High Efficiency Appliances

The Best of The Best
Beginner

Inside this Article

Old Wash Machine Ad
The introduction of home appliances accounted for part of the surge in residential electricity use over the past century.
Modern dishwasher
Multidrawer dishwashers aren’t necessarily the most efficient overall, but they can save energy by allowing efficient-sized loads.
Window Air Condition in Room
Window air conditioners are good for cooling individual, small spaces.
Modern Clothes Washer
Washing machines can save energy in several ways: electricity used, hot water used, and water extracted (saving energy costs during drying).
Modern Fridge
Today’s energy-efficient refrigerators are far better than models from even 10 years ago. Leave off the bells and whistles, like in-door ice service, for even better performance.
Old Wash Machine Ad
Modern dishwasher
Window Air Condition in Room
Modern Clothes Washer
Modern Fridge

Go beyond Energy Star to get the highest-efficiency appliances. Here’s our guide to choosing models for your home that save energy and shave your utility bills. 

The evolution of household appliances spanned the 20th century, a period of time when the United States saw an abundance of new energy sources. Electric-powered household appliances proliferated. Refrigerators were common in urban homes by the 1930s. By the 1940s, a majority of American households had electric clothes washers, which co-existed with growing numbers of other consumer appliances that hummed, stirred, blinked and glowed in American homes.

Consumption of electricity burgeoned. Between 1950 and today, home electricity use increased 20-fold. In a world with no apparent energy constraints, appliance size and features steadily grew and multiplied. But that’s changed: Faced with a dwindling supply of fossil fuels and unpredictable electricity rates, we’re getting smarter about household energy use.

The Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency’s Energy Star program has been one of the leaders in establishing higher standards of energy efficiency. Other groups have joined the movement, including the Consortium for Energy Efficiency, a nonprofit energy-efficiency advocacy group, making choosing new, energy-smart appliances easier than ever.

Decisions

The models listed here are among the most energy-efficient models widely available. If you think that you need features that these models don’t have, consult directly with the organizations that compile the data and query it with your needs in mind. The Consortium for Energy Efficiency (CEE) takes Energy Star data and pushes energy efficiency advocacy a few steps further, focusing on the most efficient end of the Energy Star spectrum. CEE’s Super Efficient Home Appliances Initiative ranks appliances in two or three tiers, and encourages manufacturers toward even more rigorous efficiency. The CEE updates its appliance lists every month on its website—an excellent place for up-to-date listings of the most energy-efficient appliances.

When you need to replace an appliance, doing your homework will pay off. Efficiency standards will take a big jump in the next few years—a coalition of appliance manufacturers and energy efficiency advocates recently reached an agreement on new, more stringent efficiency requirements, and their recommendations were adopted by the U.S. Department of Energy in September 2010. Those new federal efficiency standards will go into effect in late 2014 and early 2015.

Now?

When is it prudent to replace an inefficient but still functioning machine? Check out Energy Star’s history of standards revisions—if your appliance is old and standards have raised the bar well beyond what it can achieve, it may be beneficial (financially and environmentally) to buy a new one. If your old machine is of a style that inherently guzzles electricity, you have yet more reason to consider replacing it now rather than waiting.

What’s in It For Me?

The most efficient models are sometimes not the cheapest ones up-front. While payback is usually defined in terms of money saved, it can also mean lightening the load on the electrical grid, consuming less of our increasingly limited resources and emitting fewer greenhouse gases.

By replacing an appliance, you’ll spend less money month to month. In many cases, the savings over time is greater than the purchase cost. In other cases, the higher price of the efficient model may never be recouped within the life of the appliance, particularly if your electricity is cheap. In this case, you won’t see a payback in terms of actual dollars, yet you’ll have attained other non-economic goals from the day you plugged it in.


Dishwashers

What’s the most energy-efficient way to clean your dishes: hand-washing or using a dishwasher? While hand-washing may seem more energy efficient, it actually isn’t unless you’re very frugal with the water (or have solar-heated water). Using a dishwasher can be considerably more energy efficient if you choose your appliance intelligently. (To use the least amount of electricity, run the dishwasher only when it’s full and let the dishes air-dry.)

The most energy-consumptive part of dishwasher action is not the operation of the motor, but rather the production of heat. This includes heating the water (by the home’s water heater, as well as the dishwasher’s own booster heater) and the heat generated to dry the dishes. The less hot water you use and the less you use the dishwasher’s drying function,  the smaller the model you can buy and the more energy you’ll save. Look for models that give you options, such as soil sensors and wash cycle selection.

Dishwasher efficiency standards are based on annual kWh consumption, gallons of water used per cycle, and Energy Factor, EF, which reflects the number of cycles performed per kWh. The most energy-efficient models are in CEE’s Tier 2, in which standard-sized models (those that can handle eight or more place settings) can use no more than 295 kWh per year and 4.25 gallons per cycle, and must have an EF of at least 0.75. For compact models, the limits are 222 kWh per year, 3.50 gallons per cycle, and an EF of at least 1.00.

