13 Green-Living Myths, Shattered

You already know that an eco-conscious life is better for you and the environment. It’s also just an all-around smarter, healthier and more efficient way to move about your day. But, with all the information and misinformation swimming around out there, deciding where to start, and knowing what to do, can be tricky.

Have no fear. Our experts are here to help you separate myth from fact when making greener choices every day. Check out their tips, make a few key changes and, before you know it, your carbon footprint and your utility bill will start to shrink. How's that for smart growth?

Get energized.

Photo: thinkstockphotos.com

The rising cost of oil translates to climbing electricity prices for Hawaii residents. While it might seem like there’s little an individual can do to help the situation, the opposite is actually true. You have the power to promote a cleaner future for you, your family and the Aloha State. Here are some of the most common misconceptions regarding energy conservation:

We can save money on our energy bills and reduce our carbon footprints by doing simple things around the house.

IMAGE: courtesy HECO

MYTH 1: I can’t afford to make big changes at home, so there’s not much I can do.

FACT: There are hundreds of things you can do. “Many people associate living green with big investments or inconvenient lifestyle changes,” says Jill Tokunaga of Hawaii Gas, the only franchised gas utility in the state. “The truth is, we can save money on our energy bills and reduce our carbon footprints by doing simple things around the house.” For example, says Darren Pai of Hawaiian Electric Company, “Our ‘Cool Tips for Home and Work’ brochure offers practical advice on free, low-cost and moderately priced home improvements that curb electricity use while helping you stay comfortable during the summer months.” The brochure is available at all eight City Mill locations on Oahu or online at heco.com, where you can also check out Hawaiian Electric’s “Top 10 Tips for Energy Conservation.”

MYTH 2: Single changes can’t possibly add up to big savings.

FACT: They do add up! Installing a solar water heater can save a typical family of four  $600 per year, paying for itself in four years, according to Hawaii Energy. Switching 10 incandescent bulbs to CFLs can save the same typical family $240 per year. And did you know that every minute deducted from your hot shower saves you $38 to $57 per year? For more ideas, visit the Hawaii Gas website, at hawaiigas.com, and click on “Good Energy Tips.”

MYTH 3: Conserving electricity means I’ll have to give up the amenities I love.

FACT: It’s about smart use, not total sacrifice. “A lot of people think, ‘We will have to start living in the dark when watching our electricity use,’” says Eric Carlson of Photovoltaic (PV) system provider Revolusun. But with automatic light switch controls, automatic sprinkler systems, automatic computer sleep times, power strips and more, technology can do the work for you. Install a PV system, and your household runs automatically on solar energy whenever possible. Now that’s automatic savings!


MYTH 4: Solar water heaters have a prohibitive upfront cost.

FACT: You can benefit from an instant $1,000 rebate from Hawaii Energy, plus state and federal tax credits, all of which will allow you to purchase a system for about $2,000. And, through its “Hot Water, Cool Rates” program, Hawaii Energy can help you find zero-to-low interest financing on a new system. Visit hawaiienergy.com for details.

MYTH 5: I can’t save energy in the kitchen. I’m stuck with old appliances!

FACT: You can still do a lot with your current kitchen setup. “At home, when I bake something more forgiving of temperature like eggplant parmesan or a casserole, I turn the oven off before it’s done for the carryover cooking,” says Executive Chef Ronnie Nasuti of Tiki’s Grill & Bar, a local restaurant whose Green Program employs energy- and waste-saving initiatives to reduce its carbon footprint. “I do the same with pasta to reduce heat and energy.” Nasuti also saves water and energy by cooking bland items, such as eggs and spaghetti, in the same pot, to be used in separate recipes later.

MYTH 6: I can only afford one improvement. That won’t even make a dent in my bill.

FACT: If your refrigerator is 15 years or older, it will. Replacing that old machine with an ENERGY STAR® fridge can save as much as $500 in electricity costs annually, according to Hawaii Energy.

MYTH 7: I like the idea of saving more energy. But it’s going to be hard to get the kids on board.

FACT: “Hawaiian Electric has turned energy conservation into a game that kids and parents alike can participate in and learn ways to save together,” says Pai. “Our Energy Detective Guide takes families on a household energy audit to find the villains and phantoms that silently waste our energy. At the end of the guide, kids are official ‘energy detectives’ who can complete a pledge for a chance to win an energy conservation kit.” Find it, as well as the online My Home Energy Check, (another popular energy-audit tool) at heco.com.

Image: Thinkstock.com

For hundreds of ways to conserve energy in every room in the home, download the “Power to Save” and “101 Ways to Save” booklets (also available in Ilocano and Cantonese) at heco.com under “Energy Savings Toolkit.” Check out Hawaiian Electric’s “Energy Tips and Choices” booklet, too.

Upgrade your old, energy-sucking appliances with new energy-efficient gas models and receive credits to your gas bill from Hawaii Gas. To learn more, visit hawaiigas.com and click on “Rewards.”


Look to the Sun.


One of the most common misconceptions about solar photovoltaic (PV) systems is that they’re not affordable. However, “There are a number of programs that contradict that belief,” says Alex Tiller, chief executive officer of Sunetric, a full-service renewable energy firm.

