Buying Energy-Efficient Appliances

Image: stove and refrigerator. Topic: Buying Energy-Efficient Appliances

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 efficient appliances. 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. The EPA has a online resource on responsible appliance disposal. Or enter your zip code at Earth911 to find a recycling site near you.


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 of equal efficiency, so you should still compare 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. As of 2020, Federal regulations as of 2016 state that homes in Northern states must have at least a 13 SEER rating, while households in the Southeast and Southwest must have a rating of 14 SEER or higher. The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) recommends a SEER rating of at 14.5 for cooler or 15 for hot climates.

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 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.
  • Efficiency Tips: Most people buy AC units that are unnecessarily large for their homes; visit 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. More than a third of fridges in use in the US are more than 10 years old, costing the 70 million people who own them $4.4 billion a year in energy costs. 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 new ENERGY STAR refrigerator with automatic defrost and a top-mounted freezer uses 300-500 kWh per year, whereas one from before 1993 uses 1,539 kWh per year and one from before 2000 uses 1,031 kWh per year. Replacing your energy guzzler with an efficient model will also keep 1,000 pounds of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere each year.
  • 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.

Chest Freezers

If you have a top-loading deep freezer in your home it could be costing you too. Average chest freezers from before 1993 use 985 kWh per year and ones from before 2000 use 680 kWh per year, compared to the 100-300 kWh per year efficiency of modern freezers.

  • When to replace: If you bought your freezer before 1993, replace it as soon as possible. A new ENERGY STAR freezer could save you the energy per year mentioned above, plus you could keep more than 1,000 lbs of CO2 out of the atmosphere, or 10,000 lbs out of the atmosphere if you properly recycle your old model.
  • Efficiency Tips: Like a fridge, position your freezer away from heat, but even better if you can position it in a cold spot, like a garage in a cooler climate, or the basement. Keep the condenser coils clean. Check that the refrigerator door seals airtight. A full freezer is more efficient than an empty one, so load it up.

Washing Machines

Washing clothes makes up 14 percent of the average US household’s energy usage, according to the DOE. According to the EPA, American families do an average of 400 loads of laundry per year. An efficient washer expends 25 percent less energy than a standard washer and uses about 10 fewer gallons, or 45 percent less water per load. In addition, efficient washers are gentler on clothes, leading to less wear-and-tear.

  • 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. If you have a regular washing machine that's more than 10 years old, you're spending about $210 a year more than you would if you had a more efficient model.
  • 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.

Clothes Dryers

Dryers use an incredible amount of energy-- in an average home, it uses 35 percent of energy expended on appliances (including your fridge, washing machine, and dishwasher), the most of any of the other three. Energy-efficient dryers use 20 percent less energy than conventional, and do so using technology that can sense when laundry is dry, and special cycles that can reduce the need for ironing (double win!).

  • When to replace: Replace your dryer when your old model is no longer working properly. ENERGY STAR did not start rating dryers until 2015 so the most efficient models are state of the art and brand new.
  • Efficiency Tips: Use sensor drying instead of timed drying if your machine has that option-- over-drying clothes is a huge waste of heat. Long cycles on low heat use less energy than short cycles on high-heat, so use low heat when possible. Washing clothes efficiently will make drying them even more efficient because they are less wet when they come out of the washer, meaning the dryer has less work to do overall. So, if it's possible for you, get an energy-efficient washer-dryer set. And of course, air-drying clothes whenever possible will save you money and save your clothes.


Energy-Star-qualified dishwashers need 25 percent less energy than federal minimum standard dishwashers and save $100 and 3,870 gallons of water over its lifetime. An efficient dishwasher needs very little water to clean dirty dishes. Many new 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.
  • 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.

Taxes and Savings on Energy Efficient Appliances

The following tips will help you save even more money and energy with your new appliances:

  • Service and maintain your appliances, which can save you three to 10 percent on your annual energy bills.
  • Take advantage of tax rebates for energy efficient appliances.
  • Unplug small household appliances—or better yet, plug them all into one power strip and then switch off the power strip. 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.

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 energy efficient models.