Energy Efficiency at Home Part 2: Utility and Appliance Tips

energy efficient appliances

In this second installation of our three-part series on energy efficiency tips, we take a look at ways to use and choose your appliances to reduce water and electricity use. As mentioned in our previous article on heating and cooling tips, you will save the most money on utility bills if you take the “whole house approach.” While each tip will save you money individually, the more you implement the more you will save. A house is a system, with each part connected and often dependent on the others. The most efficient water heater, for instance, can’t save as much energy if you waste the hot water that comes from it. Combine that same water heater with other water-saving features and measures, and you will notice the difference in your utility bills.

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Efficient Water Use

  • Check your water heater setting. For most families, 120 degrees is hot enough for their needs, plus it saves energy and is safer around young children.
  • Insulate your water heater. Avoid covering the thermostat on an electric water heater with insulation or any other material. Keep the top, bottom and burner area of a gas water heater uncovered as well. Use a blanket material specified as safe for water heaters. Consult the water heater product manual for more information.
  • Wrap at least the first 6 feet of pipes leading from the water heater – both hot and cold – with insulation. Insulate the entire hot water pipe lengths for greater savings. Pipe insulation comes in blanket-style material that you wrap around the pipe and seal, or tube-style material. Install according to the product instructions.
  • Service your water heater every six months to a year. Drain a quart or two of water from it. This prevents sediment buildup, which prevents efficient heating and helps wear out your water heater, leading to repair or replacement.
  • Promptly fix leaks, drips and other plumbing problems. A single dripping faucet can waste a significant amount of water over the course of a day. The Department of Environmental Protection states that a leaky, drip-prone house may waste 10,000 gallons of water a year – enough to fill a large backyard swimming pool. Around 10 percent of homes lose 90 gallons or greater a day. That’s a lot of water – and hidden leaks can quickly lead to mold, mildew and rot if not caught and repaired quickly.
  • Use cold water to wash clothes whenever possible. If you must use a warmer setting, use warm water.
  • Wash only full loads with either your washing machine or dishwasher. It takes as much energy to wash a half-load as it does a full one. It also costs more to run two partial loads than one full one, whether dishes or clothes. Also, use the shortest cycle possible.
  • Install low-flow, energy-saving showerheads and faucets. Unsure of your flow level? Test it: Place a bucket underneath the showerhead or faucet, if possible. Use a smaller container if a bucket won’t fit and use a shorter time frame. Turn on the cold water full blast and time how long it takes to reach a gallon. If it takes longer than 24 seconds, your showerhead or faucet has an efficient flow rate of 2.5 gallons a minute or less. (If you use a half-gallon as your measure, divide the time in half.)
  • Take (brief) showers instead of baths. While 2.5 gallons a minute sounds like a lot of water, a bath uses significantly more. With a low-flow showerhead, a 10-minute shower uses about 25 gallons of water versus 30 to 50 gallons or more for a bath.
  • Consider replacing your water heater if it’s 10 years old or more. Newer water heaters are more energy efficient than older models. Tankless water heaters and those that operate with alternative energy sources, such as solar or heat pump water heaters, may be worth considering. Plus, you may find your water heater qualifies for a rebate or a tax incentive. Do your homework before purchasing to ensure you know what you are getting and that you will be satisfied with your selection.

Efficient Electrical Usage

  • Switch off lights when you’re not using them. Leaving lights on can add significantly to your bill.
  • Encourage natural light. Open curtains and blinds to allow daylight as practical. If you’re building or remodeling your home, skylights and solar tubes are great ways to add to your lighting.
  • Clean light fixtures at least once a year. Seemingly insignificant, dirty lighting can actually reduce its efficiency.
  • Use compact fluorescent light bulbs. CFLs use less electricity and last longer. Even changing out half your light bulbs will impact your electric bill.
  • Avoid using long-life incandescent light bulbs. These are the least efficient incandescent bulbs available.
  • Install LED (Light Emitting Diode) lighting. LEDs work well for track lighting and under-cabinet and display lighting, among other uses. While LEDs cost more initially, they use significantly less energy and last longer than both traditional incandescent lights and CFL bulbs.
  • Try motion-activating sensors for outdoor lighting to only light an area when needed.
  • Purchase dimmer switches for interior lighting where bright lighting isn’t always required.
  • Chase away the phantoms and ghosts. Many appliances, when left plugged in, continue to draw a small electrical current, often called ghosts or phantom loads. It’s how your microwave keeps the clock lit, your television can maintain a timing schedule, or a computer maintains lights even when it’s in “standby” and the hard drive isn’t active. An easy solution is to plug such items into power strips and turn the power off on the cord when you’re not using them.
  • Don’t allow televisions, stereos, video games and computers to run constantly. 
To calculate the cost of using any electrical item: Multiply the appliance wattage (listed on the information tag, usually on the rear of the item) by the number of hours it is used. Divide the total by 1,000 to obtain the kilowatt-hours that item uses. Now multiply the kWh calculated by the cost, per kWh, your utility company charges (shown on your monthly bill). The answer tells you how much you spend running that item – or the amount you can reduce with energy efficiency measures.

