Our first task was assessing the actual cost of an Energy Star appliance. Energy Star is governmental program that certifies energy-efficient products. A very informal investigation (trolling the pages of BestBuy.com) indicated that Energy Star appliances run anywhere from 25 to 40 percent more than their standard-efficiency counterparts. That's not small (organic) potatoes when you're looking at an appliance that costs almost a grand. So that's what they mean by paying a little more up front.
According Energy Star, a family who invests in an Energy Star washing machine will cut their energy costs by one-third and their water costs by more than half. Per year, that adds up to a savings of around $135. That doesn't sound like a lot, especially when you just spent $300 more to get the green option. But remember, your appliances are going to be around for more than just a year. So, in three years, that washer will have more than made up for the price plunge you took -- and a standard washing machine lasts for around 10 years.
Green appliances also can save you some moolah at tax time. Laws change frequently, but there are tax benefits for making investments in green living. Sometimes, these breaks are awarded to the manufacturers, and other times, to the consumers. Keep your eyes open, and you might get an unexpected rebate from Uncle Sam.
Before you decide that green appliances are practically money printing machines, consider the catch: They save you money only if you actually need new appliances. Replacing perfectly functioning standard-efficiency appliances with high-efficiency products is a money sink -- and not green at all. The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy offers charts to help you decide whether your appliance can stick around for a few more years or should head to greener pastures.
These charts aren't going to give you a perfect answer, though. You must factor in your personal appliance use. For example, if you eat every meal out of a Chinese take-out container, the greenest option is to let your dishwasher be -- no matter how old it is.
So, is the idea of green products saving you cash an enviro-myth? Not at all. But it's not necessarily an enviro-truth, either. Do your research before you buy, and figure out where the grass (and the cash) is greener for you.
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