12 green myths put to the test

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Green. Eco-friendly. Sustainable. 

Every day we’re told what’s OK and what’s not when considering how to best treat the Earth. But how much of that advice is factually sound and how much of it is just another old wives’ tale? We dig into some of the most assumed-to-be-true green practices to see which ones check out—and which ones don’t.

1. Washing dishes by hand saves more water than using a dishwasher

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The only time hand washing saves more water and energy than using a dishwasher is if you wash dishes with cold water, run the faucet less than two minutes total, and use just 9.5 ounces of water (a little over a cup) per piece. Otherwise, the machine wins.

Note: This does not apply to dishwashers built before 1994. Those things suck up nearly 10 gallons per cycle, whereas newer machines use just six gallons per cycle; Energy-Star rated machines use just four.

2. Turning down your thermostat is more efficient than leaving it at a constant temperature

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Do like you did when you were a broke college kid and turn that thermostat down. The common argument that it takes more energy for a furnace to kick up than if it had been set to a consistent temperature all day simply isn’t true.

The Department of Energy says that “as soon as your house drops below its normal temperature, it will lose energy to the surrounding environment more slowly. So the longer your house remains at the lower temperature, the more energy you save, because your house has lost less energy than it would have at the higher temperature.”

Turning your thermostat down 10–15 degrees for at least eight hours a day can save you up to 15 percent on your heat bills. Use that extra cash to buy a fancy, fuzzy pair of earmuffs.

3. Leaving appliances plugged in doesn’t waste power as long as they are turned off

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Vampires aren’t just characters in scary movies. Appliances with a “standby” mode or continuous display (think digital clocks and microwaves), chargers, and cable and Wi-Fi boxes all use “vampire” power when plugged in, no matter if they are on or off.

To avoid unintentionally wasting energy, invest in a power strip or simply unplug those suckers. Do this, and you could see a 10–15 percent reduction in your energy bills.

4. Solar panels are a smart investment for homeowners looking to cut down on utility costs

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The short answer here is yes. According to energy companies like Xcel and PG&E, solar panels reduce carbon emissions by 50 percent each year. And depending on how much sun your home is exposed to, your energy bill could be sliced in half.

The kicker is that in order to reap these benefits, you’ll need to stay put for quite some time—namely, around 20 years. Here’s the drill: Purchasing solar panels outright will cost, on average, around $15,000. That’s no small sum, but solar panels can save homeowners more than $20,000 over a 20-year span. In other words, the average panel owner will more than recover the cost of their investment in less than 20 years.

If you still want to go green but don’t have the cash necessary to purchase your own solar panels—or don’t know where you’ll be in 20 years—consider leasing them. Third-party ownership models offered via energy companies like Xcel allow people to lease a share of a communal solar garden and receive credit on their electric bill each month in exchange.

Next page: littering organic material, driving vs. flying, & paper vs. plastic

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