Home appliances are the backbone of the American household, providing lighting, refrigeration, entertainment, heating and cooling, and washing and drying, just to name a few. As appliances have gotten more robust and sophisticated, so have their energy consumption.
Energy consumption throughout the world has skyrocketed over the past hundred years, and the way we use energy at home accounts for a lot of that spike. We’re put together a comprehensive guide to having energy efficient appliances in your home, so that you can save money and save the environment.
According to the U.S. Energy Administration, the share of residential electricity used by appliances and electronics in U.S. homes has nearly doubled from 17 percent to 31 percent over the past three decades. A recent Forbes article found that the average American family had 24 electronic products per household. All of these electronics and appliances use energy, and many of them use copious amounts of it.
Not all home appliances use energy equally, and understanding which appliances account for the lion share of energy use is a valuable place to start. High energy appliances typically are your air conditioner, water heater, washer and dryer, refrigerator, and dishwasher.
Cutting down on the energy your home appliance’s use starts with understanding how they use energy. Let's start there, and then we'll move on to talking about energy efficient appliances.
Some appliances require a lot of power to perform their duties, and typically are required to start-up quickly. For example, your water heater needs to provide hot water to you as instantly as possible. This combination of high and instant power draws a lot of energy, and sets these appliances apart from other home electronics that use a more modest amount.
Other appliances don’t necessarily have the quick start-up requirement, but need high heat to perform their duty. Examples of these appliances include your dishwasher and drying machine. The amount of energy necessary to put off this kind of consistent, sustaining heat is also substantial.
Finally, some of your appliances use energy even when they are not in use. This is often referred to as “vampire loads”, or more technically, standby power. Computers and gaming console’s are notorious for this.
While standby power use isn’t substantial, it is longstanding. It could be days in between using your computer, and the entire time, your computer is using small amounts of power to maintain it’s standby feature.
Using less energy is the fastest and easiest way to save your home appliance electricity load. By knowing which appliances use the most energy, you can focus your attention on these to have the greatest savings impact.
For starters, try pushing the temperature you set your home to by a few degrees. In the summer, rather than setting the temperature for 72-76 degrees, try 78 degrees. And, if you need, turn on a few fans in the house.
In the winter, rather than having the home set for 68-74 degrees, try 66 degrees and wear a sweater.
You can save about 10-15% of energy for every degree you adjust the setting. That is a substantial amount when you stop and think about it.
Additionally, in the summer, open your home up in the evenings when it cools down. This will lower the internal temperature of the house and make the next day’s cooling easier.
And, in the winter, open all of the blinds up on a sunny day, letting in as much light as possible. While minimal, it will help lessen the amount you need to run the heater.
Your washing machine uses the bulk of its power through heating water for the hot water cycles you run. Thus, try to lessen the amount you wash your clothes on hot.
Determine what needs to be washed on hot, and try to combine those into one load. When it doubt, wash on cold and you’ll save a lot of energy.
The dryer uses a lot of energy every time it is on. Most households arbitrarily set their dryer’s run time, and walk away. Often, dryers are running for a significant period of time after the clothes are already dry, and that wastes a lot of energy.
Spend some time measuring how long your dryer actually needs to run, depending on what you are drying. Jeans and towels will take longer, but you’d be surprised how quickly cotton shirts dry, for example.
Start setting your dryer based on the amount of time actually needed.
Experiment with quick-cycle dishwashing cycles. Often times, these are significantly shorter in their run time, and do almost as well in their cleaning. If you find the dishes come out a little dirty, try rinsing them before the dishwasher cycle the next time.
While rinsing prior might add a little bit of additional time, the quick cycle will save you a lot of energy.
Whenever possible, don’t use the Dry setting on the dishwasher. This utilizes a lot of heat in order to dry the dishes, which uses a lot of power. If you can, just let the dishes air dry.
Start by lowering the temperature on your water heater to 120 degrees. Similar to you’re thermostat, every 10 degree reduction in your water heater temperature will save you 3-5% on your water heating costs.
