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Energy Guide for Appliances and Electronics

Today’s major appliances are more efficient than older models because they must meet minimum federal energy efficiency standards. These standards have increased over the years and tend to be about 50% more efficient than a model that is 10 years  old.

The less energy we use, the more money we save and the lower our demand on power plants. However, finding which models use less energy is sometimes difficult.  Below are some suggestions to help in your energy guide search.

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Look for the Energy Star® label

Energy Star models are the most energy efficient in any product category, exceeding the energy efficiency minimums set by the federal government. If you remember only one rule when you shop, remember to look for the Energy Star label. In some parts of the country, including Washington DC, utilities or state governments may offer rebates on Energy Star-rated models.

Check here for details.

Use the EnergyGuide label

All new appliances must carry the EnergyGuide label, either on the appliance itself or on the packaging. The label allows you to compare the typical annual energy consumption and operating cost of different appliance models. Make efficiency your highest priority when purchasing new appliances.

Get the right size

Make sure the product you’re buying suits your needs. Oversized air conditioners, water heaters and refrigerators waste energy and money; in many cases they also don’t perform as well.

Choose appliances that run on natural gas

Usually it’s more efficient to burn natural gas where it’s needed — in your home — than to burn it at a power plant, convert the heat to electricity and then send the electricity over wires to your house. Look for dryers, stoves and water heaters that run on natural gas.

Think long term

Many of the most energy-efficient appliances cost more initially, but they’ll save you money in the long run. Expect to keep most major appliances between 10 and 20 years. A more efficient appliance soon pays for itself as lower monthly utility bills over the lifetime of the appliance will more than offset a higher purchase price. In addition, the latest resource-efficient clothes washers and dishwashers not only save electricity, they also use a lot less water and can reduce your water bill.

Below is more specific information to keep in mind if you’re in the market for any of the following major appliances: 

  • Refrigerators
  • Clothes Washers
  • Dishwashers
  • Room Air Conditioners
  • Central Air Conditioners
  • Water Heaters
  • Home Electronics
  • More Shopping Tips


If you are thinking of replacing an old appliance, the refrigerator is a good place to start. New refrigerators consume 75% less energy than those produced in the late 1970s. Replacing a 1980 vintage fridge with one that meets today’s standards will save more than $100 a year in utility costs; an ENERGY STAR model will save an additional 15% or more by employing better insulation, more efficient compressors and more precise temperature control and defrost mechanisms.

Energy-Saving Purchasing Tips:

  • Refrigerators with freezers on the bottom are the most energy efficient configuration.
  • Refrigerators with freezers on top use 10 to 15 percent less energy than a side-by-side model of equivalent size.
  • Generally, the larger the refrigerator, the greater the energy consumption. But one large refrigerator will use less energy than two smaller ones with the same total volume or a smaller fridge plus a separate freezer.

Clothes Washers

Replacing a pre-1994 washer with an ENERGY STAR model can save a family $110 a year on utility bills. EnergyStar washers use 50% less energy than standard models, and only 18 to 25 gallons of water for a full-sized load, compared to 40 gallons for standard models. Many ENERGY STAR models also advertise lower fabric wear and better stain removal.

The energy efficiency of standard, top-loading washers has doubled over the last two decades, mostly by decreasing the amount of water used. (Most of a washer’s energy consumption goes to heating water.) Front-loading washers use less water than top-loaders because they don’t have to totally submerge clothes. Their tumbling action constantly lifts water and drops it back down on to clothing. ENERGY STAR top-loaders, however, can be just as efficient as front loaders. Look for the EnergyGuide label to compare efficiency.

Energy-Saving Purchasing Tips:

  • Choose the appropriate size washer. A smaller washer may be more efficient for small households. But if you have a large family and have to do multiple loads in a washer that’s too small, you could lose any possible energy savings.
  • Look for a washer with adjustable water levels. Then, use less water for small loads.
  • Choose a washer with a faster spin speed. This allows more water to be removed after the wash, reducing the drying time and your dryer’s energy use.
  • Use a gas dryer rather than an electric dryer where possible.


A new dish washer is not only more efficient than an older model, it’s also better at getting dishes clean. Manufacturers no longer recommend that you pre-wash your dishes. Simply scrape the remaining food off your plates and place them in the machine as is. This will save you time and save money on your water bill.

The most efficient dishwashers use less hot water, have energy-efficient motors and use sensors to determine the length of the wash cycle and the water temperature needed to do the job. The newest EnergyStar dish washers are 25 percent more efficient than the minimum federal standards. Replacing a pre-1994 dishwasher with an EnergyStar model can save $25 a year on utility costs.

Energy-Saving Purchasing Tips:

  • Choose a dishwasher with a “light wash” or “energy-saving” wash cycle. It uses less water and operates for a shorter period of time for dishes that are just slightly soiled.  If your unit does not have this option, use the shortest cycle.
  • Look for dishwashers that have an energy-saving cycle that allows dishes to be air-dried with circulation fans, rather than heat-dried with energy-wasting heating coils.

