A Guide to the Best Energy-Efficient Appliances

In the market for energy savings? Read this no-nonsense guide to the best energy-efficient appliances available.

| July/August 2012

As we aim to make our homes more efficient and affordable to live in, we may wonder whether replacing outdated appliances is worth the investment. But most appliances last for a decade or more, which means old models are way behind the technological times—much less efficient than their modern counterparts. In his book Home Sweet Zero Energy Home, author Barry Rehfeld breaks down energy-efficient appliances and gives you a realistic look at where it’s best to spend and save. Get his take on a few major appliances to create a less expensive, more energy-efficient place to live.

Clothes Washers

Shopping for a clothes washer can lead a buyer into a swamp of information. When choosing a washer on the basis of price and energy- and water-efficiency, shoppers should consider two options: the standard-size Energy Star top-loading model and the Energy Star front-loading version. Both types can be found with relative ease, and both can achieve energy and water savings of 50 percent or more over older, non-Energy Star models.

Energy Star washers must be at least 30 percent more efficient than standard units, but many models do much better. While a standard model may use more than 400 kilowatt-hours of electricity and 12,000 gallons of water annually, a huge selection of Energy Star washers use less than 200 kilowatt-hours and 7,000 gallons annually. The cheapest Energy Star washers achieve the gains nearly as well (sometimes even better) as the most expensive ones. The cost difference between the least-expensive Energy Star models and non-Energy Star models is not great, and Energy Star washers easily earn back the extra expense within their typical lifespan of 11 years—much faster with cheaper models.

If Energy Star models have a disadvantage, other than a slightly higher upfront price, it’s a lack of market penetration. While overall, Energy Star appliances have increased their market share to more than a third, Energy Star clothes washers make up little more than 10 percent of the market. Still, some three dozen manufacturers, including virtually all of the major producers, make Energy Star models. Seven of the dominant brands—Frigidaire, General Electric, Kenmore, LG Electronics, Maytag, Samsung and Whirlpool—have the most models to offer on the Energy Star list.

Front-loading washers are more energy- and water-efficient than top-loading models. Front-loaders are space savers, too, as they can be stacked with the dryer—not an inconsiderable advantage in homes where space efficiency matters. But front-loaders are at a disadvantage to top-loaders in some ways. First, front-loaders generally cost more. They also typically require high-efficiency (HE) detergent (although it’s readily available in supermarkets), and their doors must be left open occasionally to ward off mold and mildew.

Despite the efficiency advantages of front-loading machines, top-loaders have a two-to-one edge over front-loaders in the United States. Nevertheless, there’s good reason to think front-loaders could soon take over the U.S. market. They’re relative newcomers to the market, having been introduced in the ’90s, about 50 years behind the top-loading washers, and front-loaders already account for 90 percent of European residential washers.

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