If all American homes switched to energy-efficient appliances over the next 15 years, we would collectively save $100 billion in utility bills and keep the equivalent of 17 million cars’ worth of greenhouse emissions out of the air.
Those bright yellow tags you see on appliances are part of EnergyGuide, the Department of Energy’s (DOE) labeling system that specifically outlines the amount of power an appliance uses and compares that amount to other appliances in the same category. It also estimates the amount of money that the unit will cost to run for a year, assuming normal use. Buying energy-efficient models of appliances that you use regularly can yield hundreds of dollars of savings over several years. Make sure to look for a good price when replacing appliances, but be willing to pay a little extra up front for a unit that will bring you even greater energy savings in the long run.
If you’re considering buying a new washing machine (and you should if yours is over eight years old), opt for a front-loading model rather than a top-loading one. Front-loaders, the kind usually found at laundromats, are much more efficient, as they use less water and use mainly gravity to agitate clothes. This means that the machine does less work, which can save you $40–50 a year in electricity alone.
Once you have your energy-efficient washing machine, you can increase your savings by using it efficiently:
- Fill up your washer completely and make sure that you choose the right-sized wash every time you do a load.
- Wash with cold water or a combination of cold and warm for dirtier items. You’ll save money and cut down on the wear and tear that hot water can cause. There are even special detergents formulated for cold- water washing.
If you have an electric dryer, consider replacing it with a gas model. Even though the initial cost is about $50 more than a similar electric dryer, your savings will more than make up for this in about a year. Then use your dryer efficiently with the following tips:
- Dryers use a lot of electricity, so consider using a drying rack for items that will dry quickly. The rest of your load will take less time and energy to dry.
- Always use a timer so that you don’t overdry clothes.
- Consider buying a water extractor (sometimes called a spin dryer), a separate appliance that will extract up to 90% of the water from your washed clothes. These small devices use minimal amounts of electricity to run, yet remove the same amount of water in two min-utes of spinning that a dryer would take 30 minutes to remove. Your dryer will last longer because you’ll use it less.
Ranges and Ovens
There are no ENERGY STAR ratings for ranges and ovens, so data on their efficiency tends to be limited. If you don’t cook much at home, then the type of range and oven you have may not make much difference in your overall energy consumption. But if you’re a frequent cook and are in the market for a new unit, an efficient one is a smart investment.
- The most energy-efficient range tops available use ceramic glass over their heat-producing elements.
- Convection ovens, which heat food faster because the hot air moves around the oven during cooking, are one-third more efficient than regular electric or gas ovens.
- Ovens with self-cleaning features are better insulated than other types, so they’ll also use less fuel to heat up.
The good news for those who hate to do dishes by hand is that an efficient dishwasher that’s packed full (but not overcrowded) can actually use less water than handwashing. Newer dishwashers don’t require pre-rinsing (though you still have to remove large chunks of food beforehand), which means less work for you and less water waste.
It’s important that you always run a full load of dishes, even if you have to wait a few days to fill it up (though some dishwashers also have settings or sensors that will use less water—and, thus, less energy—for smaller loads). If you don’t eat at home often, you might want to look into a smaller-than-standard dishwasher.
Refrigerators and Freezers
Because it runs continuously, the refrigerator/freezer combo unit is the most energy-consuming appliance in the house. ENERGY STAR–qualified refrigerators are 40% more efficient than conventional models built in 2001 or prior and 50% more efficient than those made before 1993. So replacing your fridge (especially if it needs repairs) makes more sense than fixing it.
Make sure that you don’t buy a bigger refrigerator than you need; a half-empty fridge is a waste of energy. And keep in mind that some refrigerator/freezer layouts are more efficient than others:
- Least efficient: Side-by-side fridge/freezer units
- Somewhat efficient: Top-freezer units
- Most efficient: Bottom-freezer units
If you can’t buy a new fridge, make sure to do the following to improve the efficiency of your existing unit:
- Keep the rear coils free of dust.
- Try not to keep your fridge next to your stove, your dishwasher, or any heat vents, as that will force the fridge to work harder than it should to cool your food.
- Look at the temperature controller inside the fridge; if it has an “anti-sweat” switch, make sure it’s on in the summer but off in the winter.
- Use a thermometer to check the temperature at which your fridge runs. Fridges don’t need to be colder than 35–38°F, and freezers should be at about 0°F.
Though they don’t use an enormous portion of a household’s electricity, home electronics devices can still be wasteful. Battery-powered devices that continue to suck up energy even after they’re already charged (such as cell phones, MP3 players, and digital cameras), or those that use a minimum amount of electricity to remain on standby all the time (such as TVs, DVD players, and some kitchen appliances), are termed power vampires. Each device uses just a small amount of energy, but collectively and over time, they waste a lot of power.
Check to see whether each device has a feature that will shut it off once it’s fully charged. Depending on the device, some will need to be set on this function, whereas others (especially newer electronics) may do it automatically.
Surge Protector Strips
One way to fight power vampires is to buy a few surge protector strips, which both protect your electronics from power surges and save you money. Plug all the devices in one area into a strip and, when you’re not using them, turn the whole strip off. This way, you won’t have to unplug your whole entertainment system, for instance, one device at a time. Use this method with kitchen appliances, computer setups, and kids’ toys—it won’t harm your equipment.