Energy saving at home: are you clueless?Common energy-saving misconceptions revealed

20 August 2010

Light switch

Light switch

Many people are clueless about what they can do to save significant amounts of energy, and the most eco-active individuals are often the most confused, according to a new study.

When a recent American survey asked people what the ‘most effective thing’ was that they could do to save energy, the most popular answer was turning off lights.

However, lighting actually makes up a very small proportion of people’s energy use, and the savings made by switching them off every time you leave the room are small. Most people could save significantly more energy by taking alternative actions – such as adjusting their heating or washing machine controls.

Which? energy researcher Hazel Cottrell says: ‘This survey highlights the lack of public understanding of the relative merits of different energy saving measures, and I imagine there could be a similar state of confusion in the UK.

‘While it’s good to adopt practices such as turning off lights and appliances while not in use, these won’t be having as powerful of an effect on your energy use as other actions you could take.’

Mass confusion about saving energy

Other misconceptions revealed in the report included:

  • Line-drying clothes (instead of using a tumble dryer) would save more energy than changing a washing machine’s settings to wash at a lower temperature. The opposite is true.
  • Trucks use approximately the same amount of energy as trains and ships, when in fact they use 10 times more energy per tonne-mile.
  • Making a glass bottle uses less energy than making an aluminium can. This is also untrue.

The study reports that people who practise energy-saving behaviours, such as turning out the lights and recycling, actually had less accurate perceptions when it can to the relative merits of energy saving actions. It said that this might be because they have ‘unrealistic optimism about the effectiveness of their personal energy-saving strategies compared with alternative ones’.

And it’s not just Americans who prioritise switching off lights. The recent ‘Energy Efficiency in the Home’ report from research company Mintel found that 74% of Brits always turn off lights when they leave a room, but only 38% have tried turning down their heating thermostats to cut their energy bills and only 30% make use of the eco settings on appliances.

What can I do to save energy?

The American study noted that efficiency-improving actions generally save more energy than curtailing the use of inefficient equipment. So a good way to save energy is to choose the most energy-efficient models when buying new appliances.

Hazel Cottrell advises: ‘Our guide to energy saving appliances can help you choose the most efficient TVs, washing machines, tumble dryers, dishwashers and fridge freezers.

‘Annual running costs for a fridge freezer can vary from £13 to £92 a year, so choosing the right model can make a significant difference to your annual energy use – and energy bills.

‘We’ve calculated the annual running costs for each of the fridge freezers we’ve tested too – you can find them in the specifications section of each of our fridge freezer reviews.’

What's your opinion on this story? Do you think small changes, like turning off switches, helps or will you be relaxing and leaving the lights on standby? Tell us your opinion and join the debate at Which Conversation

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