energy smarts: energy efficient appliances
Leona K. Hawks, Professor
Extension Specialist Housing & Environment
College of Natural Resources
Utah State University
Celia Peterson
Graduate Student
College of Natural Resources
The average American household spends more than
$1,500 per year on energy costs. New energy-saving
appliances can reduce this amount by at least 30%
(or $450 for the average household). For example, by
replacing a 20-year old refrigerator, it is possible to save
$85 per year on energy costs (EnergyStar, 2005). Not
only will you save electricity, but also reduce air pollution
and CO² emissions generated by coal fired power plants.
Major appliances can account for a large portion of your
monthly energy bill. If you have older appliances (over
10 years old), you are probably paying considerably more
per month in energy costs than necessary. To reduce these
costs, there are two options: replace the old appliance
with a new, energy-saving model, or practice energy
saving techniques to reduce energy consumption until
you can afford to buy a new one.
When thinking about replacing an old appliance, be
aware that some appliances can give you a faster payback
in reduced energy costs. This is especially true for
New appliances generally do not consume as much
energy as older models (see Table 1). This is because they
must meet certain Federal energy efficiency standards.
These standards have been tightened through the years, so
generally the newer models are more energy efficient than
the older models.
There are two important labels that will assist you in
evaluating the energy efficiency of an appliance, the
EnergyGuide label and the EnergyStar ® label. The
EnergyGuide is sponsored by the U.S. Department of
Energy and Federal Trade Commission. EnergyStar ®
is sponsored by the Environmental Protection Agency
(EPA) and U.S. Department of Energy. Look for these
labels when shopping for new appliances.
EnergyGuide. The law requires that the EnergyGuide
label specify the loading capacity of the particular
model, the estimated annual energy consumption of the
model, the energy efficiency rating (for air conditioners,
heat pumps, furnaces, boilers and pool heaters), and
the range of estimated annual energy consumption,
or energy efficiency ratings, of comparable appliances.
The EnergyGuide label gives two important pieces of
information you can use to compare different appliance
brands and models: 1) the estimated energy consumption
on a scale comparing similar models, and 2) the estimated
yearly operation cost (based on the national average cost
of electricity) (see Figure 1).
Fact Sheet 1 • Page 1
July 1, 2005
Average Annual Operating Cost
Table 1. New Appliances Cost Less to Operate
1972 models
1984 models
2005 models*
Sources: authors, adapted from Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers and American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, 2004
*Refrigerator (Kenmore Top Freezer, auto defrost, greater than 21 ft.)
*Dishwasher (Viking, DFUD140)
*Freezer (Kenmore Chest-style Freezer, manual defrost, 20.3 ft.)
*Clothes Washer (Whirlpool, CHW920 3.18 ft. capacity)
The Federal Trade Commission requires that appliance
manufacturers put the EnergyGuide label on refrigerators,
freezers, dishwashers, clothes washers, water heaters,
furnaces, boilers, central air conditioners, room air
conditioners, heat pumps, and pool heaters. Appliances
not required to have the EnergyGuide label are cooktops,
ranges, and clothes dryers.
EnergyStar®. In 1992, the U.S. Environmental Protection
Agency (EPA) introduced EnergyStar®, a voluntary
labeling program designed to identify and promote
energy-efficient products in order to reduce greenhouse
gas emissions (see Figure 2). The EnergyStar ® symbol
is a simple way for consumers to identify products that
are among the most energy-efficient on the market. Only
manufacturers and retailers whose products meet the
EnergyStar® criteria can label their products with this
symbol. Choosing an EnergyStar® labeled product over a
conventional model could save you hundreds of dollars in
energy costs over the lifecycle of the appliance.
There is more to EnergyStar® than saving money. The
use of energy-efficient products can also help save the
environment. In many parts of the U.S., fossil fuels are
often burned to produce electricity. The burning of fossil
fuels is a major source of CO² and other greenhouse gas
emissions, a leading cause of climate change and other
pollutants that contribute to smog and acid rain. When
you select energy-efficient products, less electricity needs
to be produced. Thus, you are reducing emissions and
promoting cleaner air as well.
