Which appliance replacement will help reduce your energy bills the most?

You’re smart to consider energy use as you look at replacing appliances because most new appliances use much less energy than they did in the past. Manufacturers have found innovative ways to reduce appliance energy use without sacrificing performance. The federal government began tightening appliance standards in the 1980s and has continued as technological innovations became more cost-effective.

It may seem like the oldest appliance should go first. That may make sense if you want the looks and features of a newer oven or dishwasher. But with most appliances, the energy savings you get from a new one will take several years to pay for itself with the energy saved.

Replacing an old fridge with an ENERGY STAR®-rated model can cut the monthly cost to operate from $20 to less than $5 a month. Photo courtesy Scott Van Osdol

Replacing an old fridge with an ENERGY STAR®-rated model can cut the monthly cost to operate from $20 to less than $5 a month. Photo courtesy Scott Van Osdol

The Energy Guide label provides important information for comparing the annual energy use of appliances. Photo courtesy Collaborative Efficiency

The appliance replacement most likely to produce the greatest energy savings is your refrigerator. An older fridge can cost about $20 to run every month. Replacing an old fridge with a new ENERGY STAR®-rated model can cut that down to less than $5 a month. The ENERGY STAR® label certifies that the appliance saves energy. New refrigerators will include an additional label, the Energy Guide label, which shows how much energy it uses annually and compares that to the most and least efficient models available. Sometimes, the energy use of an older fridge can be reduced by replacing the seal around the door.

When you’re looking to replace an old fridge, style counts. A top-freezer setup is the most efficient, while a lower-freezer unit offers medium savings, and a side-by-side style is the least energy efficient.

If your goal is to save money on your energy bill, resist the urge to keep the old fridge in the basement or garage – that won’t help reduce your energy use. An old fridge in an uninsulated garage on a hot summer day can use a lot of energy. Maybe you just need more freezer space. If so, we recommend the most efficient freezer you can find. Find recommendations at www.energystar.gov(link is external).
If your current fridge is in good condition, another appliance you may want to consider upgrading is the dishwasher. With most of us spending more time at home these days, chances are you’re using your dishwasher more than before.

As with any major purchase, be sure to read customer reviews for any brands and models you’re considering, and look for additional opportunities to save money, like an upcoming appliance sale. n

Pat Keegan and Brad Thiessen of Collaborative Efficiency write on energy efficiency topics for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, the national trade association representing more than 900 local electric cooperatives.