Ways to Use Appliances More Efficiently

October 20, 2015

In, “Top 7 Most Energy-Hungry Appliances” and “Common Wastes of Energy”, we detailed the home appliances that consume the most energy in the average American home. Fortunately, for every energy-hungry appliance, there are specific ways to decrease its energy use and save money.

  • HVAC. The most energy-hungry appliance in the house can also be optimized for energy efficiency. Along with regular maintenance, one of the best ways to save costs with your heating and cooling system is to use a programmable or Wi-Fi thermostat. We detail the benefits of doing so inBenefits of a Programmable Thermostat”. The big plus of these thermostats is that they enable you to regulate the temperature in your home—and thus the energy the HVAC unit uses to regulate that temperature—by automatically adjusting your home’s temperature at specific times (which you’ve programmed) throughout the day. Along with a programmable thermostat, you can take other actions to decrease your use of your HVAC, some of which we cover in “How to Get the Most Out of Your House Fans” and “Heating Your Home with the Sun’s Help”. The more you can use less-expensive energy sources—or better yet free energy sources (like the sun)—the less you’ll spend on using your HVAC unit.

    Programmable and wireless thermostats for the following energy sources may be available for rebates:

o   Oil and propane heating

o   Gas heating


  • Water Heater. The water heater is the second biggest consumer of energy in your home, so taking steps to optimize its use is essential to cutting energy costs. The first step is selecting the right one for your needs—which we cover in “Choosing the Right Water Heater for Your Home”. A newer, more energy efficient model will help you cut costs. So will choosing the right size for your home, so you’re not spending money to heat water you don’t need. Along with that, be sure the temperature is set to 120 degrees Fahrenheit, so you’re not paying to heat water to a temperature hotter than you need it. In “Ways to Cut Down on Hot Water Use”, we detail a number of other steps, including decreasing hot water use, installing low-flow showerheads, and maximizing the use of hot water-hungry appliances, like the washing machine and dishwasher.

    Rebates may be available for the following types of water heaters

o   Gas water heaters

o   Electric water heaters

o   Oil or propane water heaters


  • Washer & Dryer. The washing machine uses one of the most expensive things in a home: hot water. You can cut down on the use of the first by washing the majority of your items in cold water. And when you do wash loads of laundry, be sure they are full loads, so that you’re getting most out of the water you do use. If you wash a small load, reduce the water level accordingly . And if you do have a high-efficiency machine, be sure to use high-efficiency detergent to get the most out of it.


For the dryer, be sure the lint screen is always clean, since a clear lint screen improves circulation in the dryer. Dry items of similar weights together. Don’t mix up heavy materials—like towels—with light materials—like T-shirts. Keeping them separate will help ensure you’re maximizing the drying for heavy items and using as little energy as possible for the lighter ones. And when you do dry things, don’t over-dry them. If your dryer has a moisture sensor, use it to ensure the unit shuts off when the items are appropriately dry.

You can also line dry clothes to reduce the use of your dryer. If you don’t like the stiff feel of your clothes after they’re fully line dried, line dry them until they’re almost dry, then put them in the dryer with a fabric softening sheet for a few minutes on air dry or another low setting to soften them

If you’re in the market for a new clothes dryer, consider an ENERGY STAR® certified electric model. ENERGY STAR certified dryers use 20 percent less energy than conventional models without sacrificing features or performance. They do this by using innovative energy saving technologies. A $50 rebate may be available to help fund this upgrade.

  • Lights. Lights are everywhere inside and outside of your house, using energy—and, since they’re often left on, often needlessly using energy. In “How to Manage Light Use in Fall and Winter” we detailed the steps you can take to cut down on light use. Start by using energy efficient bulbs like ENERGY STAR® certified LEDs and CFLs. Make sure lights not in use are always off. And only use light when you need it. If the sun is available for light, use it. If you only need to light one area of a room, light that area—not the whole room.


  • Electric Stove and Oven. Chances are you use your stove or oven every day; probably multiple times. Which means you have multiple times throughout the day to cut down on the energy it uses. Don’t let it pre-heat for longer than it needs—or leave burners on for longer than you need them. Make sure you turn off the oven and burners when you’re done using them. Don’t use the oven to re-heat food. Because the oven is so big, it is highly inefficient for re-heating foods. Rely on a microwave or toaster oven for that task, whose small size makes them the more energy efficient option for the job.


  • Refrigerator. Even more so than your oven, your refrigerator is a staple of your home. To maximize its energy efficiency, make sure you’re not keeping the refrigerator or freezer too cold. Keep the fridge around 40 degrees Fahrenheit, and the freezer around 0 degrees Fahrenheit. Check each with a thermometer to ensure you have it at the right temperature. Be sure that the door seals to both are air tight, so that the air you’re paying to cool is not slipping out of the appliance. Keep the fridge full. This helps maintain the unit’s temperature—particularly when the door is open. If your freezer is not a frost-free model defrost it regularly—keeping the frost to a quarter inch or less—to maintain its efficiency.


  • Dishwasher. Like every other kitchen appliance, you rely on your dishwasher nearly every day. If you can, invest in a newer, energy efficient model that uses less water. Be sure that the water you’re using in it isn’t too hot. You’ll need to check the unit’s manual to find its ideal temperature, but most don’t need the water hotter than 120 degrees Fahrenheit. Then, work to get the most out of it. Before you load the dishes in the dishwasher, scrape the food from them rather than rinse them to save water. Always run a full load in the dishwasher to maximize the hot water it uses. Avoid using pre-washing or rinse hold features, as they needlessly use extra water. Another option for saving energy is turning off the power dry setting and letting the dishes air dry.


  • Television & Electronics. While you might feel like you can’t live without your oven, fridge, and dishwasher, others in your house (like your kids) might feel they can’t live without electronics. Though the television and other electronics use less energy on their own than other major appliances, their combined use consumes a lot of energy, and when they’re left on or are charging, they drain energy even when you don’t know it. In “Most Common Wastes of Energy” we covered ways to cut energy use for electronics. Start by always turning off electronics, not leaving them in stand-by mode. Advanced power strips can help cut this stand-by energy use, as can unplugging battery-powered items when they’ve finished charging.

These are just a few tips for how you can use some of the most commonly energy-hungry appliances more efficiently. Now, think about the appliances in your home that use the most energy, and try to apply some of the tips above—cutting water use, turning them off, investing in energy efficient models—to cut your monthly and annual energy costs.

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