Understanding Appliance Energy Use

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Dear Pat:

Several of my appliances are getting old and will need to be replaced soon. Will the appliance choices I make have much impact on my energy bill?

— Chelsea

Dear Chelsea: Your energy use varies month to month, so it can be difficult to see how much difference an appliance purchase makes. It’s best to view the purchase over the lifetime of the equipment.

Think about the upfront cost and the lifetime energy cost. In a Consumer Reports test, the most-efficient refrigerator used $68 less in electricity per year than the least-efficient model. Multiply that difference over a decade or two, and the lifetime energy savings could be greater than the upfront cost. Some initial research is all it takes to get the best appliance for your needs.

All the most-efficient 2018 models of washers and dryers are front-loading. Source: Pixabay, Creative Commons

Appliance energy use is usually less, on average, than home heating and cooling bills but can be several hundred dollars each year. Your appliance use depends on factors like the model, how often you use it, the settings you use for its particular function and even the time of day it is used most.

Over the last few decades, new appliances have become more energy-efficient, driven partly by minimum government standards. These standards, created by the U.S. Department of Energy, save consumers more than $60 billion each year. Appliances are required to include Energy Guide labels that show estimated energy use and operating cost per year. These labels help you compare different models and calculate the initial cost against the long-term savings.

Some appliances will also have an ENERGY STAR label. This indicates the appliance is substantially more efficient than the minimum standard. Your greatest energy-savings opportunities can come from replacing an old appliance with an ENERGY STAR-rated model. Removing a refrigerator that’s 20 years old and replacing it with a new ENERGY STAR fridge can lower the monthly electricity cost by 75 percent, from $16.50 to less than $4.

In some cases, the configuration of the appliance can also make a substantial difference. For example, a side-by-side refrigerator/freezer uses about 70 percent more energy than other configurations — all the most-efficient models have the refrigerator stacked on top of the freezer. All 36 of the most-efficient clothes washers of 2018 are front-loading models.

Consider how much you use the appliance. The more you use the appliance, the greater your savings will be from choosing a more efficient model. If you use the appliance less or have a small household, you may get by with a smaller refrigerator or freezer, which will save you money.

How you operate appliances can also make a difference. Here are some easy ways to save:

Refrigerator/freezer:

  • Set your refrigerator at 35 to 38 degrees and your freezer at 0 degrees.
  • Make sure there is adequate airflow between the wall and the back of the unit.
  • Keep the refrigerator relatively full when possible.
  • Replace the seals around the doors if they appear to be leaking air.
  • Defrost the refrigerator and freezer regularly.

Stove/oven

  • Use the correct size of burner to fit the pan.
  • Use smaller appliances like a microwave or slow-cooker instead of the oven when possible.

Dishwasher

  • Use the most-energy-efficient and shortest setting that gets your dishes clean.
  • Air-dry dishes rather than using the heated-dry function.
  • Wait until the dishwasher is full to run a load.

To maximize energy savings when using your stovetop, be sure to match the size of the pot to the burner. Source: Pixabay, Creative Commons

Make the most out of your appliance energy use with a little research before buying a new model, and make a few easy adjustments to the way you use them.

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About Author

Partick J. Keegan

Patrick Keegan writes on consumer and cooperative affairs for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, the Arlington, Va.-based service arm of the nation’s 900-plus consumer-owned, not-for-profit electric cooperatives. He brings over 30 years of energy-related experience at the local, state, national, international, and non-profit level. His experience spans residential and commercial energy efficiency and renewables.

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