Looking to save money on your monthly electric bill?

Popular culture is filled with strategies to save energy. Some are founded in fact, but many so-called “magic bullets” are rooted in misconceptions and half-truths.

The key is to use less electricity—and that requires proper installation and operation as much as simply buying the most-efficient equipment.

Let’s look at a few common myths and get to the truth.


Myth No. 1: If I close the registers in my home, I can zonally heat with my central heating system. By closing the registers, the hot air is forced into other rooms.

Fact: HVAC systems are designed to move a certain amount of air through registers. The ductwork leading to the main parts of the house is too small to handle additional airflow. Instead of putting more heat into other rooms, you are reducing the amount of air that is moving through the system.

There are two potential negative outcomes. Furnaces tend to run at increased temperatures, which is hard on the equipment. And depending on the location of the thermostat, it may take longer to satisfy the thermostat. This leads to the system running longer than needed.

Because of variances in homes, there is no one way to heat zonally. For some homes, a good strategy is to turn down the main thermostat and close doors to the areas you don’t want to heat. Then use space heaters for short periods to heat common areas.

Myth No. 2: I can save money by installing a programmable thermostat.

Fact: On their own, programmable thermostats do not make your heating or cooling system more efficient. Their money-saving values lies in their ability to—once properly programmed— automatically regulate the temperature inside your house to coincide with when you are there and when you are not.  If you need help programming your thermostat, check the manufacturer’s website for directions.

Myth No. 3: I can use my fireplace to lower my heating bills.

Fact: A fire typically heats only a small space near the fireplace. Simultaneously, air from other parts of the house—heated by the furnace—is drawn into the fireplace and up the chimney. To minimize losses, get a glass door for the fireplace or consider using a wood- burning stove.


Myth No. 5: My ceiling fan saves energy only during the summer.

Fact: Ceiling fans can help you save energy year-round, but you have to make sure they are set to rotate in the correct direction for the season. 

In the summer, stand under the fan and make sure you feel the air blowing down. This creates a breeze that will make the room feel cooler.  In the winter, air should be drawn upward to circulate the warm, less-dense air that accumulates near the ceiling.

Myth No. 6: I can save energy by hand-washing dishes.

Fact: Most of the expense of using adishwasher is for the energy to heat the water. Some of this energy is used by the home’s primary water heater and the rest by an internal heater in the dishwasher.  If a dishwasher uses less water, less energy is needed to wash a load of dishes.

When comparison shopping for a dishwasher, be sure to compare the overall water consumption specifications for an average load cycle. If a dishwasher does not clean dishes well, consumers tend to run it on the heavy cycle or they rinse the dishes by hand first.

Rinsing can use more than 10 extra gallons of water. If hot water is used, more energy is consumed.


Myth No. 7: Some space heaters are “ultra efficient.”

Fact: Electric resistance heating puts out an amount of heat that is always proportional to the amount of energy (electricity) input. The only gains to be made are in fan/blower efficiency.

A British thermal unit—or Btu—is the amount of heat required to increase the temperature of a pound of water 1 degree Fahrenheit. When your space heater generates 1,000 watts of electricity, you get 3,413 Btus of heat—no more, no less. A space heater is 100 percent efficient, regardless of what manufacturers claim, what the heater looks like or how much it costs.


Myth No. 8: Turning my electric water heater on and off daily with a timer will save me money.

Fact: Two days is the break-even period for saving money with your water heater. If you are gone for two days or more, you will save money by turning your water heater off at the breaker. Timers are helpful if your electric utility has time-of-use rates. In that situation, it makes sense to kick on the water heater when the daily rates are lowest.


Sources: Clatskanie PUD, Douglas Electric Cooperative, Efficiency Services Group, National Rural Electric Cooperative Association

Reprinted by permission from Ruralite (April 2015) pp 6-7