8 Tips for Buying Energy-Efficient Appliances

energy-efficient appliances

April 23, 2018


The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) encourages homeowners to consume less energy by changing the way they use their appliances. For example, you can save money on your electricity, gas, and water bills by only washing full loads in your machine and using cold water settings whenever possible. You could also air dry clothes (by hanging them outside on a line) during warmer months to avoid using the dryer altogether.

Not only can these practices help save on utility bills, but upgrading to more efficient appliances could also bring significant savings. In fact, the DOE says that upgrading to appliances that are Energy Star certified is the best way to bring about long-term energy savings.

Here are eight tips for buying energy-efficient appliances to help you realize those savings.

1. Choose the Right Size

For HVAC systems (and for smaller appliances), size matters. Energy Star points out that air conditioning units that are too small will have to remain on for longer periods of time, which reduces efficiency. You might be tempted to err on the larger side, but that can also cause efficiency problems because oversized air conditioning units will cycle on and off more frequently.

So what size is perfect for you? HVAC performance is usually measured using a variable called BTU (British thermal unit). A home between 2,000 and 2,500 square feet requires an HVAC system that offers 34,000 BTU per hour. A smaller dwelling of around 1,000 to 1,200 square feet will only need a unit with 21,000 to 24,000 BTU per hour.

This same principle can also apply to other appliances: you can maximize efficiency by always washing a full load of clothes, but if you never have enough dirty clothes to fill an oversized washing machine, it’s not worth it. The right size for an appliance is the one that fits your usage needs.

2. Buy Appliances With Energy-Saving Settings

Energy-saving settings are important for dishwashers. If the dishes are only slightly dirty, they will still come out clean after a light wash; a full-powered wash cycle would use more energy and more water than necessary. An “eco” setting (or “energy saver” setting) lets you save energy and water when possible, without sacrificing the ability for a heavy-duty cleaning when needed.

Washing machines may also have a similar setting, but it’s less crucial in this case—you can make your own “energy saver” option by selecting cold water and a “light duty” or “hand wash” setting.

3. Realize That Appliances Have Two Price Tags

Most people will only look at the upfront cost of a new appliance, without considering the “hidden” price tag: the estimated cost of operating the appliance over its lifetime.

Energy-efficient models are often more expensive than their standard peers. However, the lower energy requirements—an average of 20 percent less for Energy Star refrigerators, for example—will save money in the long term. Energy Star appliances may also qualify for PACE financing. With this option, you can eliminate the upfront cost of your eligible upgrade and pay off the amount financed over time as part of your annual property taxes.

4. Look at the EnergyGuide Label

Energy Star certified appliances are marked with a special sticker, but the DOE also requires most appliances to have an EnergyGuide label. These yellow stickers provide the efficiency statistics for that particular appliance, including basics like size and model, plus estimated yearly operating costs and energy consumption.

While they only displaying average usage costs, EnergyGuide labels offer insight into how much money you might spend or save on energy over appliance’s lifetime.

5. Understand When Design Matters

Modern refrigerators come in many different styles with varying efficiencies. According to the DOE, refrigerator units with the freezer on the top or bottom are generally more efficient than units with side-by-side doors. The DOE also points out that extra features like ice-makers and water dispensers, though they do provide a convenience, will add to the energy consumption of the refrigerator.

6. See If You Can Find a Cheaper Power Source

The type of power source may be an important variable in the overall operating cost of the appliance, particularly for water heaters. In many cases, natural gas is a cheaper fuel option than electricity—but natural gas units cost more to install, especially if the home does not currently use natural gas. Some power companies may also offer cheaper off-peak rates that may help lower the cost of operating the appliance.

7. Decide If Smart Appliances Are Worth the Investment

Smart appliances are connected to programmable energy management systems in the home. You may be able to connect an HVAC system, for example, to a programmable thermostat. Smart refrigerators and dishwashers are also on the market. With a programmable thermostat, you can create your own efficiency strategy—such as setting the heat lower when no one is at home or when everyone is asleep under the covers.

8. Prioritize

Certain appliances consume more energy than others, so it makes sense to replace the least efficient and most energy-hungry appliances first. Refrigerators are one of the most energy-intensive home appliances. Energy Star models can save 15 percent on utility costs compared to standard models, and 40 percent compared to the conventional fridges sold in 2001.

In areas with high water costs, a new Energy Star certified washing machine uses 45 percent less water than standard models – making it a practical first investment. Whole-house appliances also offer the potential for substantial savings with an upgrade. According to Energy Star, air conditioners are 20 percent more efficient now than they were 10 years ago, and boilers and furnaces more than 15 years old are 15 percent less efficient than current models.

Where do you begin? Start by determining which of your current appliances require the most energy to operate. Next, figure out which of those appliances you could upgrade for the largest jump in efficiency and biggest monthly utility savings. Don’t let the price deter you – special financing is available to help you increase your home’s efficiency, reduce your carbon impact and even save money on future utility bills.


Note: All of these upgrades do not qualify for PACE financing – only those that made your property more energy efficient, save water, utilize renewable energy or protect against storm damage. Find out if your improvement qualifies on the state-specific Eligible Improvement pages: California | Florida | Missouri or contacting Ygrene at (855) 901-3999; info@ygrene.com