Front-loaders use less energy and water, are usually gentler on clothes, and have faster spin speeds that wring more water
out of laundry than regular top-loaders do. That means items spend less time in the dryer, saving energy there too. But manufacturers
have improved top-loader efficiency with better motors, pumps, and load-sensing technology.
A new, efficient refrigerator uses 50 percent less energy than one made 15 years ago. Credit better compressors, improved
insulation, and precise controls and defrost mechanisms for the savings. There are trade-offs even among new models. Side-by-sides
are less space efficient and cost about $10 to $15 more to run than top- or bottom-freezers.
Sophisticated sensors, high-efficiency pumps, and improved filtration account for the improvements enabling today’s dishwashers
to get dishes sparkling clean with as little as 3 gallons of water. Though the payback period on a new dishwasher is long,
performance has improved, and the water savings are immediate and significant. So it makes sense to replace rather than repair
a dishwasher that’s more than six years old.
Half of the people in our poll don’t change nighttime temperature settings. But you can save up to 20 percent on your heating
and cooling bills by adjusting temperatures 5 to 10 degrees at night or when you’re out. Once you set them, programmable thermostats
automatically adjust temperatures, so you don’t have to remember. The secret, our tests found, is buying one that is easy
to read and use.
Heating can account for almost half of all home energy costs. Old units were often oversized to compensate for drafty, poorly
insulated homes. In the market for a new furnace? Get the right size by having an experienced pro do a heating-load calculation.
Our latest survey of 10 furnace brands found that they’re all equally reliable. So look at annual fuel utilization efficiency
(AFUE), which ranges from 78 to 95 on new units. A gas furnace with a 78 AFUE will cost roughly $140 more to run per year
than one with a 90.
The average life span of a storage water heater is 10 to 15 years, so if yours is nearing that age, start looking into an
upgrade now. Switching fuel sources can be tricky, but if you use electricity to generate your hot water, consider a heat-pump
water heater. It transfers heat from the air to an insulated tank, trumping the efficiency (measured by energy factor, or
EF) of most conventional electric storage heaters and paying for its higher initial costs in two to five years. Unfortunately,
since we first published this article, the company manufacturing heat-pump storage water heaters has discontinued its line.
Other companies will start offering this product in late 2009. (New heat-pump storage water heater illustration courtesy of the U.S. Department of Energy)
10-YEAR-OLD ELECTRIC STORAGE WATER HEATER
Energy factor (EF): 0.90 Annual operating cost: $526
NEW HEAT-PUMP STORAGE WATER HEATER
Energy factor (EF): 2.20 Annual operating cost: $216
Keeping the lights on can cost more than $200 per year. That’s because a scant 10 percent of the energy used by an incandescent
bulb generates light. The rest enters the home as heat, a double whammy for those in hot climates. Our tests of Energy Star-qualified
compact fluorescent lightbulbs have found that their light quality has improved, and they don’t hum like old fluorescents.
In fact, 72 percent of people in our poll used a CFL the last time they changed a bulb.
Desktops have faster processing capabilities, and separate keyboards, monitors, and speakers. Those features might be musts
for graphic designers and hard-core gamers, but for most family needs—printing and e-mailing images, downloading recipes,
and watching DVDs—a more energy-efficient laptop is fine. The individual savings aren’t huge, but they add up because millions
of computers are sold every year. And a laptop’s portability helps offset its higher cost and repair rates. Cost estimates
assume that the computer and flat-panel monitor are Energy Star qualified and that power-management features, including standby
and hibernating modes, are activated.
Many cars have become more fuel-efficient, thanks to new transmission designs and technologies such as engine-cylinder deactivation,
direct fuel injection, electrically assisted steering, and turbocharging. But not all small cars provide great gas mileage.
Gas/electric hybrids usually provide the best fuel economy. The Prius costs more initially, but the total ownership cost is about $3,000 less over five years.
Chevrolet Cobalt mpg: 24 Annual fuel cost (12K miles at $4/gallon): $2,000
Toyota Prius mpg: 44 Annual fuel cost (12K miles at $4/gallon): $1,100
During testing, we measure each TV’s power use when it’s on and off (also known as standby mode). Then we calculate power
consumption based on typical daily viewing—on for 8 hours and off for 16 hours. It’s no big surprise that the bigger the screen,
the more electricity a TV will use. But you might not know that plasma TVs typically use more energy than LCDs.