Don't be Fooled by These Urban Legends of Green Living

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Some energy saving habits are not what they seem. Washington Energy Services dispels five urban legends of green living, and provides tips for what really will work to benefit the environment.

urban legends of energy saving

Create a true energy saving home

These urban legends of green living suprised me! I never knew I was missing the big savings.
- Josephine, Lynnwood, WA

Many people care enough about the environment to take action, or at least think they are doing "the right thing". It turns out that some of the most widely held energy saving habits are actually urban legends about green living. Here are five that might surprise you and useful green living tips to achieve those energy savings.

Legend # 1

"Turn down the thermostat and you’ll save energy". Do you keep indoor temperatures low in winter and suffer the chill? If your home has significant air leaks, lack of insulation and lack of duct sealing, you will just lose what little heat you are requesting from your heating system, and it will keep running and burning fuel to keep up. While this may save a tiny bit because you are not forcing it to reach even higher temperatures, you’ll spend it on blankets and snuggies to wear in the house and hot cups of tea to warm up.

Green living tip

You’d save more money and be more comfortable if you insulated and air sealed the house, and put in a programmable thermostat so you reduce the heat while you are out of the house. Air sealing means sealing up penetrations where vents and electrical wires exit the house or the main living area and lead into an unheated space. Air sealing, duct sealing and insulating attics and floors can save significant energy (some estimates are up to 40%). And programmable thermostats now can be controlled by your phone while you are away.

Legend # 2

"Cycling is the best way to reduce my carbon footprint". Do you limit your driving to save greenhouse gases? While cycling does limit your vehicle emissions, according to EnergyStar (the conservation arm of the Department of Energy), “the energy used in the average house is responsible for twice as many greenhouse gas emissions as the average car.” The more energy you use at home, the more our highly polluting power plants need to produce, increasing the amount of greenhouse gases. (Source

Green living tip

Cycling will keep you in shape and save a little on emissions, but the place to reduce your use is at home. EnergyStar recommends the following steps: Use energy saving windows and heating systems, maintain those systems (eg: caulk windows and tune up your heating system), and insulating and air sealing your house, plus see # 3 for more.

Legend # 3

"I have installed EnergyStar certified products in my home so I must be using less energy". EnergyStar sees it another way. Modern appliances, from dishwashers and dryers to furnaces use far less energy these days, however, homes have been using far more electricity from all of the plug in devices. This is why total energy use by homes in the US has not decreased. Some estimates are that this “phantom power” use by appliances and electronics can be up to 10% of our total energy.

Green living tip

Unplug. The average home has up to 10 appliances plugged in, in the kitchen alone! Many are drawing some electricity to power clocks, standby lights or indicator lights (to tell you they are off!). Add all the phone chargers that stay plugged in when not in use, computers, TVs, game consoles, cable box, hair dryer, electric toothbrush, water heater, and it adds up to significant excess power use. Try turning lights off when you leave the room, and plug non-core appliances and computers into a power strip that you turn off when you are out.

Legend # 4

"We don't waste our water because we don’t let water run", (eg: in the sink while washing dishes). For most homes, the biggest water wasting culprit is the toilet(s). If it was made before 1994, it’s not a low flow toilet. One of us here at Washington Energy has a 1926 toilet using 7 gallons of water each flush. That’s about 42 gallons a person per day. Most toilets from the post-war period to the 80s used between 3.5-5 gallons per flush.

Green living tip

To save water, install a new modern toilet with 1.6 gallons per flush. These will pay for themselves quickly as your water use will decrease. Some of the WaterSense certified toilets that our plumbers install have significant local utility rebates, up to $80.

Legend # 5

"‘All natural’ equals ‘good to buy’". Are you looking for certain words on packaging when you make a purchase decision? The words natural, green, eco-friendly, or biodegradable are not regulated or based on any standards. (Organic is regulated, and certified organic is inspected.) Biodegradable means it will degrade “someday” which covers almost everything, technically even nuclear waste.

Green living tip

Buy something because it’s the best product for you, and be cautious if basing a purchase decision on these un-regulated words. And right now, genetically modified foods used as ingredients such as corn starch or soy protein are not required to be labeled either, so do not assume that “natural” means it’s not in there. There is no strict definition of what makes a natural food.

Living the green life in Seattle? Washington Energy Services can help with energy efficient home improvement products and services. Washington Energy is proud to be serving Seattle homes 24/7 since 1957.

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