This time of the year, appliances can be a much-appreciated gift. But before you pick that new dishwasher, washer and dryer, or refrigerator this holiday season, consider these suggestions to make the most of your purchase. You could benefit for years to come in the form of lower energy bills.
Appliances really have two price tags. One is the purchase price posted on the appliance at the store. The other price is the operating cost paid out month after month, year after year, in the form of your electricity bill.
Take the example of a new refrigerator. Buy it today and 15 years from now it should still be operating. But at the end of its 15-year lifespan, you'll probably discover that you spent more running the refrigerator than you did buying it in the first place.
That's why it's important to consider the operating costs as well as the purchase price when you make your buying decisions.
How to tell if an appliance is efficient
Before you shop, it's a good idea to read articles and advertisements to find out about new technology and features. In addition, check out consumer magazines for information on product testing, reliability and repairs.
Many major household appliances - with the exception of electronic equipment like computers and VCRs - must meet federal or California standards for minimum energy efficiency. Several energy labels appear on appliances to help you make wise energy choices.
All EnergyGuide labels offer energy efficiency ratings, as well as the yearly energy cost to operate appliances like refrigerators. These figures help you compare competing brands and models of a similar size with similar features.
EnergyStar® labels appear on appliances that are the MOST energy efficient in their class. Look for them on dishwashers, clothes washers, refrigerators and freezers, televisions, DVD players, VCRs, home audio equipment, computers, FAX machines and copiers, lighting fixtures, air conditioners, furnaces, programmable thermostats, ventilating fans, cordless phones and other appliances if you're seeking the most energy efficient model among many choices.
What to look for in a new appliance
New appliances may come with all sorts of bells and whistles, but consider your family's needs before you purchase features that you might not use. Those special features often use extra energy.
Here are a few specific suggestions to help you choose energy efficient appliances this holiday season.
Compare EnergyGuide labels to see which model will use the least electricity.
Refrigerators with the freezer on either the bottom or top are more efficient than side-by-side designs. Top freezer models use between 10 percent and 25 percent less electricity than similar side-by-side models.
Through-the-door icemakers and water dispensers are convenient and reduce the need to open the door, which helps maintain a more constant temperature. However, these convenient items will increase your refrigerator's energy use by 10 to 20 percent!
Too large a refrigerator may waste space and energy. One that is too small can mean extra trips to the grocery store. Your best bet is to decide which size fits your needs, then compare the EnergyGuide label on each so you can purchase the most energy efficient make and model.
A manual defrost refrigerator uses half the energy of an automatic defrost model but must be defrosted regularly to stay energy efficient.
Dishwashers, too, have EnergyGuide labels that estimate how much electricity is needed per year to run the appliance and heat the water it uses. Ratings are based on washing six loads a week using the normal settings.
Look for dishwasher features like "energy-saving" and "short-wash" cycles. Using more efficient operating cycles helps you use less water and save energy.
A booster heater achieves the extra-hot temperatures needed for washing dishes without overheating the rest of your household water.
Choose a dishwasher that gives you heat-drying and air-drying options. Heat-drying elements use considerable energy; air-drying options use very little.
- Dishwashers are classified as compact capacity and standard capacity. Compact models use less energy, but they also hold fewer dishes. Having to use a compact dishwasher more often can result in greater energy use.
Clothes Washers and Dryers
EnergyGuide labels on clothes washers also estimate electricity use and water heating costs. Ratings are based on washing eight loads per week. Your actual cost will vary depending on usage.
If you use your washer frequently, consider purchasing a high-efficiency, low-water-use model. New front-loading, tumble-action washers can cut energy use by up to 40 percent. They can save you more than $475 in water and detergent over the life of the machine. Best of all, independent studies show they may actually get clothes cleaner.
High-speed spin cycles remove more water from fabrics, so less time and energy is needed for drying.
Look for energy-saving features like pre-soak, "suds saver," and cold water settings.
Clothes dryers do not have EnergyGuide labels. Unlike most other appliances, the energy consumption does not vary significantly from model to model. When shopping, however, keep these considerations in mind:
Gas dryers generally cost much less to operate than electric ones.
Look for a model with a moisture-sensor feature, which automatically turns the dryer off when clothes are dry. Not only will this save energy, it will save wear and tear on your clothes caused by over-drying.
A cool-down or "perma-press" cycle allows fabrics to "relax" without heat at the end of the cycle, which cuts energy usage.
Kitchen stoves and ovens
Ranges and ovens don't come with EnergyGuide labels. However, you can purchase an energy efficient model simply by keeping the following in mind:
Gas ranges and ovens generally cost much less to operate than electric ones.
Nearly half the cost of operating an older gas stove or oven goes toward keeping the pilot light burning. Newer models with electronically ignited pilot lights use energy only when needed.
Convection ovens use fans and an electric heating element to circulate heated air. This design allows food to be cooked on all racks, and reduces cooking time, temperature, and energy use.
Self-cleaning ovens are the most energy efficient for cooking because of added insulation. However, if you use the self-cleaning feature more than once a month, you'll end up using more energy than you'll save.
Several new types of burners are available for electric cook tops. Solid disk elements and radiant elements are easier to clean, but they take longer to heat up and use more electricity. Halogen or induction elements are more expensive than others, but can be up to 60 percent more efficient. (Only iron or steel pots and pans work on induction elements.)
Shop carefully for your new appliance this season and keep energy efficiency in mind. You'll truly give a gift that keeps on giving - energy savings, year after year.
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Timely tips on energy are on the Energy Commission's Consumer website at
Specific questions regarding other appliances may be emailed to the Energy Commission at