Energy Efficient Appliances Salt Lake City UT
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Joan Stewart of Port Washington, Wisc., was thinking energy as she shopped for a replacement for her 10-year-old refrigerator. She finally settled on an Adora, a mid-priced General Electric model with an Energy Star rating, and the payoff was almost immediate.
Our electric and gas bills had just skyrocketed in the last year, so we jumped at the chance to save on our energy bill, Stewart says. In one month, our electric [bill] went down by at least $30.
As Stewart discovered, tracking down energy-efficient appliances pays off. Other homeowners, however, may be just as likely to notice an appliance's price or features first.
The energy efficiency is there, but I have to say it was a secondary item, says Pam Goldfarb, a Minneapolis-area homeowner who recently bought a new dishwasher. Although Goldfarb weighed energy consumption when she shopped for a new refrigerator, when it came to a dishwasher she was more concerned with what features it had than how much it would cost to use. I wanted the dishwasher to have good rack capacity, she says, so I could put my pasta pots and bigger things in as well as the small stuff.
In balancing price, features and energy efficiency, Stewart and Goldfarb faced decisions all homeowners must make when purchasing new appliances. For an average household spending $1,000 a year on power bills, switching to energy-efficient models could reduce operating costs by as much as 30 percent more than $300 annually. And with the help of a government-sponsored website, finding energy-efficient appliances is surprisingly easy.
But there is a catch. Although replacing an old appliance with a new Energy Star model may mean hefty savings, the benefits aren't as clear when comparing a new Energy Star model with a new standard model. In some cases, the added cost can take decades to pay off (see Do the Math on page 46).
Buying for the Long Haul
As tempting as it might be, purchasing an appliance based strictly on price can backfire. According to the Department of Energy's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, appliances account for about 20 percent of a household's total energy consumption. Energy-efficient models can eventually pay for themselves.
To make smarter decisions, homeowners can conduct a cost/benefit analysis before they buy. This analysis should include the true life-cycle cost of the appliance, not just the initial purchase price, says Larry Kotewa, staff engineer at the Community Energy Cooperative, a nonprofit organization based in Chicago. The cost to operate and maintain the appliance should be added in, Kotewa notes. The reduced operating cost of a more energy-efficient model will provide savings year after year for the life of the appliance, while the difference in purchase price is only paid once. As a result, you may actually save money by buying the more expensive, more energy-efficient model.
Appliances (as well as home electronics, heating and cooling equipment, lighting, and even entire homes) that have met strict energy-efficiency guidelines are designated as Energy Star products. These products often cost more, but that isn't necessarily because of energy-efficient technology, says Jennifer Amann of the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy. Instead, the higher price may be a result of a product's extra features, which can include energy efficiency.
Manufacturers tend to introduce the newest energy-efficient technology into their higher-end products, so they are being bundled with other features, Amann says. I encourage people to recognize that often when they are buying an energy-efficient model, they can't necessarily expect the energy savings to pay for all the other features they are getting.
To make comparisons between products, check the yellow-and-black EnergyGuide label, which is affixed to every appliance. This label provides key information you can use in your decision-making, including details about annual operating costs and product features, a scale showing how that model compares with others and an estimate of annual energy consumption in kilowatt-hours. The lower the number, the more energy efficient the appliance is.
To help close the price gap, Sears recently unveiled an entire line of Energy Star washers, including the lowest-priced Energy Star washer in the United States, which is priced at around $500 before rebates. The new washer uses 40 percent less energy at a cost of just $30 more than a comparably equipped non "Energy Star" rated unit, according to the company. That means the payback period for the additional cost can be a matter of months.
A great source for information on prices, features, performance and energy efficiency is Consumer Reports, says Mel Hall-Crawford, special projects manager for the Consumer Federation of America Foundation, based in Washington, D.C. Some factors to consider [when purchasing an appliance] are the annual energy cost to operate the appliance, the warranty terms and what kind of financing might be available. Consumer Reports often gives an appliance's repair history for different brands, which is also useful information.
So what specifically should homeowners look for when purchasing energy-efficient appliances? Here are some pointers.
