Home, home and the range

Inefficient home appliances may be stealing your water, robbing your electricity and assaulting your pocketbook. Here's some tips on how to get even.

by Maureen Cureton, Rocky Mountain Institute, reprinted with permission.
wentieth Century living has introduced a host of modern appliances to American homes. Apart from refrigerators, appliances such as ovens, washing machines and dryers, and electronics such as televisions and VCRs are not big energy users. However, when we fill our homes with all these conveniences, their combined energy use can be considerable, accounting for an average of 30% of our residential energy bills or $415 for the average home. Fortunately, design and manufacturing advances now offer energy-efficient options for many appliances. The EnergyGuide label required by Federal law on all new major appliances provides information about annual energy costs and comparative efficiency so that you can make informed appliance purchases. With these guidelines and some review of your patterns of use, you can reduce monthly utility bills and still enjoy the comforts of home.

Arrange your range

Heat-generating appliances are good candidates to consider first when reviewing your appliance energy demands, because they are likely to be among the household's biggest energy consumers. Ovens and ranges also can contribute to overheating of your home in summer thereby increasing air conditioning bills or making the home unpleasantly hot.
Microwave ovens offer an affordable and effective way to save energy, using up to 2/3 less electricity than conventional ovens. Microwaves also offer faster cooking and re-heating times for most foods and little waste heat to task your air conditioner. In conventional ovens, gas ranges generally cost less to operate than electric ranges, because gas is a more efficient and less costly way to generate heat. Modern gas ranges have replaced pilot lights with electric ignitors, a feature that saves on gas but draws a small amount of electricity to ignite the gas. If you're averse to gas combustion appliances in your home, convection ovens are a more efficient type of electric oven. Convection ovens allow a decrease in cooking times and temperatures because heat circulates around the food, thereby providing better heat distribution.
To achieve greater energy efficiency, look for self-cleaning ovens because they have more insulation; but if you use the self-cleaning function more than once a month, you'll use more energy than the insulation saves. If you like to peek in the oven, purchase a model with a small window, since opening the door will allow heat to escape, adding to cooking time; otherwise, eliminating the window can allow for a better insulated oven door. Never use your oven as a heat source in cold temperatures - it's very inefficient and, with gas stoves, unsafe, due to combustion gases that can build up inside the home.
Stove-tops now come in several new styles: magnetic induction, halogen and ceramic glass. They are more expensive than conventional stove-tops, and the moderate electricity savings alone do not justify their higher costs. Solid disk elements look attractive and offer easy clean-up, but they heat up slowly, use higher-wattage elements, and typically consume more electricity.
As well as being standard fare as wedding gifts, crock pots and toaster ovens can be great energy savers, as demonstrated in the following table that compares the energy costs of cooking the same casserole several different ways:

Energy costs of various cooking methods

Electric oven               16 cents
Convection oven (electric)  11 cents
Toaster oven                 8 cents
Gas oven                     7 cents
Frying pan                   7 cents
Crock pot                    6 cents
Microwave oven               3 cents
Adapted from WIlson and Morrill (1993), Consumer Guide to Home Energy Savings, American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, Wahington, DC.
If you're looking for a free lunch, you may want to cook your casserole in a solar box cooker. These ovens are simply insulated boxes with a glass lid and reflector. Placed outdoors facing the sun, they can collect enough solar heat to provide oven temperatures as high as 450 deg. F. You can get plans to build your own by contacting Solar Box Cookers International, 1724 11 Street, Sacramento, CA 95814, or buy a Sun Oven from Burns-Milwaukee, Inc., 4010 West Douglas Avenue, Milwaukee, WI 53209.
Ventilation of cooking appliances is important, especially with gas stoves. Fans should send cooking fumes outside, not simply re-circulate them. Size fans appropriately to avoid excessive heat loss and the danger of backdrafting from fireplaces and heating systems.
Here are some ways to use less energy when baking cakes and broiling steaks:

Watch the washer

Washing machines in America's homes require the electricity output of thirteen large power plants. Since heating the water to wash clothes accounts for most of this energy demand (86%), minimizing the use of hot water is a simple way to reduce utility bills. Washers with automatic or manual load-size adjustment cut water and energy use. A faster spin speed, which achieves better water extraction, saves energy by reducing drying time.
Washing machine design has come a long way since the days of the wringer washer. In the last decade, the energy efficiency of standard top-loading models has doubled. At 30 to 40 gallons per load, however, Americans are consuming a lot of water for whiter whites and brighter brights. In Europe, front-loading horizontal-axis washers have been popular for years. Like the machines in some laundromats, this design uses 50-65% less water than the vertical-axis washers typically sold in North America because the drum is turned sideways, thus tumbling the clothes through the water at the bottom. EnergyGuide labels indicate that horizontal-axis (H-axis) machines will save the average home $42 in annual energy costs. Other advantages of these washers include lower drying costs because of their faster spin cycle, less detergent use per load, and cleaner clothes, too!
A few European front-loading models, AEG, Mieli, and Asko are available in the United States in the $1,300 to $2,100 price range. Frigidaire is manufacturing a lower priced H-axis washer for White Westinghouse and Gibson, but surveys by Consumer Reports have questioned their reliability and noise level (we suggest you get an extended warranty). Maytag will enter the market in 1995, and a small company in Ohio called Staber Industries has developed a top-loading H- axis model. Interested buyers may contact Staber's marketing representative, Advanced Laundry Technologies, 6065 France Road, Suite 103, Dublin, Ohio 43017; (614) 764-9086. [see below]
If you are not in the market for a new washer, here are a few basic tips that can increase energy efficiency and get clothes clean:

Dryers, I scream

The energy performance of dryers has increased only moderately in the past decade, and microwave technology may offer the first big breakthrough in dryer efficiency. A company in Oregon has developed a microwave clothes dryer that uses up to 30% less energy than conventional electric dryers, but this model is still in the testing phase and is not expected on the market until 1997. If you are considering a new dryer purchase before then, there are a few energy-saving options to look for in models available today.
In the United States, electric clothes dryers outnumber gas units by nearly four to one, despite the fact that gas dryers cost about half as much to operate. The EnergyGuide labels provide information about the efficiencies of various models of dryers, but it won't tell you about features such as moisture and temperature sensors. A moisture sensing device can save about 15% of energy consumption by automatically shutting off the dryer when the clothes are dry. While temperature-sensing auto-off devices sometimes over-dry clothes, they average 10% savings in energy compared to timers. If your dryer has a timer, consider shortening the drying time and taking your clothes out when they are still slightly damp. If you hang them right away, you may eliminate the energy required to iron your clothes.
Other clothes drying tips:

Dishing it out

Dishwashers are a convenience in nearly half of all U.S. homes. As with washing machines, the majority (80 percent) of the energy consumption of dishwashers is for heating water, and typical dishwashers use 7 to 14 gallons of hot water per load.
Shopping for a new dishwasher? Begin with the EnergyGuide ratings that will indicate efficiency based on features such as good insulation. These ratings are all calculated for dishwashers operating on the "normal" setting, however, and do not report on savings possible by using options such as no-heat air-drying and energy-saving cycles. A note of caution: while energy-saving options are available for most models, the manufacturer's performance claims may not be based on the use of those options.
Most modern dishwashers have a built-in water booster heater. This device will enable you to save money by lowering the temperature on your home's hot water tank to 120 deg. F for other household needs because the dishwasher's booster will raise the water temperature to 140 deg. F to kill germs and cut grease. Since only 20- 40% of the hot water used by a dishwasher needs to be at such a high temperature, additional hot water savings are realized because the booster heats just the amount of water required to be at the higher temperature.
Sizing of appliances is a critical factor in achieving energy efficiency. In dishwashers (as well as washing machines and dryers), there are compact and standard capacity units. Compact models use less energy per load, but hold fewer dishes so you may actually consume more energy operating them more frequently. Consider your needs before you make any appliance purchase.
With the following energy-saving recommendations for dishwasher use, you don't have to get dish-pan hands to save energy in the kitchen: If you don't enjoy the convenience of an automatic dishwasher, you may still want to take advantage of some easy ways to reduce the use of hot water in the kitchen:

Other appliances

After reviewing the energy demands of your household's major appliances, you may want to consider the electricity used by all those extra comforts of home that can account for an average of 14% of a household's energy consumption. We cannot discuss them all here, but the table below lists a few of the small appliances and electronics along with the typical energy use of some "white goods" such as clothes washers and dryers. The corresponding carbon dioxide (CO2) emitted by the average power plant supplying your home with electricity is also listed.
Many appliances use electricity even when they are "off." A small amount of electricity is constantly consumed by such features as the black adapter plug for cordless and rechargeable appliances and cable TV converter boxes. Even when the cordless vacuum, personal computer, or rechargeable battery unit is fully charged, the adapter plug still draws a small amount of electricity. Unplug them when recharging is completed or when not in use.
Now that you are aware of all those extra burdens on your household utility bills, here are some ways to control their energy costs:


Televisions, VCRs, and stereos are not energy gluttons, but since they are common in almost every home and the typical American household has two TVs, they are responsible for a substantial amount of power consumption. Televisions alone in the United States require an amount of electricity equal to the power produced by 21 large powerplants. Most models of color televisions and VCRs have an instant- on feature that keeps the tubes constantly warmed up, so even when the television is turned off this feature is using electricity. In fact, one calculation indicated that the electricity used by the instant-on feature of all the televisions in the United States drains as much electricity as the output of a Chernobyl-sized nuclear powerplant! For most electronics, however, turning them off is still the simplest way to save energy.
Next time you're considering an appliance purchase, whether it be to cook, clean, shake, bake, toast your muffin, or brew some coffee, look for the EnergyGuide label on larger appliances and any energy-saving features that may be available. Think twice about how to best use your appliances to avoid wasteful energy demands. Put your feet up, turn the television off, and enjoy the comforts of home.