The total price tag not only includes purchase cost, but
also operation and maintenance costs. Some appliances
last longer than others (see Table 2). It is possible to save
hundreds of dollars simply by choosing the most efficient
model, rather than choosing the model with the lowest
initial cost. To calculate your total price tag, use the Table
3 checklist.
Fact Sheet 1 • Page 2
July 1, 2005
Figure 1. EnergyGuide Label
difference in monthly utility
bills. In the following section,
specific appliances are reviewed
along with some of the energy
efficiency features found in these
The refrigerator is used more
than any other appliance in
your kitchen. It is turned on
24 hours a day. Refrigerators
are third in line on quantity of
energy used, exceeded by heating
and cooling systems and water
heating. Models over 10 years
old can use up to 50 percent
more energy than newer models
(EnergyGuide, 2005).
(Printed with permission from the Federal Trade Commission)
Figure 2. EnergyStar® Label
It is very important to choose the
proper size refrigerator. Typically,
the larger the refrigerator, the
more energy it will use. When
deciding which size of refrigerator
to purchase, historically the ruleof-thumb has been a minimum
of 12 cubic feet for the first two people in the household,
plus 2 more cubic feet for each additional person. Since
people store more food in the refrigerator these days, they
are purchasing larger refrigerators than in the past.
Table 2. Life Expectancy of Appliances
(Printed with permission from
EnergyStar ®)
Most new energy efficient features of appliances are
found on the inside, in the motors, compressors,
pumps, valves, gaskets and seals, or in electronic sensors
that make appliances “smart and efficient.” Even if
two models look the same from the outside, they may
have less obvious, internal features that make a big
Refrigerator (electric)
Life in Years
Clothes Washer
Clothes Dryer
Vacuum Cleaner
Electric Fan
Hair Dryer
Adapted from: (CNYHomes, 2005)
Fact Sheet 1 • Page 3
July 1, 2005
Table 3. Calculating the “Total Price Tag” of
Energy Guide Rating (kWhs used per
[multiplied by]
Appliance Life in Years (see Table 2)
[multiplied by]
Local Electricity Cost per kWh
“Utility Price Tag” Total
[Add this to purchasing cost “Initial +
Price Tag”]
Total Price Tag =
There are many options to choose from when shopping
for a new refrigerator. There are side-by-side models,
models with an upper freezer compartment, or with
a lower freezer drawer. For families that require a lot
of refrigerator space, there are the separate refrigerator
and freezer units to be used together. In terms of basic
configuration, a refrigerator with the compressor on the
top and freezer drawer on the bottom is more efficient
than most others.
Select a refrigerator that has a tight door gasket and
improved insulation. A tight door gasket keeps cold air in
and warm air and moisture out. Some refrigerators have
strong magnets on all four sides of the door to prevent
air leakage and to keep the door tightly shut. One way to
check the door seal is to notice the resistance when the
door is opened. The more difficult it is to open the door,
the tighter the door seal.
New refrigerators have improved insulation in their
walls and doors, which lowers heat absorption from
the room and reduces energy consumption. Look for
extra-thick foam insulation, up to 2.7-inches in the
freezer compartment, up to 2.2-inches in the fresh food
compartment, and up to 1.5-inches in the door. For the
same thickness, urethane foam is twice as efficient as
fiberglass insulation. Many of the new refrigerators have
automatic ice makers that increase energy costs by as
much as 300 kWh per year (Hawks, 2000), or about $24
a year at .08 cents/kWh.
Figure 3. Refrigerator Energy Saver
The refrigerator condensation coils can be located on
the top, back or bottom of the refrigerator. Condenser
coils mounted on the top of the refrigerator are more
energy efficient because the heated air rises and escapes
into the room, rather than heating the refrigerator body.