You’ll find models that use relatively little electricity but more water, and vice versa. The choice will need to be made based on the source of your electricity and the fuel you use for water heating.

The compact dishwashers don’t tend to outperform the standard-sized machines in water use, but they use less electricity. They take up less room and a full load is quicker to come by.

Window Air Conditioners

Window air conditioners arrived on the scene somewhat later than electric refrigerators and clothes washers, but in hot and humid parts of the country, their usage rivals that of home heating in Minnesota. Window air conditioners are ranked according to their Energy Efficiency Ratio (EER). Higher-efficiency models have more efficient compressors, pumps and fans, and more effective heat-transfer surfaces. Interestingly enough, these don’t necessarily carry a higher price tag compared to less efficient models. Before you buy, think well about whether you even need a window air conditioner (versus the smart use of fans and window coverings, which may suffice in many climates). But if you need one, here are some of the best.

Different sizes and types of air conditioners have different federal standards for minimum EER, and the current Energy Star standard requires a model to be at least 10% more efficient than the federal standard. The playing field is very crowded around an EER of 10.8, exactly 10% over federal standards. A few models pull ahead in the 11 to 12 EER range, and a selection of models of different capacities is included in the table.

The diversity of sizes and designs is particularly great for air conditioners, and before your next purchase you will want to consult the Energy Star website directly and peruse its long list of rankings.

Washing Machines

Washing machines, like dishwashers, need to be considered based on the energy to run the appliance itself, the heated water used, and the work left after the washing is complete—by the dryer. Of course, you can decrease your energy use by washing in cold water and drying with a clothesline. Then use a wisely chosen machine, and your laundry energy consumption will be the envy of your neighbors.

Features to consider include size (think carefully about what you really need),  horizontal or vertical axis, whether or not the model has a water-level sensor and an option for a fast final spin. Front-loading (horizontal-axis) machines are the most energy efficient because they use less water and less electricity, and they wring out more water after the wash—and they’re easier on clothes.

Clothes washers are ranked according to their modified energy factor (MEF), the number of cubic feet of laundry that can be washed and dried using 1 kWh of electricity, and water factor (WF), the number of gallons required to wash 1 cubic foot of laundry. Conveniently, the models with the highest MEF also have a low WF. Energy Star standards require a MEF of at least 1.8 and a WF of 7.5 or less, but there are many machines that go well beyond this.

Refrigerators

Your refrigerator cycles on and off, all day and all night. So does your neighbor’s refrigerator. And his uncle’s refrigerator. All told, refrigerators account for about 15% of U.S. residential electricity use. In the past couple of decades, refrigerators have had tremendous efficiency gains. Since 1990, energy use by models with a top-mounted freezer has been cut in half, and new standards set for 2014 will take an additional bite out of refrigerators’  electricity consumption.

The energy use of different styles of refrigerator-freezers varies. The side-by-side configuration uses more than a refrigerator with the freezer on top, with bottom-mounted freezers weighing in somewhere in between. Door-mounted ice and water dispensers increase energy use dramatically.

The models listed have capacities of about 18 cubic feet and some of the lowest electricity usage. All have top-mounted freezers and none has an in-door ice machine. Numerous models in this size range are rated at 335 kWh/year (versus the federal standard of 480 kWh/year). Most manufacturers make several models similar in efficiency to those listed here, as well as similarly efficient models of different sizes.

Before you buy a new refrigerator, take a close look at your needs; buy the smallest unit that you think is manageable. If you don’t need a freezer at all, you can lower your energy use even more. And no matter what size or model you own, don’t turn the thermostats any colder than necessary. Make sure the door seal is in good condition, and keep the fridge and freezer full (with water jugs, if not perishable food).

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Karin Matchett (wordcraft at karinmatchett.com) is a writer and editor working in the Midwest and on the road. She covers topics in renewable energy, energy efficiency, woodworking, gardening, science, and medicine, and is dedicated to finding ways to rehabbing old, urban houses.

Resources:

American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy • www.aceee.org

Energy Star • www.energystar.gov

Consortium for Energy Efficiency • www.cee1.org

 

Comments (1)

Fred Golden's picture

I love my very energy efficient Fisher Paykel single dishdrawer! dishwasher.

I also like my Staber washing machine, it is both water and soap efficient, as well as using the least amount of electricity, and a fast spin cycle drys the clothes about 15% better than the washer it replaced.

You will find ductless split air conditioners and heat pumps in the 16 SEER range, much higher than a window A/C. It can make heat for 1/3 the cost of running a electric baseboard heater.

Heat pump water heaters should be required in all businesses that use a lot of hot water, and in all homes without natural gas or propane to heat the water. They consume 1/3 the power of a electric water heater, and in low electric cost areas such as Oregon are less expensive to run than a propane or natural gas water heater. A by-product can be a air conditioned garage, or cool air supplied in the summer time to a area that needs it.

Fred Golden
San Diego, CA

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