More information

© Rocky Mountain Institute, July 1994. The Rocky Mountain Institute, founded by Amery Lovins, is the recognized authority on efficient energy use. Maureen Cureton is a Research Associate with the Institute.

Annual electricity cost of home appliances and widgets

(Based on typical usage at an electricity rate of 8 cents per kWh)

                                   Avg. elect-   Avg.     CO2 
                                   ricity used   cost   emissions
Appliance/Product                   kWh/year    $/year   in lbs.

Clock 25 $2 47 Clothes dryer 1,060 85 1,972 Clothes washer (including hot water) 1,080 86 2,009 Clothes washer (excluding hot water) 99 8 184 Coffee Maker 100 8 186 Dehumidifier 400 32 744 Dishwasher (including hot water) 935 75 1,739 Electric blanket 120 10 223 Electric clothes dryer 1,060 85 1,972 Hair Dryer 50 4 93 Iron 50 4 93 Sauna, spa, hot tub 2,300 184 4,280 Stereo and radio 75 6 140 Telephone answering machine 36 3 67 Television (cable TV box) 144 12 268 Television, color (turned on) 197 16 855 Television, color (turned off) 33 3 61 Vacuum 25 2 47 Vacuum (cordless) 36 3 67 VCR 40 3 74 Waterbed 930 74 1,730

Take a tumble

e take the things in our daily lives for granted mostly because they are there already, solving a problem or providing a service. Many examples are found in our homes and garages. It if often unfortunately not until they break down that we are moved to make improvements - even those that will actually save us in the long run.
Recently a service technician to my home pronounced sentence on my washing machine of almost 20 years - the cost to repair it was going to approach the cost of replacement. So my recent forays into the world of appliance reuse, recycling and replacement have been colored by my personal quest to do the right thing.
Here's a report on one of the leading contenders, "The System 2000."
The design of washing machines hasn't changed substantially in thirty years. "The early machines were battle tanks," says Jim Staber, vice president of Staber Industries, "They were mechanical monstrosities, but they worked forever."
Improvements in design are often achieved by taking an existing solution and then, turning it around, in all dimensions, take into account new materials and ideas, and voila! a better mousetrap, or in this case, washing machine is born. After thirty years of remanufacturing clothes washers. Staber engineers had seen first hand the design failures of the past and were in a position to invent the washing machine for today.
As a result, the "System 2000" from Staber Industries is touted as "a washing machine to take you into the 21st century! A revolutionary way to wash your clothes. It gets your laundry cleaner, while using fewer resources, less hot water, less detergent, less energy. In short, the System 2000 helps save the environment while saving you money."

Going Horizontal

The main design change that distinguishes the System 2000 is the fundamentally different way it agitates clothes. If effect, the Staber engineers turned the machines on its side - moving the axis from vertical to horizontal. This configuration takes advantage of gravity to tumble the clothes the way dryers already do.
Beyond this fundamental change other design features increase efficiency. To boost water turbulence and reduce water use, engineers used computers to analyze the volume and water flow. Reduction in water use means using less electricity or gas for heat. A faster, final spin, means the clothes spend less time drying. The machine's only mechanical components are an electric pump and an electric motor. To simplify disassembly for service and recycling, parts were consolidated into components that reduce the overall number of parts.
"It uses at least 50% less water to do, effectively 50% more clothes than conventional agitator models. Due to its decreased water consumption, it inherently uses less bleach and detergents and fabric softeners to reach the same concentration in the water."
Staber says a conventional washer uses 35 to 50 gallons of water per load to wash about 10 to 12 pounds of clothes while the Staber model "can efficiently wash 16 to 18 pounds of clothes ...using only 21 gallons of water in a normal wash cycle."
Like other new technology, the Staber washer costs more up front . "But when you factor in the utility savings in water and electricity, you'll be able to recoup any difference within two years." After that, you just keep reaping the benefits of your investment in efficiency.
Staber hopes the lure of smaller, more efficient machines with a 20-year life expectancy will be in demand by consumers. In Europe, consumers induced to save water, energy, and floor spaces have adopted the configuration with enthusiasm. But in the U.S., an appliance consortia of utilities and government agencies are still in the early stages of incentive programs.
Staber says the biggest hurdle to overcome will be the public's resistance to change. "Everybody's familiar with the vertical-axis agitators and people think they do a pretty good job, but once they actually get a look at a Staber, we think they'll be amazed."