Reducing water and energy use is one of the most important goals of going green, and you need look no further than your home appliances for the perfect place to start. Refrigerators alone account for almost 15% of the energy used in most homes, and over 20% of the water used in U.S. homes goes towards keeping clothes clean. Just imagine the difference it would make if we all unplugged those energy guzzling technologies and replaced them with new, more efficient models!
Energy Star: Energy Star is a joint program between the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Energy that certifies electric appliances like air conditioners, refrigerators, and washers as meeting strict levels of energy efficiency without sacrificing the quality or features found on similar products. For example, an Energy Star washing machine will be at least 30% more efficient than models that just meet minimum government standards while still providing all the cleaning power you need. The EPA estimates that homes with Energy Star appliances saved $18 billion on utility bills in 2010 and offset the greenhouse gas emissions from 33 million cars.
WaterSense: The EPA also runs a program to certify and promote water-efficient appliances and irrigation systems. Products carrying the WaterSense label will be at least 20% more water efficient than similar appliances while performing at the same level or better. The EPA estimates that WaterSense appliances have saved over 126 billion gallons of water since the program started 2006.
What to look for: In addition to the Energy Star and WaterSense labels, there are a couple of key features you’ll want to look for when you’re shopping for a washing machine. Front-load washers will use less water and energy than top-load models, and you’ll also want to be sure to pick the smallest model that will fit your needs.
What else can you do: Once you get your new, efficient washer home there are lots of small, easy things you can do to make your laundry room even more eco-friendly. You’ll save energy if you set your water heater at 120° or below and wash your clothes in cold water, and also look for green detergents that will get your clothes clean without introducing dangerous chemicals into the environment or irritating your skin.
What to look for: The Energy Star program does not label dryers, so you’ll want to pay extra attention to the yellow Energy Guide label when shopping – the guide will tell you how much energy each model uses so you can compare and find the one that best fits your needs. Again, you’ll want to choose the smallest machine that will allow you to dry efficiently without wasting space and energy, and you’ll also want to look for a dryer with a moisture censor that will cut the dryer off once your clothes are dry.
What else can you do: One of the best ways to be efficient with your dryer is simply to use it less: you can line dry many items, even if you live somewhere with less-than-ideal weather. When you do need your dryer, use eco-friendly, reusable dryer sheets and make sure the lint trap is clean. Also make sure to regularly check the seals around the door and hoses for leaks to ensure your dryer is running as efficiently as possible.
What to look for: Energy Star refrigerators will use at least 20% less energy than other models, but even among energy-efficient fridges there are choices you can make that will cut down on energy use. Look for models with a top-mount freezer – they use 10-25% less energy than side-by-side or bottom mount models – and skip automatic ice makers and door dispensers: they can increase energy use by up to 20%.
What else can you do: Using your fridge efficiently can be easier said than done (we’ve all been caught trying to decide what to eat with the fridge door left wide open), but keeping the door closed and the temperature set as high as possible will go a long way towards making your kitchen energy efficient.
What to look for: TVs come in three basic flavors: cathode ray tube (CRT), liquid crystal display (LCD), and plasma. CRTs are an older, much less efficient technology that is being phased out, so avoid them when you can. In general, plasma TVs will use two to three times more energy than an LCD, although new technology is slowly making plasma TVs more efficient. Also keep in mind this simple truth about size: larger TVs use more power. For example, a 32 in. LCD will use about half as much power as a 52 in., so choose the smallest TV that will fit your needs. The EPA rates TVs as well, so keep an eye out for the Energy Star label.
What else can you do: Don’t forget about all the other devices that you attach to your TV. DVD players, game consoles, cable boxes, and especially DVRs will also drive up home energy bills. All these devices will also continue to use power even when turned off, so unplug them when they’re not in use or use a power strip to cut down on wasted energy.
What to look for: The Energy Guide and Energy Star label will help you find dishwashers that use as little water and energy as possible. Look for dishwashers that offer a variety of cycles so you can pick the temperature and rinse level that will meet your needs without being wasteful, and also make sure to pick the right size: a large dishwasher can too big of an expense, but if you pick a model that is too small, you may end up wasting water and energy by running multiple loads.
What else can you do: Run your dishwasher on cold water settings if possible to reduce the energy needed to heat water, and skip extra rinse cycled unless they’re absolutely necessary. You can also save energy by skipping the heated dry part of the cycle – try instead just propping door open for a few minutes to let dishes air dry.