If you want to go solar, there are two basic options available. One is the purchase of a solar system through a finance program (example: a renewable energy loan from your bank) or a solar lease, which involves renting a PV roof system for an agreed-upon amount of time, during which you receive all or part of the electricity savings. Both can lower your immediate cost, out of pocket, to the utility company. Here are a few common myths surrounding PV systems:  

MYTH 8: A solar lease is definitely my best option.

FACT: That depends on your unique financial situation. “Always look at purchasing, and financing that purchase, before you think about leasing,” says Richie Aqui, managing director of Akamai Energy, a commercial and residential PV system provider. Why? As a purchaser, if you qualify for generous tax credits and can receive a good loan with a low interest rate, you’ll likely pay off your system in as little as five years. Currently, homeowners who purchase a PV system can receive a state tax credit of up to 35 percent of the system’s installed cost of the system and a 30 percent federal tax credit (capped at $5,000 per system).

Conversely, “With most leases, you’ll have a payment for 20-plus years,” Aqui says. And your installation company keeps the equipment and tax credits. The bottom line: “Leasing and saving some money on your electric bill is better than doing nothing, and for some customers, not committing to a high out-of-pocket expense is a lot easier to swallow,” says Aqui. Consult your lender and at least three reputable solar companies before deciding whether to lease or purchase.

MYTH 9: When purchasing PV, price is the most important consideration.

FACT: Price is important. But so are longevity and quality. “A solar company should, at minimum, have some form of engineering department taking a look at and approving the drawings,” says Tiller of Sunetric. In addition, “You have to look at who employs the majority of their workforce in Hawaii and who has the most experience,” advises Tiller.  

MYTH 10: It doesn’t matter where the equipment comes from. It’s all the same, really.

FACT: “Right now, the hot topic is on the manufacturing side of the industry,” says Carlson of Revolusun. “There has been coverage on defective panels and subpar materials and how they’re leaving customers with inoperable solar systems.” Remember to choose a company whose panel manufacturers have longevity in the industry. And make sure your system comes with an equipment and system performance warranties.  “We often find that many homeowners think solar modules are the same,” says Carlson. “We often hear from our sales team that they’re told, ‘Thank you for explaining the differences in your systems. I just assumed you guys all sold the same thing.”

MYTH 11: I should hold out on installing PV until the technology improves.

FACT: “There are a number of people waiting for that next big leap in technology,” says Tiller. “The reality is, that’s probably not going to happen any time soon. From an increase in efficiency standpoint, we’ve seen a slight rise year-to-year, but rarely more than that.” What’s more, “We’ve hit all-time lows in pricing [on PV systems],” says Tiller. “The technology is predictable, it’s known and it’s not really changing dramatically. So there’s no time better than now to invest in PV.”


Shrink your “waste” line.

You’ve heard it before, but it still rings true. Practicing the three Rs (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle) is still the best way to cut back on household waste. Dump these trashy waste-reduction myths today:

MYTH 12: Most discarded material is useless garbage.   

FACT: “There is much value in such materials, which can be used to manufacture new products and generate local energy,” says Suzanne Jones, assistant chief, refuse division, of the Honolulu Department of Environmental Services. “The key is to sort these materials into appropriate stream so they can be recycled rather than deposited in the landfill.”

MYTH 13: We’re eating out tonight, so I’ll have to throw my green ideals out with the takeout container.

FACT: It’s possible to eat out consciously. If you can, choose a place like Tiki’s Grill & Bar that offers biodegradable take-home packaging and bags made from recycled materials. And instead of excess food going to waste, Tiki’s donates their reusable banquet foods to Aloha Harvest, a nonprofit serving the hungry in Hawaii.  Ronnie Nasuti, of Tiki’s Grill & Bar, keeps recycling bins right under his home kitchen counter.

Simple Opala Solutions

You don’t have to spend to save. Here are three cost-effective ways to go green at home.

1. “Remember your first R: Reduce,” says Natalie McKinney, Director of Program Development at Kokua Hawaii Foundation. “Think before you buy something new: Is there something I can reuse first?”

2. “One way to recycle your food waste is to start your own worm bin,” says McKinney. Workshops are available through Kokua Worms (kokuaworms.com) and The Green House Hawaii (thegreenhousehawaii.com).

3. “Choose locally produced and minimally packaged products that have the least environmental impact,” says McKinney. “And always take your reusable cloth bags for shopping.”

Photo: Thinkstockphotos.com

Don’t forget about the water!

“To help ensure a sustainable future, it’s important for everyone to be mindful of our water use,” says Ernest Y. W. Lau, P.E., manager and chief engineer at the Honolulu Board of Water Supply.

1. It’s easier than you think. Check for leaks around the home, take shorter showers, and don’t let the faucet run while in the bathroom or the kitchen.

2. Fixtures make a big difference. “A low-flow toilet can save up to five gallons or more with every flush,” says Lau. “A new showerhead can save up to five gallons every minute. An aerator on your kitchen faucet can save up to five gallons daily.”

3. Water your lawn efficiently, before 9 a.m. and after 5 p.m., to promote maximum water absorption.

For more on what to do with all your opala, visit opala.org.