By AnnaMaria Andriotis,
WILL UNPLUGGING your cellphone charger really make a difference on your energy bill? What about washing your dishes by hand? While many energy-saving tips have proven their effectiveness in spades, others have proven to be pure fiction.
"It's a matter of some things saving more energy than others and some not saving any energy at all," says Urvashi Rangan, project director for Consumer Reports' GreenerChoices.org.
As energy bills rise across the country, separating the truths from the myths has become increasingly important. On average, American households spend $1,543 on cooling and heating costs, according to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). That's 41% more than the $905 the average household spent in 2003-04. And those amounts are expected to keep climbing, says John Cogan, energy information specialist at the DOE.
To help you sort the fact from fiction and save, here are five common energy-savings myths that are worth debunking.
1. Myth: Washing Dishes by Hand Conserves Energy
From an energy-saving perspective, it only makes sense to wash dishes by hand if they're just a few in the sink. But if the entire family just finished dinner, you're better off putting those soiled dishes into the dishwasher. "In general, the amount of water that you use [when washing by hand] typically will exceed the amount the dishwasher will use," says GreenerChoices.org's Rangan.
When full, the most energy-efficient dishwashers will use three to four gallons of water, she says. Meanwhile, "a lot of people turn the faucet on [while hand washing dishes and] it doesn't take long to fill up four gallons before all is said and done," says Rangan. To determine whether your dishwasher is energy-efficient or not, look for an Energy Star label or contact the manufacturer, says Rangan. Energy Star-labeled dishwashers use 40% less energy than their competition, adds Maria Vargas, spokeswoman for the Energy Star program at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
2. Myth: Replacing an Old Furnace Will Cut Heating Costs
If the furnace or boiler isn't heating the house like it used to, don't be overly quick to replace it. Unless either piece of equipment is 10 to 15 years old or seriously damaged, you shouldn't buy a new one, says Vargas.
A new furnace or boiler will set you back an average of $4,000 to $5,000, according to Consumer Reports, and chances are slim that you'll recoup that amount through energy savings over time. Instead, hire an inspector to look at your system and assess whether it needs to be replaced, says Vargas.
If the system is in working order, consider making a few changes within your home --such as sealing cracks and replacing air filters -- to lower your heating bills, says Rangan. By doing so, you can save 40% on your annual energy bill, according to greenerChoices.org. (For more ways to reduce your electricity bill, read our story).
3. Myth: A Ceiling Fan Cools the Room
A big energy waster is leaving a ceiling fan on when you're not in the room."The ceiling fan doesn't cool the room when you're gone, it's just going to cool you when you're in the room," says Vargas.
Ceiling fans can help in another way, though. Instead of cranking up the air conditioner (a huge waste of energy), turn it to low and use it with a ceiling fan, says Rangan. The fan will help the room feel six or seven degrees cooler, according to Consumer Reports.
For more ways to cut back on cooling costs, read our story.
4. Myth: Buying Premium Gasoline Improves Mileage
Unless your car requires premium, or high octane, gasoline (you can find out by checking the car's owner's manual) then you're better off filling your tank with regular gas. In fact, according to Consumer Reports, most engines are designed for 87-octane or regular gas.
Gas mileage doesn't increase with a higher-octane level, according to the Alliance to Save Energy. The octane number is actually a measure the fuel's resistance to engine knocking or pinging, which is the sound an engine makes when the air-fuel mixture in the combustion chambers ignites too early. Loud knocking can damage the engine.
For more tips to save on gas, click here and for other energy-efficient budgeting tips, read our story here.
5. Myth: Your Plugged-In Gadgets Don't Waste Much Energy
A common misconception is that your household gadgets -- such as your cellphone charger, computer and stereo -- don't waste much energy if they're plugged in but not powered on.
Collectively, however, the cost of keeping those devices plugged in can add up significantly. According to Consumer Reports' GreenerChoices.org, household electronics and appliances account for 19% of the average annual household energy bill. Meanwhile, "standby power" (when products in your home are turned off, but still plugged in) accounts for an estimated 8% of a household's annual electricity use, or $110 per household per year.
Unplugging one device won't make a big difference in your savings, but unplugging a slew of them will. Plugged-in cellphone chargers cost up to $5.73 per year (assuming the device is in standby mode for 16 hours each day), according to GreenerChoices.org. TVs and audio equipment can cost up to $14.32 a year, while fans, computer printers and scanners can cost as much as $28.65 annually.
To save money and limit inconvenience, unplug appliances that are easy to plug in again, says Vargas. You're better off keeping your fridge and TV plugged in -- since both plugs are usually difficult to get to -- but unplug your cellphone charger and your printer. If you use your computer every day, put it in sleep mode and you'll use some 80% less electricity, according to GreenerChoices.org.
Also, use a power strip with an on/off switch so that you can cut the current on several devices at once when they aren't in use. And don't forget to unplug your appliances before you leave for vacation.
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