5 Energy-Saving Myths Busted!

Get real tips on energy efficiency

Taking steps to save energy and save money at the same time? Good for you — but take note. Sometimes our good intentions when it comes to energy efficiency are based on beliefs that are completely off base. Whether they’re based on misinformation, flawed intuition or old technology, these five common fallacies about saving power can actually lead you to waste energy.

1. Leaving a ceiling fan on will help cool the room.

Fans cool people, not rooms. So if a ceiling fan runs in an empty room, no one will feel its benefits. A fan works by circulating the air in the space; when the breeze moves across the skin, we feel cooler even though the temperature in the room is still the same. So when you leave the room, save energy by turning off the ceiling fan.

Attic fans are a different story. They can draw cooler air into the home and blow the hot air out that's trapped in the attic, increase energy efficiency. However, attic fans are only effective if the air outside is cooler than the air inside — usually during the early morning and evening hours.

2. Cranking the thermostat up or down will make your home get warmer or cooler faster.

If you’ve ever walked into a chilly house and turned the thermostat up to 85 degrees to speed up the heating process, you’ll relate to this practice. It’s somewhat like repeatedly pressing the button to make an elevator come faster; it feels like it’s helping, but it’s not.

That’s because thermostats are simple devices that direct the heating or cooling unit to turn “on” until a specific temperature is reached, at which time they direct the unit to turn “off.” The danger with cranking the thermostat is the possibility of forgetting to reset the temperature and therefore wasting energy. Instead, just set the thermostat to your ideal temperature. 

You can slash you energy bills even more by using eco-efficient shades and curtains. These Coolaroo Window Shades block up to 90 percent of the sun’s UV rays, keeping your house cool while still allowing in light and air. Or try using insulated window coverings for year-round energy savings, like these Energy Saver Cotton Tab Top Curtains. They cut down on your cooling and heating costs by repelling heat outside in the summer and retaining heat inside in the winter.

Find more energy-efficient heating and cooling solutions on Gaiam.com.

3. Leaving a computer on is more energy-efficient than turning it on and off.

IT managers used to advise office workers to leave their computers on overnight to save on wear and tear, and it’s true that the machines of yore were more prone to breakage. But today’s computers are tougher, and switching them off is a good habit to get into, especially on nights and weekends; anytime you can turn the machine off, it will save energy.

According to a recently released PC Energy Awareness report, nearly half of all corporate PCs in the U.S. are not regularly switched off at night, which needlessly pumps 14.4 million tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and costs U.S. businesses $1.72 billion.

To simplify the process, most newer computers now have energy-saving “sleep” or “hibernate” features that save energy when the computer is not being used. Check the Control Panel section of your operating system for “power options” or a similar offering; the “hibernate” setting generally saves the most energy.

Because the settings don’t always work reliably, another option is to download a program like CO2 Saver, which provides a simple control panel for specifying how and when to put the machine in an energy-saving mode.

4. Closing off registers in unused rooms will save energy.

Turning off the hissing heat radiator in the vacant guest room might have made sense in an older, non-insulated home, but it doesn’t save energy with today's typical forced-air heating and cooling systems.

According to a 2003 study by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, “The reduction in building thermal loads due to conditioning only a part of the house was offset by increased duct system losses, mostly due to increased duct leakage.” The practice can even damage the system, according to the study: “Closing too many registers (more than 60 percent) is not recommended, because the added flow resistance severely restricts the air flow though the system, leading to safety concerns. For example, furnaces may operate on the high-limit switch, and cooling systems may suffer from frozen coils.”

Instead of closing off registers, consider setting the thermostat a degree or two higher in the summer or lower in the winter to save energy.

5. Washing dishes by hand uses less energy than running an electric dishwasher.

This is one instance where the modern machine beats the old-fashioned method: hand washing generally uses more hot water per load than using a dishwasher. The key to maximizing energy savings is to use the dishwasher efficiently. Most modern dishwashers don’t require pre-rinsing of dishes; and according to Consumer Reports, this practice wastes up to 20 gallons of water per load without getting dishes any cleaner.

Don’t bother with the “rinse hold” on your machine, for the same reason. Wait to run the dishwasher until you have a full load of dishes, but don’t overload the machine. The energy-saving control offered on many dishwashers will turn off the heat during the drying cycle, which will also help keep the kitchen cooler in the summer.

Opening the door after the rinse cycle and letting the dishes air dry is another way to save energy.

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SarahMc's picture
User offline. Last seen 5 years 51 weeks ago. Offline
Joined: 02/24/2010

Does unplugging the household items, like the toaster or coffee pot, when they aren't in use, help save energy as well? I've always wondered that.

kjh5475's picture
User offline. Last seen 5 years 49 weeks ago. Offline
Joined: 08/15/2010

Sarah - My mom does this (unplugs all appliances when they're not in use) and says that she did notice a drop in her electric bill. I'm not sure if it's just a coincidence, but I would be curious to see what others think.

lmbaer's picture
User offline. Last seen 5 years 47 weeks ago. Offline
Joined: 07/08/2009

Some of these myth busters are excellent. Others... well, it depends. Ceiling fans don't simply cool the person... by circulating air and evening out temperature extremes in a room, they can actually create air flows that otherwise would not have existed and actually impact the temperatures at different points in a room. So, it depends upon how long the room will be vacated: if you will be gone all day, turn it off; for half an hour, you will probably actual not reap any benefit, due to the increased heat build... just have to use reasonable judgement.

And, I wish it were true about "most modern dishwashers," but for Denver water it simply isn't. I have been involved in the purchase of three different dishwashers over the course of the past 10 years and not one of them cleans the dishes without rinsing them first. All of these dishwashers were upper-mid range (i.e., in the top third of the price bracket). None of us sprung for the top 5% cost range, which is what I think might be necessary to not have to rinse in harder water. As it stands, all of us with these newer machine (the oldest is only 2 years old) have to rinse and/or always run on the "pots and pans" setting (and no drying!) to not get dishes that come out covered with stuck-on food. This is even worse with all natural dishwasher cleaners (Ecover, 7th gen), but I use them anyway, set it to "pots and pans" and hope I can replace it with an Asko before my china is destroyed.

Finally, yes... unplugging any appliance with a phantom load (think toaster oven with a clock) or plugging them into a power strip you can switch off will save electricity.

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