The Energy Issue: This Year's Model

Replacing your old appliances could save you some serious dough
by Samantha Wittchen

When it comes to energy hogs, large appliances are second only to your home’s major mechanical systems. According to the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, appliances like refrigerators, dishwashers, washing machines and dryers make up 13 percent of your annual energy bill. Upgrading your appliances to more efficient models is one of the easiest ways to shave some bucks off your monthly costs.

The government makes it easy to find energy-efficient appliances with its Energy Star rating system—products earn an Energy Star label if they meet energy efficiency requirements. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sets these specifications and periodically revises them when the market share of Energy Star-qualified products in any one category (i.e. air conditioners, refrigerators, dishwashers, washing machines) exceeds 50 percent. Visit energystar.gov for more information.

With the dog days of summer upon us, window air conditioners are ideal items to replace with more efficient models. Energy Star-qualified air conditioners use 10 percent less energy than other units. When looking for a new air conditioner, make sure you check out the yellow EnergyGuide that’s required on all appliances. It tells you the estimated yearly operating costs of the unit—based on the nation’s average electricity rate—as well the estimated yearly electrical use. This goes for any appliance you’re considering, not just an air conditioner.
The other important consideration when replacing your air conditioner is choosing one that’s the right size for your space. Many people choose an air conditioner that’s too big, which leads to a decrease in effectiveness and an increase in energy usage. Calculate the square footage of your cooling area and choose a unit with the proper capacity. Energy Star provides a handy chart on their website.

Dishwashers don’t burn as much energy, but purchasing a new one can still generate savings. If your dishwasher was built before 1994, it’s costing you an extra $40 per year. It’s also wasting about eight gallons of water per cycle. As with refrigerators, choose a new one that’s the right size for you. If you have a one- to two-person household, you might be able to go with a compact-capacity model instead of a standard-capacity model. Just remember, if you run the compact-capacity model more often, you might use more energy over the dishwasher’s lifetime than you would with a standard model.

Of the appliances you use year-round, your refrigerator should be the first target for an upgrade. (For information on recycling your old fridge, see page 15). Of all large appliances, refrigerators use the most energy. But, because of improvements in insulation and compressor technology, new refrigerators use a whole lot less than older models. According to the Energy Star website, replacing a fridge from the ’80s with an Energy Star model will save you at least $100 a year on electricity bills. Replace a model from the disco era? That number jumps to almost $200 per year.

Considerations for refrigerators are size and functionality. The bigger the refrigerator, the more energy it uses. Consider how much space you actually need and purchase accordingly—16 to 20 cubic feet models are generally the most efficient. Energy Star also reports that refrigerators with top-mounted freezers use 10 to 25 percent less energy than their bottom-mount or side-by-side counterparts. And those convenient automatic icemakers and door dispensers add 14 to 20 percent to the energy usage. Get yourself a few ice cube trays instead.

If your washing machine is more than 10 years old, you could save $135 a year on energy bills by switching to a new Energy Star model. Again, size the washer appropriately for your household and choose a model with a high Modified Energy Factor (MEF). The MEF measures energy efficiency by combining energy used by the washer, energy used to heat the water and energy used to run the dryer into a single number—the higher the number, the more efficient the machine. Energy Star does not rate dryers because energy usage doesn’t vary much from model to model, but they do recommend purchasing a dryer with a moisture sensor that shuts the machine off when clothes are dry and prevents over-drying.

The added bonus of upgrading now is that PECO is offering rebates. A new Energy Star refrigerator will get you $75, and a new washing machine, $100. Other appliances, including dishwashers, dehumidifiers and air conditioners, also qualify. For details on the program, as well as qualifying products and rebate forms, visit PECO’s Smart Home Rebate website at pecosmartideas.com.