When you're shopping for appliances, think of two price tags. The first one covers the purchase price -- think of it as a down payment. The second price tag is the cost of operating the appliance during its lifetime. You'll be paying on that second price tag every month with your utility bill for the next 10 to 20 years, depending on the appliance. Refrigerators last an average of 12 years; clothes washers last about 11 years; and room air conditioners last about 9 years.
When shopping, consider labels and features that can help ensure that you purchase appliances with a low operating cost.
The ENERGY STAR® Label
When you shop for a new appliance, look for the ENERGY STAR® label. ENERGY STAR products usually exceed minimum federal standards by a substantial amount.
The ENERGY STAR logo is on all qualified products that meet specific standards for energy efficiency. ENERGY STAR-qualified products exceed the federal minimum standards for efficiency and quality -- sometimes significantly. Look for the label on appliances, electronics, water heaters, windows, and other products that consume energy in your home.
The EnergyGuide Label
To help you figure out whether an appliance is energy efficient, the federal government requires most appliances to display the bright yellow and black EnergyGuide label. Although these labels will not show you which appliance is the most efficient on the market, they will show you the annual energy consumption and operating cost for each appliance so you can compare them yourself.
How to Read the EnergyGuide Label
The EnergyGuide label is required to be placed on all appliances by the manufacturers. The label provides information about energy consumption, and shows you how much energy an appliance uses compared with similar models. Keep in mind that the numbers are averages: actual costs will differ somewhat depending on how you use them. The label shows the following:
- Maker, model number, and size of the appliance.
- Estimated yearly operating cost (based on the national average cost of electricity), and the range of operating costs for similar models.
- The ENERGY STAR® logo indicates that this model meets strict criteria for energy efficiency.
- Estimated yearly electricity consumption.
- Key features of the appliance and the similar models that make up the cost comparison range.
Smart Appliances and Home Management Products
Some manufacturers are now offering "smart" appliances -- appliances that can be connected to or controlled by smart electric meters or home energy management systems to help you shift your electricity use to off-peak hours. Air conditioners, water heaters, refrigerators, dishwashers, and other appliances may be available as smart appliances. Smart thermostats can also be installed to manage new or existing heating and cooling systems.
Smart appliances don't just turn off during times of peak electricity demand -- instead, they use subtle ways to shift energy use. You might not even be aware of it. For example, your air conditioner may run slightly less often, or your water heater may adjust its heating cycle to operate when energy costs are lower, without impacting their performance. Or your laundry or dishwasher can be scheduled to operate when electricity rates and demand are lower. If your utility charges lower rates for electricity when demand is lower, such as nights and weekends, also called time of use rates, you could save on your utility bill. Such changes may be unnoticeable to you, but could add up to significant savings on your energy costs. Your utility provider can tell you more about the availability of smart grid technologies and time-based electricity rates in your area and how they can benefit you.