Consider long-term cost when buying appliances

Energy-efficient models are worth higher price

August 28, 2005|By Ken Sheinkopf | Ken Sheinkopf,KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

Q: We're remodeling our kitchen and will soon be shopping for new appliances. Do you think ones marked "energy-efficient" are worth their higher costs? Can we really save that much by buying efficient products?

A: You sure can.

Because the average homeowner spends more than $1,300 each year just to operate home appliances and lights, a number of states started setting up minimum appliance energy standards in the 1970s, leading to the National Appliance Energy Conservation Act in 1987 and the development of national energy standards for more home appliances and equipment.

The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that appliance standards have saved consumers billions of dollars in energy costs already - a figure expected to hit $58 billion by 2015.

Your home's refrigerator, stove, dishwasher, clothes washer and dryer are the major culprits in eating up about a quarter of your monthly energy usage. This is the major reason why energy experts urge all consumers to carefully consider the full costs of owning an appliance before buying one.

Consider a new refrigerator, for example. That product is going to be running 24 hours a day, every single day. Over time, in fact, the energy needed to operate it will exceed the price you paid for it. All products on the market in the U.S. meet established energy conservation standards, but many of them exceed these standards and will operate even more efficiently.

Here are some simple tips to help you make your next appliance purchase:

Consider the models with the "Energy Star" label. Depending on the type of appliance, these products exceed the minimum standards by at least 15 percent to 20 percent and are rated to be the most efficient in their class. For example, an Energy Star dishwasher uses 25 percent less energy than the federal minimum standard, and also uses less hot water than conventional models, saving both the cost of water and the energy to heat it.

Think about the product's features before making the purchase. If you don't think you'll really use that through-the-door ice dispenser or extra-large freezer section or automatic icemaker, why bother paying for it? It'll cost more to buy and more to operate.

Read the EnergyGuide label and buy a unit that is as efficient as you can afford. You'll probably end up keeping that appliance for 15 to 20 years, and over that time you'll be using energy to keep it going every day.

Buy an appliance that is sized to meet your needs. If you pay more for a model than is bigger than you need, you'll be paying more for electricity and water to keep it running. You'll also be putting more heat out of the unit's motor into your home, meaning more cost and effort to keep that area cool.

Appliance standards and labeling programs have made it easy to compare and select the most efficient appliances. When looking at the price tag, remember that the real cost will be the purchase price plus the maintenance costs plus the utility costs.

Energy tip: The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy publishes an online rating of the most energy-efficient home appliances, giving you the brand and model name as well as the annual energy use and energy cost. Visit their site at for their listings of the most efficient appliances.

You can find out more about Energy Star appliances at

Ken Sheinkopf is a communications specialist with the American Solar Energy Society ( Send your energy questions to askken@

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