Guide to buying eco-friendly appliances

Mar 24, 2010 at 11:01 a.m. ET

If you're greening your life, you’re already knee-deep in composting and clothes swapping. The next logical step is to trade in your outdated energy-sucking appliances for some that are kinder to the environment. While you’ve heard buzz words like "energy saver," "eco-friendly," "socially responsible" and "green," you might not know what to look for when shopping for energy-frugal, environmentally conscious appliances that are kind to the plant. Here's a primer.

Woman shopping for green energy-efficient appliances

Evaluating the "greenness" of an appliance

Look for appliances with the Energy Star seal, says Alegre Ramos, green living expert for Green House Videos ( This joint program of the US Environmental Protection Agency and the US Department of Energy helps consumers save money and protect the environment by using an energy efficiency ranking system that compares a given appliance against other like-sized appliances.

Questions to ask about an appliance include:

  • Where is it made?
  • What is the "end of life" of this product? Some companies recycle or upcycle their products back into their manufacturing processes.
  • What is the energy source of this product?

According to Ramos, the closer you live to where something is made, the smaller carbon footprint that product has. Bonus: Buying local helps the local and US economies. Two brands to consider are Whirlpool and Maytag, which are still made in the US.

"The bottom line is, it ain't easy being green, and you can't really rely on buzz words -- which are basically used to advertise and ultimately sell products," says Vanessa Saunders, a licensed associate New York State real estate broker who has done extensive research for clients on shopping for cost- and energy-efficient appliances. "If you want to green your home's appliances, you'll need to do your research or seek out a professional like me who can help you choose appliances that will fit your budget while keeping your green initiatives in mind."

Eco appliances in the kitchen

The energy efficiency of refrigerators and freezers has improved greatly over the past 30 years, notes Saunders. As an example, one model worth considering is Bosch's Integra freezer and wine units. This eco-friendly, Energy-Star-certified refrigerator has different modes for better energy savings. For example, the Sabbath Mode uses no energy, Economy Mode runs extra efficient, and Vacation Mode adjusts the temperature and disables water and lighting. Prices for the system start at $2,799.

When purchasing a new refrigerator, consider getting rid of your old one rather than moving it to the garage for extra storage. By sending the older unit for recycling, you will reap all the savings without adding to your bottom line. Also, choose products that are the right size for the job, notes Ramos. For small households, consider a toaster oven for much of your cooking needs, and don't choose an overly large refrigerator or freezer (as tempting as it may be) because you'll be paying for extra capacity that you don't need.

Green your laundry routine

Making a dent in your water and electric bills is easy, says Saunders, with new energy-saving washers and dryers. Front-load washing machines can save the average family $90 per year and use half the water of conventional top-loaded models -- a savings of 9,000 gallons.

Major appliance makers such as Maytag, Amana, Kenmore, LG, Miele and Samsung offer horizontal-axis washing machines that not only help conserve water but also clean clothes better because items aren't sloshing around in a tub of dirty water. Europeans have been using these models for years. For a conservatively priced option, consider the front-loading Maytag Neptune washer for $699.

Go low flow in the bathroom

The bathroom is one of the busiest rooms in the home, and toilets are some of the greatest water users, notes Saunders. When it's time to remodel, low-water-consumption toilets are great for those seeking the benefits of water conservation. Many of these toilets also qualify for rebate programs. If you're looking for an option, the Highline Pressure Lite toilet ($508) by Kohler has a low 1.1-gallon flush setting that reduces water consumption by more than 30 percent, or more than 5,000 gallons of water per toilet, per year.

According to Melinda Mallari Swan of Western Reserve Plumbing, bathrooms account for more than 60 percent of indoor water use, and showers are the third largest source of water waste. Swan advises her customers to look for the watersense label, which signifies the US Environmental Protection Agency's certification for exceptional performance while reducing water use by 20 percent or more.

Swan also recommends installing low-flow showerheads, which can reduce water usage (and utility bills) up to 40 percent over traditional fixtures. (That's 8,000 gallons of water a year for a family of four.) Energy-efficient faucets reduce water usage (and utility bills) up to 30 percent with drip-free, ceramic disc valve fixtures. (A steadily dripping faucet can waste up to 2,700 gallons of water per month.)

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