Energy Adviser: Know your conservation facts vs. fiction

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Despite years of information campaigns and news columns like this one about energy issues, people still often get the wrong idea about the best ways to save energy. Some of the most repeated tips just turn out to be well-intentioned tricks.

While the difference between fact and fiction is not always 100 percent clear, energy counselors at Clark Public Utilities can dispel a few of common energy conservation myths.

Myth: Washing clothes in hot water is better and gets clothes cleaner.

Fact: Not anymore! Effective cold-water detergents have been on store shelves for years. But most of us continue to use hot water even though it takes expensive energy to heat water. Try using cold water for your laundry and see if you can tell a difference in the freshness of your family’s clothes.

Myth: Leaving a light on uses less energy than turning it off and back on again.

Fact: Wrong. There is no significant additional power draw when turning on a light bulb. Turn off the lights each time you leave a room, even for a short time, say three to five minutes. It’s the same for fluorescent lights. Turning off lights saves energy — every time.

Myth: Washing dishes by hand saves more energy than running an automatic dishwasher.

Fact: Compared to running a full dishwasher, washing by hand and rinsing in running water more often uses more hot water than running your dishwasher. Set your dishwasher to the low-energy cycle to save on drying.

Myth: New appliances are all energy efficient.

Fact: Not exactly. Typically, new dishwashers, refrigerators, and clothes washers are more energy efficient than those at least 10 years old, but there are still some significant energy use differences between current models.

When shopping for new appliances, look for the Energy Star label. Considering a new TV? Look for the orange Energy Forward sticker to identify the most efficient models.

Myth: Appliances and electronics don’t use energy when turned off.

Fact: Not true. Most appliances and electronic devices continue to consume electricity when switched off. Some cannot be switched off without unplugging the device or turning it off at a power strip. They instead draw stand-by power 24 hours a day, sometimes as much as when they are on.

Myth: Closing heat vents in unused rooms saves energy.

Fact: It depends. In some systems, closed vents put pressure on the entire system, which may cause more heat to leak, make fans work harder and use more energy to push air through the ducts. If you have zonal heating and areas of your home are always unoccupied, the heat in those rooms can be turned off or way down to save energy.

Myth: Installing more energy-efficient windows will cut energy costs.

Fact: Sometimes. In most homes, replacing single-pane glass with Energy Star-rated dual-pane windows will save energy. But make sure to understand the trade-offs in window replacement costs and other factors that contribute to energy loss, such as the home’s orientation to the sun.

Myth: Setting a thermostat higher heats a home faster.

Fact: Nope. A furnace or heat pump can only heat air at its maximum capacity no matter the temperature setting. Cranking up the heat setting may mean your system runs longer, using more energy, but it won’t warm up faster.

Myth: You use less energy taking a shower than a bath.

Fact: Maybe. It depends on how long your shower lasts and your showerhead capacity. If you live in a home built before 1992 and the showerheads have never been replaced, you’re likely using about five gallons of water a minute. Multiply this by the number of minutes you’re in the shower. An average bath requires 30 to 50 gallons of water. A four-minute shower with an old showerhead uses 20 gallons of water.

The easiest way to tell if the shower or bath is a better choice is to plug the drain the next time you shower and see if the tub is fuller when you finish than when you normally take a bath. Install a low-flow showerhead and repeat the experiment. There should be about half as much water, which helps save energy and money.

Energy Adviser is written by Clark Public Utilities. Send questions to energyadviser@clarkpud.com or to Energy Adviser, c/o Clark Public Utilities, P.O. Box 8900, Vancouver, WA 98668.