Coils mounted on the bottom-front of the refrigerator
are easy to clean, but tend to collect a lot of dust and
must be cleaned about every three months. Bottomback mounted condensers require less cleaning, but are
difficult to reach unless the refrigerator is on rollers. It
is important to keep condenser coils clean because dirty
coils require more energy.
Upright freezers use 10 to 25 percent more energy than
chest styled freezers because they lose more cold air when
opened. Freezers that must be manually defrosted use 35
to 40 percent less energy than similar frost-free models.
However, if the ice is allowed to build up more than ½
then the manual defrost refrigerator or freezer uses more
energy (Austin Energy, 2005).
Some refrigerators have an energy saver switch located
inside the refrigerator that can be shut off when humidity
is low, thus saving energy (see Figure 3). The energy
saver device is actually a heater which reduces moisture
condensation. If used in dry environments such as Utah,
it is actually an energy drain, and should be switched off.
Fact Sheet 1 • Page 4
July 1, 2005
When activated, heaters reduce moisture condensation,
particularly around the freezer door, where moist air
meets cold surfaces. If used continuously, the energysave operation actually adds to energy consumption,
therefore, it should be turned on only when moisture
condensation is high.
The most efficient washers use less hot water, have
energy-efficient motors, better spray arms, use sensors
to determine the length of the wash cycle, and have
controls for water temperature. The newest EnergyStar®
dishwashers are 25 percent more efficient than the many
other new dishwashers that do not have the label. At 25
percent, these dishwashers can save up to $25 per year
on energy costs (NRC, 2004). Improved washing action,
spray arms, and nozzles reduce hot water use, and the
energy cost of heating that water. Hot water use primarily
determines the energy efficiency of a dishwasher, so it
is important to choose models that require the least
Washing cycle times and water consumption vary
considerably between different models of dishwashers
and can be checked by asking to see a machine’s
specification sheet, the instruction manual, or the
model’s use-and-care booklet. A normal heavy-duty cycle,
including drying, can run anywhere from an hour to an
hour and a half. Short cycles run 35 minutes to an hour.
Water consumption varies as well. For some machines,
the water usage is from 8 to14 gallons depending on the
cycle, on others from 6 to 11 gallons. Newer models of
dishwashers are not only more energy efficient than older
models, but they are also better at getting dishes clean.
A relatively new feature found in dishwashers is
electronic touch control panel. These controls offer
options previously unavailable, such as delay-start and
diagnostic features. The delay-start option allows the
dishwashing cycle to begin anywhere from 10 minutes
to 9 hours later. This feature allows owners to take
advantage of off-peak electric rates, run the dishwasher
when there isn’t a high demand for hot water, or simply
when it is most convenient. When purchasing a new
dishwasher, select one that offers different options such
as “low energy option,” “rinse hold cycle,” or “air dry
option.” Look for models with internal “booster heaters”
which permit lower household water heater temperature
Washing options are very important in a dishwasher. They
may include a low-energy option for moderate to lightly dirty
loads, a regular wash for normal loads, and a rinse-and-hold
washing option. Anytime you use less hot water, you save
energy and money.
For cooking, consumers may purchase an oven and cooktop,
or range. More households are using ovens and cooktops
rather than ranges. A range contains both an oven and
cooktop. A cooktop is a cooking unit mounted on the
counter top. About 58 percent of American households
cook with electricity, but gas ovens and ranges are making a
steady comeback. Gas ovens use less energy when compared
to electric counterparts because the fuel is used directly for
cooking. Also in many parts of the U.S., gas is less expensive
than electricity (HealthGoods, 2004).
Figure 4. Ovens
For ovens, electronic controls offer a variety of cooking
timers that keep time from seconds to 4 hours or more.
