Buzzword: Snackwell's effect

Consumer Reports News: April 24, 2009 11:30 AM

What it means. Studies have pointed to a phenomenon in which some folks who buy lower-calorie foods actually consume more calories than they would by eating full-calorie versions of those same items. They mistakenly believe that it's okay to devour mass quantities of "light" chips or cookies, negating the intended calorie savings. This Snackwell's (or Snackwell) effect takes it name from the Nabisco brand of snacks, which were originally marketed as low-fat products.

Snackwell Effect Energy UseWhen it comes to the home and energy use, the Snackwell's effect is common too, as consumers erase the financial savings their energy-efficient appliances, lightbulbs, electronics, and more can provide through careless consumption, such as doing multiple small loads of laundry throughout the week when it would be smarter to run fewer full loads. While those influenced by the Snackwell's effect might still use less energy than they would with lower-efficiency products, they're not getting the complete benefit of their higher-efficiency equipment.

Why the buzz? At a time when our president has made energy efficiency a priority of his administration, Americans need to avoid squandering would-be energy savings.

A 2008 study by University of Michigan economist Lucas Davis found that people with high-efficiency washing machines do more loads of laundry than those without HE machines. Similarly, people who install energy-efficient compact fluorescent lightbulbs squander 5 to 12 percent of the potential savings by leaving the lights on, according to the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy.

And in a survey of 500 Americans conducted by the Shelton Group, 33 percent of respondents said their utility bills didn't decrease after they made their homes more energy efficient. The Snackwell's effect could be a culprit.

Boosting energy efficiency and reducing energy use through technological innovation like the smart grid and state-of-the-art appliances like the hyperefficient Xeros washing machine are often portrayed as a way to counteract climate change, eliminate our dependence on foreign oil, and stimulate the economy and create jobs. But given the pull of the Snackwell's effect, you'll need to use products smartly to see real energy savings:

Washing machines
High-efficiency front-loaders use about 50 percent less electricity and water than some conventional top-loaders, for a potential annual savings of about $130. To avoid the Snackwell's effect, don't turn laundry into a daily chore and do small loads. Also opt for the cold-water wash cycle whenever possible.


Stricter federal energy standards have made these appliances more efficient on the whole. To get the most out of your dishwasher, don't prerinse dishes and try to run the appliance only at full capacity.

A new top- or bottom-freezer refrigerator costs $10 to $15 dollars less to run annually than a side-by-side model. But that's not license to leave the door open while you decide what to snack on. Cleaning the coils behind or underneath the refrigerator will also help the unit run more efficiently.

LCD televisions tend to us less electricity than plasma TVs. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't unplug your LCD set(s) when you're away from home for an extended period. You can cut down on standby power consumption by unplugging TVs and other devices.


Compact fluorescent lightbulbs are 90 percent more efficient than traditional incandescent lightbulbs, so you'd have to leave your CFLs on for a long time to suffer any Snackwell's effect. But to maximize the savings, always turn off the lights when leaving a room.—Daniel DiClerico | | Twitter

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