We are using our home appliances wrong. Some energy saving tips are myths

(Rob Doby for The Washington Post)


When I was a kid, my dad followed behind me, turning off the incandescent lights I left burning around the house. “You’re wasting energy,” he scolds as I try to escape the room. Of course, he was right. in the eighties, 5 to 10 percent of the average household’s electricity bill He went to keep the lights on. So when my son was born last June, my dad joked that he was waiting for the day his grandson would exact his revenge on my utility bill.

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Fortunately for me, that day will never come. I was rescued by the LEDs, which are now my primary lighting source About half of all US homes. LEDs are chips of semiconductor material that emit as much light as incandescent bulbs while using about 10 percent more electricity. Later this year, incandescent bulbs will disappear from store shelves forever New Federal Efficiency Standards into effect. If it isn’t already, lighting your home will soon be a rough miss in your energy budget.

However, many people still look like my father. When you ask Americans how they save energy at home,Lights out“there was top of the list Since the eighties. But when it comes to actual savings, it doesn’t even beat the top 10, like most conventional wisdom on how to reduce family size. Energy and emissions, much of what we think about our homes and appliances is wrong.

It’s time to refresh our thinking.

Lights out for older devices

I’ve interviewed engineers, energy efficiency experts, and appliance manufacturers across the country to find out how we abuse our appliances. The story began in the mid-1970s, when states, led by California, imposed Equipment efficiency standards response to the energy crisis. States and then Congress began tightening standards on more than 50 products, and introduced federalism Energy Star Program, successful voluntary certification by the EPA to label energy-efficient products.

Initially, several manufacturers resist. Some Even cheat: Refrigerators sold by the South Korean company LG in 2010 used a circumvention device to cheat efficiency tests. But manufacturers have come up with new standards, even competing under the Energy Star program to boost their efficiency in good faith.

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The competency criteria also proved to be politically permanent. After the Trump administration I tried to allow some models From dishwashers, washing machines and shower heads to unlimited power and water use, the Biden administration has reversed those measures and imposed tougher measures. Efficiency efforts like this have fizzled out $500 off the average household’s annual utility bill, and about 7 percent of projected energy consumption in the United States, estimates Hardware standards awareness project.

“If cars were regulated to the same extent as household appliances, the average car would travel 60 miles per gallon and seat nine people,” says Pamela Klein, engineer and sustainability executive at Whirlpool, which manufactures 20 million products each year under the brands. . Including Whirlpool, Maytag, and KitchenAid. However, these devices can save us more water, energy and time – if we use them correctly.

Fortunately, efficiency gains have simplified our choices, says Joseph Kantenbacker, an environmental researcher at the University of South Dakota. “It was a mistake to try to get everyone to do everything,” says Kantenbacher. “Nobody has time for that.”

Kantenbacher provided some guidance. First, get rid of old assumptions (and old hardware). We often think that noisy or large devices are the most wasteful, but the opposite is often true. on average, The most efficient modern refrigerators Use less energy per hour From an old 60 watt incandescent bulb. Instead, focus on Half of your home’s energy It goes into heating or cooling your living spaces and the other 20 percent runs appliances that pump and heat water, like dishwashers and water heaters. Then focus on the rest.

Here is a list of the most common ways we abuse our devices, and what we can do better. Nobody, luckily, counts on your kids to remember to turn off the lights. Sorry dad.

Do not pre-rinse it. Run your dishwasher.

It’s time to forget what your parents taught you about cleaning up after dinner, says Jennifer Amann, who helps lead building programs at the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy. The dishwasher has come a long way over the past century.

“One of the hardest habits I have to break, growing up in the ’70s and ’80s, is not completely rinsing the dishes,” says Aman. “My mom’s dishes were clean by the time she got into the dishwasher. Washing machines nowadays can perform like miracles, they use very little water.”

How little? Three and a half gallons or less. Most efficient dishwashers now use approximately 2 gallons to clean a load of unrefined dishes. Modern dishwashers are designed to remove dried food on dishes, allowing you to wait until the washer is full to run it. Scraping is enough. Just leave space for the water jets to reach each plate.

What if you only have a few dishes to wash? You might think doing them manually is less wasteful, but it is Not what research showseven if you run a half empty dishwasher, According to Gregory Keulian, director of the Center for Sustainable Systems at the University of Michigan.

Keoleian co-authored a study looking at the amount of water and energy required to either hand or machine wash dishes. the Peer review study, sponsored by Whirlpool, found that running the faucet to wash one place (a plate, cup, bowl, utensils and some serving dishes) takes about 3 gallons. This means that running a dishwasher for just two people saves water compared to washing dishes in the sink, assuming you don’t pre-rinse. On average, dishwashers also produce less than half as much greenhouse gas emissions as washing dishes by hand, mostly thanks to less water being heated.

