Home, home and the range
Inefficient home appliances may be stealing your water, robbing your
electricity and assaulting your pocketbook. Here's some tips on how to get
by Maureen Cureton, Rocky Mountain Institute, reprinted with permission.
wentieth Century living has introduced a host of modern
appliances to American homes. Apart from refrigerators, appliances such
as ovens, washing machines and dryers, and electronics such as televisions
and VCRs are not big energy users. However, when we fill our homes with
all these conveniences, their combined energy use can be considerable, accounting
for an average of 30% of our residential energy bills or $415 for the average
home. Fortunately, design and manufacturing advances now offer energy-efficient
options for many appliances. The EnergyGuide label required by Federal law
on all new major appliances provides information about annual energy costs
and comparative efficiency so that you can make informed appliance purchases.
With these guidelines and some review of your patterns of use, you can reduce
monthly utility bills and still enjoy the comforts of home.
Arrange your range
Heat-generating appliances are good candidates to consider
first when reviewing your appliance energy demands, because they are likely
to be among the household's biggest energy consumers. Ovens and ranges also
can contribute to overheating of your home in summer thereby increasing
air conditioning bills or making the home unpleasantly hot.
Microwave ovens offer an affordable and effective way
to save energy, using up to 2/3 less electricity than conventional ovens.
Microwaves also offer faster cooking and re-heating times for most foods
and little waste heat to task your air conditioner. In conventional ovens,
gas ranges generally cost less to operate than electric ranges, because
gas is a more efficient and less costly way to generate heat. Modern gas
ranges have replaced pilot lights with electric ignitors, a feature that
saves on gas but draws a small amount of electricity to ignite the gas.
If you're averse to gas combustion appliances in your home, convection ovens
are a more efficient type of electric oven. Convection ovens allow a decrease
in cooking times and temperatures because heat circulates around the food,
thereby providing better heat distribution.
To achieve greater energy efficiency, look for self-cleaning
ovens because they have more insulation; but if you use the self-cleaning
function more than once a month, you'll use more energy than the insulation
saves. If you like to peek in the oven, purchase a model with a small window,
since opening the door will allow heat to escape, adding to cooking time;
otherwise, eliminating the window can allow for a better insulated oven
door. Never use your oven as a heat source in cold temperatures - it's very
inefficient and, with gas stoves, unsafe, due to combustion gases that can
build up inside the home.
Stove-tops now come in several new styles: magnetic
induction, halogen and ceramic glass. They are more expensive than conventional
stove-tops, and the moderate electricity savings alone do not justify their
higher costs. Solid disk elements look attractive and offer easy clean-up,
but they heat up slowly, use higher-wattage elements, and typically consume
As well as being standard fare as wedding gifts, crock
pots and toaster ovens can be great energy savers, as demonstrated in the
following table that compares the energy costs of cooking the same casserole
several different ways:
Energy costs of various cooking methods
If you're looking for a free lunch, you may want to
cook your casserole in a solar box cooker. These ovens are simply insulated
boxes with a glass lid and reflector. Placed outdoors facing the sun, they
can collect enough solar heat to provide oven temperatures as high as 450
deg. F. You can get plans to build your own by contacting Solar Box Cookers
International, 1724 11 Street, Sacramento, CA 95814, or buy a Sun Oven from
Burns-Milwaukee, Inc., 4010 West Douglas Avenue, Milwaukee, WI 53209.
Electric oven 16 cents
Convection oven (electric) 11 cents
Toaster oven 8 cents
Gas oven 7 cents
Frying pan 7 cents
Crock pot 6 cents
Microwave oven 3 cents
Adapted from WIlson and Morrill (1993), Consumer Guide to Home Energy
Savings, American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, Wahington, DC.
Ventilation of cooking appliances is important, especially
with gas stoves. Fans should send cooking fumes outside, not simply re-circulate
them. Size fans appropriately to avoid excessive heat loss and the danger
of backdrafting from fireplaces and heating systems.
Here are some ways to use less energy when baking cakes
and broiling steaks:
- Cook several dishes at the same time in the oven, or cook bigger portions
and re-heat for another meal. Re-heating takes less energy than cooking.
- In summer, avoid cooking whenever possible; enjoy fresh seasonal produce
in salads and other cold dishes.
- For stove-top cooking, use copper pots; they heat up faster.
- Using potlids will prevent heat from escaping.
- You can turn down the oven temperature about 25 deg. F with no added
cooking time by using glass or ceramic cookware.
- Pressure cookers use 50-75% less energy than ordinary cookware.
- The metal dishes under the burners will be more effective at reflecting
heat up to the cookware if they are kept clean.
- Minimize heating requirements by using the smallest pan necessary.
Using a small pot on a big burner wastes energy.
