10 Tips for Saving Energy in the Kitchen

Spending less money on utility bills doesn’t mean you need to rush out and purchase a whole new suite of Energy Star appliances. With occasional light maintenance and good habits, you can greatly improve the energy efficiency of your large kitchen appliances — up to about $120 annually — without sacrificing convenience.

Refrigerator/freezer

Energy-efficiency experts tell us to focus our efforts on the biggest energy hogs in the house, and that definitely includes the fridge. Because it cycles on and off all day, every day, the refrigerator consumes more electricity than nearly every appliance in the home save for the HVAC systems. The average refrigerator costs about $90 per year to operate, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

1. Adjust the thermostat. By setting the thermostat colder than it needs to be, you might increase your fridge’s energy consumption by as much as 25% on average. Adjust the refrigerator so that it stays in the 37-40 degrees F range. For the freezer, shoot for between 0-5 degrees F. You could save up to $22 per year. If your model doesn’t display the current temps, invest in two appliance thermometers (one for the fridge, one for the freezer).

2. Clean the coils. As dust accumulates on the condenser coils on the rear or bottom of the fridge, it restricts cool-air flow and forces the unit to work harder and longer than necessary. Every six months, vacuum away the dust that accumulates on the mechanism. Also, check to see that there is at least a 3-inch clearance at the rear of the fridge for proper ventilation.

3. Use an ice tray. Automatic ice makers are a nice convenience, to be sure, but it turns out the mechanisms are energy hogs. An automatic ice maker can increase a refrigerator’s energy consumption by 14% to 20%, according to Energy Star. By switching off the ice maker and using trays, you can save about $12 to $18 off your annual electricity bill. Most units require little more than a lift of the sensor arm to switch them off. To reclaim the space remove the entire unit, a simple DIY job on many models.

4. Unplug the “beer fridge.” Many homes have an extra fridge that runs year round even though it’s used sparingly. Worse, these fridges tend to be older, more inefficient models. By consolidating the contents to the main fridge and unplugging the additional unit, you eliminate the entire operating cost of a fridge. The second-best solution is to make sure the extra fridge remains three-quarters full at all times. The mass helps maintain steady internal temps and lets the fridge recover more quickly after the door is opened and closed, according to the California Energy Commission.

Ovens and ranges

“Green” cooking all comes down to proper time and space management. By using gas and electric stoves more effectively, you can painlessly save a few dollars a year.

5. Cut the power early. As anybody who’s ever bumped a burner on an electric stove can attest, those heating elements stay hot long after they’ve been switched off. Put that residual heat to work by shutting off the burner several minutes before the end of the cook time. The same technique can be applied to the oven. The savings can add up to a couple bucks every month.

6. Match the burner to pan. When a small pan is placed on a big burner you can practically see the money disappearing into thin air. By matching the burner to the pan, electricity won’t be squandered heating the kitchen rather than the food. The reverse is true, too. A small burner will take considerably longer to heat a large pan than would an appropriately sized burner. For gas stoves, don’t let the flames lick the sides of the pot. Follow these tips and watch the utility bills shrink by a few dollars a month.

7. Do away with preheating. You can save about $2 a month by not preheating your oven (20 cents per hour to operate electric oven; eliminate 20 30-minute preheats a month). Many cooks agree that the practice is wholly unnecessary for all but a few recipes, namely baking breads and cakes. This approach may add a few minutes to the overall cooking time, but it eliminates all that wait time on the front end.

Dishwasher

As with washing machines, most of a dishwasher’s energy needs go to heating the water. Still, says Lane Burt, an energy policy analyst with The Natural Resources Defense Council, a 10-year-old dishwasher can be made nearly as efficient as a newer model simply by knowing when and how to run it.

8. Manage the load. Most dishwashers use the same amount of water and energy whether they’re run full or half-full. You can cut your operating costs by one-third or one-half by running the machine only when it’s full. It costs about $54 to run a pre-2000 model dishwasher per year, based on government data.

9. Activate energy-saving features. A dishwasher’s heated dry cycle can add 15% to 50% to the appliance’s operating cost. Most machines allow the feature to be switched off (or not turned on), which can save $8-$27 per year, assuming an operating cost of $54 annually. If your dishwasher doesn’t have that flexibility, simply turn the appliance off after the final rinse and open the door.

