We fill our homes with appliances to help us live our lives more efficiently. Some of these machines we take for granted -- refrigerators, washers and dryers, microwaves and dishwashers. We can live without some of them, probably most of them, but why would we want to? They save us time and labor.
But do they save us money? The short answer is sometimes. It really depends on the appliance, its age, how often you use it and -- more importantly -- how you use it. Many newer appliances come with energy- and money-saving features, but you have to know how to use them in order to reap the monetary benefits.
First, though, let's talk a bit about appliances in general and how much they typically cost to operate. When you purchase a new appliance, think of it as having two price tags -- the actual purchase price and the price of operation. You might find a washing machine at a rock bottom price, then bring it home and realize it's an energy hog that increases your power bill. Alternatively, you may purchase a relatively expensive machine that's more energy-efficient than your old one -- and your power bill will drop. See what we mean?
In order to understand how an appliance can save you money, you need to understand an appliance's energy use. We'll talk about that on the next page.
Is Your Appliance Efficient?
The easiest way to gauge the efficiency of a particular appliance is to read its yellow and black EnergyGuide label. This label, required by Federal Trade Commission law, displays the product's estimated annual energy consumption, the model's capacity and the efficiency ratings of comparable appliances.
Additionally, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rolled out the ENERGY STAR program in 1992 to help consumers save money and protect the environment. ENERGY STAR is a voluntary labeling program and identifies significantly energy-efficient products -- that is, those that reduce emissions and use less energy during operation. You can find an ENERGY STAR rating on everything from a computer monitor to an entire commercial building.
In 2009, ENERGY STAR products helped save American consumers almost $17 billion on their utility bill. ENERGY STAR-labeled products meet strict guidelines from the EPA as well as the U.S. Department of Energy.
Next, we'll discuss how to best take advantage of your energy-efficient appliances in order to gain maximum savings.
Refrigerator and Washing Machine Efficiency
Let's talk about the most common appliances you might have in your home, and how they can affect your bills. We'll start with the refrigerator and washing machine. It's strongly advised that if you're choosing a new appliance, you keep EnergyGuide and ENERGY STAR ratings in mind.
Your fridge is probably the biggest energy-sucker in your house. It uses between 1000 and 1500 kilowatt-hours (kWh) per year, with an average cost of about $90 per year. If your fridge is old, it could be costing you upward of $250 per year. When selecting an energy-efficient refrigerator model, look for one with the freezer on top or bottom. Generally, that type of refrigerator is more efficient than a side-by-side model. If your model has an "energy saver" switch, use it. It allows you to turn down the heating coils -- too much heat uses more energy. Also, keep your fridge between 35 and 38 degrees Fahrenheit (1.6 and 3.3 degrees Celsius). Keeping it colder than that will use up more energy.
Your washer uses around 800 kWh per year, costing you around $75 per year. When you purchase a washing machine, you first need to decide if you want a top loader or a front loader. Front-loader machines are generally more efficient than top loaders, but each have their benefits and drawbacks. It's just a personal choice. Look for energy-saving features that allow control of the water level and temperature. Cold water uses much less energy and gets most clothes just as clean. Make sure your machine is full (but not too full) each time you use it. Wash smaller loads only if you can adjust the water level. Don't use too much detergent -- it makes the machine work harder.
On the next page, we'll take a look at your dryer and dishwasher.
Dryer and Dishwasher Efficiency
A clothes dryer uses about the same amount of energy and money as a washing machine -- sometimes more, sometimes less. Note that clothes dryers aren't listed in the ENERGY STAR database. This is because clothes dryers all work the same way and their energy usage doesn't vary much between models. However, you can choose between a gas dryer and an electric dryer. Typically, a gas dryer costs more initially, but will cost less to operate over time. When you're in the market to purchase a dryer, pick one with a moisture sensor in the drum -- the dryer will automatically shut off when clothes are dry, saving energy. Also select one with a "cool down" period -- the last few minutes of the cycle will use cool air instead of heated to finish drying your garments. Make sure you clean the lint filter regularly to keep the machine efficient. Of course, if you really want to save money on drying clothes, why not just invest in a clothesline?
A typical dishwasher uses about 600 kWh per year, with a cost of around $50 per year. Some people believe that dishwashers are unnecessary energy-hoarders. Why bother with a machine when you can wash dishes by hand? The truth is that a dishwasher uses uses 37 percent less water for one load of dishes than if you washed those dishes in the sink. Of course, your dishwasher is most efficient if you run it only when it's full. To get the most out of your dishwasher, turn off the "heat dry" option and use "air dry" instead. Use energy-saving cycles like "short wash" to save more water and energy. And, if possible, try not to install your dishwasher near your fridge. The heat and moisture from the dishwasher will actually make your fridge work harder to stay cool.
For more information on saving money and energy, check out the links on the next page.
- "About ENERGY STAR." Energystar.gov. 2010. (June 30, 2010) http://www.energystar.gov/index.cfm?c=about.ab_index
- "Dishwashers." Consumer Energy Center. 2010. (June 30, 2010) http://www.consumerenergycenter.org/home/appliances/dishwashers.html
- "Dryers." Consumer Energy Center. 2010. (June 30, 2010) http://www.consumerenergycenter.org/home/appliances/dryers.html
- "Estimating Appliance and Home Electronic Energy Use." U.S. Department of Energy. March 24, 2009. http://www.energysavers.gov/your_home/appliances/index.cfm/mytopic=10040
- "History of ENERGY STAR." Energystar.gov. 2010. (June 30, 2010) http://www.energystar.gov/index.cfm?c=about.ab_history
- "How Appliances Can Save You Money." News Channel 8. 2010. (June 30, 2010) http://cfc.news8.net/affinity/affarticle.cfm?id=70
- "How to Buy an Energy-Efficient Home Appliance." Federal Trade Commission. April 24, 2009. (June 30, 2010) http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/pubs/consumer/homes/rea07.shtm
- "Refrigerators and Freezers." Consumer Energy Center. 2010. (June 30, 2010) http://www.consumerenergycenter.org/home/appliances/refrigerators.html
- "Washers." Consumer Energy Center. 2010. (June 30, 2010) http://www.consumerenergycenter.org/home/appliances/washers.html