Eco Friendly Household Goods energy efficiency tips for washing machine and dryer

Published on December 18th, 2007 | by Stephanie Evans

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Household Appliances: The New Green Standard for Energy Efficiency

Household appliances.  Ah, those must-have energy guzzlers that render critical services to our homes, offices, schools, restaurants, hotels, spas and stores.  All are available for our daily use and convenience, at the price of a ever-higher monthly utility bill. We’ll show you how the energy consumed by your household appliances is divided up, provide you with some general guidelines for regulating energy flow, and give you tips on proper disposal to help you minimize your energy footprint on the planet.

The most important things that you can do to maximize your household’s energy efficiency are to review your current usage by getting a home energy audit, and gradually replace existing energy-hungry appliances with green appliances.

eco washing machine

eco washing machine

Home Energy Audits

Many utility providers offer free home energy audits which can reveal any hidden factors that are devouring energy and
spiking your bill.  Energy audits can be basic or extensive, examining factors such as insulation, heating and cooling systems, windows, landscaping and water heaters.  The audits can help you to save a lot by making suggestions for power conservation, or pointing you towards green appliances that are tailored to your budget.  Many free do-it-yourself audits are available online in the form of questionnaires that provide a general summary of your overall energy consumption, as well as some suggestions for usage reduction.  Many of these online audits also estimate your carbon footprint, informing you of the amount of carbon offsets that it would take to mitigate or “neutralize” your home’s energy impact.

Appliances

What comprises your energy bill?  Where does all of that energy originate?  On average, about half of your electric bill comes courtesy of major appliances, electronics and home office equipment.  Another roughly 20% is attributed to lighting, and the remainder is invested in the heating and cooling of your home space, and kitchen use.  With those figures in mind, targeting energy consumption by purchasing green appliances is probably your most effective start.

The EPA developed its ENERGY STAR program in the 1990s as a way of creating rigid standards that aggressively address energy efficiency for household appliances.  The program initially focused on home electronics and televisions, but has blossomed out to entail most major appliances, including sound systems, DVD players, telephone products, battery chargers, and many kitchen appliances from top brands like Whirlpool, KitchenAid, and other major manufacturers. The ENERGY STAR program continually upholds and improves their already strict regulations for energy-efficient measures—many ENERGY STAR-rated appliances go above and beyond any governmental requirements.  The EPA has a great pop-up home energy review site concerning household efficiency, which allows you to explore tips and tools room-by-room.

When purchasing any large household fixture, even a green appliance, look for extensive warranties.  These will protect you from unexpected costs should your appliance need servicing—they all do at some point!  Let’s take a look at these appliances one-by-one for some tips on maximizing energy efficiency:

Refrigerators. These are the mass-energy consumers in your household, as they’re in use 24 hours a day.  If investing in an ENERGY STAR-labeled fridge is not possible at this time, set your fridge thermostat around 40 degrees Fahrenheit.  Also dust off or vacuum your machine’s condenser coils twice a year for increased efficiency.

Freezers.  These units are also big consumers, as they too are generally on 24/7.  ENERGY STAR products will help to increase energy efficiency and cut costs.  Keep in mind that top and bottom unit freezers are more efficient than fridge-freezer units next to each other.  If you keep an extra freezer, place it strategically in a cool area—not in the garage where heat tends to collect and require more energy for cooling.  A separate chest freezer is your best bet.


Clothes Washers
.  Beyond ENERGY STAR (which—you guessed it—applies here too), there also are some additional features that can maximize your energy efficiency.  Front-loaders conserve water and energy by 40-50%! Washing full loads and washing with cold water as much as possible, pushes this figure towards the high end of the scale.  If you currently have a top-loader, utilize a range of features available for adjusting temperature, selecting load size and varying cycles.  Exercising your discretion with these features can boost the conservation impact of your machine.

Dryers.  Dryers are not currently part of the ENERGY STAR program, as energy consumption is similar for all models across the board.  If you’re not in a position (or climate area) to set up an old-fashioned clothesline for sun-drying, here are some tips to save energy during drying:

  • Find a model with automatic shut-off, or one that alerts you when loads are done.
  • Designate one or two days per week “laundry days” and string loads one after another in order to maximize the heat left over from previous loads.
  • The chest freezer logic applies here as well—place dryers in a warm part of the house so that less energy is required to generate heat.

