Appliances & Electronics

Chargers! Cables! Everywhere!

Consumer electronics can account for 15 percent of household energy use. Many of these products use energy even when switched off. In the electric utility business, we have a saying for all those devices (like your DVR) that swallow up power even when they aren’t being used: Phantom Load. Scary sounding, right? Well, it also helps create scary power bills if you don’t control what you don’t see.

Common electronics components, like power supplies and battery chargers, contribute to standby and off-mode power consumption and also impact a product’s in-use energy consumption.

Use a power strip as a central “turn off” point when you are done using equipment. Even when turned off, electronic and IT equipment often use a small amount of electricity. For home office equipment, this stand-by or “phantom” power load can range from a few watts to as much as 20 or even 40 watts for each piece of equipment. Using a power strip for your computer and all peripheral equipment allows you to completely disconnect the power supply from the power source, eliminating standby power consumption

Look for the Energy Star label on any new computer equipment you purchase. The ENERGY STAR label identifies efficient PCs, monitors, printers, faxes, and copiers.

Use a power meter: Inexpensive power meters are now available that can accurately gauge power consumption even at very low power levels. These devices can help you root out the main culprits in your home’s electronics collection and identify opportunities for savings.

Televisions: When you set out to purchase a new TV, it is useful to know what, if any, energy penalty that slick new set comes with. New EnergyStar labels on TVs can help. The labels display annual estimated energy use and operating cost compared to other models of similar size.

Set-Top Boxes and Peripherals: The expanding universe of set-top boxes is a major factor in growing home entertainment energy use. The biggest users are cable and satellite boxes, particularly the increasing number that incorporate digital video recorders (DVRs). To put this energy use in perspective, consider that a typical household spends more on the electricity for their home entertainment system than on the electricity for a new refrigerator!

  • As more and more TVs are sold with wireless streaming capability built in and more multi-function set-tops are installed, the number of set-top boxes will decrease. But to reduce energy use while freeing up space in the entertainment center, remember to enable the sleep modes on your devices.

Computers and Home Office Equipment: More and more people are working at home or using computers in their leisure time. As home office use increases, so does energy use by such equipment as computers, printers, copiers, and computer peripherals.

The image below summarizes typical power use by operating mode for office equipment and average annual electricity use. Note the big difference in energy use between laptop and desktop computers as well as the contribution of common computer peripherals, all things to consider when upgrading your equipment.

In the kitchen

Cook smarter!

Before you start.
Defrost frozen foods in the refrigerator before cooking so your oven or stovetop doesn’t have to use its precious energy bringing your food to room temperature.

While you cook. Food cooks more quickly and more efficiently in ovens when air can circulate freely. Don’t lay foil on the racks. If possible, stagger pans on upper and lower racks to improve airflow if you’re baking more than one pan at a time.

  • Try to avoid peeking into the oven a lot as you cook. Each time you open the door, a significant amount of heat escapes. Food takes longer to cook, and you waste energy. Use your oven light and inspect through the window in the oven door instead.
  • With electric burners, you can turn off the burner just before the cooking is finished. The burner will continue radiating heat for a short while. This may also prevent overcooking. Another way to avoid overcooking in the oven is to use thermometers, especially for meat.

For next time. It doesn’t take as much energy to reheat the food as it does to cook it. So cook double portions when using your oven, and refrigerate or freeze half for another meal. This will also save you preparation time!

  • If you have a self-cleaning oven, the best time to use the feature is just after you’ve cooked a meal — that way, the oven will still be hot, and the cleaning feature will require less energy. Try not to use the self-cleaning feature too often, and operate the ventilation fan when it’s on.

Time to clean!

Scrape, don’t rinse. Studies show that most people prerinse dishes before loading them into the dishwasher. Modern dishwashers — certainly those purchased within the last 10 years — do a superb job of cleaning even heavily soiled dishes. Don’t be tempted to prerinse dishes before loading, simply scrape off any food and empty liquids and let the dishwasher do the rest.

When filling the dishwasher. Completely fill the racks to optimize water and energy use, but allow proper water circulation for adequate cleaning.

Wash only full loads. The dishwasher uses the same amount of water whether it’s half-full or completely full. Putting dishes in the dishwasher throughout the day and running it once in the evening will use less water and energy than washing the dishes by hand throughout the day. If you find that it takes two or three days to get a full load, use the rinse and hold feature common on newer models. This will prevent buildup of dried-on food while saving time and water compared to prerinsing each item. The rinse feature typically uses only 1 to 2 gallons of water.

Use Energy-saving options. Pay attention to the cycle options on your dishwasher and select the cycle that requires the least amount of energy for the job. Many models now include “eco” cycles designed to minimize energy and water consumption.

Use the no-heat air-dry feature on your dishwasher if it has one. If you have an older dishwasher that doesn’t include this feature, you can turn the dishwasher off after the final rinse cycle is completed and open the door to allow air drying. Using the no-heat dry feature or opening and air-drying the dishes will increase the drying time, and it could lead to increased spotting, according to some in the industry, but try this method to see how well it works with your machine.

Turn down the water heater temperature. Since the early 1990s, most dishwashers in the U.S. have been sold with built-in heaters to boost water temperature to 140–145°F, the temperature recommended by manufacturers for optimum dishwashing performance. The advantage to the booster heater is that you can turn down your water heater thermostat, significantly reducing water heating costs. Resetting your water heater to 120°F (typically halfway between the “medium” and “low” settings) will provide adequate hot water for your household needs and reduce the risk of scalding.

In the laundry room

Follow these suggestions whenever possible to keep energy use to a minimum. In most cases, practices that save energy also extend the life of your clothes.

Recent research shows that new dryers use significantly less energy to dry most typical loads on low heat than on high heat, even though the dryer runs longer. If you aren’t in a rush, let the clothes run longer on low heat. This will save energy and is gentler on clothes.


Optimize Load Size: It is important not to underload or overload either your washer or dryer. Most people tend to underload their washers rather than overload — particularly with conventional top-loaders — to make sure all the clothes are covered with water. Try to load your washer to its full capacity whenever possible without overloading. If you overload, clothes may not get clean, and you may end up washing the load a second time.

  • Also dry full loads when possible but be careful not to overfill the dryer. Drying small loads wastes energy.

Use Lower Temperature Settings: Use cold water for the wash cycle instead of warm or hot (except for greasy stains), and only use cold for rinses. By presoaking heavily soiled clothes, a cooler wash temperature may be fine. The temperature of the rinse water does not affect cleaning, so always set the washer on cold water rinse. Lower temperature settings can also save dryer energy.

  • Clean the dryer filter after each use. A clogged filter will restrict airflow and reduce dryer performance.
  • Check the outside dryer exhaust vent. If you have a conventional exhaust vent, make sure it is clean and that the flapper on the outside hood opens and closes freely. If the flapper stays open, cold air will blow into your house through the dryer and increase heating costs. Better yet, replace the outside dryer vent hood with one that seals tightly.