If you’re like most consumers, you’re more than happy to buy green -- as long as it also saves greenbacks. A recent study by the Shelton Group found that consumers who purchase eco-friendly products at least occasionally are more interested in spending their money wisely than in improving the environment.
To that end, here are ten oft-cited green myths and the truth behind them -- plus how much money you may be burning by buying into them.
Myth: Never leave the lights on when you leave a room.
Reality: Mom had it right when it comes to incandescent bulbs, but not compact fluorescent lights. The more often you switch CFLs on and off, the shorter their operating life. In most parts of the U.S., it’s cheaper to leave fluorescents on if you’ll only be out of the room for 15 minutes or less, according to the Department of Energy www.energysavers.gov. (In areas with high electric rates or during peak demand periods, the length of time may shorten to just 5 minutes.) On average, a CFL bulb costs $2.50 more than an incandescent bulb, but it will save $5.41 annually on your electric bill compared with an incandescent, according to DOE.
If you haven’t converted to CFLs because you fear pollution from the mercury they contain, keep in mind that generating electricity is the main source of mercury emissions in the U.S. A 60-watt light bulb will use 480 kilowatt hours of electricity and contribute almost 6 milligrams of mercury to the environment over its lifetime, according to Energy Star. A CFL will use less than a fourth of the electricity and result in a third of the mercury emissions. For more information on properly disposing of CFLs, visit www.energystar.gov/cfls.
Myth: You can trust product labels that say “green,” “eco-friendly,” “earth smart” and the like.
Reality: The green-washing machine loves to crank out vague marketing terms, and the Federal Trade Commission has begun to crack down on environmental claims that fail the regulatory smell test (visit www.ftc.gov and search “Sorting Out Green Advertising Claims”). Manufacturers have begun to improve the labeling, consumer information and advice on their Web sites, including lists and definitions of ingredients. Also look for the EPA’s Design for the Environment label.
Myth: Switching to solar is a great way to achieve energy savings.
Reality: Solar systems, even with government incentives, are expensive. The owner of a typical single-family home in the U.S. wastes almost $350 annually on heated or cooled air that escapes to the outdoors. So for most houses in most places, the first line of defense is to reduce demand, says Bruce Harley, author of Cut Your Energy Bills Now (Taunton). That means tightening up the house and its ductwork (Plug Your Home’s Costly Leaks Before Winter), improving insulation, switching to CFLs, upgrading appliances and changing your behavior. After that, if you still want to go solar, you may be able to make do with a smaller system that costs less. For example, instead of a 4-kilowatt photovoltaic system (the size recommended for the average home) which would cost $16,800 installed after an average state-tax incentive of 25% and the federal discount of 30% -- you might get by with a 2-kilowatt system, which would cost $8,400.
Myth: Energy savings (and tax credits) will eventually pay for replacement windows.
Reality: True, windows are a big energy waster, but you probably have bigger fish to fry. The average cost to replace a window is $300 to $700, and another 50% to 100% if you must replace a rotten or damaged frame, according to www.CostHelper.com. Through 2010, you can get a tax credit for 30% of your cost, up to $1,500, for super-efficient windows (many that are currently Energy Star-approved don’t qualify). Many older homes don’t have huge amounts of window area, and newer houses tend to have more energy-efficient windows that meet existing standards for Energy Star labeling. If you still want to upgrade your windows, you may want to wait until products meeting new and more rigorous Energy Star standards reach the market in April 2010. Meanwhile, you can prevent heat from escaping in the winter and invading in the summer if you follow the recommendations above.