Dishwashers.  Much more effective at cleaning and much more water efficient than washing by hand, the more energy-efficient units come with settings that allow you a great amount of control over energy expenditure.  Most of the energy used by this process goes to heating water before it even gets to your machine.  Here are a couple of tips:

  • Always wash a full load and select the shortest cycle appropriate.
  • Don’t utilize the pre-rinse function on your machine unless necessary.

Ovens.  While gas stoves are definitely more efficient than electrics, they can prove to be a hazardous nuisance to those with respiratory sensitivities.  If you are using an electric range, here are some tips to optimize energy use:

  • When heating water and cooking dishes that allow for it, cover your pots and pans to trap heat and reduce cooking time.
  • Turn off burners shortly before cook time is over—the burners will remain hot enough to complete your culinary masterpiece.
  • Use pans that completely cover a burner to maximize your heat energy usage.

Air Conditioners and Fans.  Keeping filters clean and turning off ACs when you’re out cuts costs and saves energy.  Ceiling fans can be paired with air conditioners to help a room feel colder, which is a great summer tactic.  During the winter, make sure the fan operates in a counterclockwise direction—this pulls heat upwards and the fan’s rotation then distributes air down the walls.

Electronics.  This broad category includes computers, laptops, cell phones, fax machines, scanners, battery chargers, rechargeable tools and all other related appliances.  While ENERGY STAR labels apply to some, it’s good to be mindful of the fact that some of these devices can use power and generate heat even when switched off.  Connecting many of your devices to a single power strip allows you to control it all by one flick of the switch.  Setting your screen saver to transition into low power mode after a few minutes and putting the computer to sleep saves energy by allowing the computer to hibernate.  It’s also a good practice to unplug small devices and to not “over charge” by leaving them plugged in overnight.  Also remember to unplug other energy-users around the house like blenders, toasters, coffee makers, food processors, electric razors, and hairdryers.

Entertainment Devices.  Even ENERGY STAR-rated entertainment products have yet to make the environmental grade, as most contain lead (aside from flat-panel TVs), mercury, and other heavy metal toxins linked to cancers, diseases and developmental disabilities.  These devices also comprise a huge portion of the hazardous waste sitting in our landfills.  The ENERGY STAR label does help to drastically cut energy use when in standby mode.

What to Do With All of Those White Goods?

According to the EPA, older appliances can use twice the energy that a newer appliance does and can place a strain on local power grids, especially during hours of peak usage.  However, it may not currently be feasible for you to replace all of your existing appliances with Energy-Star approved models—that’s okay, because our tips apply to older models as well.

What is older?  While it varies among appliances, new standards relating to energy efficiency and environmental protection
come out each year, so the newer, the better!  The Consortium for Energy Efficiency (CEE), which receives funding from the EPA and U.S.  Department of Energy, launched its Super-Efficient Home Appliance Initiative (SEHA) in 1997, in connection with the ENERGY STAR label.  This consortium aids the energy organizations in determining and setting stricter standards for energy efficient appliances, so the launch year may be a good starting point when attempting to define an “older” appliance.

White goods are large household appliances that provide an abundance of recyclable materials.  Some states ban these items from making it to a landfill for that reason, and because some of the substances are harmful to the environment.  Some companies will recycle almost all of the constituents of these products.  Through its Responsible Appliance Disposal program (RAD), the EPA provides an in-depth Q & A fact sheet regarding refrigerator and freezer recycling, which includes disposal resource links and suggestions. Here are some additional tips for earth-friendly appliance disposal:

  • Some counties accept old clotheswashers and dryers at the recycling center.
  • Local charities and private companies will accept washers and dryers for reuse.  Contact your local county’s Solid Waste Division for information.
  • Many appliance stores offer to pick up your old clotheswasher included in the delivery price of a new one.  These appliances are then usually sold to an independent company which scraps the products for reuse.
  • Many companies will pay you to take old appliances, as steel, aluminum, copper and recyclable plastics are all valuable manufacturing materials.  This benefits the company and the environment – it takes much less energy to make recycled steel than to manufacture it from virgin ore.

What You Can Take Away

Our green appliance review is a general set of guidelines to get you started.  Do keep in mind that there are some health concerns associated with extended exposure to many of your household appliances.  Powerful electromagnetic fields surround energy-hearty appliances, so try to limit the time that you spend close to these machines.

While it’s not currently great, the situation is getting better.  ENERGY STAR-approved products are a good starting point in your search green appliances.  Filling your home with ENERGY STAR-approved products is currently one of the best ways to achieve green appliances in your home.  Try out our tips and do some research to discover what will work best for you and for the planet.

{washing machine image via Samsung IFA 2010}



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