Wise Use: Household Appliance Money- and Energy-Savings Tips


Wise Use: Household Appliance Money- and Energy-Savings Tips

by Misty McNally
Green Guide by National Geographic

Discouraged because you lack the dough for that $1,600 Asko ultra-efficient dishwasher or the $1,500 LG Tromm Steam Washer? Don’t be. Splurging on new appliances isn’t the only way to cut energy costs in kitchen or laundry room. Your dad had it right when he chided you to turn off the lights and close the fridge door; it’s all about habits. Katie Ackerly, a member of the research staff at the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE, www.aceee.org) says little changes in how we use appliances make a difference. “Common sense goes a long way in using appliances more efficiently,” she says—by adjusting temperatures and timing and by modifying your methods. You’ll be saving lots of watts—and possibly hundreds of dollars—every year (see our downloadable calculator in the sidebar).

To get you started, we’ve put together some tips to maximize energy efficiency consumption in the kitchen and laundry room.


Think outside of the room: A hot kitchen in summer makes you sweat—and the AC work harder. Conversely, a home-cooked meal in the winter will warm you from the inside. Choosing a meal that fits the season is one of the simplest ways to conserve energy in your home.

• Size matters. Don’t use your range oven to cook a small meal. A smaller appliance—a toaster oven or microwave, for example—is a wiser choice. (Buying a small appliance you hardly use is not, however.) A microwave can reduce the energy you use cooking by about two-thirds, while a toaster oven can cut energy consumption in half.
• Pan size matters too. “You don’t want the pan to be hanging over the edge of the burner, and you also want the pan to be fully heated by the burner,” says Ackerly. Choose a pan that matches the size of the burner.
• Pick your pan carefully, choosing sturdy cookware that conduct heat well (such as copper-bottomed pots) and that won’t warp.
• Double up. If you do use the oven, make a larger batch. Leftovers, anyone?
• Unplug it. Even when not in use, some appliances may still be consuming “phantom” or standby energy. (Do you really need the clock on the rice cooker?)
• Put a lid on it. It decreases time on the burner.
• Keep it clean. “The burner drip pans work to reflect heat back up to the pan,” Ackerly says. “If they’re dirty or sooty, they won’t be as reflective and won’t do the job as well.” On the other hand, she notes, “If you have a self-cleaning oven, you don’t want to run the cleaning function too often.” She recommends using the self-clean feature immediately after cooking to take advantage of residual heat.
• Don’t peek. An open oven door or pan lid lets heat escape.


It uses less water overall than hand-washing, yet the manufacturing of a dishwasher is energy intensive, and electricity runs it. Don’t sweat the distinction—just be energy- and water-wise.

• Skip the pre-rinse and scrape off sticky foods like cheese or oatmeal before they have time to adhere to utensils or dishware.
• Turn off the heater and allow dishes to air dry.
• Run a full load. Half as many dishes equals twice as many loads.

Many homes have their water heaters set to 140 degrees (F), but the ACEEE suggests most households set them to 120 degrees. Raising it even 10 degrees can add 3 to 5 percent in energy costs. High heat in the washer or dryer is also tougher on textiles.

• Get down. Use the lowest temperature settings in the washer and dryer. Washing and rinsing with cold water only could save you about $100 every year.
• Fill ’er up—but not too full. Both appliances run most efficiently with full loads. (Washer-dryer sets usually take the same load size.)
• Clean it up. Clogged dryer lint traps impede airflow and hold moisture in.
• Watch your weights. Dry clothes with items of similar weight—don’t waste energy getting denims dry while your lace unmentionables shrink.
• Be sensor-ible. Use the moisture-sensor rather than the timer, and pull clothes out when barely damp instead of bone dry.
• Let it all hang out. Clotheslines make ecological sense—and limit wrinkles. If you dry half your loads, you could save $50 a year.

The bottom line, according to Ackerly, is to use the appliances you have to their maximum efficiency. And all those kilowatts saved add up to some bucks that you can put toward your next energy-saver appliance purchase. Your dad would be proud.

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