How to buy an energy-efficient appliance

You go shopping for a new refrigerator, and you’re on a budget. The best buy is the fridge with the lowest sales price, right?

Not necessarily. If you buy the lowest-priced refrigerator, you may end up spending more than if you buy a more expensive one. The reason? The cost of owning a home appliance has three components: the initial purchase price, the cost of repairs and maintenance, and the cost to operate it.

To figure out how much you’ll spend over the lifetime of the appliance, you have to look at all these factors. The appliance with the lowest initial purchase price, or even the one with the best repair record, isn’t necessarily the one that costs the least to operate. Here’s an example of how an appliance’s energy consumption can affect your out-of-pocket costs.

Suppose you’re in the market for a new refrigerator-freezer. Different models of refrigerators with the same capacity can vary dramatically in the amount of electricity they use. For one popular size and configuration, for example, the annual electricity consumption varies across models from a low of about 600 kilowatt-hours a year to a high of more than 800 kilowatt-hours a year. Based on national average electricity prices, that means the annual cost to operate this refrigerator can range from about $50 to $70, depending on which model you buy.

A $20 difference in annual operating costs might not sound like much. But remember that you will enjoy these savings year after year for the life of the appliance, while you must pay any difference in purchase price only once.

You can learn about the energy efficiency of an appliance that you’re thinking about buying through the yellow-and-black EnergyGuide label. The Federal Trade Commission’s Appliance Labeling Rule requires appliance manufacturers to put these labels on:

  • Refrigerators, freezers, dishwashers, clothes washers
  • Water heaters, furnaces, boilers
  • Central air conditioners, room air conditioners, heat pumps
  • Pool heaters

When you shop for one of these appliances in a dealer’s showroom, you should find the labels hanging on the inside of an appliance or secured to the outside. The law requires that the labels specify:

  • The capacity of the particular model
  • For refrigerators, freezers, dishwashers, clothes washers and water heaters, the estimated annual energy consumption of the model
  • For air conditioners, heat pumps, furnaces, boilers and pool heaters, the energy efficiency rating
  • The range of estimated annual energy consumption, or energy efficiency ratings, of comparable appliances.

Some appliances also may feature the ENERGY STAR logo, which means that the appliance is significantly more energy efficient than the average comparable model. To compare how updating appliances and making other changes around your home can impact your electric bill, visit www.TogetherWeSave.com

Shopping Strategy

  1. Select the size and style. Measure the space the appliance will occupy to be sure your new purchase will fit. Make sure that you’ll have enough room to open the door or lid fully and enough clearance for ventilation. This may help you narrow your choices as you settle on the best capacity and style.
  2. Know where to shop. Appliance outlets, electronics stores and local retailers carry different brands and models. Dealers also sell appliances through print catalogs and the Internet.
  3. Compare the performance of different brands and models. Ask to see the manufacturer’s product literature. Decide which features are important to you. Ask questions about how the different models operate: Are they noisy? What safety features do they have? What about repair histories? How much water do they use? How energy efficient are they?
  4. Estimate how much the appliance will cost to operate. The more energy an appliance uses, the more it will cost to run. Consult the EnergyGuide label to compare the energy use of different models. The difference on your monthly electric bill can be significant, especially when considered over the 10-to-20-year life of the appliance. You could save money over the long run by choosing a model that’s more energy efficient, even if the purchase price is higher.
  5. Ask about special energy efficiency offers. Ask your salesperson or local electric cooperative about cash rebates, low-interest loans, or other incentive programs in your area for energy-efficient product purchases—and how you can qualify.

Source: Federal Trade Commission

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