Laundry and Kitchen Appliances

  • Run full loads, but avoid overfilling the washer or dryer. It will consume more energy and wear out the appliance quicker to overfill it.
  • Clean the dryer lint filter before each use. At least twice a year, visit the vent outside and ensure it isn’t clogged or malfunctioning. Keeping the dryer, vent and hose free from lint prevents fires and improves efficiency.
  • Switch to an outdoor clothesline during pleasant weather.
  • Replace major household appliances that are 10 to 12 years or older as your budget allows. Today’s appliances use significantly less energy than older ones. Look for ENERGY STAR® appliances when shopping.
  • Quit peeking into the oven. Every time you open the oven door, the temperature drops 25 degrees or more. Worse, that means a longer cooking time, which leads to more energy consumption.
  • Use the proper stove burner. Placing a small pan on a large burner uses unnecessary energy.
  • Turn off the burner or oven a few minutes before the food is finished. The retained heat will finish the job but waste less energy.
  • Lower the burners. Boiling is boiling – once your food reaches boil or the desired temperature, turn it down slightly to maintain the temperature. Many people simply use more energy than needed when cooking.
  • Perform the “dollar bill test.” Insert a dollar bill between the oven door and oven frame on your stove, or between the refrigerator door and refrigerator frame for the refrigerator. Good seals will hold the dollar bill tight with the door closed. If you can pull the dollar out, the seal needs replacement. Even the slightest gap allows hot or cold air to escape, leading to wasted energy and higher utility bills.
  • Keep your refrigerator and freezer well stocked. Counterintuitive though it may seem, a full refrigerator or freezer consumes less energy than an empty one. Stack and arrange items to allow adequate air flow.
  • Maintain the proper refrigerator and freezer temperatures. Fresh food temperatures between 36 and 42 degrees are appropriate, while freezer temperatures should register about 5 degrees below. Place a small thermometer inside the appliance to gauge your settings.
  • Clean your refrigerator and freezer regularly. Dust off coils and clear around the motor opening. Defrost and clean the interior as well.
  • Never store a chest freezer outdoors or in an unheated and unconditioned area. When the temperatures drop too low the freezer works harder and less efficiently. The same thing happens when exterior temperatures rise above your home’s temperature. Also, don’t place refrigerators and freezers in strong sunlight or near your oven.
  • Let your dishwasher do more work. Instead of pre-rinsing dishes, just scrape them off and let the dishwasher get them clean. This uses less energy and less water as well.
  • Clean and maintain your dishwasher. Filters can clog, degrading the appliance efficiency and leading to extra repairs.
  • Air-dry your dishes instead of running the heat cycle.


Caryl Anne - May 20, 2014 at 8:24 am

Excellent post! These are great advice tips anyone could use that will definitely help save time, money, and stress later on. Thanks so much for sharing!

Dessyanaiwan - March 5, 2014 at 9:20 pm

A certain amount of care and maintenance is needed to keep our appliances in top operating condition and energy efficient . Appliance care can go a long way to saving our money and frustration.

Jane - September 29, 2013 at 5:44 pm

These are great tips! It is also a good idea to do preventive maintenance on appliances (like the dishwasher) to make sure they are in good working order. We recommend monthly cleaning of the dishwasher, for example, to remove any gunk or debris that can get stuck on your dishes. This will save you time and money because you won’t have to run the dishwasher a second time!