Energy adviser: Researching new appliances reaps long-term savings

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If you like to make informed purchases when shopping for home appliances — and who doesn’t? — information available online may be of help. The trick is to sort reliable websites with unbiased information from those promoting brand-name products that may be misleading.

New energy-efficient appliances, from dishwashers to refrigerators, represent about 20 percent of your total household energy bill. Wise purchases and careful use can mean significant savings each year, the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy says.

The council estimates that if each of us increased the energy-efficiency of our major appliances by 10 percent to 30 percent, we would reduce the demand for electricity by the equivalent of 25 power plants nationwide.

To get started with appliance research, http://www.clarkpublicutilities.com offers a list of general “Energy Saving Tips” and a Home Energy Calculator meant to show how and where you can achieve the greatest energy savings. Once you have the basics, be prepared to read a lot of labels and make comparisons in terms of capacity, quality, efficiency and purchase price of the appliances you are considering buying.

The Federal Trade Commission’s Energy Guide labels show the highest and lowest energy consumption or efficiency estimates of similar appliance models. Some appliances also carry an Energy Star label from the U.S. Department of Energy, indicating that the model is at least 10 percent more efficient than the government standards for that particular appliance. Comparison charts at http://www.ftc.gov show energy consumption per year in kilowatt hours by appliance brand name, model number and capacity. (Use the site search box to find appliance charts).

Dishwashers

Dishwasher technology has made great strides in the past 10 years.

Around 80 percent of the energy used by a dishwasher goes to heat water. So when buying a dishwasher, look for energy efficient models with low-water consumption. Appliance energy data at http://ftc.gov shows that top-ranked models are sold under many brand names. Prices vary from $200 to state-of-the-art $2,000 models. Choose models offering multiple wash options and low-heat or air-dry features, which can mean energy savings of 15 to 50 percent over a regular cycle.

Microwave and toaster ovens

Using a microwave instead of a conventional oven can save one-half to one-third the energy. But you are on your own when it comes to energy comparisons. Microwaves do not have an Energy Star rating.

Experts generally note that smaller microwaves are more energy-efficient than larger models. The FTC suggests you know your wattage. Compact microwaves are rated at 600 to 800 watts. Midsize and large ovens are rated at 850 to 1,650 watts. Sensors can help reduce cooking times and cook food more efficiently.

When cooking small meals, consider using a toaster oven for the same effect as a traditional oven with less energy use.

Refrigerators

If your kitchen refrigerator was made before 1993, it likely uses twice the energy used by new models, according to experts at http://EnergyStar.gov. Energy Star-qualified refrigerator models use at least 20 percent less energy than required by current federal standards.

If you are shopping for a new refrigerator, check the Clark Public Utilities website to learn about its recycling and rebate program.

Energy Adviser is written by Clark Public Utilities. Send questions to energyadviser@clarkpud.com or to Energy Adviser, c/o Clark Public Utilities, P.O. Box 8900, Vancouver, WA 98668.