The 6 Biggest Energy Efficiency Myths

By Scott Sidler • August 13, 2018

the 6 biggest energy efficiency mythsWorking on old houses I hear all kinds of complaints about how “inefficient” they are and what energy hogs people used to be. In a time of alternative facts and fake news, it shouldn’t surprise me, but it still does bother me to see these old houses getting a bad rep when none is deserved.

When you think of the least energy efficient houses, what time period do you think of? Colonial times? Victorians? Craftsman’s? You might be surprised to find that it’s newer buildings that are the biggest offenders! In one study done by New York City it turns out that a multifamily structure built after 1980 uses 13% more energy per square foot than one built before 1920. Here’s the study.

These energy efficiency myths contribute immensely to the mass demolitions of historic buildings and loss of our cities’ history. This misinformation is a problem for both commercial and residential buildings, and that’s where you can help! Read these six myths below, and when you hear someone proclaiming these myths as fact on their social media feed, you can slap a truth sandwich down in front of them by sharing this post. Let’s get to it!

Myth #1 Replacing Old Windows Creates Big Savings

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Replacing your original historic windows is not the solution. New windows will save you money on your utility bills, yes, but so will weatherstripping your existing windows. Since leaking air is the biggest issue with window efficiency, weatherstripping and adding storm windows provides a much better ROI than full scale replacement.

Think of it this way: If you spend $20,000 on all new windows and you could lower your $300 a month energy bill by a whooping 20% (this is a big number as most reductions are closer to 10-12%) that would save you $60 per month. That means it would take you a staggering 27.7 years to recoup the cost of your new windows! It’s not worth it. If you want new windows, that’s fine, but don’t tell me it’s to save money, because that is a big fat lie.

Myth #2 Electronics Don’t Use Energy When Turned Off

In 1978 Americans spent approximately 17% of their electrical costs on electronics and appliances by 2005 that number had jumped to 34%. With all our smartphones, tablets, and other gadgets, I can only imagine that number is well past 40% today. The problem is that these items turn into power hungry vampires when they are off or in standby mode.

This “Phantom” load can be as much of 15% of their normal power usage when switched off! Technology is here to stay, but who wants to pay for it when you’re not using it? The best solution is to get an energy saving power strip that stops phantom loading in its tracks by automatically cutting power to appliances when not in use.

Myth #3 Closing Vents in Unused Rooms Saves Money

It makes sense, right? Close the HVAC vents in unused rooms so you aren’t paying to heat or cool rooms you’re not using. Sounds good to me, but the facts show that it causes more issues than it solves. Closing vents creates unhealthy back pressure on your HVAC system, which causes more wear and tear on the mechanical components, resulting in shorter lifespans and more mechanical problems, and it also causes less efficient distribution of the conditioned air to the vents that are open.

Instead, try directing your vents so that they aren’t blowing directly onto any windows or doors and focused into the middle of the room for the most efficient heating and cooling.

Myth #4 Setting the Thermostat Cooler Makes the Room Cool Down Faster

Sadly, your heater and AC function at only one temperature. When it turns on, it blows the coolest or hottest air it can until the thermostat says the room has reached the prescribed temperature. Turn it to the temperature you want and be patient. If you need to get cooler quicker turn on a fan for the time being, which uses minimal energy and helps cool people in the room.

Myth #5 Changing Your Thermostat Doesn’t Provide Much in Savings

This is such a simple thing to do, but the problem is it requires us to act proactively. This applies to the use of your air conditioner and heater. For every degree you turn the heater down in the winter and every degree you turn the AC up in the summer, you save about 3% in energy costs.

Since your heating and cooling costs account for approximately 50% of your annual energy usage, that’s a huge savings! Using a programmable, or even better a smart thermostat, can help do this for you rather relying on your own memory. Check out my previous post on How to Install the Nest Thermostat to see how easy it can be.

Myth #6 New = Energy Efficienct

Sorry to say, but new and energy efficient have different definitions. Though the building industry wants us to think that the newest thing on the shelf is always the most energy efficient option, it’s simply not true. When it comes to building efficiency, age is simply a number and has nothing to do with a building’s efficiency.

Methods of construction and the condition of the building play a much larger role in a building’s overall energy efficiency than its age. Don’t be fooled by the shiny new objects marketed to you every day. Time tested techniques applied to old houses can make bigger gains than you might expect.

Going Further

No more energy efficiency myths around these parts! We’ve busted them for good. For more help on improving the efficiency of your old house, try these related posts that are filled with simple DIY improvements you can make on the cheap!

Share Away!

2 thoughts on “The 6 Biggest Energy Efficiency Myths”

  1. Hi, Scott. Just wanted to say that we read your Energy Myths blog/post with interest… good job. I did pause, however, on Myth-#4 regarding the use of fans to get cool; maybe yes, if the person happens to be sweating, BUT maybe not-so if not; in fact, the motors of most electrical fans actually raise the heat levels in a given area. And, while we many times “believe” ourselves to be cooler b/c of our ‘fan logic,’ in reality, it just may not be entirely true. Check this quick blog/article out…https://www.wired.com/2015/08/fans-dont-always-make-things-cooler/. Meantime, we follow b/c you’re true to your trade.

    1. Thanks for commenting George! I’ve seen that article before, and I have to disagree with their conclusions. A fan motor does generate heat, but it’s such a low amount compared to the air volume of most rooms that you would have to have huge fan motors or tons of fans to make any significant change to the room temp. And even though you may not appear to be sweating in a warm room there is often still perspiration at a small amount being excreted that is cooled by the fans.
      All that to say I disagree, but I enjoy the civil debate immensely!

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