November 22, 2014

Truth in Appliance Energy Labeling

Those yellow energy guide labels we all rely on to pick energy efficient appliances, have come under scrutiny from the US Department of Energy (DOE). As we wrote about in November, manufacturers covet the EnergyStar label and use the yellow sticker to entice buyers.

Those labels may not be as accurate as you think. A review of previous filings for the labels found instances of missing or incorrect information.

The DOE addressed the problem this month by giving manufacturers 30 days to provide accurate information on their products’ energy use. Also, it promised to take a tougher stance to enforce energy-efficiency standards.

The agency said makers of such products as refrigerators, dishwashers and air conditioners have until Jan. 8 to provide the information, which is primarily used to certify that the appliances meet minimum energy-efficiency standards

Use Your Appliances to go Green in the Kitchen – Plus a Few Other Helpful Suggestions

Another Earth Day has passed us and just as we make resolutions on New Year’s Day, you might have planned to change your energy wasting ways. Those New Year’s resolutions are difficult to maintain, because we often try to do too much. Making just a few small changes is helpful and can be the key to lasting change.
Lisa Abraham at Ohio.com has compiled her tips for saving energy in the kitchen. They include being creative when using kitchen appliances and modifying some eating habits.

Limit the time the stove/oven is used

Never light the oven or turn on a burner when a small appliance will do the job. Microwave ovens, toaster ovens, electric griddles, panini makers and, yes, even a slow cooker all consume less energy than a traditional gas or electric stove.

Consistently using these small appliances can make a huge difference in your energy consumption, Jackie Newgent a dietitian, cooking instructor and cookbook author of the newly released Big Green Cookbook (Wiley, 2009). said. Even though slow cookers are typically on for hours at a time, they will burn less energy than a traditional oven to prepare the same dish, such as a roast.

Look for ways to lessen the amount of time the oven and burners are on. When cooking pasta, Newgent recommends using skinny varieties, like angel hair, that will cook more quickly. She also uses a method she dubs ”lid cooking” to turn the stove off sooner.

Newgent brings a pot of water to a boil, adds her pasta and brings it up to a boil again. But then she turns the heat off, puts a lid on the pot, and lets the pasta finish cooking from the heated water.

When baking something, turn the oven off five minutes before the item is done and allow the residual heat in the oven to finish the job, she said.

Consider making one meal each week that doesn’t require using the stove at all, such as a salad.

Eat more fruits and vegetables, less meat

Newgent suggests eating one meatless meal per week. It requires more energy to produce meat than vegetables and fruits. Cutting meat out of just one meal per week can lead to significant energy savings over a year, she said.

That salad fits in well here. Think of it as a chance to be a more adventurous eater.

Run an energy-efficient kitchen

While new major kitchen appliances may not be in the budget for many homeowners, most would see an immediate savings on electric bills with the conversion.

Refrigerators should be away from sunlight and heat sources, like ovens. The warmer the environment, the harder the appliance will have to work and the more energy it will use.

Refrigerators also need breathing room — at least two or three inches of open space between the coils and the wall behind them to allow for better air circulation. Keeping refrigerator coils clean of dirt, dust and pet hair also will improve performance.

The harder an appliance has to work, the faster it will wear out.

Constantly opening and closing the refrigerator causes it to lose cold air. The same goes for the oven — keep the door closed as much as possible while in use to keep the hot air inside.

Gas stoves typically are less expensive to run than electric ones.

Always have the dishwasher fully loaded before running, and consider scraping your dishes instead of rinsing them before loading, to save on water.

Newgent also noted that when cooking outdoors, choose a gas grill over charcoal because gas emits less carbon into the atmosphere.

Here is a sample recipe from Jackie Newgent’s Big Green Cookbook:

CITRUS CREAM OF CAPELLINI

13/4 tsp. sea salt, or to taste
12 oz. whole wheat capellini or angel hair pasta
1/2 cup organic heavy cream
1 tbsp. unsalted organic butter
Juice and zest of 1 lemon (about 3 tbsp. juice)
1/4 tsp. freshly ground black or white pepper, or to taste
1/3 cup freshly grated organic or locally produced Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1/3 cup raw pine nuts (optional)

Bring 6 cups fresh water and 3/4 teaspoon of the salt to a boil in a large saucepan over high heat. Add the pasta and return to a boil. Cover and turn off the heat. Let the pasta ”lid cook” (cook covered while the burner is off) until it is al dente, about 6 minutes. Drain the pasta, reserving 1/2 cup of the cooking liquid.