Watch the washer
Washing machines in America's homes require the electricity
output of thirteen large power plants. Since heating the water to wash clothes
accounts for most of this energy demand (86%), minimizing the use of hot
water is a simple way to reduce utility bills. Washers with automatic or
manual load-size adjustment cut water and energy use. A faster spin speed,
which achieves better water extraction, saves energy by reducing drying
Washing machine design has come a long way since the
days of the wringer washer. In the last decade, the energy efficiency of
standard top-loading models has doubled. At 30 to 40 gallons per load, however,
Americans are consuming a lot of water for whiter whites and brighter brights.
In Europe, front-loading horizontal-axis washers have been popular for years.
Like the machines in some laundromats, this design uses 50-65% less water
than the vertical-axis washers typically sold in North America because the
drum is turned sideways, thus tumbling the clothes through the water at
the bottom. EnergyGuide labels indicate that horizontal-axis (H-axis) machines
will save the average home $42 in annual energy costs. Other advantages
of these washers include lower drying costs because of their faster spin
cycle, less detergent use per load, and cleaner clothes, too!
A few European front-loading models, AEG, Mieli, and
Asko are available in the United States in the $1,300 to $2,100 price range.
Frigidaire is manufacturing a lower priced H-axis washer for White Westinghouse
and Gibson, but surveys by Consumer Reports have questioned their reliability
and noise level (we suggest you get an extended warranty). Maytag will enter
the market in 1995, and a small company in Ohio called Staber Industries
has developed a top-loading H- axis model. Interested buyers may contact
Staber's marketing representative, Advanced Laundry Technologies, 6065 France
Road, Suite 103, Dublin, Ohio 43017; (614) 764-9086. [see below]
If you are not in the market for a new washer, here
are a few basic tips that can increase energy efficiency and get clothes
- Low-temperature washing or at least cold water rinsing will conserve
energy and probably help your clothes last longer, too. For really dirty
clothes, a warm pre-soak and wash cycle followed by a cold rinse should
clean them as well as a hot water wash.
- A full load of laundry is always more efficient, but if you don't
have enough dirty clothes to fill up the washer, adjust the setting to a
lower water level.
- Locate the washing machine close to the hot water tank, if possible,
to reduce the heat lost in long pipe runs.
Dryers, I scream
The energy performance of dryers has increased only
moderately in the past decade, and microwave technology may offer the first
big breakthrough in dryer efficiency. A company in Oregon has developed
a microwave clothes dryer that uses up to 30% less energy than conventional
electric dryers, but this model is still in the testing phase and is not
expected on the market until 1997. If you are considering a new dryer purchase
before then, there are a few energy-saving options to look for in models
In the United States, electric clothes dryers outnumber
gas units by nearly four to one, despite the fact that gas dryers cost about
half as much to operate. The EnergyGuide labels provide information about
the efficiencies of various models of dryers, but it won't tell you about
features such as moisture and temperature sensors. A moisture sensing device
can save about 15% of energy consumption by automatically shutting off the
dryer when the clothes are dry. While temperature-sensing auto-off devices
sometimes over-dry clothes, they average 10% savings in energy compared
to timers. If your dryer has a timer, consider shortening the drying time
and taking your clothes out when they are still slightly damp. If you hang
them right away, you may eliminate the energy required to iron your clothes.
Other clothes drying tips:
- In desert climates, sunshine on clothes lines still works best.
- Avoid excessive use of your dryer by using a clothesline or drying
rack- this saves energy, and clothes last longer, too.
- Run only full loads in the dryer, and dry heavy clothes separately
from light clothing.
- Dry two or more loads in a row to make use of the heat already in
- Locate your dryer (and washer) in a heated space.
- Install a lint kit ($5-$10) to vent the exhaust heat and humidity
from electric dryers into the house in winter-an easy do-it-yourself retrofit.
- For electric or gas dryers vented to the outside, purchase a vent
hood that makes a tight seal when the dryer is not in use to eliminate air
infiltration that boosts your heating and cooling bills.
- Clean the fluff out of the filter before and during every load to
allow air to circulate better.
- Regularly clean the lint from vent hoods and lint kits, too.
Dishing it out
Dishwashers are a convenience in nearly half of all
U.S. homes. As with washing machines, the majority (80 percent) of the energy
consumption of dishwashers is for heating water, and typical dishwashers
use 7 to 14 gallons of hot water per load.
Shopping for a new dishwasher? Begin with the EnergyGuide
ratings that will indicate efficiency based on features such as good insulation.
These ratings are all calculated for dishwashers operating on the "normal"
setting, however, and do not report on savings possible by using options
such as no-heat air-drying and energy-saving cycles. A note of caution:
while energy-saving options are available for most models, the manufacturer's
performance claims may not be based on the use of those options.
