The refrigerator hasn't been keeping food cold enough for a week now so you figure it's time to start looking for a new one. Instead of automatically replacing it with the same version of what you have, you might want to consider researching more energy-efficient models. Choosing a model with the ENERGY STAR logo is important, but so is buying the size or type of appliance that fits your situation.
An 80-gallon water heater, even an energy-efficient one, uses more energy than a 40-gallon one that's better suited for a small family. Another thing you should keep in mind is that replacing something that's working just fine rarely makes sense, economically or environmentally.
Take a look at these side-by-side comparisons to see how an energy-saving appliance might be able to save you a bundle on your energy bills.
Conventional hot water tank Most homes have this type of tank located in the basement or a closet. Depending on its size, it keeps about 40-80 gallons of water heated at all times, releasing it when you turn on a faucet for hot water. If your tank is on the opposite side of the house from your bathroom, it may take a minute to get warm water for a shower. Make sure you choose one that is the right size for your family and is well insulated to reduce standby heat loss.
Tankless water heater About the size of a medicine cabinet, this type of water heater can be placed near the point of use, delivering hot water on demand and therefore more efficiently and cheaply. While the purchasing cost is about double that of a tank model, its operating cost is almost half. Installing a tankless water heater while updating your house can be expensive though, because different size gas lines and special venting are often required.
Hot water recirculating pump This inexpensive option can be installed if you're not ready to replace your hot water tank, but you are frustrated by not having instant hot water. The pump, placed at the faucet farthest from the tank, recirculates hot water in the pipes so there is always hot water available. Many have a programmable timer or an on-demand button so the pump operates only when you need it, keeping operating costs low.
Solar water heater There are many types of solar water heating systems and the one you choose should depend on several factors, such as how cold your winters are, how much sunshine you get and what kind of space you have available for collecting sunlight. While installation can be expensive, operating costs are low because the device uses a free energy source; the system often pays for itself in five to seven years.
Top-loading washing machine Most of the energy consumption used by a washer is in heating the water to wash the clothes. Full-size models can use 40 gallons per load, so it's best to choose a washer with settings for different load sizes. Energy efficiency has doubled in the past 20 years, so replacing an old machine could save you as much as $110 a year in energy bills.
Front-loading washing machine These new designs use about 18-25 gallons of water per load because they don't have to submerge the clothes; instead they tumble the clothing constantly in and out of the water. This saves a considerable amount of water and heating energy.
Traditional freezer-on-top refrigerator This is the least expensive type of refrigerator and is more energy-efficient than a side-by-side model, using 7-15 percent less energy. Models from the 1990s use two to three times more energy than current ones; even better, ENERGY STAR-labeled refrigerators are at least 20 percent more efficient than other models.
Freezer-on-bottom refrigerator Though generally the most expensive to purchase, especially those with French doors, this model is the least expensive to operate. Freezer-bottom models are popular among consumers because of the convenience of seeing and reaching more-frequently used items more easily. The more foods are seen, the more likely they are to be consumed before going bad, saving you money.
Side-by-side refrigerator Popular for tight spaces because of the smaller doors, this type of refrigerator is also more likely to need repair because of the water and ice dispensers in the door. Automatic icemakers increase energy use 14-20 percent.