If your dishwasher or clothes washer is 10 years old, or your refrigerator has turned 15, you should be researching replacements that save energy and money. The abundance of appliance recycling programs means your old hunk of junk doesn't have to end up in the landfill, and you'll recoup some or all of your investment over the life of the appliance in energy savings.
Energy Star models are a good start, but you can do even better. The Consortium for Energy Efficiency's Super-Efficient Home Appliance (SEHA) initiative promotes refrigerators, dishwashers and clothes washers that exceed minimum Energy Star requirements. Their top-tier models are the most efficient on the market and will net you the most savings.
If you're going to update just one appliance, this should be it. Your refrigerator is the biggest energy hog of all your appliances. After all, it runs every minute of the day and the older it is, the greedier it is. Replacing a refrigerator from the 1980s with an Energy Star model will save you $100 per year on your energy bill, and replacing one from the 1970s nets $200 per year. Units with the freezer on top are the most energy efficient.
By the way, if you stick your old refrigerator in the garage to stockpile extra food, you're not really replacing it. Choose your new refrigerator to maximize the kind of storage you need most, then bite the bullet and send the old one to be recycled. If you absolutely require a second unit to handle all your food storage, it's actually better to get a second Energy Star model than to use your old one.
Buying a new Energy Star dishwasher can save you up to $40 annually over a pre-1994 model. But dishwashers are a special case that are rated for the dishwasher's energy consumption only, not the amount of water it uses. And that can make a big difference in the savings you actually realize. According to the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE), some Energy Star dishwashers use half as much water as others, which can total hundreds of gallons per year.
You can check the federally mandated yellow Energy Guide label found on every appliance to compare annual water consumption on each model you're considering.
Consider replacing your washing machine if it's more than 10 years old. You'll save about $70 per year by choosing an Energy Star model, or more if you choose a top-tier washer from the SEHA list. In general, front-loading washers use much less water and energy than top-loading models.
Energy Star ratings for clothes washers do take water consumption into account, but models vary widely in efficiency, so read the label carefully. Clothes washer efficiency is indicated by two measurements: MEF (Modified Energy Factor, or how much laundry it can do on one kWh of energy) and WF (Water Factor, or how much water the machine needs per cubic foot of laundry). Ideally, you want a machine with a high MEF and a low WF.
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