Additionally, insulate your water heater, and the first 5-10 feet of the hot and cold water pipes that are connected to the water heater. Your water heater has to keep water hot all the time, even when you’re not using it. Insulating the areas that it stores the hot water will help to lower your energy usage.
This is an aside, but you can also try taking shorter showers. I'll admit - this isn't my favorite choice, as I love a good, hot shower. But shorter showers will save you lots of energy.
Putting a focus on appliances that cut down on your energy usage will help save the environment while also saving you money. Energy efficient appliances are designed to not use an abundance of power.
In the last decade, there has been a strong focus on energy efficient appliances. These new appliances have been designed to use far less energy, many times so that they can meet new government standards.
Older appliances can often use a significantly higher amount of energy. First, because they are older, they are no longer operating as efficiently as when they were first released. Additionally, older appliances weren’t designed to save energy like their newer counterparts.
Try to eliminate all of your old appliances that aren't energy efficient. Chances are that second refrigerator you keep in the garage, or the vacuum cleaner that just hasn’t given out yet, is using a lot of electricity.
Not sure which type of vacuum is best? Often times vacuums with smaller motors will draw less power.
Look for appliances that receive the Energy Star certification. To be Energy Start certified, the appliance must meet strict energy performances set by the EPA. These appliances use less energy, are less expensive to operate, and cause fewer greenhouse gas emissions than their counterparts.
Buying Energy Star appliances is a safe and easy way to know that you are using the most energy efficient appliances that you can. Here is a list of the of most energy efficient appliances from Energy Star.
There are a lot of “smart” appliances on the market today designed to make your life easier, but a smart thermostat will also save you a lot of energy. A smart thermostat will learn your patterns, and save you energy when you are not in the house.
They can be set up to provide different amounts of heating and cooling to different parts of the house, at different times of day.
Given that your air conditioning and heating account for such a large percentage of your home energy use, a smart thermostat will provide high value for your home.
Smart outlets plug into the wall, and can be programmed to turn on and off. They can be turned on and off by your phone as well.
Related: The 5 Highest Rated Smart Home Accessories
Smart outlets are best used to help prevent energy use for standby power. For example, hook a smart outlet up by your computers. You can purchase just one smart outlet and then hook a power strip into it. Then, program the outlet to be off during the time you’re at work, or typically gone from the house, much like how a smart home security device would work.
TV’s and gaming consoles are designed to be quickly powered up when you turn them on, and this takes a decent amount of power to keep them in ready mode.
Consider hooking your TV and gaming units up to a power strip, and actually turning the power strip off when you’re not using the devices. Again, this will help save on “vampire loads” of energy use.
Research and determine if you really need the biggest and best appliance. Often times, a scaled back version of the appliance (that uses less energy) will suit your needs just fine. For example, many houses only need a robust and powerful stick vacuum, rather than a standard upright vacuum.
Nowadays, you can find lots of appliances that help you minimize your usage, and thus your electrical footprint. Half-size dishwashers, mini washing machines, smaller water heaters – the list goes on.
The trend for Edison-style light bulbs typically does not take into account energy use, as incandescent bulbs use a lot more energy than their fluorescent or LED counterparts.
LED lighting uses significantly less energy, and now comes in all shapes and sizes to fit your needs. If your home has a lot of lights, consider making the switch to LED lighting.
Outdoor lighting, especially market lights, can be very heavy on energy usage. Be conscious of the number of hours you have these on, and consider switching to solar-powered outdoor lighting.
Understanding how your home uses energy is the first step in cutting down on your electric footprint. There are number of ways you can save electricity in your home through energy efficient appliances, thus reducing your carbon footprint and eliminating harmful greenhouse emissions. And, by focusing on low energy appliances, you can carry this through for generations to come.
Allen Michael is the Founder and Editor of Home Viable, a website that he started to provide readers with tips on home efficiency and automation. He draws on his engineering background combined with his family-of-four experiences for his articles.