Hannah Wilber

This article is the fourth installment in a series of tips and best practices for making your home more sustainable. Check out the first article on behavioral changes you can make to live greener at home, the second article on programmable thermostats, and the third article on energy-efficient lighting.

Here's a little piece of green building trivia for you: energy use in homes, buildings and industry account for roughly two-thirds of the greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S., according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Another fun fact: a household's appliances account for 20-30% of the energy it uses, as well as 25% of its indoor water consumption. Just think of the opportunity this presents for anyone wanting to save money and help our planet in one fell swoop!

For those of you looking to spruce up your home's sustainability performance, an appliance overhaul is a great step to take, especially when you consider the amount of time we tend to stick with an appliance once we've acquired it—refrigerators have an average lifespan of about 12 years, while washing machines tend to last 11. That could be over a decade of significant energy conservation and utility bill reduction!

Energy savings with ENERGY STAR® 

If you're not sure where to start, keep in mind that, typically, clothes dryers use the most energy, followed by refrigerators and freezers, dishwashers, and washing machines. Luckily for you (and for all of us inhabiting this lovely globe), ENERGY STAR® qualified appliances make it easy to substantially scale back the greenhouse gas emissions associated with these culprits.

What does ENERGY STAR qualified mean? ENERGY STAR is a voluntary program of the EPA, established in 1992 under the Clean Air Act. It's a partnership between the government and over 9,000 organizations, helping individuals and businesses come together to save money and our environment by facilitating a nation-wide shift toward more energy-efficient behavior and consumption. 

Products that are ENERGY STAR qualified have undergone rigorous third-party testing in EPA-recognized labs, and each model also undergoes "off-the-shelf" verification testing each year. Windows, heating and cooling equipment, lighting and, of course, appliances can all earn ENERGY STAR qualification. 

Fun fact number three: ENERGY STAR appliances use 10-50% less energy than standard appliances (the exact savings depend on which model you choose and how you use it), saving you money on operating costs and reducing greenhouse gas emissions and air pollutants. 

Does 50% less energy sound too good to be true? See for yourself by checking out the EnergyGuide labels next time you're browsing the appliance aisle (you can't miss them, they're bright yellow). The U.S. Department of Energy requires manufacturers to deck out their clothes washers, dishwashers, refrigerators, freezers and other appliances with this handy detail showing some essential information for consumers, including:

  • The estimated yearly electricity consumption
  • The estimated yearly operating costs
  • The range of operation costs for similar models
  • Key features of the appliance
  • Whether or not it's ENERGY STAR qualified 

Use these specs to compare and contrast energy consumption and cost between ENERGY STAR qualified products and their non-qualified competitors, then watch that skepticism about major energy savings evaporate into thin air.

Let's keep the trivia theme going with a few points about some different kinds of ENERGY STAR appliances:

  • Fridges and Freezers: a staple in every home, qualified models are at least 10% more efficient than minimum federal standards; replacing your old fridge with an ENERGY STAR qualified one could save you up to $350 over the lifetime of the appliance.
  • Dishwashers: you can save an average of 1,300 gallons of water over the lifetime of your dishwasher if it's an ENERGY STAR qualified model (when compared to standard models). 
  • Washing Machines: qualified washers use 25% less energy and 35% less water than standard washers—think about how that translates to saving on your monthly expenses! Pair it with an ENERGY STAR qualified dryer to boost your savings even more.

Smarten up with WaterSense®

Speaking of using less water, here's another great way to make your home a little greener: opt for bathroom fixtures that have earned the WaterSense® label.

What is WaterSense? It's another EPA partnership program relying on third-party verification, this time with the goal of conserving precious H2O by encouraging a transition to products that minimize consumption. Products that have earned the WaterSense label are certified to be at least 20% more efficient than average products, and those savings are achieved without sacrificing the quality of the fixtures' performance.

Here are some cool WaterSense stats:

  • Bathroom sink faucets: Outfitting your lavatory with a WaterSense approved faucet can reduce your sink's water flow by 30% or more when compared to standard models.
  • Shower heads: Showering accounts for roughly 17% of a home's indoor water usage, but installing a WaterSense shower head can save the average family nearly 3,000 gallons of water per year. 
  • Toilets: If you thought 17% of indoor water use was big, consider that toilets account for approximately 30% of indoor water consumption. Save yourself over $110 per year in water expenses by choosing a WaterSense toilet, which uses 20% less water per flush than the current federal standard. 

Talk about some pretty impressive water-reduction results! Through these efficiency improvements, WaterSense has helped consumers cumulatively save over 747 billion gallons of water, earning them a combined cash savings of over $14.2 billion in water and energy costs.

Equipping your household with ENERGY STAR appliances and WaterSense fixtures is an essential (and easy) component to establishing a green home. In fact, they're so important they can even count for LEED points—up to two points for appliances and a possible five points for fixtures.

But even if you're not after LEED certification just yet, incorporating these technologies into your residence is a great way to help both our environment and your wallet. Plus, you can impress your friends with all the facts and stats you know about how much energy, water and money you're saving; who knows, they may even decide to follow your lead and swap out their old appliances too!