Old advice: Wash your hands with soap and warm or hot water to avoid getting sick
5. Better bet: Use soap and cool or cold water
Frequent handwashing helps protect against colds, the flu, food poisoning and other nasty illnesses. Much advice recommends using soap and hot or warm water, yet no research shows that water temperature makes a difference in ridding hands of germs. Soap and cool or cold water work just as well. Still, nearly 70 percent of people surveyed said they believed that hot water was most effective, according to a report published in the International Journal of Consumer Studies.
Heating water is typically the third-largest energy expense in a home, so use cool or tepid water when you wash your hands — both to save money and to help the planet.
Old advice: Wash your dishes by hand to save water
6. Better bet: Use your dishwasher if you have a full load
Using a dishwasher is certainly easier than doing dishes by hand — and it's easier on your wallet as well. Dishwashers today use less than half as much energy and water as those made 20 years ago, according to the California Energy Commission.
Machines that display the Energy Star label use only 3 to 5 gallons of water per load. (Manufacturers advise simply scraping dishes and not rinsing them before loading.) Older machines, by comparison, guzzle between 8 and 15 gallons. And if you use running water to do dishes by hand, you'll send 27 gallons down the drain.
Old advice: Turn off TV sets, electronic devices and computers when you're not using them
7. Better bet: Hook up certain devices to a power strip and turn off the strip each night
Electronics and appliances can suck energy through their plugs all night long, even when they seem "off" or asleep. This vampire energy, also called standby power or phantom load, represents roughly 10 percent of a home's annual electricity use, according to Noah Horowitz, senior scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council. To tame the runaway monster, hook up your computer, monitor, printer and speakers to a power strip and switch off the strip at night. Ditto your TV, surround-sound speakers, DVD player and game console. You won't lose your settings.
The TV set-top boxes provided by your cable, satellite or telephone company have been among the worst energy offenders, guzzling electricity all day and night. A recent voluntary agreement will cut their energy use substantially. Until these new boxes become widely available, call your provider and ask if you currently have a box that meets Energy Star version 3.0. If not, ask for one.
Also, almost all homes with high-speed Internet service have a modem and router, two other energy hogs. If you're in the market to replace either, look for one with an Energy Star label to cut energy use by roughly 30 percent.
Nissa Simon is a freelance health and science writer.
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