about .03
by Daimon Doyle

A few years ago at the NAHB Green Building Conference, I came across an opener that at the time seemed the best yet in terms of energy efficiency. The Marantec Eco Series claims a power consumption of .03 watts in standby mode. That so far is the best I have seen.

Jul 25, 2013 3:13 PM ET

Response to Daimon Doyle
by Martin Holladay

Thanks for the information. That is a great spec.

Dec 6, 2013 1:28 AM ET

Automatic Garage Door Opener
by Richard Slavens

Is that Garage Door opener can be operated using smartphone application . Can I know the facilities are there?

Dec 27, 2015 11:37 PM ET

Calculations way, way off?
by Chris Conti

Hi all,

I know this is an ancient post and I sincerely apologize for bringing it back from the dead, but I am currently researching this very topic for a building I'm building and am interested in getting accurate information.

In the body of the article, Martin describes GBA reader Curt Kinder calculating the phantom draw of his 3 garage door openers at 5 kWh/day, which is an eye-poppingly huge amount.

He then, however, describes the measured phantom draw of those three units at 14.5W apiece.

I'm no mathematician, but 14.5W per unit x 3 units x 24 hours per day is 1044 Wh... or 1 kWh. Not 5 kWh.

What's wrong here?

Dec 28, 2015 8:12 AM ET

Response to Chris Conti
by Martin Holladay

The table in this article accurately reports that one of Curt Kinder's garage door openers uses 127 kWh per year. That amounts to 348 watt-hours per day (if you divide 127 kWh by 365 days per year). So three such garage door openers use 1,044 watt-hours per day. Your numbers and my numbers agree.

The 5 kWh per day is Curt Kinder's report of the total electricity used at his house for phantom (standby) electrical loads. His garage door openers only account for about 20% of these phantom loads -- the rest of the loads are from doorbell transformers, cable boxes, security system electronics, wall cubes for electrical gadgets, and other standby loads.

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