You can use three basic approaches to reduce your appliances’ energy usage: Reduce the run time of appliances, improve the energy efficiency of your existing appliances, and buy new appliances that are more energy efficient.
Reducing Run Time
It’s also possible to improve the efficiency of some appliances. Efficiency can often be increased by simple maintenance or by choosing the proper settings when using appliances.
The refrigerator is typically the biggest electricity user in the kitchen and is often the largest in the house. If your refrigerator is getting old, it’s probably worth replacing it with a new Energy Star model. New, efficient refrigerators use less than half the energy of standard models before 1993. If you are lucky enough to have a refrigerator that dates back to the 1970s or early 1980s and it still runs, take it to the recycle center. Even if it’s the spare in the basement or garage, the energy savings will pay for a brand-new unit in just a few years. And buy the smallest, simplest fridge that will meet your needs; large Energy Star models use more electricity than smaller ones; through-door ice and water also use energy. To keep any refrigerator running right, ensure adequate air circulation around the unit. Keep it a few inches away from the wall, and don’t box it in with cabinets. It’s a good idea to vacuum the grill periodically, but there is no evidence that vacuuming dust off the coils inside actually saves electricity. Make sure the door seals are tight, keep the unit away from heat sources (don’t put it next to the stove or dishwasher) and check the temperature setting. The refrigerator compartments should stay between 38°F and 42°F, and the freezer between 0°F and 5°F. If you have a power-saving switch, use it. Typically, the switch disables internal heaters that fight condensation; turn it off only if condensation occurs. Finally, keep refrigerators and freezers reasonably full; they are less efficient when they are nearly empty. Even more important, avoid the temptation to keep the old fridge in the garage or basement for overflow (or the odd six-pack). Buying a new, highly efficient refrigerator won’t save any energy if you keep the old one running! It’s a common mistake to assume that if the fridge is only keeping a few items cold it’s not working very hard. A refrigerator uses most of its energy keeping the inside of the box cold—even if it’s completely empty. If you can’t do without it, unplug the spare until you need it to stock up for that holiday gathering. One more buying tip: A manual-defrost chest freezer uses far less energy than an upright, auto-defrost unit. Modern, airtight chest freezers rarely need defrosting, and are less likely to damage food with freezer burn.
Washing clothes uses energy in three ways: Washers and dryers have motors that move clothes and water; washers use hot water, which is heated with gas or electricity; and dryers heat clothes to dry them out. When you do a load of laundry, pay attention to the washer settings. Always use a cold-water rinse, and use a warm or cold wash for loads when you can. A warm/ cold cycle uses about half as much total energy as a hot/cold cycle. Also, pay attention to the size of the load; fill, but don’t overload, the machine for best efficiency. If you do run a smaller load, set the wash level appropriately. The settings on your washer also affect drying time. Use the fastest spin setting whenever you can, to remove the most water.
For dryer efficiency, keep the lint filter clean, and check the outlet periodically for lint that may be clogging the vent. If your dryer hose is kinked, twisted, or too long, replace it with as short and direct a run as possible, preferably with a straight sheet-metal duct instead of a flexible vinyl or aluminum duct. Try to run several loads in succession to take advantage of retained heat, and fill, but don’t overload, the machine. Of course, if the weather’s good, you can also dry clothes outside on a line.
Front-loading clothes washers use less water and less energy and are easier on your clothes. Photo Credit: John Curtis
You can minimize dishwasher energy by paying attention to the settings. Don’t use the “Heavy” or “Pots and Pans” cycle unless you really need to. A fast scraping or rinsing of dishes with cold water (especially starchy stuff) does help the dishwasher do a better job, so you can use the “Light” setting. But always use cold water for pre-rinsing. Use a premium dishwasher detergent, and let the dishwasher do the job it’s designed for: cutting grease. Wait until the machine is full before using it: It uses the same amount of energy whether you wash one dish or thirty. Many new dishwashers have sensors that stop the machine as particulates in the water clear (indicating that the dishes are clean). If you don’t have to take the dishes out right away, you can run the machine with the “Air-Dry” setting (sometimes called “Energy Saver”).
It’s okay to use the dishwasher: In fact, research shows that even careful hand washing uses more hot water and soap than a modern dishwasher. And today’s very efficient dishwashers are reasonably priced—there are Energy Star–rated dishwashers at every point in the price spectrum.
Smart shopping for new appliances
There are two basic approaches to making the lights in your home more efficient: eliminate unnecessary usage and use the most efficient products available. Many of us heard the message “turn off lights when you’re not using them” while we were growing up. Of course, how much light you need is a matter of eyesight and personal taste. Turning off a light isn’t always a practical solution, except when you leave the room—then there’s no excuse. One of the best ways to eliminate unnecessary light usage is with controls. Regularly used indoor lights can be put on timers or occupancy sensors so they aren’t left on for hours when no one is using them. Exterior walkway and security lighting can be put on a combination of timers, motion sensors, or photocell controls to minimize their use while ensuring that they are on whenever needed. And with the wide range of today’s home automation products, there are lots of ways to set up your lighting with presets so that it meets your needs. Then you can change it (so it’s optimized for a different purpose) with the press of a button on your phone, or a comment to a digital assistant.
LED lighting technology is developing rapidly. In just a few years, a number of good-quality LEDs have become available and prices are competitive with more conventional efficient lights. The products will keep getting better, and prices will continue to drop, over the next few years at least. LEDs are fundamentally different than other light sources. An LED is a semiconductor—basically, a tiny computer chip—that generates light. LEDs have been around for decades in electronic equipment displays and status lights, but by nature a single LED generates a focused point-source of light in a single, saturated color such as red, yellow, or blue. Getting an LED to look like an incandescent bulb is a challenge; most manufacturers combine many LEDs of different colors to approximate warm, yellow-white light and to disperse the light in a useful pattern. . One tip; if you want to use dimmable LEDs, make sure you have an LED-compatible dimmer. For best results, find dimmable lamps that stay “warm” or even become warmer when dimmed.
There are many types of LED light on the market today, including products that dim to a warm color to mimic standard incandescent bulbs. Photo Credit: Art Evans