Energy Star Appliances Save More Than the Label Suggests

By Katherine Salant
Saturday, November 17, 2007

How much energy can you save with an appliance that meets the government's Energy Star guidelines?

It depends on where you start. That is, it depends on the age of the appliance you are replacing and how much energy it uses.

But it's a sure bet that you will be saving more energy than is indicated on the yellow Energy Guide labels you see in appliance stores or the product lists on the Energy Star Web site, http://www.energystar.gov. That's because the Energy Star ratings compare a new Energy Star model to a new standard model, not to older ones like those in your kitchen and laundry room.

For example, a 2007 Energy Star refrigerator uses at least 15 percent less energy than a standard one, as you will note when you peruse the showroom floor. But the average American household replaces its refrigerator about every 14 years, so a more accurate calculation for you would be to compare the 1993 standard to the current Energy Star one.

Using an 18-cubic-foot freezer-refrigerator, a fairly common size, as a basis for comparison, a new Energy Star model would use about 30 percent less energy than the 1993 standard model. But many families have refrigerators that are much older than that and still going strong. No one pays much attention to how much electricity these old models consume, but it is astounding when compared with the latest Energy Star models.

Using the same size for comparison, a 2007 Energy Star refrigerator uses 54 percent less energy than the 1989 model. If you're going for some kind of record and still use the 18-cubic-foot, avocado-colored refrigerator that you proudly bought in 1975, you will find that a 2007 Energy Star model uses 81 percent less energy.

And these comparisons are based on the performance of these old refrigerators when they were new. Two to three decades later, their inefficiencies are even greater.

Trading in your old beauty for a new Energy Star model would make such a dent in your utility bill that the new one could pay for itself in one or two years. When I replaced my 24-year-old side-by-side refrigerator three years ago, my monthly electric bill went down by $100.

The greatest energy and water savings from a new Energy Star dishwasher will not be realized by a household trading in its 32-year-old antique but by one that is switching from hand to machine washing. Contrary to popular belief, hand washing on average uses about five times as much water as a dishwasher (about 27 gallons vs. five gallons), or about 5,000 gallons more a year, according to a German study cited on the Energy Star Web site. In areas with acute water shortages, this may be of great interest.

The energy savings between hand washing and a 2007 Energy Star dishwasher are about 38 percent, according to the Whirlpool dishwasher engineering staff.

Switching from hand washing to machine washing will also save you time. According to the same German study, the switch frees up about 230 hours a year.

If your brand-new Energy Star dishwasher replaces a 12-year-old machine -- representing the average rate of turnover in U.S. households -- water use would go down by about 33 percent, or by 600 gallons a year, and the new machine would use at least 29 percent less energy, the Whirlpool engineers said.

As you check out new dishwashers on a showroom floor, you will quickly discover that you may save more energy than this because many models are much more efficient than the Energy Star standard.

The turnover rate for washing machines is the same as for dishwashers, about 12 years. If that's your situation, you will find that you have more choices than you did in 1995. Also, the Energy Star criteria for washers now include water savings. To qualify, a washer must use 40 percent less energy and about 30 to 60 percent less water than a standard top-loader.

The main difference in the new washers is how they extract the dirt from your laundry. With the conventional top-loader, dirt is removed by rubbing clothing against a large central agitator. The new-style top-loader has no central agitator, and dirt is removed by flipping clothing up and down against a wash plate in the bottom of the basket. With the new front-loader, dirt is removed by tumbling clothing up and down in water as the basket turns.

Both of the new types of washers are more energy- and water-efficient than conventional top-loaders.

Compared with the washer you bought in 1995, a 2007 Energy Star conventional top-loader uses about 40 percent less energy and about 25 percent less water. The 2007 Energy Star wash-plate top-loader uses about 60 percent less energy and about 30 percent less water. The 2007 Energy Star front-loader uses about 75 percent less energy and about 60 percent less water.

As with Energy Star dishwashers, there's a wide variation in the efficiencies of Energy Star washers.

Another advantage of the new washers is vastly increased spin speeds. They extract 26 percent to 30 percent more water, which reduces drying time. This also saves energy. Comparing the washer spin speeds to a car, Whirlpool engineer Ted Ernst said a front-loader with a spin speed of 1,300 revolutions per minute is like a sports car zooming along at 90 to 100 miles per hour, while the standard top-loader spin speed of 600 revolutions per minute is like an old sedan puttering along at 40 to 50 miles an hour.

Katherine Salant can be contacted via her Web site,http://www.katherinesalant.com.

¿ 2007 Katherine Salant

View all comments that have been posted about this article.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company