Home Appliances Junction City KS
Nifty and Thrifty Appliances
Not so long ago, home appliances were real energy hogs. Washers, dryers, refrigerators and the like can account for more than 20 percent of the energy consumption in homes that have old energy-eating appliances. It doesn't have to be that way. Thanks to improved technology and design, the energy efficiency of virtually all home appliances - from refrigerators to microwave ovens - has improved dramatically in recent years. Consider this: The typical household refrigerator is nearly 150 percent more efficient than in 1980, according to the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers. Clothes washers are 60 percent more efficient, dishwashers 51 percent more efficient and room air conditioners nearly 40 percent more efficient. Years ago, the government began requiring appliance manufacturers to reduce the energy consumption of their products. Manufacturers have responded by not only meeting the standards, but also exceeding them in many cases by using improved technology and design. Take refrigerators, which have made the greatest strides in energy efficiency in recent years.
A typical refrigerator made in 1990 uses about 900 kilowatt hours (kWh) of electricity per year, according to the Department of Energy. That's the same amount of energy you would use by leaving a 1,250-watt electric hair dryer on 24 hours a day for a month. Newly manufactured efficient refrigerators nowadays burn about 460 kWh annually. "Today's refrigerator uses less electricity than a 60-watt bulb left on continuously," says Harvey Sachs of the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy. "Not only that, we expect it to last 15 years without any maintenance. Think of how many light bulbs you have to change in that time." The improved efficiency isn't magic, of course. Most of it comes from improvements on the inside of the machines: better pumps, motors, compressors, valves, seals and the like. Better insulation contributes to energy efficiency, as does better design, such as the development of front-loading washers. And electronic sensors make them smarter. Some dishwashers, for example, have dirt sensors so they can automatically tell when the dishes are clean and shift to the next cycle - and save energy along the way. Here's a breakdown of some selected appliances and how they've become more efficient over the years.
Refrigerators Refrigerators consume more energy than any other large appliance - which is one reason why there has been such a dramatic improvement in their energy efficiency in recent years. Under the DOE's energy requirements, refrigerators manufactured after July 1, 2001, are required to be 30 percent more efficient than those manufactured under the previous standards of 1993. Refrigerators built after 1993 are 28 percent more efficient than those that met the 1990 standards. There's nothing too fancy about the technology that has made this possible. A refrigerator basically cycles on and off as it absorbs and discharges heat, depending on its insulation, the room and freezer temperature, the condition of the seals and the like. Most of the energy used by a refrigerator is used to pump heat out of the cabinet. The new models use less energy primarily because they use more efficient compressors, better seals (that keep the cold in and warmth out), and improved thermal insulation that uses highly energy efficient foam blowing agents that limit the transfer of heat to refrigerated cold spaces. Refrigerators also have more precise temperature controls and defrost mechanisms. Simple things such as see-through drawers and well-arranged shelves help contribute to efficiency, too, because people spend less time in the refrigerator getting what they need.
Dish washers A dishwasher typically uses the equivalent of 700 to 850 kWh of electricity annually, according to the nonprofit Rocky Mountain Institute. Most of that energy, however, doesn't go to running the machine, but rather toward heating the water to wash the dishes. Therefore, the best way to cut down energy use is to decrease hot-water consumption. To do this, many dishwashers now have built-in "booster heaters" that raise the water temperature during wash cycles to 140° F. This device allows you to reduce the water temperature on your water heater to 120° - the highest temperature you'll need for all other household uses. Some dishwashers nowadays have soil sensors, which monitor the cloudiness of the rinse water to determine how clean the dishes are. Some models use turbidity sensors that measure the amount of light in the water, thereby sensing the water's cloudiness. Other brands use pressure sensors that react to the amount of soil that is removed from the dishes. When the dishes are clean, the machine then shifts into the next cycle, thereby saving electricity. Modern dishwashers are also efficient because they have an air-drying option as an alternative to heat drying. Heat-drying elements use considerable energy; air-drying fans do not. And others use improved design of racks and spray arms that allow a more efficient aim of the water toward the dirty dishes, so less water is required for a load. Beth Lamb of AM Appliance Group in Richardson, Texas, the U.S. division of the Asko and Eurotech brands of dishwashers, washers and dryers, says Asko has a model that uses just 4.5 gallons per load - just a fraction of the 14 or more gallons that were typical a decade ago. Paul Morris, vice president of the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers, says even something as mundane as the dishwasher motor has improved to the point where it cuts down on energy use. "They can pump more water at greater pressure with less wattage," he says.
