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Energy Fixer: Appliances

How do you make an older house more energy efficient? This year, we’re following Sarah, a PGE employee, as she updates a 55-year-old, 1,500 square-foot, all-electric house, which she purchased in November 2014.

Appliances can eat a lot of energy

Generally, appliances account for about 13 percent of a household’s energy costs, with refrigeration, cooking and laundry topping the list.* But Sarah’s home energy audit revealed appliance energy use (refrigerator, stove, dishwasher, clothes washer and dryer), was even higher in her home — about 21 percent of her electric bill, at an annual cost of $435.

First up: New fridge

The 21-year-old side-by-side refrigerator that came with the house was the biggest energy user.

“It was old and funky. I wanted a French-door style and something that would use less energy,” Sarah said.

Shopping carefully, she found a perfectly sized ENERGY STAR® qualified floor model at a substantially reduced price. It uses only about half the energy as the old refrigerator, so that should help control her electric bill.

“If I had a bigger budget, I would have opted for a high-efficiency model that qualified for an Energy Trust of Oregon incentive,” Sarah said. “But I did check the yellow and black EnergyGuide label, and this fridge is more energy efficient than many similar models.”

She’s planning to recycle the old fridge through Energy Trust.

On hold: Stove and dishwasher

Even though her electric stove and dishwasher are both about 15 years old, Sarah’s waiting to upgrade to more energy-efficient models until she can afford an entire kitchen makeover.

That’s a smart move on her part because if a kitchen appliance is still working fine, it usually doesn’t pencil out to upgrade to a new model solely to save money through energy efficiency. (Refrigerators are the exception to this general rule since they operate around the clock.)

Down the road, however, Sarah says she’d love to splurge on a new range with an induction cooktop and convection oven.

“When I was house shopping, one of the homes had an induction cooktop, and the homeowner showed me how fast it could boil a pot of water — it was crazy! Then, when she turned off the burner, it was almost instantly cool,” Sarah said. “I love to cook, and it would be great to have that level of ability to fine-tune the temperature — and it’s super energy efficient.”

In the meantime, whenever she wants to boil water for tea or coffee, she saves energy by using an electric teakettle rather than her stove. (Watch our Switch Labs video on the fastest way to boil water.)

Her dishwasher still gets the job done, so she’ll wait to upgrade to a model that’s quieter and a little more energy efficient when her budget allows. To make the best use of her energy dollars, she runs full loads only and always chooses the “energy-saver” cycle.

Just right: Washer and dryer

When it came to the laundry room, Sarah brought the energy savings with her — she moved her premium-efficiency, front-load clothes washer and dryer from her old house. Premium-efficiency washers can reduce water and energy use by more than 40 percent compared to traditional models, and many qualify for Energy Trust incentives.

“To save even more energy, I always wash in cold water,” Sarah says. (Doubt cold water can get clothes clean? Watch our Switch Labs video.)

Resources for you

Wondering how to get the most energy savings out of your appliances and what to look for when shopping for replacements? Check these additional resources: