Appliances account for about 20% of your household's energy consumption, with refrigerators and clothes dryers at the top of the consumption list.
When you're shopping for appliances, you can think of two price tags. The first one covers the purchase price – think of it as a down payment. The second price tag is the cost of operating the appliance during its lifetime.
You'll be paying on that second price tag every month with your utility bill for the next 10 to 20 years, depending on the appliance. Refrigerators last an average of 20 years; room air conditioners and dishwashers, about 10 years each; clothes washers, about 14 years.
What's the Real Cost
When you do have to shop for a new appliance, look for the ENERGY STAR® label. ENERGY STAR® appliances have been identified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and DOE as being the most energy-efficient products in their classes.
They usually exceed minimum federal standards by a substantial amount. The appliance shopping guide lists some of the major appliances that carry the ENERGY STAR® label and provides helpful information on what to look for when shopping for an appliance.
To help you figure out whether an appliance is energy efficient, the federal government requires most appliances to display the bright yellow and black EnergyGuide label. Although these labels will not tell you which appliance is the most efficient, they will tell you the annual energy consumption and operating cost for each appliance so you can compare them yourself.
Most of the energy used by a dishwasher is for water heating. The EnergyGuide label estimates how much power is needed per year to run the appliance and to heat the water based on the yearly cost of gas and electric water heating. When it is time to buy a new unit, look for the ENERGY STAR® label.
• Check the manual that came with your dishwasher for the manufacturer's recommendations on water temperature; many have internal heating elements that allow you to set the water heater to a lower temperature.
• Scrape, don't rinse, off large food pieces and bones. Soaking or pre-washing is generally only recommended in cases of burned-on or dried-on food.
• Be sure your dishwasher is full, but not overloaded.
• Don't use the "rinse hold"; on your machine for just a few soiled dishes. It uses 3 to 7 gallons of hot water each time you use it.
• Let your dishes air dry; if you don't have an automatic air-dry switch, turn off the control knob after the final rinse and prop the door open a little so the dishes will dry faster.
• Remember that dishwashers use less water than washing dishes by hand, about 6 gallons less per load; dishwashers also use hotter water than you would use if you were washing the dishes by hand, so they can do a better job of killing germs.
The EnergyGuide label on new refrigerators will tell you how much electricity in kilowatt-hours (kWh) a particular model uses in one year. The smaller the number, the less energy the refrigerator uses and the less it will cost you to operate.
In addition to the EnergyGuide label, don't forget to look for the ENERGY STAR® label. A new refrigerator with an ENERGY STAR® label will save you between $35 and $70 a year compared to the models designed 15 years ago. This adds up to between $525 and $1,050 during the average 15-year life of the unit.
Refrigerator/Freezer Energy Tips
• Look for a refrigerator with automatic moisture control. Models with this feature have been engineered to prevent moisture accumulation on the cabinet exterior without the addition of a heater. This is not the same thing as an "anti-sweat" heater. Models with an anti-sweat heater will consume 5% to 10% more energy than models without this feature.
• Don't keep your refrigerator or freezer too cold. Recommended temperatures are 37° to 40°F for the fresh food compartment of the refrigerator and 5°F for the freezer section. If you have a separate freezer for long-term storage, it should be kept at 0°F.
• To check refrigerator temperature, place an appliance thermometer in a glass of water in the center of the refrigerator. Read it after 24 hours. To check the freezer temperature, place a thermometer between frozen packages. Read it after 24 hours.
• Regularly defrost manual-defrost refrigerators and freezers; frost buildup increases the amount of energy needed to keep the motor running. Don't allow frost to build up more than one-quarter of an inch.
• Make sure your refrigerator door seals are airtight. Test them by closing the door over a piece of paper or a dollar bill so it is half in and half out of the refrigerator. If you can pull the paper or bill out easily, the latch may need adjustment or the seal may need replacing.
• Cover liquids and wrap foods stored in the refrigerator. Uncovered foods release moisture and make the compressor work harder.
• Move your refrigerator out from the wall and vacuum its condenser coils once a year unless you have a no-clean condenser model. Your refrigerator will run for shorter periods with clean coils.
Other Energy-Saving Kitchen Tips
• Be sure to place the faucet lever on the kitchen sink in the cold position when using small amounts of water; placing the lever in the hot position uses energy to heat the water even though it never reaches the faucet.
• If you need to purchase a gas oven or range, look for one with an automatic, electric ignition system. An electric ignition saves gas – typically 41% in the oven and 53% on the top burners – because a pilot light is not burning continuously.
• In gas appliances, look for blue flames; yellow flames indicate the gas is burning inefficiently and an adjustment may be needed.
• Keep range-top burners and reflectors clean; they will reflect the heat better, and you will save energy.
• Use a covered kettle or pan to boil water; it's faster and it uses less energy.
• Match the size of the pan to the heating element.
• If you cook with electricity, turn the stovetop burners off several minutes before the allotted cooking time. The heating element will stay hot long enough to finish the cooking without using more electricity. The same principle applies to oven cooking.
• Use small electric pans or toaster ovens for small meals rather than your large stove or oven. A toaster oven uses a third to half as much energy as a full-sized oven.
• Use pressure cookers and microwave ovens whenever it is convenient to do so. They can save energy by significantly reducing cooking time.
When you cook a pot of rice for 1 hour, you use 1000 watts of electricity! One thousand watts equals 1 kilowatt-hour, or 1 kWh. Your utility bill usually shows what you are charged for the kilowatt-hours you use. The average residential rate is 8.3 cents per kWh. A typical U.S. household consumes about 10,000 kWh per year, costing an average of $830 annually.
About 80% to 85% of the energy used for washing clothes is for heating the water. There are two ways to reduce the amount of energy used for washing clothes – use less water and use cooler water. Unless you're dealing with oily stains, the warm or cold water setting on your machine will generally do a good job of cleaning your clothes. Switching your temperature setting from hot to warm can cut a load's energy use in half.
When shopping for a new washer, look for a front loading (horizontal-axis) machine. This machine may cost more to buy but uses about a third of the energy and less water than a top-loading machine. With a front loader, you'll also save more on clothes drying, because they remove more water from your clothes during the spin cycle. Look for the ENERGY STAR® label.
When shopping for a new clothes dryer, look for one with a moisture sensor that automatically shuts off the machine when your clothes are dry. Not only will this save energy, it will save wear and tear on your clothes caused by over-drying. Keep in mind that gas dryers are less expensive to operate than electric dryers. The cost of drying a typical load of laundry in an electric dryer is 30 to 40 cents compared to 15 to 25 cents in a gas dryer.
• Wash your clothes in cold water using cold-water detergents when-ever possible.
• Wash and dry full loads. If you are washing a small load, use the appropriate water-level setting.
• Dry towels and heavier cottons in a separate load from lighter-weight clothes.
• Don't over-dry your clothes. If your machine has a moisture sensor, use it.
• Clean the lint filter in the dryer after every load to improve air circulation.
• Use the cool-down cycle to allow the clothes to finish drying with the residual heat in the dryer.
How to Read the EnergyGuide Label
The EnergyGuide label gives you two important pieces of information you can use for comparison of different brands and models when shopping for a new refrigerator:
• estimated energy consumption on a scale showing a range for similar models
• estimated yearly operating cost based on the national average cost of electricity.
For more information on energy-efficient appliances, contact:
(888) STAR-YES (782-7937)
U.S. Department of Energy's
Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Clearinghouse (EREC), (800) DOE-EREC (363-3732), and Network (EREN).
Source: United States Department of Energy