Eco-Friendly Appliances: Should You Go Green?

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Story Updated: Feb 7, 2013

Today's home appliances are light years better than those of just a decade ago. Their superb energy-efficiency helps you create an eco-friendly home -- and they also save you money.

Many appliance manufacturers have partnered with the federal government in the Energy Star program, which makes it easy to identify energy-efficient home appliances. When shopping for a new appliance, you'll see the purchase price and a yellow EnergyGuide label, which lists the energy rating for that particular item and compares its operating cost with similar models. This number could mean the appliance is anywhere from 10 to 50 percent more energy efficient than traditional versions.

Nearly 20 percent of a household's energy use comes from appliances, which means buying eco-friendly machines could save you upwards of $80 a year, based on the samples below. But you'll pay more upfront for most eco-friendly appliances -- so is it worth it to go green? Here's a comparison.

FRIDGES AND FREEZERS

Green versions are about 15 percent more energy efficient than their conventional counterparts because they have more precise temperature and defrost controls, better insulation and high-efficiency compressors, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

To make sure you're saving money, buy the right size fridge or freezer for your family. Using a model that's too large won't save you as much if you can't keep it filled. And to save even more, use freezer trays instead of the icemaker. A model with an automatic ice dispenser can use 20 percent more electricity to cycle on and off.

Lastly, don't look for the Energy Star label alone; efficiency standards vary by refrigerator type, say the experts at Consumer Reports. A top-freezer that isn't Energy Star-qualified might actually be more efficient than a side-by-side unit with the label. For an apples-to-apples comparison, use the annual operating costs and the kilowatt-hours per year the refrigerator uses, which are listed on the EnergyGuide.

Traditional: Frigidaire 20.5 cubic feet with top freezer
Price:
$819.99
Estimated Yearly Electricity Use:
509 kWh

Energy Star: Frigidaire 20.6 cubic feet with top freezer
Price:
$1,149.99
Estimated Yearly Electricity Use:
356 kWh
Estimated savings per year:
$38

DISHWASHERS

Dishwashers with an Energy Star label are, on average, about 10 percent more energy efficient and 20 percent more water efficient than standard models, according to the EPA.

These dishwashers have "smart" sensors that tailor the machine's cycle length and water temperature. They also have energy-efficient motors and efficient washing action to get dishes clean. This is good news, since the average household runs its dishwasher four times a week, for a total of more than 200 times per year. An Energy Star -qualified dishwasher will save an average 1,900 gallons of water over its lifetime.

Traditional: Westinghouse 24-inch
Price:
$229.99
Estimated Yearly Electricity Use:
330 kWh
Estimated Yearly Operating Cost:
$35 with electric water heater / $24 with natural gas water heater

Energy Star: Whirlpool 24 inch
Price:
$329.99
Estimated Yearly Electricity Use:
282 kWh
Estimated Yearly Operating Cost:
$30 with electric water heater / $24 with natural gas water heater

CLOTHES WASHER

Full-sized washers that have Energy Star labels use about 35 percent less water and about 20 percent less energy than conventional models, says the EPA. A green washing machine also saves 700 kWh of electricity, more than 2 million BTUs of natural gas, 27,000 gallons of water and approximately $315 over its lifetime, according to the EPA.

Green washing machines need less detergent to get clothes clean and extract more water from laundry during the spin cycle, so you can also cut time and costs for drying, too.

Traditional:
GE 3.7 cubic feet top load

Price: $449.99
Estimated Yearly Electricity Use:
477 kWh
Estimated Yearly Operating Cost:
$51 with electric water heater / $29 with natural gas water heater

Energy Star: Kenmore 3.6 cubic feet
Price:
$563.99
Estimated Yearly Electricity Use:
128 kWh
Estimated Yearly Operating Cost:
$14 with electric water heater / $9 with natural gas water heater

CLOTHES DRYER
There is no EnergyGuide labeling for clothes dryers because the basic construction hasn't changed much. Most clothes dryers use about the same amount of energy.

Where you need to make decisions is how the machine is powered and how it shuts off. Dryers dry via either gas or electricity. Gas dryers cost about $50 to $150 more than comparable electric models, say the experts at Consumer Reports, but you can save in the long run with lower fuel costs. They also found that dryers with a moisture sensor can save you money over dryers with a traditional thermostat. Because a moisture sensor is faster at recognizing when laundry is dry and shuts itself off, your clothes won't be damaged by unnecessary heat and you'll be using less energy in the process.

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