Straight Talk Articles

Understanding Your Appliances
August, 2018

*Note: This article includes a statistic for footnote (5) that has been updated from the original print version.

Dear Pat, Several of my appliances are getting old and will need replacing.  Will the choices I make as I replace them have much impact on my energy bill? And what can I do to save money in the mean time? – Chelsea


Dear Chelsea,

Your energy usage varies month to month, so it can be difficult to see how much difference an appliance purchase makes.  It’s best to view the purchase longer term, over the lifetime of the equipment.  Think about the up-front cost and the lifetime energy cost. In a Consumer Reports test, the most efficient refrigerator used $68/year less electricity than the least efficient model.(1)  Multiply that difference over a decade or two and the lifetime energy savings could be greater than the up-front cost.  All it takes to get the best appliance for your needs is some up-front research.

Appliance energy use is usually less, on average, than home heating and cooling bills, but can be several hundred dollars each year(2). Your appliance use depends on factors such as the model of appliance, how often you use it, the settings you use for its particular function, and sometimes even the time of day it is most used.

Over the last few decades new appliances became more energy efficient, driven partly by minimum government standards. These standards, created by the U.S. Department of Energy, save consumers over $60 billion each year.(3) Appliances are required to have an Energy Guide label that shows estimated energy use and operating cost per year. These labels help you compare different models and calculate the initial cost against the long-term savings.

Some appliances will also have an ENERGY STAR label. This indicates the appliance is substantially more efficient than the minimum standard. Your greatest energy savings opportunities can come from replacing an old appliance with an ENERGY STAR appliance.  Removing a twenty-year old frost-free refrigerator and replacing it with a new ENERGY STAR model can lower the monthly electricity cost 75%, from $16.50 to less than $4.00.(4)

In some cases, the configuration of the appliance can also make a substantial difference. For example, top mount freezer refrigerators use 10-30% less energy than the same models of side-by-side refrigerators,(5) with all the most efficient models having the refrigerator stacked on top of the freezer.(6) All 36 of the most efficient clothes washers of 2018 were frontloading models.(7)


Consider how much you use the appliance. The more you use the appliance the greater your savings will be from choosing a more efficient model. If you use the appliance less or have a small household you may get by with a smaller refrigerator or freezer, which will save you money.


How you operate appliances can make a difference. Some easy ways to save energy are(8,9)

  • Refrigerator/freezer

    • Keep your refrigerator at 35 to 38 degrees F. and your freezer at 0 degrees F.

    • Make sure there is good air flow between the wall and the back of the unit

    • Keep the refrigerator relatively full

    • Replace the seals around the doors if they appear to be leaking air

    • Defrost the refrigerator and freezer regularly

  • Stove/Oven

    • Use the correct size of burner to fit the pan

    • Use the microwave instead of the oven whenever possible

  • Dishwasher

    • Use the most energy-efficient and shortest setting that gets your dishes clean

    • Air dry rather than using the heated dry function

    • Wait to run a load until the dishwasher is full


With a little research before buying a new appliance, and a little effort to operate your existing appliances efficiently, you can be sure your appliances’ energy bill isn’t being wasted.

For more information on saving electricity on your appliances, please visit the August 2018 more information page.





All the most-efficient 2018 models of washers and dryers were front-loading. Photo Credit: Pixabay, Creative Commons.