Does your refrigerator have a Wi-Fi connection? What about your dishwasher: Can it self-dispense detergent and choose the cycle based on the number of dishes you load? But don’t stop there: You might be surprised to learn that some ovens double as refrigerators, so you can leave dinner in the oven in the morning and later send the appliance a text message, telling it to switch from cooling to cooking!
“When it comes to appliances in the kitchen, things are getting smarter,” says Kevin Dexter, senior vice president of home appliance sales and marketing at Samsung Electronics America. “We’re listening closely to consumers and adding improvements that busy moms want.”
During the 2012 International Consumer Electronics Show, Samsung unveiled several appliance twists, including an LCD refrigerator featuring Wi-Fi with a grocery app and a Flex Duo Oven using a Smart Divider to cut wasted cooking space.
Samsung isn’t alone. Other manufacturers also are looking for twists to make appliances smarter and keep consumers happy.
“At GE Appliances, we’re rapidly expanding our Energy Star® offerings because it’s what consumers demand and it’s the right thing to do,” explains Rod Barry, director of efficiency and environmental relations for the company. He claims a kitchen equipped with GE’s Ecomagination appliances reduces electricity use by 20 percent, compared to standard models.
But with so many cooks in the kitchen, not all innovations make energy sense. Appliances use 13 percent of a home’s energy – a hefty chunk of your monthly bill.
Efficiency standards are getting tougher. Manufacturers constantly are enhancing appliances to comply with consumer requests and to meet everevolving federal efficiency standards. These standards, first enacted in 1987, drive efficiency innovations and are credited with saving more than $300 billion in electric bills during the past quarter-century, according to the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy.
Current standards set the bar for refrigerators, freezers, washers, dryers, furnaces, air conditioners, water heaters, motors, lamps and other products. In 2011, a U.S. Senate committee considered tightening appliance standards even more, but the bill has not moved forward for a vote.
Most manufacturers also strive to meet a higher bar of excellence – Energy Star qualification. Launched by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 1992, Energy Star is a voluntary, international standard for rating energy-efficient consumer products. Not only do qualifying appliances carrying the Energy Star logo meet federal standards, they exceed them. Energy Star-rated appliances use 10 percent to 50 percent less energy and water than standard models.
Recycle replaced appliances! After an influx of appliance rebate funds – almost $300 million – from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, many consumers bought efficient appliances during 2010 and 2011. Although rebates were offered for heating and cooling systems and water heaters, kitchen and laundry workhorses were the clear favorites, garnering 88 percent of all redeemed rebates. About 586,000 consumers added refrigerators, 551,000 chose clothes washers and 297,600 bought dishwashers.
The U.S. Department of Energy estimates this influx of efficient appliances will save $48 million in energy costs annually. But these savings only are realized when consumers follow the adage, “Out with the old, in with the new.” Unfortunately, a national electric cooperative survey shows that isn’t always the case.
“A lot of folks buy these great new Energy Star refrigerators, then put the old ‘energy hog’ model in the basement as a soda fridge for the kids,” says Brian Sloboda, program manager for the Cooperative Research Network that monitors, evaluates and applies technologies to help electric cooperatives control costs, increase productivity and enhance services to their members. “As a result, a lot of potential savings are lost. Sure, it’s convenient to have the extra space, but these folks are paying significantly more just to have cold drinks handy.”
The organization partnered with E-Source, a Colorado-based efficiency group, to conduct a national survey of appliances. The study found 19 percent of American homes plug in two refrigerators, and 40 percent of households run a stand-alone freezer, adding expensive cold storage to electric bills.
Older models drain energy dollars. A refrigerator from the 1970s costs $200 more to operate every year than a current model; a 1980s fridge isn’t much better, wasting $100 in energy dollars annually.
Shop for savings. When you go shopping for appliances, look beyond fancy bells and whistles and carefully research appliances to guarantee energy savings, according to the Federal Trade Commission. The agency enforces use of mandatory yellow EnergyGuide labels to help you compare brands and shop effectively.
Most of the differences that make appliances “smarter” are on the inside, in the motors, compressors, pumps, valves, gaskets, seals and electronic sensors. Even if two models look the same from the outside, less-obvious inside features can mean a big difference in monthly utility bills. '
EnergyGuide labels offer energy use and efficiency results from independent laboratory tests; the labels are required for refrigerators, freezers, dishwashers, clothes washers, televisions, water heaters, and select heating and cooling systems.
Rebates are available today. First, check the website of your local electric cooperative – or call the office for details on the latest rebate programs. Some co-ops also offer rebates for recycling old refrigerators too.
You also can check the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency at www.dsireusa.org for other local, state and federal incentive programs. Finally, search for rebates in your area by entering your ZIP code in the Energy Star Special Offer/Rebate Finder at www.energystar.gov.