Room Air Conditioners

The most efficient room air conditioners have higher-efficiency compressors, fan motors and heat-transfer surfaces than previous models. A high-efficiency unit reduces energy consumption by 20 to 50 percent. Replacing a 10-year-old model with an Energy Star model can cut energy bills by an average of $14 a year. Keep in mind:

  • The biggest unit isn’t always the best choice, especially for small areas. A smaller unit running for a long period of time operates more efficiently and is more effective at decreasing humidity than a larger unit that goes on and off frequently.
  • If you’re comparing several similar units, choose the one with the highest Energy Efficiency Ratio. You can find the EER on the unit or its packaging. The minimum EER required by federal law is 9.7; the most efficient air conditioners of 2003 have an EER of 11.7.

Energy-Saving Purchasing Tips:

  • Variable fan speed settings give you greater control on air flow. The lower settings also help save money.
  • Digital temperature control allows you to control temperature by degrees–instead of with HIGH or LOW settings for more comfort and wastes less energy .
  • Programmable thermostats allow you to program desired settings for different times of the day and night.
  • Easy-to-access filters slide-out and are easy to clean and remove dust and other allergens from the air. Regular maintenance will extend the service life of your air conditioner and help it operate at full efficiency.
  • Sleep setting/energy-saving setting programs the unit to operate at a very low setting, making the room more comfortable for sleeping while conserving energy.
  • Timers are a simpler and less costly alternative to programmable thermostats. Just set the time you want the AC to start or stop. Timers let you come home to a house that already is cool, without continuously running the air conditioner while you’re away.

Central Air Conditioners

If your central air conditioning system is more than 10 years old, replacing it with an Energy Star model could reduce your energy consumption for cooling by 20 percent.

Energy-Saving Purchasing Tips:

  • Look for the seasonal energy efficiency ratio (SEER). Old units typically have a SEER of 9 to 13. January 1, 2015, new standards went into effect, raising the minimum SEER for central air conditioners to 14. Homes with higher heat loads should consider SEER 16.
  • For maximum efficiency on the hottest days, the air conditioner should have a thermal expansion valve (TVX), and the high temperature rating (EER) on your unit should be at least 11.6.
  • For optimal performance, buy a matched system of indoor unit, condenser and even thermostat.
  • Get a reliable contractor to make sure your new unit is the right size for your home, and have it professionally installed. Even the most efficient system can’t make up for the energy loss due to improper sizing and poor installation.
  • Have your contractor make sure all your ducts are sealed and insulated. Duct tests require a fan and a pressure gauge – they cannot be done by sight.

Water Heaters

Water heating is typically the third largest energy expense in your home, accounting for about 14 percent of your energy bill. An old water heater can operate for years at very low efficiency before it finally fails. If your gas water heater is more than 10 years old, it probably operates at less than 50 percent efficiency.

Energy-Saving Purchasing Tips:

  • Calculate how much hot water your household uses at peak times. Figure that a clothes washer on hot wash/hot rinse can use about 32 gallons of hot water; a shower, 20 gallons. Washing dishes by hand can use 10 to 15 gallons, and automatic dishwashers, about 8 gallons.
  • Match this figure with the “first hour rating” (FHR) on the EnergyGuide label. The FHR measures how many gallons of hot water your heater can deliver during a busy hour. Don’t be misled by the size of the tank –it doesn’t necessarily correlate with FHR.
  • Once you’ve found the right FHR range for your household, check the unit’s Energy Factor (EF), which rates efficiency. A high-efficiency gas model would have an EF around 0.8.
  • A natural gas unit will cost less to operate than electric.

Home Electronics

For most products, the EnergyStar label is your assurance that the product will operate more efficiently than a standard model. But EnergyStar TVs, audio equipment, telephones, computers and printers earn the label primarily because they draw only a small amount of power when not in use — regardless of the amount of power they consume when operating. When buying electronics, do look for the EnergyStar label, but also keep a few general caveats in mind.

Energy-Saving Purchasing Tips:

  • Ink jet printers tend to be more energy-efficient than lasers.
  • LCD televisions and monitors draw less power than CRT or plasma screens.
  • Small lightweight power supplies tend to be more energy efficient than large, heavy transformer-based power supplies.

More Smart Shopping Tips

Check for incentives.Some states offer rewards for buying the most energy-efficient appliances. Connecticut and California, for example, have rebate programs that will refund part of the purchase price of certain new energy-efficient appliances. Maryland eliminates sales tax on some appliances with the Energy Star label. Check with your local utility and the Energy Star Rebate Locator to find out if cash rebates or other incentives are available in your area, or see our state-by-state listing.

Use the Internet

Several websites contain additional useful information. The EPA’s Energy Star website has information on appliance models that carry the Energy Star label and where you can buy them. The American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy publishes a yearly list of the most energy-efficient appliances. And the Consortium for Energy Efficiency has information on programs promoting energy efficiency in the home.