Financial Resource Center


Debunk Energy-Savings Myths

by Dianne Molvig / August 22nd, 2011

Saving energy means giving something up, right? Experts say, making sacrifices is not the point of energy efficiency at all. Rather, it's about getting the same job done, but using less energy in the process. "That means you'll save energy and money," says Amanda Lowenberger, a building research associate with the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy in Washington, D.C. "There's no downside to this." Myths about saving energy are widespread and deeply ingrained in many of our daily habits. Far from being energy efficient, some practices actually waste energy and inflate our utility bills. Here are a few of the most common myths:

Myth No. 1: "When an electrical device is switched off, it's off."

Many devices continue to draw energy even when turned off. That's true of anything with a built-in clock or indicator light, or that you switch on and off with a remote control. "Also, any device with a power brick, such as the little box at the end of your cellphone charger, will continue to draw power whenever it's plugged in," Lowenberger says. Why do remote-controlled devices consume power when they're turned off? "Your television or stereo or anything with a remote control has to have electronics running inside all the time. It's always looking for that signal from the remote control to go back on again," explains Iain Walker, a scientist at the Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in Berkeley, Calif.
Myths about saving energy are widespread and deeply ingrained in our daily habits.
The only way to stop the 24/7 power consumption is to unplug the device. Or you can plug several such devices into a power strip and switch off the strip.

Myth No. 2: "I'll wear out my computer faster by turning it on and off each day."

Not true, Walker says. "All the switches and power supplies can go through many more cycles than the rest of the computer's components can," he explains. Thus, your computer is much more likely to die from some systemic failure, not because you switched the power on and off every day. Turning off a computer is the best way to save energy. The second best is to put it into hibernate or sleep mode. Note: Contrary to popular belief, screen savers are not energy savers. Their purpose is to prevent screen burn-in, which can damage your monitor, not to reduce energy use.

Myth No. 3: "Turning lights off and back on consumes more energy than just leaving them on."

"Lights turn on fast," Walker says. "You use a lot more energy leaving them on even just for a few minutes than you do in that split-second it takes for them to come on." A corollary myth is that turning lightbulbs off and on wears out the bulbs faster. Also "complete bunkum," Walker notes.

Myth No. 4: "Compact fluorescent lights (CFLs) save energy, but they produce unpleasant lighting."

The ugly-lighting perception about CFLs is outdated. They now come in various color tones to produce warmer light similar to that of incandescent bulbs. "The early CFLs had problems with flickering and producing poor light quality," Lowenberger says. "So people who had a bad experience swore not to use them again. But CFLs are much better now. It's worth taking another look." To ensure you're getting a high-quality bulb, look for one with the Energy Star label. It will pay for itself in six months.
Many electrical devices continue to draw energy, even when turned off.
CFLs do contain a little mercury, so some people worry about environmental contamination. "But it turns out that more mercury is released by burning coal to make the extra electricity you'd use if you didn't replace your regular light bulb with a CFL," Walker explains. Still, CFLs must be disposed of properly, not merely tossed in the trash. Proper disposal will result in capturing the mercury, not releasing it into the environment. Many communities have special drop-off sites for CFLs. Contact your local public works department for information.

Myth No. 5: "I'll use less energy if I always leave my thermostat set at the same temperature."

A common misperception is that it takes more energy to bring a furnace back up to temperature on a winter morning than if you'd just left it turned up overnight. Likewise, in the summer, some people leave their air conditioning on all day while they're away at work because they think that uses less energy than cooling the house back down when they return.
The ugly-lighting perception about compact fluorescents is outdated.
Both are misguided notions that can cost you. "Heating and cooling are two of the biggest energy users in your home," Lowenberger says. "So saving energy in those areas makes a big difference." You'll save energy if you have your heating and cooling settings in sync with your actual needs, rather than just letting those systems run nonstop at the same temperature. Here's a related myth: You've been away for a few days in the winter, with the thermostat set back. When you return, you crank up the thermostat to 80 degrees to warm up the house faster. That doesn't work, experts say, because a thermostat doesn't work like a throttle. So it will take the same amount of time to warm the house to 68 degrees whether you set the thermostat at 68 degrees or 80 degrees. Besides, you might forget you set the heat on high. By the time you notice, the house is overheated, and you have to open windows to get comfortable. That's a sure way to waste energy.

Myth No. 6: "Installing an energy-efficient heating/cooling system will save me energy and money."

Buying an energy-efficient system is a smart choiceŚif that system is sized right for your home and installed properly. But, other problems in your home, such as poor insulation or leaky air ducts, can obliterate savings you're hoping to realize with a new system. The same holds true for other upgrades, such as new windows. Efficient heating and cooling depends on many factors. A home energy audit will reveal where problems lie and how you can reap the most energy savings for your investment.
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