5 Most Common Myths about Greening Your Home

Photo: Artist's Rendering by Reid's Heritage Homes for Home Sweet Home Competition

The world is changing for the greener. What was once the poetic musings of a naturalist on Walden Pond in New England has grown over 200 years into an unstoppable zeitgeist. But any societal change has its skeptics. For decades, the Church argued against the round-earth scenario in the face of scientific evidence to the contrary, and today, pundits like Rush Limbaugh will argue that oil spills are a natural occurrence and that "greenies" are part of some leftist terror-movement.

Indeed, as green renovation has grown in popularity, so have the myths surrounding it. Some of these myths are incredibly pervasive, leading countless homeowners to shrug off projects or materials that could have benefited not only their own home and lifestyle, but the very environment that sustains us all. Here I will debunk 5 of the most common myths surrounding the green lifestyle and green home renovation.

#1 – It “doesn’t matter.”

I hear this one the most. It's either a little-fish-big-pond lament, such as, “Nothing you do will make a difference in the grand scheme of things,” or utter denial of the problem in the first place: “What you're doing is pointless, it doesn't matter, everything is fine, so give it up!”

It does matter. It matters on a household, communal, national and global level. It matters to energy. It matters to economy, both wallet and Wall Street sizes. While I admit the jury is still out on exactly why this happened, it's worth noting that EIA records show that total energy consumption in the United States was actually down 4 percent in 2009 from 2008. That may be partly due to the recession, but regardless of motivator, it shows the effect of conservation on consumption.

When I first came to Portland, I moved in with a friend who neglected energy conservation so much that one might say he was an avid energy consumer. The heater was always on and it was as if the lights in the house had no 'off' position. Within three months of living there, doing nothing but keeping lights and heat off when unnecessary and just being mindful of energy use in general, we reduced our electricity consumption and utility bill by more than 60 percent! Now that was just a simple change toward green living. Now imagine what replacing those single-pane aluminum windows or the archaic HVAC system could have done!

#2 – Green renovations are too expensive.

This is a touchy subject, and I understand both sides, but I still consider the idea that green remodeling is more expensive than conventional remodeling to be a myth—perhaps the most detrimental to our livelihoods and environment. The issue here, quite frankly, is shortsightedness. For many people determining the cost of a project, their calculations never go beyond that initial bill. Therefore, they fail to see the long-term savings of many green renovation projects, let alone the health benefits.

As a matter of fact, the energy and money saved over just a few months from the installation of energy efficient windows, new insulation, an Energy Star heating and cooling system and other similar upgrades will easily offset the higher up-front costs. On top of that, there are an abundance of tax credits and rebates available for green projects that will further reduce costs. And in response to demand, many utilities and state or local governments offer low-interest loans to cover all up-front costs.

#3 – "Green" is green.

On the flip side, the green movement is not without its faults. Although its greatest fault, and subsequent myth, is not a fault of green living at all, but resides squarely in the hands of greenwashing companies trying to ride the eco-bandwagon without truly being eco-friendly. Think about it: in a legal sense, what does "All-Natural" really mean? As BP has so catastrophically illustrated for us, a benign-looking, green-and-yellow flower does not always make for an eco-friendly product.

If a store product says "green," that doesn't make it so. However, in response to this growing dilemma, a number of product certifications and green logos have sprouted up. Look for the Green Seal, EcoLogo or FSC label (for wood and paper products), to name just a few. Doing so will help dispel the myth and curb those proverbial wolves in sheep's clothing.

#4 – CFLs and Mercury

Installing compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulbs has become the standard step-one in greening the home. They use considerably less energy than incandescent bulbs and last many times longer. But a myth has formed that CFLs emit harmful amounts of mercury and that, if broken, become immediately dangerous. Furthermore, when thrown out, all this alleged mercury would end up in a landfill.

The truth of the matter is that the vast majority of the mercury that is in a CFL light bulb (some 90 percent) is bound to the glass. So it will not "jump" on you if a bulb is broken. As for the landfill, there are plenty of avenues for recycling CFLs, including manufacturer recycling kits and local options (for which information is available from the EPA et al).

All told, CFLs put much less mercury into the atmosphere than incandescent bulbs because:

  1. They are much more energy efficient.
  2. Coal-fired power plants are the number-one source of man-made mercury emissions.

Simple as that.

#5 – Green materials are not high-quality.

There's a rumor going around that green products simply don't last as long or work as well as so-called "regular" products. Again, not true. The proof-filled pudding for this debunking is made from maturity. Items like low-flow toilets and Energy Star appliances deal most with this myth. The logic goes like this: "If I have to flush (or wash) twice, then where are the savings and how is it worth the added cost?" That's certainly a reasonable question. However, it's just not the case anymore. Such products have now been around for a decade or longer and have been tested time and time again by agencies like Consumer Reports.

Now green products are subject to the same variations in quality as any other. Differences appear from one manufacturer to another and from one product line to another. This is why Consumer Reports exists in the first place—to do the laborious legwork for us. But green doesn't really enter into the equation. Energy efficiency in home improvement products, if anything, is a technological improvement, not a detriment.

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Dan Harding is a well-versed veteran of solar critique, commentary and reporting.  He has published well over 1,000 articles on a wide variety of solar industry topics, ranging from cutting-edge technology and gadgetry to political satire and powerful editorials. CalFinder is proud to tout Dan as our resident solar expert. He holds a B.A. in English from Michigan State University, and enjoys reading, writing and home construction.