Friday, November 14, 2008

Saving Energy in Your Home: Exposing the Myths

Energy Myths by Peter Ottowitz

Duct Tape - Myth: Duct tape is good for sealing heating ducts. In reality, sealing ducts with mastic or metal tape is the answer because the heat from the ducts dries out the duct tape and it eventually stops adhering to the ducts.

Lights, Computers, Appliances - Myth: Leave them on and you will use less energy than if you repeatedly turn them on and off. The small power surge created when turning on lights, computers, and appliances takes less energy less than when you run the device when it is not needed. Of course, use power management software for your computer and turn lights off when you leave the room.

Florescent Lights - Myth: Florescent Lighting is unhealthy - Claims that florescent lights "sapping people's energy" has no merit. Today's lights have improved color quality and flickering and hum have been eliminated.

Refrigerator Coils - Myth: Cleaning Refrigerator Coils Saves Energy- in most cases this has no measurable effect on energy conservation.

Appliances - Myth: Appliances that are turned "off" are truly "off". There are a number of devices that sometimes consume as much power "off" as when they are "on". Products such as computers, VCR's, phone chargers etc. cannot be completely turned off unless they are unplugged. These products use "standby" power 24 hours a day.

Windows & Doors - Myth: Installing new windows will dramatically reduce your energy costs. Windows and doors are less of an air leakage problem than most people believe. Most existing homes have hidden air leaks in the floor, ceiling and wall cavities that far overshadow the leaks around windows and doors. The exceptions to this generalization are old windows or doors that are falling apart from neglect or are poorly installed. Contrast this to sealing the supply and return registers of a warm air heating system or insulating walls with dense-pack cellulose which often reduces air leakage by 15-30%.

Boilers & Furnaces - Myth: When replacing old units, install a device that has more capacity in order to save energy and obtain quicker results. Newer Energy Star devices are much more efficient. Many times the new units are oversized for the application. So when purchasing an Energy Star device, consider purchasing a smaller one.

Air Conditioners - Myth: Buying a bigger room air conditioning unit will make you feel more comfortable. A room air conditioner that is too big for the area it is supposed to cool will perform less efficiently and less effectively than a properly sized unit. This is because room units work better if they run for relatively long periods of time than if they are continually switching off and on. Longer run times allow air conditioners to maintain a more constant room temperature. Air conditioners that bear the Energy Star label may be twice as efficient as some existing systems.

R-Value - Myth: All insulation materials of the same R-Value perform equally. While insulations of equal R-Value perform the same in the controlled conditions of a laboratory, they do not all maintain the same R-Value in the walls and ceilings of a home. Some "off-gas" over time thus they diminish in thickness and efficiency. If there are air gaps between the insulation and other building materials, the effective R-Value of the insulation can be reduced by as much as 50% from the maximum R-Value rated on a product.

Halogen Lighting - Myth: Halogen lighting is super-efficient. While halogen lights use slightly less energy than standard incandescent bulbs, many halogens require transformers that can use extra energy, even when the light is off. They also tend to generate a great deal of heat, which may add to the cooling load of the home during hot weather. Halogens can also pose a serious fire hazard. By comparison, compact fluorescent lights are nearly 3 times as efficient.

Electric Efficiency - Myth: Energy efficiency and energy conservation are one in the same. Energy efficiency means getting the same job done while using less energy. On the other hand, energy conservation means reducing the level of services such as reducing lighting, reducing the temperature of your water heater settings etc.

Electric heating - Myth: Electric heating is more efficient than fuel-based heating. While almost most of the electricity that goes into an electric heater is transformed to useful heat, producing the electricity is an inefficient process. As much as two-thirds of the input energy to generate electricity is lost in the process. This is why electricity is typically much more expensive for the consumer than direct fuels.

Peter Ottowitz, Certified Master Inspector, New World Home Inspections and Energy Audits

Peter Ottowitz

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