Place the drained pasta back into the dried saucepan and set over medium-high heat. Stir in the cream, butter, lemon juice and zest. Cook while stirring until the pasta is hot, about 1 minute. For a thinner sauce, add the reserved pasta cooking water. Add remaining salt and pepper.

Pour the pasta into a serving bowl or serve directly from the saucepan. Sprinkle with the cheese and parsley. Top with the pine nuts, if using, and serve.

Makes 6 servings, 1 cup each.

Be Frugal and Eco-Friendly?

Appliance makers are attuned to the changing attitudes of consumers. Manufacturers are marketing their appliances not only as green, but as cost saving as well.  According to the Wall Street Journal and Yahoo, appliance manufacturers are pushing the financial savings because their eco-friendly green appeal alone may otherwise be a hard sell in a recession. But energy-efficient gadgets are also becoming more attractive because the price difference between them and traditional devices is narrowing.  Whirlpool now offers Energy Star-rated models of its Classic washers and dryers, which are priced between $549 and $679 and are generally cheaper than its other lines.

More appliance makers are trying to quantify exactly how much energy and how many dollars people can save in the long run. “If they can see in black and white that there is a cost savings involved, they are more inclined to buy it,” says Mark Delaney, director of the home-industry sector at NPD Group, a market research firm.

The cost savings don’t usually amount to much in the short term. And many families may not see the kinds of savings that the companies promise. That is because company estimates make certain assumptions, such as how long the new product lasts, how old your previous appliances were, and whether you are using the latest gadget with other energy- or water-efficient devices under the same brand name.

Government rebates can add to the savings, however. At least 15 states — Colorado, Arizona and Illinois are examples — have rebate programs for Energy Star appliances, according to the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers. The programs are often offered through utility companies. For instance, Pacific Gas & Electric Co. in California offers rebates of up to $75 for washers and up to $50 for dishwashers and room air conditioners for certain Energy Star-designated models.

And more rebate programs may be on the way. The stimulus bill recently passed by the U.S. House of Representatives includes $300 million to fund such rebates. If the provision is a part of the final bill signed into law, it would allow more states to adopt similar programs for consumers who want to replace older appliances, says Jill Notini, spokeswoman for the home-appliance trade group.

To be sure, manufacturers are continuing to unveil appliances that simply contain eco-friendly features and have green appeal. Whirlpool, for instance, is rolling out a Resource Saver refrigerator in March for $2,099. It exceeds federal energy-efficiency standards by 30% and uses energy comparable to the amount required to power a 60-watt light bulb, Whirlpool says. The company also released last Sept. a dishwasher priced at $799 that saves consumers 4,300 more gallons of water a year compared to hand-washing, Whirlpool says. 

So,  take the time to shop around, and compare not only prices, but the long-term cost savings that can come from using an energy efficient appliance over a number of years.

Save Energy and Save Money or Not?

Energy costs are going up and we’re surrounded by warnings of global warming.  What’s a conscien-tious consumer to do?  Buy an energy efficient appliance of course.

From washing machines that use steam instead of hot water, to refrigerators that use low-energy compressors, to low-power computer screens, electronics companies are furiously developing energy-efficient products and heavily promoting lines already on the market that use less electricity than competitors’ brands.

Homemakers are increasingly buying front-load washing machines, which use gravity to move water instead of agitators as in top loaders.

And now, new washers from LG Electronics and Whirlpool offer an option to use steam instead of hot water, cutting water and power use by more than 70 percent compared with some top-load models.

LG expects 4 out of 10 front-load washers it sells in North America to use steam technology by the end of this year, compared with 2 out of 10  currently.

Their biggest appliance plant in South Korea makes mostly front loaders, while recently built plants like one in Russia have stopped manufacturing top loaders altogether.

Among refrigerators, which consume 30 percent of overall power in a typical home, traditional compressors are giving way to linear compressors that use up to 40 percent less power and make less noise.

In the computing industry, power-saving has long been a key priority as bigger and hungrier gadgets challenge battery life.  PC makers from Apple to the Lenovo Group are replacing screens lit by conventional cold cathode fluorescent lamps with light emitting diode (LED) displays.  “LED saves up to 40 percent of the power used in traditional backlights,” said Jeff Kim, an analyst at Hyundai Securities. “Next year they will be commonly found in notebook screens, and will be increasingly used in TV panels from 2010.”

