Energy myths & facts

By From E Source, a Colorado-based provider of energy business intelligence. For more information, visit

Energy myths & facts

Myth: It takes less energy to have my thermostat maintain a comfortable temperature while I’m away than it does to have it heat up or cool down my house when I get home.

Fact: If you’re going to be gone for more than a few hours, then it is more cost-effective to turn heat or air conditioning on once you return than it is to maintain a comfortable temperature while you’re out.
Energy Star, a joint program of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Department of Energy, recommends adjusting your thermostat up in the summer and down in the winter by 8 degrees Fahrenheit while you’re asleep or away from your house.

Myth:  When leaving a room for a short period, it’s better to leave lights on than to turn them off.

Fact:  For incandescent bulbs, it’s always better to turn the lights off. For fluorescent lights, there are some trade-offs. Fluorescent lights use slightly more energy on start-up, but the light needs to be off for only about a second to make up for that surge. The life of a fluorescent light is also shortened by frequent on-and-off switching. The actual break-even point depends on the cost of the lamp and the local electricity costs and is typically 5 to 15 minutes. However, a good guideline for fluorescent lighting is as follows: unless you’re switching the lights every few minutes, it is generally cost-effective to turn the lights off whenever you leave the room.

Myth: I can save money simply by installing a programmable thermostat.

Fact: On their own, programmable thermostats do not make your heating or cooling system more efficient. Their money-saving value lies in their ability to, once properly programmed, automatically regulate the temperature inside your house to coincide with when you’re there and when you’re not. If you need help programming your thermostat, directions are usually available from the manufacturer’s website.

Myth: When I turn off electronics (like my TV, game console, or computer) they stop drawing power from the outlet.

Fact: Even when turned off, most modern electronics consume a small amount of electricity if they’re still plugged in. Chargers for mobile devices also consume electricity if plugged in, even when they are not actively charging the device. This wasted energy, called “phantom load,” accounts for as much as 10 percent of a home’s total electric use, according to the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. The solution: unplug your electronics when you’ve finished using them. Using a power strip can help you conveniently unplug multiple devices at once, while newer, “smart” power strips can automatically cut off phantom loads on their own.

Myth: Compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) take forever to reach full brilliance, have inadequate light quality or unpleasant color, and make no difference on my utility bill.

Fact: As with many products, CFLs vary in quality. Color and brightness differ across manufacturers, and some bulbs simply work better than others. Looking for the Energy Star symbol ensures that you’re purchasing a high-quality product. Also, be sure to install CFLs in fixtures that remain on for long periods, or that you use often, to get the maximum energy savings out of your bulbs. In addition, specialty CFLs are available for applications such as spotlighting or bathroom vanity fixtures.

Myth: Mercury from CFLs poses a serious risk to the environment.

Fact: On the contrary, CFLs actually prevent the release of mercury into the environment by reducing the electricity needed from power plants. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, about half of electricity in the U.S. is generated from coal. EPA estimates that coal combustion for power plants releases roughly 400 times the mercury into the environment than the cumulative mercury contribution from land-filled CFLs, assuming that no CFLs are recycled. (Many home building supply stores have recycling drop-off points.) However, it is still important to dispose of burned-out bulbs and clean up broken bulbs properly. Learn how at

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