Energy-saving appliances and major projects
When it comes to optimizing your home for maximum energy efficiency, you will ultimately need to spend considerable time and money to achieve the best results. The tips and suggestions listed in this section will have more of an effect on your home’s energy efficiency than anything else, but you will need to carefully plan out how and when to implement these changes. The modifications here are neither cheap nor easy, but they go a long way toward transforming your home's energy consumption — and should certainly save you time and money in the long run.
For the difficulty, cost and energy savings ranking legend, see the efficiency guide overview page.
In addition to heating, cooling, lighting and hot water, appliances consume a large amount of energy in the home. To have the most energy efficient home possible, you need to go beyond the proper use of appliances (e.g., turning off, unplugging, regularly cleaning). In some cases, the only way to see true energy gains is to replace outdated appliances. Older appliances can be extremely inefficient, especially compared to the more modern ENERGY STAR®-rated appliances. Below you will find a list of some of the best appliances on the market today in terms of energy efficiency, according to ENERGY STAR, as well as some tips on how to get the most out of these modern machines.1
Source: U.S. EPA via ENERGY STAR
Clothes dryers consume massive amounts of energy compared to other appliances, but most ENERGY STAR-certified models are guaranteed to use less energy than conventional dryers, sometimes by as much as 20%.2 Top-of-the-line dryers use sensor drying through moisture-sensitive controls to automatically stop the cycle when your clothes are dry. This is much more efficient than timed drying. When the dryer senses that your clothes are dry, it will stop automatically, as opposed to dryers without sensor technology, which will simply run until the timer reaches the end of the preset cycle.
Gas dryers are an infrequently considered option (only 20% of dryers in the U.S. use gas3) that will save energy and reduce the impact on the environment. Check the available connections in your laundry room before choosing between gas and electric. Also, don’t forget to use low heat settings to maximize your dryer’s energy efficiency.
To look up dryer models according to annual energy use and a variety of other factors, use the ENERGY STAR product finder tool.
Clothes washers are another energy guzzler you might want to replace if you have an older model, especially if it is a top loader, which is much less efficient than a front loader. Washing machines built before 2003 are known to be especially inefficient and could be costing you around $210 per year on average to hold onto.4
ENERGY STAR-rated clothes washers use up to 10 fewer gallons of water a load, meaning you can save more than 3,000 gallons of water a year. On average, a new ENERGY STAR-certified washer uses 280 kWh per year, but some use as little as 38 kWh per year.5 You can find the most efficient large washers of 2016, as ranked by ENERGY STAR, on the ENERGY STAR website.
Dishwashers do not drain your energy as much as other appliances, but if you want a home that is energy efficient through and through, then you’ll certainly want to ensure you have a modern, energy-efficient dishwasher. In addition to electric use, you'll definitely want to consider the water usage of your dishwasher. Modern dishwashers have all kinds of technologies meant to maximize water usage, including soil sensors to test how dirty your dishes are and how much water and heat will be needed, clean-water rinse cycles, efficient spray jets and strategic dish rack designs that ensure every dish gets a complete cleaning.6
Consider the size of dishwasher you need. If you are more inclined to wash dishes by hand or you simply don't use very many dishes, you can probably purchase a smaller dishwasher. There are even countertop-sized dishwashers available for people who might lack space for a full dishwasher, renters who want a dishwasher they will be able to move to their next home or people who use very few dishes and don't want to run their full-size dishwashers. Just be sure you get the right size for your household needs. If you get too small a dishwasher, you could end up running the dishwasher more often, which will reduce your savings overall.
Whichever dishwasher you select, be sure to choose one with several washing options — and then use those options. Choosing a lighter wash whenever possible will help cut down on water and electricity costs. And stay away from the heated dry option. It's usually not needed and can rack up energy costs with little to no benefit to you.
