How to Pick Home Appliances That Are Actually Sustainable

Did you know that switching to energy efficient appliances can help you cut down your utility bill by as much as 20%? But a heavier wallet isn’t the only benefit of this switch. Our home appliances, from fridges to washing machines, account for about one-fifth of U.S. energy-related greenhouse gas emissions, and are thus a major contributor to climate change. By switching to more energy efficient appliances, we can boost our home’s sustainability and lower our carbon footprint.

Here are some tips for maximizing your home appliances’ sustainability.

Check the label

The most important step is to pick an appliance with an energy-efficient rating. In the United States, the main certification system is ENERGY STAR, a program first introduced by the EPA in 1992. Appliances with the ENERGY STAR label have undergone a thorough evaluation to ensure they comply with energy efficiency standards. You can even use the ENERGY STAR website to search for certified appliances.

It’s also a good idea to read the label on an appliance you’re considering purchasing and do a little research to make sure it complies with all environmental regulations. Often, electrical appliances undergo testing to make sure the products are not only safe to use, but also up to baseline energy-efficiency standards. Some labels even show that the manufacturer has gone above and beyond legal requirements, instead choosing to meet stricter in-house environmental standards.

Ensure proper maintenance

There’s no need to go out and replace all your home appliances for greener versions – after all, the most sustainable option is making sure your appliances are all running as they’re meant to, and not sucking up extra energy, water, or other resources. Make sure that you get your appliances serviced at regular intervals. Estimates show that regular appliance maintenance can save you 3-10% on your energy bills, helping to protect your wallet and the environment.

The longer you can make your appliances last, fewer new appliances must be produced. Producing new appliances takes energy, emits carbon, and takes raw materials, so it’s important to extend the lifetime of your appliances.

Replace very old appliances

Some old appliances should be replaced with greener models. At a certain point, the energy savings from a new appliance outweigh the costs of producing a new appliance. For example, the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE) recommends replacing washing machines that are more than 10 years old with newer (post-2007) ENERGY STAR models that are much more energy efficient.

As a general rule of thumb, if your appliance is approaching 20 years old, it was likely manufactured before strict ENERGY STAR regulations were in place, and you should consider other options, especially if it’s starting to malfunction. However, it’s recommended that you repair appliances that are between 5-10 years old. For appliances between 10-20 years old, your decision about whether to repair or replace will depend on the type of appliance.

Despite the costs (both actual and environmental) of buying a new appliance, often, the savings on your energy bills will pay off in the long run. An energy auditor can help you review your existing appliances and energy usage to make a decision about replacing versus repairing.

Here’s a brief summary of when to replace your appliances:

• Fridges: ENERGY STAR recommends replacing fridges and freezers manufactured before 1993. Modern ENERGY STAR refrigerators are 9% more energy efficient than even the standard fridge today, allowing you to save about $220 over the lifespan of your refrigerator.

• Dishwashers: Generally, dishwashers should be replaced every 10-15 years. Older dishwashers tend to use more water, so replacing an old dishwasher can result in water savings.

• Washing machines: The ACEEE recommends replacing washing machines manufactured before 2007, when a set of ENERGY STAR criteria were laid out and included in federal standards.

• Dryers: ENERGY STAR didn’t begin rating dryers until 2015, so only the brand new models are superefficient. While ENERGY STAR certified dryers use 20% less energy than conventional dryers, you can simply replace your dryer when the old one breaks.

When getting rid of an old appliance, make sure you recycle it, as old electrical products can leach harmful chemicals into landfills which make their way into soil, air, and water. Avoid donating your very old appliances as well, as the goal is to get energy inefficient appliances out of circulation entirely.

Use your appliances efficiently and conscientiously

Finally, no matter what kind of appliance, how you use your appliances is one of the main factors in how eco-friendly your appliances really are. Here are a few tips on how to use your home appliances sustainably:

• Heat or cool only the rooms you’re actively using with a smart thermostat, and make sure to lower the AC or heat when you leave.

• Make sure you close the refrigerator door well, and that it is sealed properly. Don’t keep your refrigerator temperature cooler than you need to; generally, your food will do best around 35-38 degrees Fahrenheit.

• Always run full loads of laundry and dishes to save on water.

• For your washing machine, use cold water washes when possible – hot washes can add a lot to your energy bill. If your washer has a “sensor dry” option, which senses when clothes are dry, use that setting instead of a timed dry.

It’s best to do your own research for each appliance you have on how to use it most efficiently. Not only will this help reduce your environmental impact, but it will also save you money in the long run. Win-win!

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