Can you imagine life without a garage door opener? Your parents or grandparents lived without them for years, of course, but the modern convenience of pulling up your driveway and seeing the door already opening is a welcome sight. The concept of having to park your car in front of the door, get out into the heat or rain, and manually lift the door isn’t just annoying, it is also a huge safety risk. Your garage door opener is responsible for holding the door closed until your specially coded remote opens it. What you probably don’t know about your opener is that it might be costing you hundreds of dollars a year.

Like any other device that detects a radio signal, a garage door opener is always running. Your opener is constantly waiting for a signal, and during that time it is consuming electricity. This power usage, commonly referred to as a “phantom load,” is present in many household appliances – the digital clock on your microwave or stovetop, your wi-fi router, and your back-lit doorbell all also have a phantom load.

This electrical expenditure seems minor, but since it is constantly running the numbers do add up. According to Mark Pierce, an energy expert at Cornell University, the average US household spends $200 a year on these phantom loads, although other studies have found much more modest results. The Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) states that phantom loads account for 5-10% of all residential electricity usage in a developed country. Having more technology and gadgets in your home will also cause you to have a larger phantom load.

You might be wondering how to reduce this invisible cost, and you’re not alone. Many homeowners and energy expert have tackled the problem, and garage door openers are usually sited as one of the worst offenders. One homeowner found that their three garage door openers consumed more power every day thdan their entire kitchen. This problem, however, is not a huge deal for all homeowners: LBNL found that the average annual cost for a home with two garage door openers is around $10. If you’re trying to cut every cost possible out of your life, your home’s phantom load might be a good place to start. If you’d rather not worry about it, however, cooking dinner one night instead of eating out should more than pay for your opener’s phantom load.

One environmentally-conscious way to cut your phantom load’s cost is to power your garage door opener with a solar panel. As solar technology becomes more common and cheaper for consumers, residential solar panel kits drop in price. Any garage door opener with a battery backup can be tinkered with so that it charges from a solar panel, moving your garage door totally off the grid and ensuring that you’ll be able to use it even in a power outage. Do not attempt this home-brewed hack unless you are confident in your understanding of electronic engineering, or allow a professional to oversee the job.

Solar power is on the rise across the nation, and North Carolina is one of the nation’s leaders in adopting a sun-fueled infrastructure. The Solar Market Insight Report’s 2014 release sited North Carolina as generating more solar power than any other state besides California. The Tarheel State’s dedication to renewable energy shows with our almost 6000 in-state jobs in the solar power industry and almost 1000  megawatts of cumulative solar capacity built in 2014. Individual homeowners are jumping onboard the solar powered bandwagon with more than garage doors. A particularly common option for people with large properties far from conventional power lines is to power exterior lights or electric gate openers with solar energy.

Did you know that your garage door opener was always running? Saving money by cutting down your phantom load may appeal to you, or perhaps the cause of saving the environment inspires you to upgrade to solar. Either way, we hope that you learned something from our examination into garage door openers and their energy usage, and if you have any questions about your home’s energy usage, feel free to contact us. If you have a suspiciously high electrical bill and an older garage door opener, it might be time to upgrade and benefit from new safety and convenience features in addition to the savings.

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