Appliances account for about 13% of your household’s energy costs, with refrigeration, cooking, and laundry at the top of the list.
When you’re shopping for appliances, think of two price tags. The first one covers the purchase price—think of it as a down payment. The second price tag is the cost of operating the appliance during its lifetime. You’ll be paying on that second price tag every month with your utility bill for the next 10 to 20 years, depending on the appliance. Refrigerators last an average of 12 years; clothes washers about 11 years; dishwashers about 10 years; and room air conditioners last about 9 years.
When you shop for a new appliance, look for the ENERGY STAR® label. ENERGY STAR products usually exceed minimum federal standards by a substantial amount.
To help you figure out whether an appliance is energy efficient, the federal government requires most appliances to display the bright yellow and black EnergyGuide label. Although these labels will not show you which appliance is the most efficient on the market, they will show you the annual energy consumption and operating cost for each appliance so you can compare them yourself.
Most of the energy used by a dishwasher is for water heating. The EnergyGuide label estimates how much power is needed per year to run the appliance and to heat the water based on the yearly cost of natural gas and electric water heating.
Dishwasher Water-Saving Tips
- Check the manual that came with your dishwasher for the manufacturer’s recommendations on water temperature; many have internal heating elements that allow you to set the water heater in your home to a lower temperature (120°F).
- Scrape, don’t rinse, off large food pieces and bones. Soaking or prewashing is generally only recommended in cases of burned- or dried-on food.
- Be sure your dishwasher is full (not overloaded) when you run it.
- Avoid using the “rinse hold” on your machine for just a few soiled dishes. It uses 3-7 gallons of hot water each use.
- Let your dishes air dry; if you don’t have an automatic air-dry switch, turn off the control knob after the final rinse and prop the door open slightly so the dishes will dry faster.
Long-Term Savings Tip
When shopping for a new dishwasher, look for the ENERGY STAR label to find one that uses less water and energy than required by federal standards. They are required to use 5.8 gallons of water per cycle or less—older dishwashers purchased before 1994 use more than 10 gallons of water per cycle.
Some manufacturers are now offering “smart” appliances—appliances that can be connected to smart electric meters or home energy management systems to help you shift your electricity use to off-peak hours. Air conditioners, refrigerators, dishwashers, and other appliances may be available as smart appliances.
Smart appliances don’t just turn off during times of peak electricity demand—instead, they use subtle ways to shift energy use. You might not even be aware of it. For example, your air conditioner may run slightly less often. Or your refrigerator might delay it’s defrost cycle until the middle of the night. If your utility charges lower rates for electricity at night, also called time-based rates, you could save on your utility bill.
Such changes may be unnoticeable to you, but could add up to significant savings for your utility—savings that can be shared with you. Your utility provider can tell you more about the availability of smart grid technologies and time-based electricity rates in your area and how they can benefit you.
The EnergyGuide label on new refrigerators tells you how much electricity in kilowatt-hours (kWh) a particular model uses in one year. The smaller the number, the less energy the refrigerator uses and the less it will cost you to operate. In addition to the EnergyGuide label, don’t forget to look for the ENERGY STAR label. A new refrigerator with an ENERGY STAR label uses at least 20% less energy than required by current federal standards and 40% less energy than the conventional models sold in 2001.
Refrigerator-Freezer Energy Tips
- Don’t keep your refrigerator or freezer too cold. Recommended temperatures are 37°-40°F for the fresh food compartment and 5°F for the freezer section. If you have a separate freezer for long-term storage, it should be kept at 0°F.
- Check the refrigerator temperature by placing an appliance thermometer in a glass of water in the center of the refrigerator. Read it after 24 hours. Check the freezer temperature by placing a thermometer between frozen packages. Read it after 24 hours.
- Make sure your refrigerator door seals are airtight. Test them by closing the door over a piece of paper or a dollar bill so it is half in and half out of the refrigerator. If you can pull the paper or bill out easily, the latch may need adjustment, the seal may need replacing, or you may consider buying a new unit.
- Cover liquids and wrap foods stored in the refrigerator. Uncovered foods release moisture and make the compressor work harder.
- Regularly defrost manual-defrost freezers and refrigerators; frost buildup decreases the energy efficiency of the unit. Don’t allow frost to build up more than one-quarter of an inch.
Long-Term Savings Tip
Look for the ENERGY STAR label when buying a new refrigerator. Select a new refrigerator that is the right size for your household. Top freezer models are more energy-efficient than side-by-side models. Features like icemakers and water dispensers, while convenient, do use more energy.
Other Energy-Saving Kitchen Tips
- Place the faucet lever on the kitchen sink in the cold position when using small amounts of water; placing the lever in the hot position draws hot water even though it may never reach the faucet.
- Look for a natural gas oven or range with an automatic, electric ignition system, which saves gas since a pilot light is not burning continuously.
- Look for blue flames in natural gas appliances; yellow flames indicate the gas is burning inefficiently and an adjustment may be needed. If you see yellow flames, consult the manufacturer or your local utility.
- Keep range-top burners and reflectors clean; they will reflect the heat better, and you will save energy.
- Use a covered kettle or pan or electric kettle to boil water; it’s faster and uses less energy.
- Match the size of the pan to the heating element.
- Use small electric pans, toaster ovens, or convection ovens for small meals rather than your large stove or oven. A toaster or convection oven uses one-third to one-half as much energy as a full-sized oven.
- Use pressure cookers and microwave ovens whenever it is convenient to do so. They will save energy by significantly reducing cooking time.
There are two ways to reduce the amount of energy used for washing clothes—use less water and use cooler water. Unless you’re dealing with oily stains, the warm or cold water setting on your machine will generally do a good job of cleaning your clothes. Switching your temperature setting from hot to warm can cut a load’s energy use in half.
- Wash your clothes in cold water using cold-water detergents whenever possible.
- Wash and dry full loads. If you are washing a small load, use the appropriate water-level setting.
- Dry towels and heavier cottons in a separate load from lighter-weight clothes.
- Don’t over-dry your clothes. If your machine has a moisture sensor, use it.
- Clean the lint screen in the dryer after every load to improve air circulation and prevent fire hazards.
- Periodically, use the long nozzle tip on your vacuum cleaner to remove the lint that collects below the lint screen in the lint screen slot of your clothes dryer.
- Use the cool-down cycle to allow the clothes to finish drying with the heat remaining in the dryer.
- Periodically inspect your dryer vent to ensure it is not blocked. This will save energy and may prevent a fire. Manufacturers recommend using rigid venting material—not plastic vents that may collapse and cause blockages.
- Consider air-drying clothes on clothes lines or drying racks. Airdrying is recommended by clothing manufacturers for some fabrics.
Long-Term Savings Tips
Look for the ENERGY STAR® and EnergyGuide labels. ENERGY STAR clothes washers clean clothes using 50% less water and 37% less energy than standard washers.
When shopping for a new clothes dryer, look for one with a moisture sensor that automatically shuts off the machine when your clothes are dry. Not only will this save energy, but it will also save the wear and tear on your clothes caused by over-drying.
ENERGY STAR does not label clothes dryers because most of them use similar amounts of energy