Getting the Most from Your ENERGY STAR Appliances

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Mar 22, 2012 | Carl Seville

The ENERGY STAR certified Active Smart Refrigerator by Fisher & Paykel (photo used with permission from Fisher & Paykel Imagebank)ENERGY STAR is one of the most recognized brands in America, but you may be wondering what exactly is it and how can it help you.  ENERGY STAR was developed in 1992 by the US Environmental Protection Agency (established by Richard Nixon, by the way), to promote the production of energy saving appliances for the home.  It has expanded to include new and existing homes, commercial buildings, lighting, heating and cooling equipment, and water heaters, but I’m going to focus on ENERGY STAR appliances for the home.

To get the ENERGY STAR label, an appliance or other electronic equipment must be energy efficient – the increase in efficiency varies depending on the type and size of the appliance.  Most refrigerators must be 20% more efficient than the federal minimum standard to get the label.  Televisions need to save at least 40% more energy, and bigger ones need to be even more efficient.  Other appliances and electronics available with ENERGY STAR labels include dehumidifiers, room air conditioners, computers, monitors, printers, cable boxes, and DVRs.  Dryers, stoves, and microwaves can’t get labeled because there’s not much difference in efficiency between models.

When buying an ENERGY STAR product, first look for the label on the box — that is your first level of assurance that it is efficient.  Some products like refrigerators, clothes washers, and dishwashers also come with an Energy Guide Label, a big yellow card that shows how much energy that model uses compared to other similar products.  Most appliances on display in a showroom will have the labels on them, so it’s easy to compare efficiencies between different models.  The important thing to look at is the total annual energy use and the size of the appliance.  Make sure you are comparing the capacity of the refrigerator or freezer to pick the most efficient model.  Most ENERGY STAR appliances aren’t much (if any) more expensive than non-labeled ones and will save energy and money for as long as you own them.

Just because you bought an ENERGY STAR appliance, TV, or computer doesn’t mean that you will automatically start saving tons of money and electricity.  One of the big problems is that when someone replaces their old, inefficient fridge they usually stick the old one in the garage to keep their beer cold.  So instead of replacing the inefficient one, he is using more energy than before.  Don’t keep that old fridge. Either donate it or have it recycled.  If you absolutely can’t part with it, think about how often you need to use it, and only turn it on for those few parties you have every year, leaving it unplugged most of the time. 

That brings up the biggest problem with electrical equipment — most if it is always on standby, even when we aren’t using it, just so we can use the remote and don’t have to get off our butts and walk across the room.  Of course, we can’t turn off everything: refrigerators, cable TV and DVR boxes, and clock radios need to stay on.  But you can put your TV on a switched power strip that you turn off when you’re not watching.  I do it. Trust me, it’s not that challenging.  The EPA estimates that the average TV uses about half of its lifetime energy when it’s not on, just so the remote works.  Come on people, we can’t possibly be that lazy! 

We should also do a better job of turning off our computers, stereos, wireless routers, and other electronics when we’re not using them.  Set your computer, monitor, and printer to their energy saver settings so they power down when idle and turn them off when you are finished working.  Put your wireless router and modem on a timer that turns them off at the end of the day.  And when you go on vacation, unplug everything you can (except the fridge), to save even more energy.

Buying ENERGY STAR appliances and electronics is a good start to saving energy, but you need to get rid of the old, inefficient ones and cut the power to even the efficient ones when you’re not using them to really make a difference.

Carl Seville is a green building consultant who works with Atlanta roofing contractors. Get green home ideas like this on Networx.

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