Applying Energy-Saving Wisdom to Your Household Appliances

By Kevin Pink, Customer Service & Marketing Assistant

Unless you were living off the grid this winter, you probably found yourself paying more for electricity than you expected. Replacing your incandescent light bulbs with LEDs and CFLs is great, and using a programmable thermostat is wonderful, but there are probably some other areas you may not be considering when you think about reducing your energy use- including your household appliances. If you could be using a more efficient appliance, now might be a great time to upgrade! However, if you’re not in a position to purchase a new appliance right now, we’ve got some tips to help you use what you have in a more efficient way.

  Energy Star Logo  



Energy Star is a voluntary program administered by the US Environmental Protection Agency. Since 1992, Energy Star has been encouraging the adoption of more efficient products through consumer education. If you have purchased a new appliance recently, you may have noticed a black and yellow Energy Guide label indicating estimated yearly energy use and operating cost in comparison to other models on the market. While it doesn’t identify the most efficient products on the market, it is a way to help consumers make more informed choices about the products they purchase. Products that meet a rigorous set of standards earn the Energy Star label. The efficiency standards vary by the type of product you are looking at, but all are at least 10% more efficient than appliances that meet the federal minimum efficiency standards. Energy Star has an additional, more stringent set of standards that qualifies certain products as Energy Star Most Efficient.

Energy Star-certified products are sometimes more expensive than products that have not earned the Energy Star label, but one of Energy Star’s standards is that the energy savings makes up that cost difference in a reasonable period of time. Additionally, there are occasionally rebates offered through Energy Star’s utility partners, and those rebates are all collected in the Energy Star Rebate Finder! If you have an older appliance, or just one that seems to be using a lot of electricity, it’s certainly worth your time to look into a more efficient replacement, and Energy Star makes that search much easier.

That said, if you’re not in a position to replace your appliances, consider these tips for saving energy with what you already have!


  • Check the temperature settings. Many dishwashers have internal heating elements that may allow you to set your water heater to a lower temperature. Check the manual that came with your dishwasher to see if yours has that capability.
  • Make sure that your dishwasher is full before using it. Your dishwasher uses the same amount of water whether you are washing 3 dishes or 30 dishes, so make efficient use of that water by only doing full loads.


  • Let your dishes air-dry. Many dishwashers have fan-assisted drying cycles, which use electricity unnecessarily. After your dishwasher has completed the washing cycle, prop the door open a bit to let some air in and begin the drying process. No electricity necessary!


  • Make sure the seal is tight on the door. Energy Star recommends placing a dollar bill in the closed door, so that half of the bill is inside and half outside. If you can easily remove the bill, you may need to adjust the latches on the door or replace the seal- you should have a hard time pulling that money out!
  • Keep it stocked! The refrigerator doesn’t have to work as hard when there are more items inside, so save your leftovers and enjoy them again! Your food holds onto that cold and helps get the air inside the refrigerator cold again after you open the door.


  • Don’t keep it too cold. The EPA recommends 35°F – 38°F for the fresh food storage space, and 0°F for the freezer. Check the temperature of the two compartments by placing a thermometer in a glass of water and a thermometer between frozen packages in your freezer. Check them after 24 hours.
  • Cover liquids and wrap foods. Uncovered food releases moisture, which makes the refrigerator use more electricity to remove it from the air.
  • Pre-Cool Leftovers. Let hot food cool down on the counter before you put it in, so your refrigerator/freezer don’t have to spend extra energy cooling it. If it starts at room temperature, it will get cooler faster.
  • If you’re entertaining, give it the night off. Use a bucket of ice or a cooler for beverages and other things that need to be kept cold. Your guests won’t keep opening the refrigerator and letting the cool air out, and as a bonus, shouldn’t have to go far for refreshment!


  • Use cold or warm water and cold water detergents whenever possible. Unless you are dealing with oily stains, cold or warm water should be fine, and going from hot to warm water saves about half a load’s worth of energy.
  • Wash and dry full loads. Just like your dishwasher, you should try to wash full loads as often as possible.
  • Keep ‘em separated. Dry your heavier items (like towels and sweatshirts) separately from your lighter items (like socks and t-shirts). That way, everything will dry in the same time frame, and you won’t over-dry anything.

energy saving appliances - washer and dryer

  • Clean your lint screen. It is important to clean your lint screen after every load to improve air circulation and prevent fire hazards. Also occasionally use a vacuum cleaner nozzle to clean out any lint that has fallen down into the lint screen slot.
  • Air-dry your clothes! If you do not have room for a clothesline, consider a drying rack. Many garments indicate that you should air-dry them, and it uses no energy. If you have an outdoor clothesline, your clothes will come in smelling like fresh air!

It’s always great to be able to replace your older appliances (which you may be able to keep out of a landfill by donating them to EcoBuilding Bargains) with nicer, newer, Energy Star-rated models. However, if you can’t do that right now, you can apply your newfound knowledge to make better use of your home appliances. Keep an eye on our GoGreen News Blog for more tips to help you save energy and reduce waste!

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