Refrigerators and freezers There have been huge gains in refrigerator efficiency over the past few decades, thanks to improved compressors and motors, better insulation, new materials, new manufacturing techniques and better controls, says Amann. There have been a lot of efficiency gains that have been made over the years that have now been locked in with standards. If you go out and buy the least efficient model out there that just meets the federal standard, it uses less than a third of the energy of a model from the late 70's a good reason to let that 20-year-old harvest green model go to appliance heaven.
When choosing a standalone freezer, go with a chest style a better configuration since, when the door is opened, the cold air tends to stay in the unit instead of pouring out.
Dishwashers When it comes to dishwashers, says Julie Valeant Yenichek of Lowe's, manufacturers are adding new design features to cut down on the guesswork for the homeowner, as well as to reduce energy and water usage. A dishwasher with a soil sensor, such as Whirlpool's tall tub series featuring the SheerClean wash system, adjusts your cycles based on the load. Sensors measure the amount of food particles in the water, adjusting the cycle by purging soiled water and refilling with clean. This feature eliminates the need for prewashing or prerinsing.
Ranges Despite the proliferation of cooking shows on television, people just don't cook as much as they used to, says Amann, making this one area where user behavior, not equipment, has more of an impact on energy usage. If you have a really old gas stove that has a standing pilot light, you'll definitely find good savings if you replace it with a unit with electronic ignition, she notes. Beyond that, it's really consumer preferences sometimes based on what they cook or what they are used to whether they prefer gas or electric.
Electric range models have energy-efficient options such as ceramic, halogen or induction range elements versus electric coils, Kotewa adds. Self-cleaning ovens are better insulated than other models, so they are more energy efficient when used appropriately.
Convection ovens and models with a user-controlled fan-assisted system, such as Frigidaire's SpeedBake, reduce oven cooking time, while dual-fuel ranges use both energy sources gas burners on top coupled with an electric oven.
Laundry room appliances In terms of laundry, there has been a real renaissance in clothes washers over the last eight years, with the introduction of a lot of new front-loading designs, says Amann. In [the early 1990s], if you wanted a front-loader, you were buying European models, and many times they were much smaller than American washers. Now we see some really large front-loading designs for residential use, starting with the Maytag Neptune. Since then, all the major manufacturers have introduced front-loader washers designed for American markets. They use a lot less water and energy.
Top-loaders also are more efficient, Amann says. Now you see some really new technologies, such as the Whirlpool Calypso, which loads from the top, but if you look at it, you can tell it's a totally different technology. It doesn't have the big vertical agitator. It doesn't have to fill the washer up completely to wash and rinse the clothes. These new front-loaders and new top-loading designs are really water and energy efficient great from both the dollar savings and from the environmental perspective.
Since about 80 to 85 percent of the energy used for washing clothes is for heating the water, choosing a washer that uses less water per load, and switching from hot to warm or cold water can make a significant dent in your energy bill. (It's also less destructive to clothes.) Energy Star qualified clothes washers use 50 percent less energy than standard washers. In addition, full-sized models using 18 to 25 gallons per load (compared to the 40 gallons used by standard machines) extract more water during the spin cycle, cutting down on drying time.
Clothes dryers with moisture and temperature sensors that automatically shut off the machine when your clothes are dry offer a double benefit. Energy is saved, and wear and tear on clothes caused by overdrying is minimized. A dryer with a cool-down period, sometimes known as a permapress cycle, is another energy-saving option, since it uses cool air, rather than heated air, during the final few minutes of drying.
Choosing gas over electric (when possible) is another energy-saving move. The cost of drying a typical load of laundry in a gas dryer is about 15 to 25 cents, compared with 30 to 40 cents per load for electric dryers.
With so many models and styles out there, making energy-wise choices when purchasing or replacing major appliances will help lower monthly energy bills and give our natural resources a much-needed break.
Nancy Christie is the author of The Gifts of Change (Beyond Words Publishing) and a frequent contributor to Smart HomeOwner. She is based in Youngstown, Ohio.