Energy Efficiency Tips and Alternatives for Large Appliances

Reducing the amount of energy you use doesn't have to be all about sacrifice. When it comes to your home's major appliances, saving energy can be as easy as tweaking your behavior, doing some light cleaning or using an energy efficient alternative.

Even if your appliances aren't among the most efficient models, you can still give the environment and your wallet a big break by putting these energy efficiency tips for large appliances to work in your home.

Heating and Cooling Energy Efficiency

In most homes, the HVAC system accounts for more energy use than any other large appliance. Not only do furnaces and air conditioners require a lot of energy on their own, their efficiency is also affected by how well insulated and tightly sealed the home is.

So, if you're trying to use less energy on heating and cooling, a good place to start is by inspecting and upgrading your attic insulation. The ideal amount and type of insulation varies by climate region, so take a moment to find your region on the Department of Energy's recommended insulation map to learn more about what's right for your home.

You should also inspect your home for drafts. These air leaks are common around windows, doors, attic hatches and pipes that extend through walls. Seal drafts as you find them by replacing weather stripping or using spray foam insulation to fill in the gaps.

Once you've taken steps to reduce the loss of your treated air, make your home even more energy efficient with just a couple quick and easy fixes.

Tips to Lower HVAC Energy Consumption in Your Home:

  • Get your furnace and air conditioner tuned up annually. Tune up service optimizes the system for energy efficiency and is the best opportunity to replace failing parts that are drawing too much energy.
  • Replace or clean all HVAC filters on schedule.
  • Set your thermostat a few degrees lower in the winter, using energy efficient alternatives like space heaters or electric blankets to supplement as needed.
  • Use ceiling fans year-round. In summer, run fans counterclockwise to create a downdraft that feels cool on your skin. In winter, run them clockwise to circulate warm air that collects near the ceiling.
  • Open the shades on sun-facing windows in winter to get free solar heat, but close them during the summer to block out those unwanted rays.

Refrigerator Energy Efficiency Tips:

  • Don't over-cool: set your refrigerator temperature to 40 degrees Fahrenheit, and your freezer to 0 degrees.
  • Make sure the rubber gaskets around your fridge and freezer doors are forming a tight seal. An easy trick is to close a dollar bill in the door -- if you can pull it out, the gasket needs replacement.
  • Keep your refrigerator full, because solids and liquids maintain temperature better than air. If you have lots of empty space in your fridge, use jugs of water to help keep things cool.
  • Don't cram your fridge full. For maximum efficiency, there must be room for air circulation around everything in the fridge, and the cooling vents cannot be blocked.
  • Regularly clean the vents and coils on the back and bottom of your refrigerator. When these collect dust, it's harder for your refrigerator to expel heat.
  • Locate your refrigerator away from the oven, large windows or other sources of heat if possible.

Your refrigerator is another appliance that can be a real energy hog, so every little efficiency boost helps. Fortunately, there are several ways you can get the most out of every food-cooling dollar.

Oven Energy Efficiency Tips:

  • Avoid opening the oven to check on your food. To make it easier to keep an eye on your dishes, ensure that your oven light is working and the oven door window is clean.
  • Plan meals with dishes that cook at the same temperature so that you can cook multiple dishes simultaneously.
  • When using the self-cleaning oven setting, start the cycle immediately after cooking, giving your oven a free head start.

Many modern ovens are quite energy efficient on their own, but the biggest energy concern with oven use is often the heat they release into the home -- especially during the summer. So to give your air conditioner a break and consider buying a small toaster oven to prepare smaller baked dishes. You can also plan meals that allow you to do more microwave cooking or outdoor grilling. Slow cookers are another good energy efficient alternative.

Laundry Room Energy Efficiency Tips:

Saving energy on laundry day is a simple matter of keeping things clean and washing smart:

    Clean your dryer's lint trap after every load.
  • Thoroughly clean around your dryer once per month, making sure all vents are clear and free of accumulated lint and dust.
  • When drying multiple loads, minimize the time between emptying one load and starting the next one. By saving some of the heat from the previous load, you'll help the next one dry faster.
  • Air-dry clothes when possible by using an outdoor clothesline or an indoor drying rack.
  • Use energy-saver settings if you see them on your washer or dryer's control panels.
  • Wash only full loads in your washing machine, because a small load uses the same amount of power as a large one.
  • Wash with cold water by default, which will give your water heater a break.

Electric Water Heater Energy Efficiency Tips:

Your water heater may be out of sight and therefore out of mind, but make no mistake, tank water heaters are not the most energy efficient appliances. To get more hot water for your dollar, give your water heater a little more thought by following these tips:

  • Try lowering your water heater temperature to 120 degrees. If you don't notice a difference during showering or washing dishes, keep the thermostat there and rake in the savings!
  • Insulate the outside of your water heater tank with a "jacket" designed just for that purpose. You'll find them at most hardware stores.
  • Turn off your water heater or set it to "vacation mode" if you plan to leave your home for more than a couple of days.
  • Consider upgrading to a tankless water heater. They cost more to buy and install, but the long-term savings are worth it.

Reducing your energy consumption is a whole-home effort, but you can make huge strides toward your goal with smart use of your home's largest appliances. Take what you've learned and start saving today!

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