Ever argue about which way to run your ceiling fan in the winter? Or wonder how much energy you are saving with your fireplace? Or whether Uncle John is right about bad shingles causing the ice dams on your roof?
We all use energy every day to heat, power, and light our homes. And using energy wisely can help slow the rate of climate change, have a positive impact on local air and water quality, and help our individual—and collective—wallets.
But there are many “energy myths” that can lead us down pathways that are a waste of time or money—and sometimes are even dangerous. Here are a few for you to consider:
Myth: Ceiling fans should be run so the air is blowing up in the winter, because it ‘de-stratifies’ the layers of air.
Fact: The temperature difference between floor and ceiling in most homes is very small. In fact, blowing air onto skin makes us feel colder, because of the wind-chill effect. Often that means someone turns UP the thermostat. So, no ceiling fans at all in the winter!
Myth: Ice dams are caused by bad roofing.
Fact: Ice dams are caused by warm air leaking into the attic and melting snow on the roof. Heat cables will cost you money to buy and operate and will damage shingles. Salt will damage shingles and plants. Ice chippers will (potentially) damage you! The solution is proper insulation and air sealing. Find out more with an energy audit. Sorry, Uncle John.
Myth: Wood-burning fireplaces provide cheap, efficient heat for your home.
Fact: Most fireplaces pull heated room air up the chimney along with the smoke, offsetting any heat gains there might be. As the fire burns down, the flue must stay open to exhaust any smoke or gasses, thus pulling even more heated room air. Fireplaces are also very inefficient at producing heat from wood (compared to efficient wood stoves) and thus put a lot more pollution up the chimney.
Additionally, many fireplaces have leaky flues and poorly-sealed (or absent) doors, thus pulling heated room air up the chimney all the time. Finally, inefficient burning of wood adds harmful smoke, soot, and emissions to the environment. Bottom line: Fireplaces are a big energy loser!
Myth: Space heaters are more efficient than furnaces or boilers.
Fact: Most space heaters are far less efficient, primarily because they don’t distribute heat very well. Also, unvented combustion space heaters (propane, kerosene, etc.) are illegal and very dangerous to use inside. Electric space heaters can be effective if used in a smaller, enclosed space (like an office) and the thermostat for the rest of the building is turned down. But be aware of pets, kids, and errant drapery!
Myth: The only solution for a drafty window is to replace it with a new one.
Fact: New windows are very expensive and only need to be replaced if damaged beyond reasonable repair. There are many ways to bring the efficiency of an old window to nearly new-window standards, including new weather stripping or caulking, interior shrink-wrap film, repair/replacing storm windows, or replacing sash units.
Myth: LED lighting is expensive, inefficient, and generally bad.
Fact: LED bulbs have replaced both incandescents and CFLs in the marketplace because they are cheaper to own and use (over the 20+ years of life of the bulb), they use 1/10th of the energy of a similar incandescent, they are available in a wide variety of options for color, brightness, and shape, and they contain no hazardous chemicals. Integrated (bulb-less) LED fixtures are even better for many applications (like recessed ceilings).
Myth: “Radiant barriers” in your attic are an effective way to save energy in your home (NASA uses them, you know…)
Fact: A properly insulated attic (R-50 minimum) is the only recommended way to prevent heat loss in Minnesota homes. Radiant barriers have extremely poor thermal value and will have a payback likely longer than the life of your home—no matter how many free dinners you are offered!
Myth: Magnets attached to your electric meter will increase the efficiency of the electricity going into your house.
Fact: Really? Nope. Nadda. Can you say, “scam?”
- Minnesota Weatherization Assistance Program and Energy Assistance Program
- ENERGY STAR: www.energystar.gov
- Minnesota Housing: www.mnhousing.gov
- Database for State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency: www.dsireusa.org
- Minnesota Building Performance Association: www.mbpa.us
- Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy
- MN Department of Commerce, Energy Division, Home Energy Guide