At its capacity (about eight sets of dishes), the dishwasher uses less than a half gallon per place. “Families that use dishwashers can reduce their carbon footprint by scraping dishes instead of heavy rinsing before loading, running full loads, using the ‘normal’ wash setting, not using hot drying, and purchasing an efficient dishwasher,” Keoleian wrote in an email. “.

The only way to get around this manually is to use the two tub method of washing and rinsing, rather than letting the water run like most people do. But it won’t save you time. Home dishwashing by hand for a year. EPA estimatesIt takes about 230 hours, which is equivalent to 10 days vacation.

How do devices do this? Light sensors in dishwashers detect cloudiness of the water as it drains and adjust the water to ensure your dishes are clean without anything going to waste. “The whole point is that the appliances do the hard work for you,” says Cara Acker, a spokeswoman for Bosch Home Appliances, a major manufacturer.

Set your refrigerator thermostat and forget it

It was the refrigerator one day.Most of the power hungry appliances in the family home. Today, it is one of the most economical. Since 1972, the energy use of refrigerators has fallen by three-quarters, even as their internal volume has increased, According to a 2010 World Economic Forum study. With compressors, coolers, and improved insulation, those numbers look even better today.

However, many people still ignore the manufacturer’s recommendations and set the temperatures too cold. “Colder isn’t necessarily better,” Acker says. Decades of improvement in insulation, seals, and airflow mean that recommended temperatures—usually between 37 and 40 degrees Fahrenheit—preserve food for longer without wasted energy or frostbite. Just arrange your food so it’s easy to find and hard to forget (food waste remains a major source of emissions).

However, the biggest mistake is keeping refrigerators past their expiration dates. If you have an older model in a (heated) garage or basement – especially if you are part of a… 26 percent of American households With a second refrigerator – get rid of it. In most cases, you are Pay more for electricity than you can save by upgrading. Payback periods can be as short as a few years, and utilities will pay you for older cars (you can Find programs that do this here).

You may have heard that keeping a thermostat at one temperature saves on heating and cooling bills. No. By installing programmable or smart thermostats that learn about your preferences and habits, households can set an efficient heating and cooling schedule, while saving $50 to $100 annually, according to Energy Star. devices, Available for about $150 (or free with discounts), generally use home WiFi, smartphone apps, or motion sensors to see when people are home, then adjust temperatures accordingly, as well as throughout the day.

Homes with heat pumps are an exception, says Ian Walker, who studies buildings at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Modern, high-performance heat pumps do best at maintaining a constant, comfortable temperature and can be less efficient if trying to heat a cold home. It can save energy without having to adjust the thermostat in the evening or when you wake up. “Don’t touch the thermostat,” Walker says. “Just leave it at 68 or 70.”

Stop washing clothes in hot water

The washing machines filled the bathtub with hot soapy water, pulled your clothes on for an hour or so and then drained. Today’s front-loading machines reverse this dynamic: They use a small batch of water to rinse your clothes, then continually check the purity of the water to get the job done using just the right amount of heat and water. Since 1990, this way she has Cut energy and water use by more than half.

However, we run our devices like troughs of days gone by. The main change that needs to be done is washing with cold water. With a few exceptions, modern laundry detergents It works well in cold temperatures (Even if the cold water combinations are not distinguished). Most Sensors built into the washing machines ensure that the clothes are completely clean without the need for water or excessive heat. Two other settings maximize those savings: Fast cycles get an average load just as clean, while higher spin settings shorten drying times. For exceptionally dirty laundry, dial the settings. Don’t make it the norm.

Do not save old devices. replace them.

If you’re using a machine that’s 15 or 20 years old, replacing it will almost certainly save money and emissions. Even inexpensive dishwashers today are more efficient than high-end appliances a decade ago. Pushing appliances beyond their expected life only delays their imminent replacement while burning money and energy.

But, manufacturers argue, we may be entering an era when devices are nearing their peak efficiency. At this point, we will be relying more on software updates than on new hardware to make it better. “The devices are becoming as efficient as can be,” says Klein, CEO of Whirlpool. “It’s going to get to the point where we’re better off helping consumers extend the life of their products.”

That day is still a long way off, said Andrew Delasky, executive director of the Hardware Standards Awareness Project. Companies have successfully campaigned to delay the new standards by putting pressure on the Department of Energy. agency recently Settlement of a lawsuit After missing deadlines for updating the standards of 20 devices.

Manufacturers have been arguing about such new requirements for a long time Not feasible, only to achieve dramatic efficiency improvements once implemented. whirlpool Department of Energy in 2009for example, that the best top-loading washing machines were “at (or very close to) the maximum technically possible overhead loads”.

Today, Whirlpool’s most efficient top loader is 50 percent more energy efficient than those previous models. Manufacturers say we can’t meet these efficiency levels. Delasky says. “But these products are on the market today.”

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