Clothes Washers Like the dishwasher, most of a clothes washer's energy use goes to heating the water for hot- or warm-water loads. The Rocky Mountain Institute says it costs $128 to do 380 loads in a year using hot washes (and cold rinses), but only $9 a year with cold wash cycles, according to a 1994 study. To become more efficient, most washers now have more precise controls over wash and rinse temperatures, and the amount of water used in the loads. Washers are likely to become much more efficient in the future as Americans begin using more front-end-loading machines rather than the top-loading machines that now dominate the market. Front loaders use 30 to 60 percent less water - and 50 to 70 percent less energy - than top loaders because the clothes tumble through water at the bottom of the tank, allowing a much lower fill level. Top loaders have to fill the tank to the size of the load - meaning they use more water and more energy to heat that water. Many modern machines use sensors to determine precisely how much water is needed for a load - rather than the homeowner using a dial to pick small, medium or large. Others have a "suds saver" feature that saves soapy water from one cycle to the next. Some high-end machines have sensors that determine the size of the load and how dirty the water is and adjust the water levels and wash cycles accordingly. Morris says he expects to see more machines on the market with dirt sensors. "As time goes on and the sensor technology improves, prices will go down," he says. The newest models also spin faster, extracting more water after the rinse cycle. While this doesn't save energy by itself, it allows for shorter cycles in clothes dryers, where energy can be saved.
Clothes Dryers and Others Clothes dryers are typically the second-biggest electricity hogs among home appliances. Most energy savings among washers comes from what the industry calls "termination controls," or devices that shut off the machines automatically when the clothes are dry. While dryers have had simple timers for years, a growing number of them now have advanced temperature sensors that estimate or moisture sensors that measure dryness. A moisture sensor will reduce energy use by an estimated 15 percent. Other appliances, too, have made great strides in efficiency in recent years. Ovens are more efficient primarily because they have better insulation, which allows for less heat loss. Computers have less hoggish LCD monitors. Even microwave ovens have become more efficient with sensors that determine when food is cooked. Room air conditioners have gained their efficiency by using high-efficiency fan motors, heat-transfer surfaces and compressors. Air is cooled in an air conditioner when it passes over refrigerant coils, which have fins similar to a car's radiator. The compressor sends cooled refrigerant through the coils, which draw heat from the air. By using advanced heat-transfer technology, more heat from the air is transferred into the coils than in conventional models, thereby saving energy that is required to compress the refrigerant. Not surprisingly, the most energy-efficient appliances cost more than the less efficient ones. But that's only for the initial purchase. In the long run, most people will save on operating costs, which puts money back in your wallet month after month with utility bill savings. The most efficient refrigerators, for example, will save you $35 to $70 a year compared with models built 15 years ago, according to the DOE. Over the typical 15-year lifetime of a refrigerator, that adds up to $525 to $1,050 in savings. And in the years ahead, appliances will become even more efficient. Jill Notini of the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers says government regulations will require clothes washers to be 22 percent more energy efficient in 2004 than they are today and 35 percent more efficient in 2007 than today. "Plenty of models on the market now meet those standards, and as we approach those deadlines we'll be seeing more of them," Notini says. The best way to determine the efficiency of major appliances is through the DOE's EnergyGuide labels. Manufacturers must use standard test procedures to prove energy use and efficiency, which they are required to put on many of their appliances. Look for the bright yellow labels with black lettering on clothes washers, refrigerators, freezers, room air conditioners, water heaters, pool heaters and central heating and cooling equipment. The DOE also has an Energy Star program to denote highly efficient appliances. Energy Star-labeled appliances exceed existing federal efficiency standards, typically, by 13 to 20 percent and as much as 110 percent for some models. The more energy efficient an appliance is, the less it costs to run and the lower your utility bills. Using less energy is good for the environment, too; it can reduce air pollution and help conserve natural resources. It has been estimated that if all refrigerators sold in a typical year were Energy Star models, their owners would save about $26 million in electricity bills annually. That's a lot of money. And those refrigerators would save about 700,000 tons of power-plant carbon-dioxide emissions. That's a lot of pollution. n Clarke Canfield is a freelance writer based in South Portland, Maine.