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FEATURE ARTICLE - SEPT/OCT 2006
Buying the Best Appliances
When you’re looking for a new appliance, buy the most energy-efficient model possible to save energy, save money, and curb emissions.
Would you like cleaner clothes, a cozier home, lower utility bills, and to be a leader in curbing climate change? Then consider replacing your old appliances with new, energy- and water efficient versions. The US consumes nearly one million dollars worth of energy every minute, according to the Department of Energy (DOE). By choosing high-efficiency appliances over conventional models, last year’s US consumers saved $12 billion on utility bills and avoided greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to 23 million cars. Get in on the energy savings with the strategic appliance advice we’ve gathered for you here.
When to Replace and Recycle
When your old reliables break down, replacing them with the most efficient models is a top priority. You’ll see lower energy bills and reduce your global warming emissions.
Plus, you’ll get the best advantages of new technologies. Though they can cost more up front, energy efficient appliances will save you enough in utility costs that they’ll often pay for themselves in a short time. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), efficient appliances use ten to 50 percent less energy and water than standard models.
If you have old working appliances, use the guidelines we offer in this article to consider replacing them with new, technologically advanced energy-efficient models.
In all cases, make sure you recycle, rather than donate, your old appliances, so you retire energy guzzling models. Stores that sell and install new appliances often have recycling services. Or, contact the Steel Recycling Institute or enter your zip code at Earth911.com to find a recycling site near you.
Look for the Energy Star
In 1992, EPA introduced Energy Star, a voluntary labeling program to help consumers easily find the most energy-efficient products to protect the environment and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. EPA partners with the DOE to evaluate appliances, office equipment, lighting, home electronics, and even homes and office buildings for the Energy Star label.
The Energy Star label means that a product meets or exceeds strict energy-efficiency guidelines established by the EPA and DOE—so you’ll always find it on the most efficient washing machines, refrigerators, dishwashers, and heating and cooling units. It’s important to remember that not all Energy Star appliances are created equal, so you should still compare efficiency between models. To meet international targets for curbing climate change, make it your goal to choose appliances that save at least 25 percent in energy consumption over your current models.
Cooling and Heating
The air conditioning and heating unit in your house can use up to one-half of total home energy consumption. Cutting your energy use here, therefore, is one of the most effective ways to reduce your home’s ecological footprint.
Swapping old cooling and heating systems for Energy Star models can cut annual energy costs by 20 percent or more. Efficient models allow you to program the system to the minimum amount of energy you need to cool or heat a room at different times of day.
Central air conditioners (ACs) are rated according to their seasonal energy-efficiency ratio (SEER), which is the cooling output divided by the power input. Basically, a higher SEER means a more efficient air conditioner. Most AC units range from a SEER rating of 6 to 18. New standards enacted this year have raised the SEER requirement from 10 to 13, which is the first change in 14 years. The ACEEE recommends a SEER rating of at least 14.5.
Most US homes are heated with a furnace or boiler. Energy Star furnaces have an annual fuel utilization efficiency (AFUE) rating of 90 percent or greater, making them about 15 percent more efficient than standard models. The most efficient boilers have an AFUE rating of 85 percent or greater. (If you have another type of heating system, visit www.energystar.gov to see what you should look for.)
When to replace: If your heating and cooling units are old, worn out, or inefficient, you should replace them with high-efficiency models—especially if you use one or the other nearly every day. Your system technician or an energy auditor (available through your local utility) can help you evaluate your existing system and decide whether to replace it.
Extra efficiency Tips: Most people buy AC units that are unnecessarily large for their homes; visit www.energystar.gov to find what size unit your home needs. Choose “zone heating and cooling” to heat or cool only the rooms you’re using. Use a programmable thermostat. Get your systems tuned up according to manufacturer guidelines. And plug and seal all leaks in your home.
In most homes, the refrigerator is the biggest energy-depleting kitchen appliance. Energy Star refrigerators and freezers use about 50 percent less energy than models built before 1993.Energy efficient refrigerators have highly efficient compressors, improved insulation, and more precise temperature and defrost mechanisms to lower energy consumption.
