When buying an appliance, you pay more than just the selling price; you commit yourself to paying the cost of running the appliance for as long as you own it. These energy costs can add up quickly.

For example, running a refrigerator 15 to 20 years costs two to three times as much as the initial purchase price of the unit; and the 100-watt light bulb you bought for 50 cents will cost about $6 in electricity over its short life.

Life-cycle costing

The sum of the purchase price and the energy cost of running an appliance over its lifetime is called its life-cycle cost. The life-cycle costs of energy-efficient appliances are lower than those of average models.

EnergyGuide Labels

When you shop for a major appliance, look for the yellow and black EnergyGuide labels that can help you choose the most efficient model you can afford.

Appliance labeling was mandated by Congress as part of the Energy Policy and Conservation Act of 1975. Labels must be displayed on seven types of major appliances. These seven major appliances account for about 73 percent of all energy consumed in American homes. New appliance labeling rules, passed in 1994 by the Federal Trade Commission to make energy-usage information easier to understand, began showing up on appliances on July 1, 1995.

The biggest change in the labeling of refrigerators, refrigerator/freezers, freezers, dishwashers, clothes washers and water heaters is a switch in the comparison base from an estimated annual operating cost of the appliance to its annual energy usage in kilowatt hours of electricity or therms of natural gas. Cost information will still be provided.

For Missouri residents in 1993, the average price for electricity was 7.3 cents/kWh and for natural gas was 53.5 cents/therm.

Federal law requires that EnergyGuide labels be placed on all new refrigerators, freezers, water heaters, dishwashers, clothes washers, room and central air conditioners and heat pumps.

For additional information, you may contact the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy or the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers for up-to-date information on appliance efficiency.


ENERGY STAR-labeled products use less energy than other products, save you money on utility bills, and help protect the environment. Look for the ENERGY STAR label on quality household appliances, home electronics, office equipment, heating and cooling equipment, windows, residential light fixtures, and more.

Selecting a Refrigerator/Freezer

The energy usage by refrigerators and freezers has decreased, but they are still among the largest energy users in the home. In 1990 and 1993, National Appliance Efficiency Standards specified the maximum electricity consumption of refrigerators according to volume and features.

When shopping for a new refrigerator or freezer, shop around using the EnergyGuide labels. There is still a wide variation in energy usage, and your choice of style and features will have and effect on energy usage. Side-by-side models use more energy. Manual defrost models often use half as much energy as automatic defrost models but are not widely available in large sizes. If you allow frost to build up, the refrigerator will rapidly lose efficiency. Features such as automatic icemakers and through-the-door ice and water dispensers can increase energy consumption. Usually, the larger the model, the greater the energy usage.

As a rule of thumb, you need eight cubic feet of refrigerator space for a family of two, plus one cubic foot for each additional person. Add two cubic feet if you entertain a great deal. Two cubic feet per person is usually required in freezer space.

Operating Hints

  • If possible, locate the refrigerator and freezer away from heat sources and direct sunlight. Allow at least one inch of space on all sides of the refrigerator or freezer.
  • Seriously evaluate the need for a second refrigerator. You may nearly double you electric bill.
  • A refrigerator or freezer in an unheated garage will use more electricity in the summer than the winter.
  • Clean around the condenser once a year, and keep the coils and grills dust-free.
  • If the model has an energy-saver switch, you can reduce the usage by about 10 percent. Heaters, used in humid climates as an anti-sweat feature, are not needed most of the year or in air conditioned homes. The switch for the heaters may be labeled other than "energy -saver." If the switch has settings that say "dry/humid," make sure it is set on "dry." If it is labeled "power miser" or "energy-saver," turn the switch "on" to turn the heater off.
  • Keep the door gasket clean and in good shape; replace if it is damaged.
  • As a general rule, refrigerator thermostat should be set in the 36oF to 40oF temperature range. Usual temperature of the freezer area in a conventional refrigerator is 10oF to 25oF; freezer section of a refrigerator/freezer, about 5oF; and separate freezers, 0oF.
  • Avoid overcrowding, which reduces airflow.
  • Avoid opening the doors often by planning ahead, and do not let the refrigerator door stand open.
  • Let hot dishes cool slightly before putting in the freezer or refrigerator.
  • In frost-free refrigerators, it is important to cover foods before placing them in the refrigerator.
  • Thaw foods in the refrigerator instead of using microwave.
  • If you have a manual defrost freezer, keep the ice coating less than 1/4 inch for the most efficient operation.
  • Turn off, empty, clean and leave the refrigerator door open when taking extended vacation.
  • Freezers operate most efficiently when they are at least 2/3 full.

Selecting a Washing Machine and Dryer

Like dishwashers, most of the energy used by washing machines is for heating water. Water heating accounts for about 90 percent of total energy use. Most washing machines use from 30 to 40 gallons of water for a complete wash cycle. The energy savings for reducing the water temperature are significant.

Model-to-model, the operation of dryers is very similar. The big choice is which type of fuel - electric or gas. In terms of energy use, gas dryers are less expensive to operate. Electric ignition is now required for all new gas dryers.

  1. Shop around using the EnergyGuide labels.
  2. Choose controls that allow you to select various water levels and water temperatures.
  3. Consider a suds-saver feature (you can re-use wash water for additional loads).
  4. Compare models for water usage, and buy the model with the lowest water usage in your price range.
  5. Faster spin speeds can result in more extraction and reduce drying time.
  6. Front-loading (horizontal axis) machines use a third less water and have better washing performance.

Operating Hints


  • The major cost of washing clothes is for heating water. Wash in cold or warm/cold cycles to save energy.
  • Adjust the water level to match the size of the load.
  • Always use a cold-water rinse.


  • Use a clothes line when possible; after drying, tumble in the dryer on air setting, to soften towels and clothes.
  • Clean the lint filter after every load.
  • Use the washer's "sturdy clothes" spin cycle to remove as much water as possible before transferring clothes to the dryer.
  • Avoid over-drying.
  • Use a tight-sealing dryer vent hood that blocks air infiltration.

Selecting a Dishwasher

Look for these energy-saving features when buying a new dishwasher:

  1. An "air dry" selector. The heat is automatically shut off during the dry cycle. This can save up to 30 percent of the electricity used by your dishwasher.
  2. Short-cycle selectors. Use these cycles for lightly-soiled dishes as they use less hot water.
  3. Less hot water usage. Dishwashers vary as to the number of gallons of hot water used per cycle. Approximately 80 percent of the energy used by a dishwasher is for heating the water; therefore, look for a model that uses less water - between 8 and 14 gallons for a complete cycle.
  4. Look for the yellow EnergyGuide label that should be on all dishwashers. This label will tell you the estimated yearly cost of operation for the particular model.
  5. Built-in water heaters. Some energy-conserving models have built-in water heaters that bring the water temperature up to the recommended level of 140oF. If you have this feature, the central water heater temperature can be lowered. For each 10oF reduction in your water heater temperature setting, you cut energy consumption by 3 percent to 5 percent.

Operating Hints

  • Dishwashers use an average of 5.8 fewer gallons of water per load than washing the same dishes by hand.
  • Wash only full loads.
  • Avoid pre-rinsing by scraping off large food particles.
  • Match the cycle to the degree of soil.
  • Vent the dryer to the outside.

Additional Resources

The American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy
1001 Connecticut Ave., NW, Suite 535
Washington, D.C. 20202
Phone (202) 429-8873

Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers
20 North Wacker Dr.
Chicago, IL 60606
Phone (312) 984-5800