September 16, 2014

Shopping for Energy Efficient Appliances

Here’s a great line I just read at bhrealestate.com

Every appliance has two prices: the sticker price, and the one you pay to run the appliance year-round.

When purchasing a new appliance, buyers might be tempted to buy the unit with the lowest sale price while ignoring the long term costs of running it.

Choosing a highly energy efficient appliance can save more money than the additional purchase difference and if used long enough, add to your savings. According to Energy Star, the organization the certifies the efficiency of appliances, in 2007, Americans bought enough ENERGY STAR appliances to limit emissions equivalent to green house gases from 27 million cars — all the while saving $16 billion on their utility bills, or roughly one-third their annual utility cost.

Look for machines that have earned the ENERGY STAR label, meaning they have met strict energy-efficiency guidelines. It’s also important to check the bright yellow EnergyGuide labels on appliances to see consumption rates for that model expressed in annual kilowatt hours and the approximate annual cost of running the appliance.

The article also offered some helpful shopping tips:

Refrigerators – Next to your furnace and water heater, your refrigerator uses the most energy in your home, so make sure a new fridge suits your needs. If it’s too large, you’ll waste energy cooling phantom food; too small may simply be inconvenient. Models with freezers on the top or bottom are more efficient than those with freezers on the side.

Stoves – Cooking habits should determine which is best for you. While the design and price of today’s gas and electric stoves are similar, gas stoves require less energy for stovetop cooking. If you do a lot of baking or oven use, however, the electric stove is a better option.

Clothes Washers – According to the EPA, Horizontal-axis washers (front loaders) use 50 percent less energy, less water and less soap. This translates into savings on average of about $95 a year for the average household

Clothes Dryers – ENERGY STAR does not label dryers since most consume the same amount of energy. Do, however, try to buy one with a moisture sensor that will automatically shut off the dryer when your clothes are dry, rather than completing the cycle.

Air Conditioners – Ensure correct size for your room and go for energy efficiency. If it’s cooling a sunny room, consider increasing capacity by 10 percent.

Natural gas and oil systems
– Look for the Federal Trade Commission EnergyGuide label with an Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency (AFUE) rating. This measures the seasonal annual efficiency (ENERGY STAR furnaces have a 90 AFUE rating or above).

The added initial cost of energy efficient appliances may seem high, but the savings show up over time and they are gentler on the environment.

More Consumers Choosing Energy Efficiency

The cost of running a household has always been the biggest part of most family budgets. As utility costs have risen, that cost keeps going up too. One way to decrease monthly utility bills is to use less water and energy on daily household tasks. More and more consumers are replacing their old, top-loading washers wih high efficiency (HE) front-loading models.  LGworld.com  reports:

While consumers have warmed to energy efficiency only gradually, the trend is increasingly evident with household appliances. Overall U.S. sales by appliance manufacturers fell to $23.4 billion last year and continue to slump as fewer homes are built in a tight economy, but energy-efficient models account for a growing share.

In a reflection of increased consumer demand as well as manufacturers’ innovations, 55 percent of the major appliances shipped to stores and distributors in the first half of 2008 carried the government’s Energy Star rating for high energy efficiency — up from just under 50 percent a year earlier, according to the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers.

Manufacturers don’t break out sales of Energy Star appliances separately, but they total in the billions. Sales of washing machines alone accounted for $3.6 billion in 2007, and much of that was in front-loading washers.

Demand for front-loaders at Abt Electronics, a major retailer in Glenview, Ill., is up about 60 percent this year, according to general manager Marc Cook.

“People come in and their first question is, ‘Should I switch to a front-loader?”’ Cook said. “They like the technology, and when you sweeten it by saying they’ll be using less water and energy, then it closes the deal in their mind.”

Front-loaders and advanced top-loaders typically use only one-third the water of a conventional top-loader, using sophisticated wash systems to flip or spin clothes through a reduced amount of water while also dramatically decreasing the amount of hot water used.

In addition, enhanced motors spin clothes two to three times faster during the spin cycle to extract more water, reducing moisture in clothes and resulting in less time and energy in the dryer.

Look for the label

What energy-conscious buyers need to know most is to look for the yellow Energy Star label, which means a product is among approximately the top 25 percent of all product models in energy efficiency.

Energy Star is a 16-year-old joint program of the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Energy designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through energy efficiency. It provides labels for qualifying products in more than 50 categories — from televisions to light bulbs to furnaces to clothes washers.

The label guarantees three things, according to program spokeswoman Maria Vargas: That the product is more energy-efficient than a conventional product — delivering the same or better performance using less energy; that it’s a cost-effective purchase that will pay for itself in five years or less; and that there’s no sacrifice in performance.

Shoppers should also check products’ EnergyGuide labels required by the Federal Trade Commission. The labels provide an estimate of the product’s energy consumption and show comparisons with similar models.

An Energy Star-qualified clothes washer uses 15 to 25 gallons of water per load compared with 30 to 35 gallons by a standard machine, saving more than 7,000 gallons of water a year. Combined with lower electricity costs, the government says the machine can save the user $550 in operating costs over its lifetime compared to a regular clothes washer.

Costs to consider

That can be welcome relief from increasingly burdensome household energy costs.

The average U.S. household will spend about $2,350 this year on energy costs, up from $2,100 in 2007, according to the Alliance to Save Energy, an energy information clearinghouse in Washington, D.C. Roughly a quarter of that is from appliances.

Of course, the added efficiency comes at a cost. Front-loaders can run $400 to $500 more than regular washers, with good-quality machines running $1,000 or more.

That’s not only due to the increased energy and water efficiency but also other innovations such as remote monitoring, use of steam for wrinkle reduction, reduced noise and vibration and bigger washing capacity.

“People want larger capacity, but they also want energy efficiency,” said Paul Dougherty, manager of a Grand Appliance chain store in Zion, Ill. “Two years ago they weren’t asking about that too often.”

Buying a Washing Machine?

If you are looking for a new washing machine, you’ve probably asked yourself these questions – Top loader or front? How can I be sure to buy an energy efficient washer? We’ll try to answer those and some others with help from the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) site on consumer protection.

To help consumers see just how energy-efficient a washing machine is, the Federal Trade Commission requires manufacturers to post an EnergyGuide label on their appliances. The Guide shows how each model measures up — energy-wise — to others of the same size.

With front-loaders now more widely available for purchase in the U.S., the FTC has decided to require manufacturers to provide information that will compare all washing machines of a certain size (either “standard” or “compact”) with others of the same size, regardless of whether they are loaded from the top or the front. The label change is expected to alert consumers to highly energy-efficient clothes washers and spur competition among U.S. manufacturers. Front-loaders, which have been popular for years in Europe, generally are considered more energy efficient than top-loaders, although they usually are more expensive, too.

Most washing machines sold in the U.S. are top-loaders. They wash the clothes with an agitator that turns on a vertical axis. The tub also spins the clothes dry on a vertical axis. Front-loaders work by tumbling the clothes and then spin-drying them in a tub that rotates on a horizontal axis.

There are some exceptions: One manufacturer makes a horizontal-axis machine that loads from the top, and another company sells a machine with an axis that is between vertical and horizontal.

Typically, front-loaders use less water — from one-third to one-half the amount that top-loaders require. The clothes tumble in the tub, rising above the water and then falling back into it as the tub rolls on its side. Because less water is used, less gas or electricity is required to heat the water; because the machines spin faster, clothes get wrung out more completely, reducing the cost of running a clothes dryer.

Horizontal-axis washers (front-loaders) have one major drawback: They can cost more than vertical-axis machines. Still, with the energy savings they provide, front-loaders may save you money in the long run. In some areas of the U.S., utility companies, environmental groups and government agencies help sweeten the deal by offering incentives to consumers who buy front-loaders. At the same time, there are many highly efficient top-loaders available, too. Use the EnergyGuide to find efficient products at the price that’s right for you
The bright yellow-and-black EnergyGuide label helps consumers factor an appliance’s energy consumption or efficiency and its annual operating cost into their purchasing decision. The law requires manufacturers to place the label on most major appliances so that consumers will see it when they are considering various models.

The EnergyGuide for clothes washers uses kilowatt-hours (a measure of electricity use) to tell how much energy each appliance uses in a year and compares the appliance with other appliances of the same or similar size. The range on the label — where the appliance’s energy use is on a continuum — is of particular benefit to consumers: A marker shows where the particular model falls in the range and how it stacks up against the competition.

The EnergyGuide also gives the estimated cost per year to run the particular model when it is used with an electric water heater and with a natural gas water heater.

Once you’ve bought your washer and had it installed, you’ll want to use it as efficiently as possible the FTC has tips there too:

  • If possible, wash one big load rather than two small ones.
  • Load the washer to capacity.
  • If you must wash smaller loads, select lower water levels, if possible.
  • Use cold water rinses.
  • Use lower temperature settings and pre-treat or pre-soak stains or heavily soiled clothing.
  • Use the recommended amount and type of detergent.
  • Set the thermostat on your water heater to no higher than 120 degrees Fahrenheit.