Kitchen Appliances and Home Energy Conservation
Choosing green appliances for your kitchen conserves valuable natural resources and saves you money in the process. When it comes to purchasing eco-friendly appliances for your “green’ kitchen, you’ll find a wider array of energy-efficient models than ever before. Continual advances in technology and design reduce the amount of energy needed to run large appliances like refrigerators, ovens, and dishwashers.
Manufacturers have realized that downsizing many of these appliances not only increases their efficiency, but allows units to fit more harmoniously into many space-efficient modern kitchens. The newest generation of green kitchen appliances also offers a greater variety than ever before– everything from hip “retro” models reminiscent of bygone eras to sleek and contemporary styles are widely available to the green-conscious consumer. Though technological advances have increased the energy efficiency of kitchen appliances, the kitchen still ranks as a home’s most energy-hungry room.
The energy required to run an average refrigerator can account for as much as 15% of a household’s total energy usage. That percentage is a sizeable chunk of the $140 billion that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that American families spend each year on energy bills. If your refrigerator is more than ten years old, buying a new energy-efficient model could save you approximately $65 in energy bills for the year. All major home appliances sold today must meet minimum energy conservation specifications set by the Department of Energy (DOE).
The “Energy Star” program, introduced in 1992, is a joint effort by the DOE and the EPA to promote energy-efficient products. Appliances that qualify for an Energy Star must incorporate technologies that use somewhere between 10% to 66% less energy and/or water than standard models, without compromising added features or quality. Energy Star studies conducted in 2006 state that, through the efficiency of Energy Star-qualified appliances, Americans avoided creating greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to those generated by 25 million cars, and saved themselves a whopping $14 billion in utility bills!
When buying a green appliance, it is important to remember that its sticker price is only a portion of its actual cost. While an eco-friendly kitchen appliance usually costs more at the outset, your energy savings can total up to hundreds of dollars for utility bills over the course of the appliance’s lifespan. To determine the yearly cost of running an appliance, begin by looking at the yellow and black Federal Trade Commission’s Energy Guide label, which manufacturers are required to display on most domestic appliances. This label provides valuable information on how much energy an appliance uses, and gives an approximate yearly operating cost for the appliance.
Energy Star studies conducted in 2006 state that, through the efficiency of Energy Star-qualified appliances, Americans avoided creating greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to those generated by 25 million cars, and saved themselves a whopping $14 billion in utility bills!
Fridge and Freezer. When shopping for your green kitchen appliance, keep in mind that certain features require more energy than others. For example, refrigerators with side-by-side doors use about 10% more energy than the freezer-on-top models. Models with through-the-door ice dispensers also require more electricity to run. If you live alone or have a small family, be sure to choose the smallest refrigerator adequate enough to meet your needs. On the other hand, if you have a large family, be aware that it requires more energy to run two small refrigerators than to run one large unit. Maintaining your green refrigerator is also the key to keeping it energy-efficient — be sure to keep the fridge top uncluttered, dust-off condenser coils, and replace seals when they wear out.
Dishwasher. Most of today’s eco friendly kitchen appliances use less energy than those made even ten years ago. Replacing a ten-year old dishwasher with a new green model can equate to water savings of hundreds of gallons over the course of one year. Most new models incorporate soil sensors capable of adjusting water use depending on how dirty the dishes are. All new dishwashers available today utilize “booster heaters,” which heat the water supplied by the water heater to higher temperatures, reducing the need for water heaters to be turned higher. Many new models use less than half of the water it takes to wash dishes by hand.
Oven. Innovations in technology have introduced a plethora of high-tech green ovens and stoves to choose from. All new gas ovens have electronic ignition systems, which save about 30% more energy than older models fitted with a pilot light that was always burning. Combination appliances such as full-size ovens combined with smaller “toaster” ovens save energy by occupying the space of one appliance while delivering the utility of two! With the newest in electric burners just hitting the market, aspiring home chefs have abundant options when selecting their method of cooking based on the size of the meal and the type of food to be prepared. Radiant elements under ceramic glass are far more energy-efficient than the old coil element cooktops. The innovation of induction elements– which transfer electromagnetic energy directly to the pan where the heat is needed– cut energy requirements of standard electric coil elements by about half.
Household Appliance Tips
There is one potential drawback with the idea of utilizing green, high-efficiency household appliances: Cost. Although not everyone can afford to replace their older and inefficient appliances with newer models, there are many ways to reduce energy use in the kitchen just by modifying a few of your cooking habits. The microwave is a great energy-saving appliance, utilizing about 14% less energy than your oven. In addition, microwaves don’t generate heat and can be used in the summer months instead of an oven to reduce air conditioning costs. If you are making small to medium-sized meals, use the microwave, toaster oven, or slow-cooking crockpot. Pressure cookers save energy by their incredibly quick cook times. Remember to use the smallest pan necessary for the job, matching the pan size to the element size on electric burners. A 6” pan on an 8” burner wastes over 40% of the heat produced by the burner.
Some additional appliance-related tips to consider:
- Always run your dishwasher with a full load to get the most from the energy required to run it.
- Permanently set your machine to the air-dry option, as the drying phase accounts for a large part of energy consumption. If your dishwasher doesn’t have this option, just prop the door open after the final rinse.
- If your microwave has an electronic display, unplug it when you’re not using it. With the money you save over the course of a year, you can take yourself out for dinner– and you’ll have no dishes to do!
When the time comes to replace an old appliance, research your options to ensure that it is recycled properly – many local recycling centers and some charities will accept your old appliances, and many companies in need of components will pay to take them off of your hands. Choosing the most energy-efficient model to replace your appliance may take a little extra research, but every minute is worth the savings for our planet and your utility bills.
Article Contributors: Julie Reid