Most modern dishwashers have a built-in water booster
heater. This device will enable you to save money by lowering the temperature
on your home's hot water tank to 120 deg. F for other household needs because
the dishwasher's booster will raise the water temperature to 140 deg. F
to kill germs and cut grease. Since only 20- 40% of the hot water used by
a dishwasher needs to be at such a high temperature, additional hot water
savings are realized because the booster heats just the amount of water
required to be at the higher temperature.
Sizing of appliances is a critical factor in achieving
energy efficiency. In dishwashers (as well as washing machines and dryers),
there are compact and standard capacity units. Compact models use less energy
per load, but hold fewer dishes so you may actually consume more energy
operating them more frequently. Consider your needs before you make any
With the following energy-saving recommendations for
dishwasher use, you don't have to get dish-pan hands to save energy in the
If you don't enjoy the convenience of an automatic dishwasher,
you may still want to take advantage of some easy ways to reduce the use
of hot water in the kitchen:
- Avoid rinsing the dishes before you load them in the dishwasher.
- As with washers and dryers, always operate a dishwasher with a full
- Use "light wash" or "energy-saving" cycles.
- Do not use the heated drying cycle.
- Locate the dishwasher away from your fridge because the dishwasher
will give off heat that will make your refrigerator have to work harder.
- Put the plug in the sink and wash a load of dishes. Don't run the
tap to wash one dish at a time.
- Don't run the water non-stop for rinsing. If you have two sinks, fill
one with hot soapy wash water and the other with cold rinse water.
- A 2.5 gallon per minute (gpm) faucet aerator can save as much as half
the water used by standard faucets, and it's easy to install.
- Some high-efficiency faucet heads have finger-tip control devices
that allow you to stop the flow without having to turn the tap on and off
and re-adjust the water temperature.
- Laminar-flow faucet aerators spread the flow of water over the surface
of the dishes instead of it bouncing off.
After reviewing the energy demands of your household's
major appliances, you may want to consider the electricity used by all those
extra comforts of home that can account for an average of 14% of a household's
energy consumption. We cannot discuss them all here, but the table below
lists a few of the small appliances and electronics along with the typical
energy use of some "white goods" such as clothes washers and dryers.
The corresponding carbon dioxide (CO2) emitted by the average power plant
supplying your home with electricity is also listed.
Many appliances use electricity even when they are "off."
A small amount of electricity is constantly consumed by such features as
the black adapter plug for cordless and rechargeable appliances and cable
TV converter boxes. Even when the cordless vacuum, personal computer, or
rechargeable battery unit is fully charged, the adapter plug still draws
a small amount of electricity. Unplug them when recharging is completed
or when not in use.
Now that you are aware of all those extra burdens on
your household utility bills, here are some ways to control their energy
- Read the product literature before you buy. The wattage demand can
vary greatly among various models of appliances.
- Consider non-electric alternatives such as a manual carpet sweeper
instead of a cordless vacuum or a good manual can opener vs. an electric
- Waterbed owners can save a lot of energy by insulating with reflective
material under the heater and on the sides of the mattress. A mattress cover
will enable you to turn down the temperature setting, too, and covering
the bed with a quilt can save you $40 per year.
- A warm blanket or down comforter is a great substitute for an electric
blanket, and there's no danger of exposure to electromagnetic fields (EMFs).
EMFs have been linked to higher incidence of some forms of cancer.
- Pour brewed coffee into a thermos instead of keeping the coffee maker's
hotplate on all day. The coffee will taste fresh-brewed longer, too.
Televisions, VCRs, and stereos are not energy gluttons,
but since they are common in almost every home and the typical American
household has two TVs, they are responsible for a substantial amount of
power consumption. Televisions alone in the United States require an amount
of electricity equal to the power produced by 21 large powerplants. Most
models of color televisions and VCRs have an instant- on feature that keeps
the tubes constantly warmed up, so even when the television is turned off
this feature is using electricity. In fact, one calculation indicated that
the electricity used by the instant-on feature of all the televisions in
the United States drains as much electricity as the output of a Chernobyl-sized
nuclear powerplant! For most electronics, however, turning them off is still
the simplest way to save energy.
Next time you're considering an appliance purchase,
whether it be to cook, clean, shake, bake, toast your muffin, or brew some
coffee, look for the EnergyGuide label on larger appliances and any energy-saving
features that may be available. Think twice about how to best use your appliances
to avoid wasteful energy demands. Put your feet up, turn the television
off, and enjoy the comforts of home.
- American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, 2140 Shattuck
Avenue, Suite 202, Berkeley, CA 94704; (510) 549-9914, publishes the excellent
Consumer Guide to Home Energy Savings, which lists brands and models of
appliances and their aanual energy use and cost.
- Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Clearinghouse, PO Box
3048, Merrifield, VA 22116, (800) 523-2929, has free information on efficient
- For more information on saving energy and money in the home see RMI's
The Efficient House Sourcebook and The Energy-Efficient Home. Other titles
in this series of Home Energy Briefs include Windows, Water Heating, Refrigerators
& Freezers, Lighting, and Home Office Equipment. Please contact RMI
for a free information packet and a publications list.
© Rocky Mountain Institute, July 1994. The Rocky Mountain Institute,
founded by Amery Lovins, is the recognized authority on efficient energy
use. Maureen Cureton is a Research Associate with the Institute.
Annual electricity cost of home appliances and widgets
(Based on typical usage at an electricity rate of 8 cents per
Avg. elect- Avg. CO2
ricity used cost emissions
Appliance/Product kWh/year $/year in lbs.
Clock 25 $2 47
Clothes dryer 1,060 85 1,972
Clothes washer (including hot water) 1,080 86 2,009
Clothes washer (excluding hot water) 99 8 184
Coffee Maker 100 8 186
Dehumidifier 400 32 744
Dishwasher (including hot water) 935 75 1,739
Electric blanket 120 10 223
Electric clothes dryer 1,060 85 1,972
Hair Dryer 50 4 93
Iron 50 4 93
Sauna, spa, hot tub 2,300 184 4,280
Stereo and radio 75 6 140
Telephone answering machine 36 3 67
Television (cable TV box) 144 12 268
Television, color (turned on) 197 16 855
Television, color (turned off) 33 3 61
Vacuum 25 2 47
Vacuum (cordless) 36 3 67
VCR 40 3 74
Waterbed 930 74 1,730
Take a tumble
e take the things in our daily lives for granted mostly
because they are there already, solving a problem or providing a service.
Many examples are found in our homes and garages. It if often unfortunately
not until they break down that we are moved to make improvements - even
those that will actually save us in the long run.
Recently a service technician to my home pronounced
sentence on my washing machine of almost 20 years - the cost to repair it
was going to approach the cost of replacement. So my recent forays into
the world of appliance reuse, recycling and replacement have been colored
by my personal quest to do the right thing.
Here's a report on one of the leading contenders, "The
The design of washing machines hasn't changed substantially
in thirty years. "The early machines were battle tanks," says
Jim Staber, vice president of Staber Industries, "They were mechanical
monstrosities, but they worked forever."
Improvements in design are often achieved by taking
an existing solution and then, turning it around, in all dimensions, take
into account new materials and ideas, and voila! a better mousetrap, or
in this case, washing machine is born. After thirty years of remanufacturing
clothes washers. Staber engineers had seen first hand the design failures
of the past and were in a position to invent the washing machine for today.
As a result, the "System 2000" from Staber
Industries is touted as "a washing machine to take you into the 21st
century! A revolutionary way to wash your clothes. It gets your laundry
cleaner, while using fewer resources, less hot water, less detergent, less
energy. In short, the System 2000 helps save the environment while saving
The main design change that distinguishes the System
2000 is the fundamentally different way it agitates clothes. If effect,
the Staber engineers turned the machines on its side - moving the axis from
vertical to horizontal. This configuration takes advantage of gravity to
tumble the clothes the way dryers already do.
Beyond this fundamental change other design features
increase efficiency. To boost water turbulence and reduce water use, engineers
used computers to analyze the volume and water flow. Reduction in water
use means using less electricity or gas for heat. A faster, final spin,
means the clothes spend less time drying. The machine's only mechanical
components are an electric pump and an electric motor. To simplify disassembly
for service and recycling, parts were consolidated into components that
reduce the overall number of parts.
"It uses at least 50% less water to do, effectively
50% more clothes than conventional agitator models. Due to its decreased
water consumption, it inherently uses less bleach and detergents and fabric
softeners to reach the same concentration in the water."
Staber says a conventional washer uses 35 to 50 gallons
of water per load to wash about 10 to 12 pounds of clothes while the Staber
model "can efficiently wash 16 to 18 pounds of clothes ...using only
21 gallons of water in a normal wash cycle."
Like other new technology, the Staber washer costs more
up front . "But when you factor in the utility savings in water and
electricity, you'll be able to recoup any difference within two years."
After that, you just keep reaping the benefits of your investment in efficiency.
Staber hopes the lure of smaller, more efficient machines
with a 20-year life expectancy will be in demand by consumers. In Europe,
consumers induced to save water, energy, and floor spaces have adopted the
configuration with enthusiasm. But in the U.S., an appliance consortia of
utilities and government agencies are still in the early stages of incentive
Staber says the biggest hurdle to overcome will be the
public's resistance to change. "Everybody's familiar with the vertical-axis
agitators and people think they do a pretty good job, but once they actually
get a look at a Staber, we think they'll be amazed."