Sometimes it's what we think we know that costs us. That's why you should never hesitate to call Clark Public Utilities' energy counselors for the facts about cutting energy waste. While the difference between fact and fiction is not always 100 percent clear, let's dispel a few common energy conservation myths the utility's energy counselors often hear.
Myth: Appliances and electronics don't use energy when turned off.
Fact: Most appliances and electronic devices continue to consume electricity when switched off. Some draw standby power 24 hours a day, sometimes as much as when they are on. Switching them off requires unplugging them or turning them off at a power strip.
Myth: Leaving the heat on when away will use less energy than having to warm up a cold house upon returning.
Fact: It does not require more energy to bring a room to the desired temperature than to maintain a temperature, so it makes sense to turn the heat down when sleeping or when you'll be away for several hours or more. For every degree you set your thermostat back for an eight-hour period, you save between 1 percent and 2 percent on the heating portion of your energy bill.
Myth: You don't want to over-insulate your house because it needs to breathe.
Fact: Homes cannot be overinsulated, but they can be underventilated. While it's true newer homes that are built to be more energy efficient can require mechanical ventilation to keep indoor air fresh, most insulation doesn't block air infiltration. It reduces radiant and conductive heat loss. The amount of insulation in your attic or ceiling is limited by the home's structure and design. Wall insulation is difficult to retrofit, and the amount also is limited by the home's existing wall depth.
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: Wrapping the hot water heater will save money.
Fact: It's no longer recommended because water heaters built in the past 15 years have dual-wall construction. Wrapping them can cause condensation that will create rust.
Myth: A recirculating water pump will save energy.
Fact: These pumps save water, not electricity, and water is much cheaper than energy around here. The pump may offer convenience of immediately hot water, but you pay for it.
Myth: Washing clothes in hot water gets clothes cleaner.
Fact: Effective cold-water detergents have been on store shelves for years. Try using cold water for your laundry and see if you can tell a difference in the freshness of your family's clothes.
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: Some electric space heaters are more efficient than others.
Fact: All electric space heaters are 100 percent efficient because no heat is lost in ducts or up a flue. No matter what the style or price, an electric heater will produce about 3,400 BTUs for each kilowatt-hour of electricity. Some will heat more effectively, however. One with a fan will circulate warm air, thereby heating a room more quickly.
Energy adviser is written by Clark Public Utilities. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or to Energy Adviser, c/o Clark Public Utilities, P.O. Box 8900, Vancouver, WA 98668.