When to replace: If you bought your fridge before 1993, replace it as soon as possible. A typical new refrigerator with automatic defrost and a top-mounted freezer uses less than 500 kWh per year, whereas a typical model sold in 1973 used over 1,800 kWh per year, according to the ACEEE. Replacing your energy guzzler with an efficient model will also keep 1,000 pounds of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere each year.
Extra efficiency Tips: Position your refrigerator away from a heat source, like an oven, dishwasher, or direct sunlight. Keep the condenser coils clean. Check that the refrigerator door seals airtight. If you can program the temperature, set your refrigerator between 35° and 38°F and your freezer at 0°F. Pack your refrigerator and freezer to maximum capacity.
Washing clothes makes up 14 percent of the average US household’s energy usage, according to the DOE. An efficient washer expends 50 percent less energy than a standard washer and uses 15 to 22 fewer gallons of water per load, saving you about $100 per year. In addition, efficient washers are gentler on clothes, leading to less wear-and-tear.
New federal efficiency standards for clothes washers will go into effect in January 2007, and the Energy Star level will increase proportionately. If you’re in the market for a new washer, it would be best to wait until the new year.
When to replace: The ACEEE recommends replacing clothes washers older than ten years with Energy Star models after 2007. Water utility companies often offer rebates for high-efficiency models, so contact your utility company to save even more.
Extra efficiency Tips: Wash full loads. Clothes washers are most efficient when they operate completely full. Also, use cold water—hot water washes add $60 a year to your energy bill. Choose a high spin cycle speed to reduce drying time.
Energy-Star-qualified dishwashers need 25 percent less energy than federal minimum standard dishwashers and save $100 over their lifetimes. An efficient dishwasher needs very little water to clean dirty dishes. Many new Energy Star dishwashers include a soil-sensor to adjust water use depending on the degree of dirtiness in each load.
When to replace: Dishwashers should be replaced approximately every 10–15 years—sooner if your family cooks at home and runs the dishwasher daily.
Extra efficiency Tips: According to the DOE, recent studies show that most new dishwashers clean dirty dishes without pre-rinsing in the sink, so avoid this water-wasting step. Most of the energy that dishwashers consume comes from heating water, so turn down the temperature of your water heater to 120°F. You could also consider installing a solar water heater. See our Real Green article on solar water heaters. Whenever possible, don’t use the heat-dry, rinse-hold, or pre-rinse features.
Because most dryers exhaust similar amounts of energy, EPA does not evaluate dryers for the Energy Star label. However, you can still save energy by choosing a dryer that automatically shuts off once the clothes are dry. Look for dryers with moisture sensors on the sides to detect clothes dryness, instead of those that guess dryness by sensing the temperature in the exhaust air. You’ll save 15 percent on energy costs over a conventional dryer.
When to replace: Replace your dryer when your old model is no longer working properly.
Extra efficiency Tips: Air dry clothes whenever possible on a line or indoor drying rack.
Taxes, Savings, and More
The following tips will help you save even more money and energy:
• Remember to service and maintain your appliances, which can save you an additional three to ten percent on your annual energy bills.
• Take advantage of tax rebates for energyefficient appliances. (See below for informational resources on these rebates.)
• Small household appliances that require a direct current, like televisions and microwaves, can leak electricity even when they’re turned off. The average US house leaks 50 watts of power from these appliances, adding up to $3 billion in wasted energy costs annually. Unplug small household appliances—or better yet, plug them all into one power strip and then switch off the power strip.
Every action taken at home can add up to a lot of benefits for the Earth and your pocketbook. When shopping for new appliances, always look for the most efficient models.
• American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy —202/429-8873.
• Database of State Incentives for Renewable Energy—Visit this Web site to find available tax incentives for efficient appliances and solar options by state.
• Earth911.org—Enter your zip code to find local appliance recycling options.
• Energy Star—888/STAR-YES.
• Steel Recycling Institute—800/YES-1-CAN.
• Tax Incentives Assistance Project—Visit this Web site to find out how you can claim a federal tax credit of up to $500 by making your home more energy-efficient, including installing windows, insulation, roofing, furnaces, central air conditioning, water heaters, and fans.