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Demystifying home greening untruths

Myth Busters

Demystifying home greening untruths.

There’s a lot of information out there about going green and most of it focuses on making changes at home. But with all of the labeling and the advertising and the hype, it’s no wonder that homeowners with the best of intentions are sometimes finding themselves misled or worse, disgruntled, in their efforts to tread more lightly on the environment.

To help cut through the haze of flashy marketing and apples-and-oranges comparisons, we’ve debunked some common green myths below.

Myth #1

A label means it’s green.

Beware of “greenwashing,” the concept that marketing campaigns touting environmental benefits might not be wholly reliable. As a rule, green products vary and less-than-rigorous labeling standards and over-general­ized terminology can mislead on many levels. Skepticism is key.

However, there are three important labels to seek out when purchasing ma­terials and appliances for the home:

From refrigerators to computers to exhaust fans, the EPA’s ENERGY STAR label is a reliable benchmark for energy-efficient top performers. The label’s guidelines are designed to reduce energy use and therefore save consumers money while assuring high performance.

The EPA’s WaterSense label is a helpful guideline for choosing water-ef­ficient toilets, showerheads and faucets. Any product bearing this label is at least 20 percent more water efficient than average products in the same category.

The best guide in finding low-impact wood types for flooring, cabinets, furniture and more is the “FSC Certified” label. It’s the best indicator in the U.S. that the wood was harvested responsibly from well-managed forests.

Myth #2

Low-flow plumbing fixtures are good in theory but terrible in practice.

When it comes to saving water, low-flow is the way to go. How­ever, when low-flow toilets first came on the scene in the 1990s, their performance was sub-par, a disappointment that tainted customer opinion for years.

Today’s water-saving toilets are much improved, with the dual-flush version leading the way. As previously mentioned, the EPA’s WaterSense label makes it easy to pick efficient plumbing fixtures. For example, as opposed to the federal standard of 1.6 gal­lons per flush (gpf), a single-flush WaterSense toilet uses 1.28 gpf or less and a dual-flush 1.6 gpf full/1.1 gpf reduced or less. Simi­larly, low-flow showerheads have improved in performance as well and a WaterSense design uses no more than 2.0 gallons of water per minute (gpm) compared to the standard 2.5 gpm.

Myth #3

Choosing green products is enough.

Wrong! Proper installation is vital to a product’s long-term efficiency. Example number one: You invest in ENERGY STAR windows or better, but improper installation causes leaks, drafts and potentially moisture dam­age down the road. Example number two: You decide to install a high-efficiency HVAC system, but the contractor sells you oversized equipment and improperly installed ductwork leaks a precious fraction of your purchased energy. Example number three: Your plumber has installed the latest and greatest gas hot water heater but neglects to insulate the water pipes creat­ing unnecessary heat loss.

Myth #4

Keeping old appliances and plumbing fixtures means less waste.

Yes, but it also means higher energy and water use.

According to the Ameri­can Gas Association (AGA), gas energy use per American household has decreased since the 1970s. Factors in this increased efficiency in­clude tighter-fitting windows and doors, better insulation, time-controlled thermostats and consumer conservation.

In addition, appliance technology has improved tre­mendously over the past four decades, resulting in natural gas furnaces and boilers that can achieve up to 97 percent efficiency.

Myth #5

Sustainability can be bought via green contractors and products.

Determining which green initiatives are trends and which are lasting takes a critical eye and research. The good news is our environment can be protected by a variety of simple lifestyle principles that are easy to employ.

If building a new home or addition, work with your archi­tect or contractor to determine the structure’s best placement, orientation and size, taking into consideration solar heat gain and prevailing breezes. Strategic placement of certain window styles can generate passive ventilation and alleviate the need for energy-driven cool­ing. Choosing to use reclaimed materials, particularly wood flooring and beams but along with lighting fixtures, furniture and more, prevents waste and infuses new construction with aged charm.

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