But too often, these energy-efficient products carry a hefty price premium to reflect the cost of developing new technologies, which in turn hampers faster adoption.  For instance, Whirlpool’s washing machines with steam are sold at $1,300 to $1,500, compared with a traditional machine priced at $700.  Still, makers argue that the lifetime savings from green products could amount to the price of the appliance itself.

Sometimes a little incentive helps.

The Japanese electronics retailer Bic Camera is running a campaign in which buyers of eco-friendly products get extra credit points that can be used for future purchases. “That’s a little nudge to help people buy products that are more efficient, even if they are slightly more expensive,” said Naoko Ito, a Bic Camera spokeswoman. “Consumer interest is high.”

Is it Time to Replace Your Old Appliances?

If you’ve been thinking about whether it is time to replace your aging appliances, or if you are wondering whether you could be saving the big bucks in energy costs if you had an all new suite of kitchen appliances,  Alina Tugend at the New York Times has some thoughts to share.

One of the first thoughts I have about replacing an older, working appliance that whether “besides the money, is this really a good idea environmentally, to get rid of an appliance that is operating just fine to buy another one, even if it does have better energy standards?”

“It takes energy to make a product,” said Noah Horowitz, senior scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “You don’t want to replace perfectly good products.”

He gave his rule of thumb for refrigerators.

“If it’s avocado or brown-colored, it’s time to retire it,” he said. Refrigerators from the 1970s, the last time I believe those particular appliance colors were in vogue, use three to four times the power of today’s models.

A spokeswoman from the Environmental Protection Agency, which oversees the Energy Star program along with the Department of Energy,says that, generally, any appliance over 15 years old probably should be put out to pasture. The good news is that about 80 percent of a refrigerator or a clothes washer is recyclable.

Getting rid of an old appliance “is not without some environmental impact, but because so much can be recycled and reused, if you have a guzzler, you’re better off sending it to the landfill,” said Jennifer Amann, a senior associate at the nonprofit American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy.

Try to find a place that will pick up your old refrigerator for recycling, either the company you are buying your new one from or see if your state or local government has a recycling program.

Even if they are brought to the landfill, Ms. Amann says, most of the appliances’ parts are then recycled, because they take up too much space.

What environmentalists do not want you to do is place the old one in the garage to hold two six-packs of beer. If you really need it, Mr. Horowitz suggested, leave it unplugged until, say, holiday time when you need the extra space for those pumpkin pies.

And do not resell it. Retiring the energy-inefficient model is the best thing to do.

Clothes washers and dishwashers have pretty much the same criteria as refrigerators — they have become much more energy-efficient. So if yours is inching toward 15 years, consider replacing it.

For clothes washers, the new front-loader models use much less water and spin clothes dry much more thoroughly, so you are spending less time — and power — drying.

I also learned something interesting about washing dishes. Unless you are an extremely frugal hand dishwasher, you are certainly using more water hand-washing dishes than a dishwasher does, Ms. Amann said. And with a newer model, do not even pre-rinse by hand.

“A good dishwasher can use just four to seven gallons of water to wash a full load of dishes,” she said. If you do not have a full load, but are afraid the food will get stuck on, a good feature is rinse and hold, which uses less than a gallon of water.

 

Although clothes dryers are big energy suckers, there is not much that can be done to make them less wasteful. So just hang onto yours until it gives up the ghost. One good feature of newer models is a moisture sensor, so the dryer stops when clothes are dry.

The federal government does not issue Energy Stars for dryers, because there is not much difference in energy use among the models.

As we move toward summer, it is a good time to replace an ailing central air-conditioner. New federal standards just started two years ago. But if you are keeping your old one, check to see if the ducts are leaking. You can waste about 30 percent of energy through leaking ducts, Mr. Horowitz said.

Window-box air-conditioners  are inexpensive enough that it is worth swapping an old one for an Energy Star model. The more recent ones also have a thermostat that will shut off the air-conditioner when the room gets cool enough. Sometimes the local utility company will pick up old boxes through an “early retirement program.”

So if you are planning to use that window air conditioner to keep cool this summer, check its age.  You might want to add it to the list along with the new suite.