Keeping it cool or warm used to be far and away the biggest energy expense a home could claim. However, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration over the last two decades, the percentage of energy the average household uses on heating and cooling has been outpaced by a giant increase in the energy consumption of appliances. Between 1993 and 2009, appliance, electronics and lighting energy usage jumped from 24% to almost 35%, as you can see from this chart:
Clearly, if you’re looking to save money by reducing your electricity bill, appliances are the place to start cutting.
The first step to money savings is to identify the biggest energy hogs in your home, many of which are hiding in plain sight in your kitchen and laundry room. Of the most common household appliances, refrigerators are the second biggest electricity hogs, guzzling 13% of the average home’s use (HVAC is the first, at 16%). Dryers come in next, accounting for roughly 6% of residential electricity consumption, followed in most cases by dishwashers at 3%. Of course, not all households are created equal.
Using Len’s excellent post on the energy costs of your home appliances start your hunt to eliminate these hogs from your home. Working from his spreadsheet, identify the highest wattage appliances in your household that you use on a daily basis. Bear in mind that those high-use appliances only cost money when you are running them — so that 1250-watt-sucking vacuum cleaner you use for 15 minutes once a week is a drop in the bucket of your energy use, compared to the 1800-watt dishwasher you run twice a day for two to three hours.
Once you’ve identified the likely culprits, don’t judge on appearances alone. Anything manufactured more than 15 years ago is most definitely an energy hog (a pre-1994 dishwasher uses $40 more energy a year than its newer Energy Star counterpart); but don’t base your decisions purely on generalizations. Pick up a device that will get you the evidence you need to support the purchase of a new energy-saving appliance.
The Kill A Watt for example, will tell you exactly how many kilowatts per hour anything you plug into it is consuming; you can pick one up for about $30. For an extra $20, you can get a little more functionality with a WeMo Insight Switch. This device monitors energy usage and cost for you, sending the information directly to your smartphone or tablet. It can also remotely control your appliance, turning it on and off, and putting it on a schedule to help save on energy.
Once you’ve determined which appliances need the heave-ho, it’s time to start shopping. Remember, all appliances come with two price tags: the one on the showroom floor, and that garish yellow and black label normally hidden somewhere inside. That Energy Guide label is the price tag of operating the appliance during its lifetime; you’ll be paying on that second price tag every month for the life of the appliance, so pay close attention to it.
Here are some other features to look for in your new appliances to help make sure you’re saving as much money on electricity as possible:
- Consider natural gas dryers over electric: While they cost about $50-$80 more to purchase, a gas dryer can save you up to 26 cents per load, depending on your utility costs.
- Choose a large capacity drum: Drying more clothes in one go means you’ll run the machine less often.
- Look for models with a sensor dry system: These systems monitor moisture levels to automatically adjust drying time, saving you money.
- Consider a lint build-up sensor: Running your dryer with a clogged lint filter dramatically increases running costs. If you often forget to clean your filter, choose a dryer that automatically checks for excessive build up and sounds an alarm before the cycle starts.
- Look for short wash cycles: Almost 60% of the energy a dishwasher uses goes toward heating water. Choose a model that uses less water and offers short wash cycles.
- Go with gas: As with dryers, you will save money on your dishwasher if you have a gas water heater rather than an electric heater. A dishwasher that uses 279 kW per hour will cost about $27 annually with an electric water heater, compared to $17 annually with a natural gas water heater.
- Seek out soil sensors: These assess how dirty the dishes are throughout the wash and adjust the cycle to clean with a minimum amount of water and energy
- Air dry: Choose a dishwasher that gives you heat-drying and air-drying options. Heat-drying elements account for the rest of the unit’s energy use after heating the water. Air drying options can cut the dishwasher’s electricity use from around 50% to 15%.
- Select stainless: A stainless steel tub retains heat better than a plastic one, increasing the efficiency of the drying cycle.
- Compare labels: The Energy Guide label is most important in fridges, because all Energy Star refrigerators are not created equal. The Energy Star program doesn’t simply indicate the most efficient fridge; it divides refrigerators into five categories and awards its labels to the best-performing refrigerators in each category. In the showroom, compare the actual energy use numbers on Energy Guide labels, and compare different models to find the most efficient. This is likely to be a top-mount refrigerator, which use 10% to 30% less energy than the four other categories.
- Opt for a door alarm: Leaving the refrigerator door open wastes 50 to 120 kWh per year, about 7% of a fridge’s energy use.
- Choose a door-in-door or third drawer feature: If you have a large household and the fridge door is constantly opening and closing, consider a door-in-door model. This new feature allows you to put commonly accessed items in a compartment within the door that can be accessed without opening the whole fridge. That prevents all the cold air escaping every time the door is opened, meaning the appliance uses less energy to keep the contents chilled. A third drawer works in a similar manner and is very useful if you have children who are always diving into the fridge for their snacks; just put them all in the third drawer so they never have to open the main compartment.
About the Author: Jennifer Tuohy provides advice to homeowners for Home Depot on energy-efficient appliances including ranges, dishwashers and refrigerators.
Photo Credit: kevin dooley