They have reminder options, automatic shut offs, buzzers
or chimes, or warning lights to indicate completed cooking
times. Electronic controls can be found on ranges, as well as
cooktops and ovens. They may increase the initial cost of an
appliance, but they are a good investment because they offer
more precision. Timers help save energy because they prevent
Fact Sheet 1 • Page 5
July 1, 2005
Figure 5. Convection Oven Air Movement
after the washing, thus reducing the drying time and your
dryer’s energy use.
Front-loading washing machines are more efficient than
top loading ones because they use less water and the
cleaning action is better. Front loading washing machines
use approximately one-third the energy and water
compared to vertical axis machines (top loading). They
also have a faster spin speed, which dries laundry better
and decreases dryer time.
In terms of energy efficiency, a self-cleaning oven uses
high heat during a cycle to decompose food soil and
grease, therefore clean the oven when dirty. During
the cycle, which is clock controlled, the oven door is
latched and locked. A self-cleaning oven generally has
more insulation in the walls than the conventional or
continuous-cleaning oven; therefore, it saves energy when
being used (see Figure 4). A self cleaning oven is a good
choice because it uses less energy provided you do not use
the self-cleaning option more than once a month.
One of the newest features found in ovens is convection
cooking. It is available in portable, full-size, free-standing,
and built-in wall ovens. In convection ovens, a fan blows
the heated air over and around the food, increasing the
rate of moisture evaporation, thus decreasing cooking
time and saving energy. With convection cooking, you do
not have to pre-heat the oven (see Figure 5).
When choosing a new clothes washer, it is first important
to determine the proper size washer. A small washer may
be more appropriate for smaller households. But if you
have a large family and have to do multiple loads and the
clothes washer is too small for your family, you could be
using more energy.
It is also important to choose a clothes washer that has
multiple heat and water settings. This gives you the
option of using less water for smaller loads. Choose a
clothes washer that has the ability to select hot, warm, or
cold water, water levels for the amount of clothing, and
a fast spin speed that allows more water to be removed
Clothes dryers use an enormous amount of energy to
dry clothes. In many areas of the country, gas dryers are
more energy efficient than electrical dryers. Models are
available which have an automatic moisture sensor that
automatically shuts off the machine when clothes are dry,
thus saves energy.
When shopping for new appliances, one should always
read the EnergyGuide and EnergyStar ® labels. It is also a
good idea to calculate the second price tag, which includes
the cost of running the appliance. Modern household
appliances have more energy-saving options than ever
before, including features which reduce energy and hot
water consumption.
American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy
(2004). Top-Rated Energy-Efficient Appliances.
[Online] Available:
AustinEnergy (2005). Energy Efficient Tips- Appliances.
[Online] Available:
CNYHomes (2005). Life Expectancy of Interior
Household Parts. [Online] Available: http://www.
EnergyGuide (2005). Food Storage/Cooking for
Your Home. Refrigerators. [Online] Available:
asp?bid=nstar&prd=10 &TID=13915&SubjectID=7831
Fact Sheet 1 • Page 6
July 1, 2005
Energy Star (2005). Spring into a World of Savings.
[Online] Available:
Hawks, L. (2000). Kitchen Appliances. Shopping Energy
$ense. [Online] Available:
Health Goods (2004). Ovens and Ranges. [Online]
Available: http://www,
Natural Resources Canada (May 2004). Appliances- Tips
& Tools. [Online] Available:
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race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age (40 and older), disability,
and veteran’s status. USU’s policy also prohibits discrimination on
the basis of sexual orientation in employment and academic related
practices and decisions.
Utah State University employees and students cannot, because of
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status, refuse to hire; discharge; promote; demote; terminate;
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privileges, or conditions of employment, against any person otherwise
qualified. Employees and students also cannot discriminate in the
classroom, residence halls, or in on/off campus, USU-sponsored
events and activities.
This publication is issued in furtherance of Cooperative Extension
work. Acts of May 8 and June 30, 1914, in cooperation with the
U.S. Department of Agriculture, Jack M. Payne, Vice President and
Director, Cooperative Extension Service, Utah State University.
Fact Sheet 1 • Page 7
July 1, 2005
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