Your Guide to Eco-friendly Kitchen Appliances

By Michelle Jeresek, Houzz

Choosing energy-efficient appliances benefits everyone. TopTen USA, an independent organization that researches and ranks the most efficient appliances, says: "If you're going to waste money, waste it on something more fun than your electrical bill."

Related: How to Choose a Surface Material for Kitchen Countertops

Be smart with money and energy with these tips for selecting kitchen appliances and using them more efficiently.

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Camber Construction, original photo on Houzz 

Refrigerators

Refrigerators are energy hogs, accounting for 9 to 15 percent of your home's electricity use. Luckily, choosing an energy-efficient refrigerator can be as easy as looking for the Energy Star label, which guarantees the appliance has met government standards. However, all Energy Star appliances are not created equal — energy consumption still varies significantly from model to model. The Energy Star website can help you compare models to find to the most efficient refrigerator.

Size matters.

If you buy a refrigerator too small for your needs and keep it packed full, the refrigerator will have to work harder and use extra energy. Similarly, oversize refrigerators keep excessive space cool. Refrigerators smaller than 25 cubic feet should meet the needs of most households.

Configuration matters too. Consumer Reports measured the usable space in a refrigerator and found that top freezer models average about 80 percent usable space, bottom freezers average 67 percent and side-by-side units average 63 percent. Know too that side-by-side refrigerators use roughly 20 percent more electricity than other models.

Forgo the ice maker and in-door water and ice dispenser.

Studies suggest these features can each increase overall refrigerator energy consumption by 10 to 15 percent.

Money- and energy-saving tips:

• Locate your refrigerator away from sources of heat, such as the stove or oven, which can cause it to work harder.
• Let foods cool first before putting them inside the refrigerator.

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KellyBaron, original photo on Houzz 

Gas Cooktops/Ranges

The cooktop/range is the only kitchen appliance that has a fuel option: electricity or natural gas (or propane in some locations). Unless you have access to renewable power, both options have significant impacts on the environment, so it's worth understanding the options.

Related: Browse Hundreds of Range Hoods and Vents

Electricity

Pros: Electrical appliances have the option to be fueled by renewable power if you add solar panels in the future. Also, most electrical utility companies have a program where you can pay a small added cost to support green renewable power.

Cons: Much of our electricity is generated from coal, which is the most significant man-made contributor to greenhouse gases. Also, roughly 70 percent of electric power is lost in transmitting it from its source to your home.

Natural Gas

Pros: Natural gas is a relatively inexpensive and efficient fuel source and the cleanest fossil fuel, emitting 45 percent less carbon dioxide than coal. 

Cons: Cooking on gas appliances introduces combustion by-products into your home, including carbon monoxide, formaldehyde and nitrogen dioxide. This is especially worrisome in newer, more airtight houses. While a good exhaust hood can remove up to 70 percent of these pollutants, it doesn't remove all of them. Also, natural gas is commonly sourced by hydraulic fracturing or "fracking," which involves injecting millions of gallons of water, sand and chemicals deep into the earth under high pressure to break up rock formations, releasing the gas. At this time there is some evidence demonstrating that air, groundwater and drinking water are being contaminated from the process, causing several nations and even some U.S. states to ban fracking. 

Magnetic Induction Cooktops 

The magnetic induction cooktop is the rising star of energy-efficient kitchen appliances. Typical electric or gas stoves heat the air under the pan, but a magnetic induction cooktop's heat is transferred directly to the pan through high-tech magnetism, leading to little wasted heat. Heat is generated quickly and is infinitely adjustable, just like gas. 

And because the heat needs a metallic surface for conduction, it's cool to the touch, making for a safer kitchen. Just make sure you have the right cookware to conduct the heat. 

Money- and energy-saving tips:

• Put a lid on it. Cover pots and pans to keep heat in and cook your food faster. 
• Be passive with your pasta. Kate Heyhoe, author of Cooking Green: Reducing Your Carbon Footprint in the Kitchen, teaches us that we don't need to boil pasta for the full cooking time. Instead boil it for two minutes, then turn the burner off, cover the pot with a lid and let the pasta sit in the water for the remaining recommended cooking time. Your pasta will be cooked in the same amount of time and will have used less energy. 

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Modern House Architects, original photo on Houzz 

Ovens 

Wall ovens are available in three widths: 24, 27 and 30 inches. The energy used by a wall oven relates to its size, so it's worth going for a smaller unit if it will meet your needs. If you have the occasional need for more capacity, opt for two smaller ovens rather than one larger unit. You'll save energy by frequently using just one of the smaller ovens, and for large gatherings you'll still have all the capacity you need. 

Seek a model with a convection oven, in which a fan continuously circulates heated air around the food. This means that the temperature and cooking times can be reduced, using 20 percent less energy. Also look for a self-cleaning feature, as these models are better insulated, which boosts energy efficiency by maintaining oven temperatures. 

Money- and energy-saving tips:

• Save your oven for large or multiple dishes. Ovens are inherently inefficient — only about 6 percent of the energy from a typical oven is absorbed by the food. 
• Use your oven light to check on food's progress. Every time you open the oven door, the temperature drops 25 to 50 degrees. 

Exhaust Hoods

Find an efficient kitchen exhaust hood by seeking an Energy Star–rated model, which is quieter and uses 65 percent less energy. Once you have an efficient model, do not be conservative with its use. Your ventilation hood is essential to keeping your indoor air quality safe by getting rid of:

• Excess moisture. Cooking can introduce 2 to 3 gallons of moisture into your home's air per day. If it's not properly released, this can lead to moisture problems in the home. 
• Hazardous combustion by-products from gas cooktops mentioned earlier. Your hood needs to exhaust to the exterior, ensuring removal of moisture and pollutants from your interiors. Stay away from recirculating fans, which only remove odors. Also avoid downdraft hoods, which do not perform as well as hoods mounted overhead. 

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Michael Abraham Architecture, original photo on Houzz 

Dishwashers 

Seek out an Energy Star–rated dishwasher, which is at least 10 percent more efficient than other models. And choose a model with several wash cycle options, like "energy saver" and "no-heat drying." 

Your dishwasher is a stealth energy consumer: Between 80 and 90 percent of a dishwasher's energy consumption is tied to the water heater. Search for models that are water misers. Also look for a dishwasher with a booster heater, which allows your water heater to remain at the recommended 120 degrees and boosts the hot water for your dishwasher to 140 degrees, as needed to melt newer dishwasher soaps. 

Money- and energy-saving tips:

• Always run a full load. 
• Scrape, don't rinse. Hand-rinsing dishes can use up to 20 gallons of water. Scrape food off the dishes and load. If your dirty dishes are going to sit overnight, use your dishwasher's rinse feature, which uses a fraction of the water needed to hand-rinse. 
• For not-so-dirty dishes, use the light or energy-saving wash cycle, which uses less water and operates for a shorter period of time. 
• Opt for "no-heat drying." The drying cycle consumes a lot of energy. 

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Studio On Cedar LLC, original photo on Houzz 

Microwaves

The humble microwave can be an energy saver, consuming between one-fifth and one-half as much energy as conventional stoves. Know too that concerns of microwave radiation have been mitigated by FDA regulation. However, microwave emissions do increase at the glass window, so I prefer models without a glass window, like the one here. 

Money- and energy-saving tips:

• Microwaves are most efficient when cooking small portions or defrosting. 
• Place food at the outer edges of the rotating tray for faster cooking.

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