In 1992, the federal government developed an energy-efficiency rating program called "Energy Star." Energy Star is now jointly administered by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Energy (DOE). The Energy Star Web site at www.energystar.gov provides appliance ratings and tips on improving the energy performance of your home and business.
The appliance-labeling program, perhaps the most visible of Energy Star's endeavors, rates major appliances and provides information that allows consumers to make energy-wise choices about these products. Below are some guidelines to consider.
How Much Can New Appliances Save?
Energy Star-qualified appliances exceed federal energy-efficiency standards by 10 to 50 percent. As an example, Energy Star-rated refrigerators use better-quality insulation, more efficient compressors, and more sophisticated temperature-control mechanisms, delivering 15 percent better energy savings than other models that only meet the current government standards.
Because a refrigerator typically uses the most energy of any appliance in a household, these energy improvements can make a noticeable difference in energy and money saved. Energy Star-rated freezers use the same improvements to yield at least a 10-percent premium on energy savings.
Similar numbers show up in ratings for dishwashers, clothes washers, dehumidifiers, ceiling fans, and HVAC equipment. And while Energy Star-rated appliances and electronic devices usually bear a higher price tag than models without the Energy Star rating, the extra cost is more than made up in savings over the lifetime of the product.
Energy Star-rated appliances like dishwashers and clothes washers make the most sense in homes where these are frequently used. Larger homes, or ones that are located in severe climate areas like the north or the south, can save by using Energy Star-rated heating and cooling equipment.
And here's an energy-saving tip that is appropriate anywhere: If you have an older refrigerator or freezer in your garage or basement for beverages, get rid of it. You might be spending up to 25 dollars a month just to keep such an antiquated energy hog going. Plus, a hot garage environment makes the inefficient compressor work even harder to achieve cooling.
Washing Machine Trends
Front-loading clothes-washing machines are considered the standard in Europe and also in commercial applications in this country. Expensive energy sources and smaller living spaces drive the overseas use of these machines, and now they're starting to replace top-loading washing machines in this country.
The advantages of front loaders in terms of energy savings alone are compelling, but they have other features that recommend them as well. Front-loading machines use only one third to one half of the water that conventional top loaders do. Because some wash water needs to be heated, reducing the volume used means the water heater doesn't have to produce as much, resulting in energy savings -- with water savings as a bonus.
Some new clothes washers include a heating element that can be activated much like the one in a dishwasher to heat water in the machine higher than the temperature the household water heater produces. This feature can be used for special purposes, for instance to sanitize baby wear or to wash sheets and pillowcases during cold and flu season.
Front-loading washing machines clean clothes by dropping them through and dipping them into water repeatedly during the wash cycle instead of swishing them back and forth, as is the norm in top-loading washers. The drum spins on a horizontal axis rather than a vertical one. Tests indicate that this type of washing action cleans clothes better and more gently. Front loaders also use high-speed rinse and water-extraction cycles -- some can spin the drum at 1,400 rpm, which yields more thorough removal of water and soap residue.
Because higher spin speeds remove more water, clothing needs less time to finish drying, which yields savings. Shortened drying times also mean clothing items have less contact with each other in the high-heat environment, helping the fabric last longer.
Front-loading washing machines and matching dryers can be stacked atop one another, saving valuable floor space. This means that the laundry pair might be able to fit into an area where a conventional side-by-side setup couldn't go. And many people find it is easier to load and remove clothes from a front-loading machine.
Another advantage of front-loading washing machines is that, because they use less water, they require less soap and bleach to clean clothes. However, many front loaders require the use of special low-sudsing detergents in order to work properly.
Top Loader Upgrades
To keep pace with the interest in water and energy-saving front loaders, manufacturers of top-loading machines now offer models with competing features. Some new machines on the market have no central agitator. Others offer high-speed water-extraction spin cycles. Most use less water than previous designs and consequently require less soap and bleach. However, some do need low-suds detergent to operate optimally.
A trip to an appliance store or a visit to a manufacturer's Web site can help you sort through all the offerings and decide what type of washing machine best fits your individual needs.
The Energy Star program doesn't rate dryers because they all use similar amounts of energy. Nevertheless, a good way to control the energy used to dry clothing is to turn on the automatic-drying feature on the dryer if it has one instead of a timer. This useful feature employs a sensor that measures the amount of moisture in the air exiting the dryer. Once the moisture level in that air is reduced to a certain level, the dryer shuts off. No more fuel or electricity is used than is necessary to dry a load of clothes.
The timed dryer cycle, on the other hand, will keep heating and tumbling a load of clothes even after they are dry, until the set time is finished. Not only does this waste fuel and electricity, it also unnecessarily heats and wears down the clothes, shortening their life.
If you're thinking of purchasing a new dishwasher, carefully consider your needs before making a final decision. These appliances come in standard and compact sizes. If you live in a home where a lot of cooking takes place and a lot of dirty dishes are generated, the standard size is the more practical choice. Because hot water use constitutes the largest expense connected with operating a dishwasher, running it with full loads is a smart idea. If you have to load and run a compact dishwasher several times in order to clean up after a meal, it costs more in terms of hot-water usage and electricity compared to operating a larger machine one time.
Dishwashers are built with heating elements inside that boost the temperature of the water to at least 140 degrees, which sterilizes dishes. This heat boost is also necessary to allow detergent to dissolve properly and to clean as it was formulated to do. Owning a dishwasher with a water heating element means you don't have to keep the household water heater at 140 degrees to accommodate the dishwasher's needs; a practice which is both a scalding hazard and a waste of energy.
Windows can be culprits when it comes to wasting energy in your home. In the next section, we'll find out what you need to know about trading your old windows for energy-efficient replacements.