Refrigerators, especially outdated ones, are notoriously inefficient. More than a third of the refrigerators and refrigerator/freezers in the United States are over 10 years old.7 Replacing an older, inefficient refrigerator can save you hundreds of dollars, as ENERGY STAR-certified refrigerators are around 9% to 10% more efficient than standard models.
Be sure to choose the right size for your home, and opt for a model with the freezer on top, since those tend to be more efficient than side-by-size models. ENERGY STAR calculates that if you replace a 10-year-old refrigerator with a new ENERGY STAR fridge, you could save up to $260 in five years.8
To compare ENERGY STAR-certified refrigerators, use the ENERGY STAR product finder tool. You can also see the most efficient refrigerators of 2016, according to ENERGY STAR, at the ENERGY STAR website. The list includes bottom freezer, top freezer and side-by-side models in medium, large and extra large sizes.
According to the U.S. Department of Energy, water heating is the second biggest consumer of electricity next to HVAC systems.9 As with most appliances, the older your water heater is, the more likely it is to be quite inefficient. Not only are modern water heaters incredibly more efficient, but today, the market includes a variety of technologically advanced, highly efficient water heaters that take energy efficiency to a whole other level, including solar water heaters and whole-home tankless water heaters. We’ll detail the various pros and cons of these different options below.
High-efficiency electric and gas water heaters
Traditional electric and gas water heaters are still very efficient if you choose the right model. The chart below shows how much energy and money you can save with an ENERGY STAR-certified high efficiency water heater. If you have a larger family, you can save even more and quickly recoup the initial cost of a new water heater. Also, electric water heaters in general are slightly less expensive up front than gas water heaters, but the cost for gas once you are using the water heater can be less than electric costs would be. Consider your gas and electric bills in addition to the efficiency features and the up-front cost of the water heater itself if you have a choice between the two types.
Potential savings with an ENERGY STAR-certified water heater
|Household size||Annual savings (kWh)||Annual savings||Payback (years)||Lifetime savings|
Assumes: 12 cents/kWh; incremental cost = $800; 13-year lifespan
Source: ENERGY STAR
Solar water heaters
It goes without saying that using solar energy can boost energy efficiency and lower your electric bill, but it might surprise you to learn that a solar water heater can actually cut your annual hot water costs in half.10 Check out the economic benefits of solar water heaters as described by the U.S. Department of Energy.
There are several types of solar water heater systems. Active-type systems rely on an anti-freeze fluid constantly pumped between the storage tank and a solar plate/panel heated by the sun. Passive solar water heating systems can be more expensive, depending on the system, but can also be more reliable and last longer. They are also not quite as efficient.
Source: ENERGY STAR via U.S. Department of Energy
Tankless water heaters
Tankless water heaters, also known as demand-type water heaters, offer an alternative to traditional water heaters that rely on a reservoir of heated water to supply hot water around a home. Tankless water heaters only heat water once a hot water tap is turned on. This has several benefits. Most importantly, it means that there is no standby energy loss, helping you save energy and money. However, since water is heated on demand, the amount of hot water available is limited by a flow rate. Gas tankless water heaters generally have a higher flow rate than electric, but if you have a larger household, a even a gas tankless water heater will have trouble keeping up with demand.11
However, if you have relatively low hot water needs, a tankless water heater can be 24%-34% more efficient than conventional storage tank water heaters, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. They can also be 8%-14% more efficient for households that use a lot of water. Tankless water heaters are more expensive up front, but will also have lower maintenance and energy needs.
Source: U.S. Department of Energy
Solar panels have gotten increasingly more popular in recent years, and with good reason. As hardware and material costs have gone down considerably, it has become easier and more feasible for people to have solar panels installed. Even with the cost of the panels, the reduction in your electricity bills can net you savings in the long term. Installing solar panels can be quite expensive upfront, but there are a number of ways the upfront investment can be lowered, including government rebates and leasing options such as options offered by our sister company NRG Home Solar. Once you have solar panels, Reliant’s own Solar Sell Back Plan allows you to sell the surplus energy your panels generate back to the electric grid, giving you even more savings. For more information on everything that solar power and solar energy can do for your home, visit the solar section of the Reliant website.
