Investment in new appliances pays off in energy savings

Published on Thu, Mar 5, 2009 by Jack Kintner

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Steve Dodd of the Blaine Marina furniture and appliance store on Marine Drive wants to save you money by selling you a new washer or dryer.

So does Terry Lehmann of Lehmann’s Maytag in Bellingham.
“You pay a little more for what are called Energy Star appliances,” said Dodd, “but you more than get that back in a few years because you use less water and the appliances are more efficient.”

Adding to that is the rebates of up to $75 for power customers of the city of Blaine and $100 for Puget Sound Energy for buying the more efficient washers, dryers, refrigerators, freezers and dishwashers that qualify. Cascade Natural Gas also provides $75 rebates for converting to a gas water heater.

Dodd said that the added cost of energy star appliances can be amortized over the first two to three years of ownership, “and then that’s roughly cut in half with the rebates.”

Energy Star ratings are handed out by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for those appliances that exceed federal efficiency requirements by 15 percent or more. Lehmann compared the efficiency ratings to the mileage ratings the EPA applies to cars, adding that manufacturers have increased efficiency in a variety of ways. “One of the big changes is that the industry is gradually going to front load washers. That’s all you see in Europe these days because they’re so much more efficient.”

For example, a typical top-load washer will use 42 gallons of water to wash three king-size bed sheets. But a front loader will wash more than twice that much on roughly 60 percent less water, having to buy and heat just 16 gallons of water to do the same job more than twice over.

Front loaders are more expensive partly because their doors must seal and they are mechanically a bit more complex. “The few energy star top loaders and the front loaders have a spin cycle that’s twice as fast as the older machines. Clothes seem to be practically dry when you take them out,” Lehmann said.

To crunch some specific numbers, Lehmann pointed to a floor demo front load washer, a Maytag model # MHWZ 600 TQ. His price is $870, minus the power company rebate plus a $75 gas rebate if you also have a gas hot water heater. If you do eight washes per week then the annual power cost is $16 in electricity or $11 in natural gas as opposed to roughly $42 per year in electricity or $24 in gas for a comparable top-load non-Energy Star washer.

Dodd said that the savings using LP gas from an outdoor tank are less than with natural gas because liquified gas costs more and gas appliances must be modified to run on propane.

“We have another front loading model that’s even more efficient. It costs more, about $1,300,” Lehmann said, “but over ten years it will amortize its initial higher cost and pay you back about $1,000.”

Another way these appliances save money and energy as well as help keep the environment clean is in using a lot less soap. Lehmann said that front loaders need a special high efficiency soap at just two to three teaspoons per load (three teaspoons equals half an ounce). “It can be hard to get used to putting so little in a load because people usually use way too much soap,” Lehmann said, “but even top-loaders need only a quarter cup (two ounces) per load.” He advised people to use a regular kitchen measuring cup instead of the larger cups that come with the detergent, and even try washing a load of clothes without adding any soap. “If you take a look during the wash cycle you’ll find that your clothes still have soap in them from the last wash,” he said.

Energy star clothes dryers raise efficiency by using bigger blowers, much like drying clothes on a line in windy conditions.

Refrigerators and freezers use high efficiency compressors, improved insulation, and more precise temperature and defrost mechanisms to improve energy efficiency to the point that a new model uses about half the energy of one purchased before 1993.

Keeping it away from a heat source (ovens, dishwashers, direct sunlight) also helps, as does allowing space for air to circulate and keeping the condenser coils clean. Exterior ice and water dispensers help because you don’t open the door as much. The EPA recommends keeping refrigerators at 35 to 38 degrees fahrenheit and freezers at 0 degrees.

The big expense in running washers is, of course, heating the water. One recent innovation is the use of on-demand or tankless water heaters.
Aside from taking up much less space than a conventional hot water tank, they are considerably more efficient because they only heat the water that’s actually being used. In other words, if you don’t turn on the hot water, they remain off and use no energy at all whether gas fired or electric. Tank models, on the other hand, occasionally must run even if no water is used to keep the water in the tank hot and ready to use.

Most are quite capable of producing enough hot water for someone to be washing dishes by hand while someone else is taking a shower, in other words, they put out as much or more than a tank system with the added benefit that you do not run out of hot water.

Aside from other rebates they also qualify for a 30 percent federal income tax credit up to $1,500 in the year of purchase. If you’re going to this weekend’s home show, Don Dawson of Sullivan Plumbing will be talking about these water heaters at 1 p.m. on Saturday, March 7.