Perhaps a fitting end to this guide on home energy efficiency, home automation is really the last step in the process of revamping your home, because in the end, the most energy efficient home also needs to be a smart home. Home automation features will help control all the systems in your house, from lights to thermostats to appliances, in the most efficient way possible. In truth, the possibilities are endless, but we will detail below some of the most popular and widely used tools.
You might be thinking: Why a smart thermostat? Isn’t mine already programmable? Although, yes, your thermostat may be programmable, smart thermostats like the Nest Learning ThermostatTM take it to a whole other level.12 As previously stated, home heating and cooling is the biggest part of your energy bill.13 Smart thermostats help regulate these systems so they only run when needed and aren’t overworked. For instance, you can have the thermostat drop off while you’re away at work and then start up again so that your home is comfortable as soon as you walk in the door. Many thermostats let you control these systems remotely through an app, so you can turn down and monitor the systems when you’re away from home. Higher-end thermostats will even learn your behaviors, which ultimately prevents you from constantly tinkering with the temperature, causing systems to be overworked or run unnecessarily.
Automated lighting is also not entirely new, but the options now provided by modern technology are nearly endless. Traditionally, lighting controls came in the form of dimmers and timers, and these are still great alternatives to running bright lights non-stop. But today, a wealth of home automation tools are available that let you potentially control every light in your home, no matter where you are. Photo sensors outdoors are a great option to help ensure that exterior lights aren’t on unnecessarily. Then, there are wireless devices that let you control your lights directly from your phone, so you never have to leave the lights on or have lights on where they are not needed. You can invest in smart plugs so that you can control lamps and other devices from anywhere and program them to turn on and off at designated times. All in all, as evidenced earlier in the guide, a few tweaks will go a long way.
If we were to rewrite this guide in a few years’ time, we might need to dedicate an entire page to smart appliances. With the continuing focus on “the internet of things” and the ability different systems and appliances have to communicate and send and receive data, it is possible that one day your thermostat will tell your HVAC to deliver a cool burst of air when your kitchen appliances say you are cooking. For now, many smart appliances are still on the cusp of innovation and are not ready to be brought to market, but there are currently available options worth considering and exploring, such as smart refrigerators with sensitive temperature controls or ovens that shut off as soon as your food is done. As with most smart tools and home automation products, the upfront cost can be high, but they provide the ultimate in home energy efficiency.
1Products identified on this page are provided by companies other than Reliant and/or its parent company, NRG Energy, Inc. All questions or complaints concerning these products should be directed to their respective manufacturer. Neither Reliant nor its parent company, NRG Energy, Inc., is in any way affiliated with these manufacturers, and makes no representations or warranties of any kind with respect to the products or services of these companies.
2ENERGY STAR https://www.energystar.gov/products/appliances/clothes_dryers
3ENERGY STAR https://www.energystar.gov/products/appliances/clothes_dryers
4ENERGY STAR https://www.energystar.gov/products/appliances/clothes_washers
5ENERGY STAR https://www.energystar.gov/productfinder/product/certified-clothes-washers/results
6ENERGY STAR https://www.energystar.gov/products/appliances/dishwashers
8ENERGY STAR https://www.energystar.gov/products/appliances/refrigerators
9U.S. Department of Energy http://energy.gov/energysaver/articles/15-ways-save-your-water-heating-bill
10U.S. Department of Energy http://energy.gov/energysaver/estimating-cost-and-energy-efficiency-solar-water-heater
11U.S. Department of Energy http://energy.gov/energysaver/tankless-or-demand-type-water-heaters
12Nest Learning ThermostatTM is a trademark of Google, Inc.
13U.S. Department of Energy http://energy.gov/public-services/homes/heating-cooling
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