10. Use the machine. Many homeowners believe they can save water and energy by hand washing dishes. The truth is that a dishwasher requires less than one-third the water it would take to do those same dishes in the sink. By running the machine (when full), you can cut down the operating time of the hot water heater, your home’s largest energy hog. Not only will you save a buck per month, you won’t have to do the dishes.

When to Repair or Replace Your Appliance

When an appliance is old and isn’t working efficiently, it’s easy to decide to replace rather than repair the machine — may it rest in peace.

But appliances often break before their time, making the repair-or-replace decision harder.

If money is tight, you may have to repair the appliance and hope for the best. But if you’ve got some coin, then replacing with a new, energy-efficient model often is the better way to go.

That’s a lot of ifs, and the repair-or-replace dilemma often is hard to resolve. Here are some guidelines that will help you decide.

Is It Really Broken?

When appliances stop working, we get so rattled that the obvious escapes us. Before you panic, make sure:

The appliance is plugged in.
Circuit breakers haven’t tripped. (I once replaced a blender only to discover that the circuit needed resetting.)
Flooring hasn’t become uneven, which can stop some appliances from turning on.
Vents and filters aren’t clogged with lint and dust.

Is It Still Under Warranty?

Check your owner’s manual or records to see if the sick appliance is still under warranty. Most warranties on major appliances cover labor and parts for a year; some extend coverage of parts for two years. If it’s still covered, schedule a service call.

Is It Truly at the End of Its Useful Life?

Appliances have an average useful life — the typical lifespan after which the machine is running on borrowed time. The closer your appliance is to its hypothetical past due date, the wiser it is to replace, rather than repair.

How to Follow the 50% Rule

In 2014, the average cost to repair an appliance was $254 to $275. Should you pay it?

If an appliance is more than 50% through its lifespan, and if the cost of one repair is more than 50% of the cost of buying new, then you should replace rather than repair.

To do the math, you’ll have to know the typical lifespan (see above), and get a repair estimate. Most service companies charge a “trip charge” to diagnose the problem. These charges vary widely, so be sure to ask when you arrange the appointment. If the company repairs the appliance, the trip charge typically is waived.

DIY Whenever Possible

If you know your way around a socket wrench, you may be able to make simple appliance repairs yourself and save labor fees. YouTube has lots of DIY repair videos, and user manuals can help you troubleshoot.

Can’t find your manual? Search online for “manual” along with your appliance brand and model number. Most manufacturers provide free downloadable PDFs of appliance manuals, and there are several online sites that specialize in nothing but manuals.

However, there is a downside to repairing appliances yourself.

Many electrical replacement parts are non-refundable, so if you misdiagnose the problem, you’ve wasted money.
Large appliances are heavy and bulky. You risk injury if you don’t know how to move, open, and lift the machine property.
Some appliance warranties are voided when you mess with the machine yourself.
If you forget to unplug the machine before making repairs, you can electrocute yourself (making the money you save a moot point).
How to Calculate Whether Energy Efficiency is Cost Effective

New water-saving and energy-efficient appliances can be cost effective: A modern refrigerator, for instance, uses roughly half the electricity of one built 20 years ago.

But replacing energy clunkers that still have miles left on them may not be a money-wise move. You might spend thousands on an appliance in order to save hundreds (if you’re lucky) on your energy bill.

Jill A. Notini of the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers says if you’re planning on staying in your home for 10 to 15 years, upgrading appliances is a good idea. However, if you’re planning on moving soon, you’ll save money by keeping your older appliances, and letting the new owners upgrade to energy-efficient models.

Are There Hidden Costs When Replacing Old Appliances?

The cost of replacing an appliance may include more than just the price of the machine. In fact, the price tag could be the least of the money you’ll spend to upgrade an appliance.

A new refrigerator may not fit in the old spot. You could have to modify cabinetry to fit the new appliance (be sure to measure accurately).
Gas ovens and ranges will save money only if your home already has gas connections. If not, you could spend thousands bringing a gas line into your home or hundreds rerouting the lines you already have.
Upgrading from a simple gas range to one with all the bells and whistles may require upgrading or adding electrical wiring and circuits.

How to Help Your Appliances Last Longer

maxresdefaultIs it just me or does it seem that appliances don’t last as long as they’re supposed to?

Our dryer died after 11 years (two years before a typical dryer’s lifespan is up), and we repaired our refrigerator three times before it reached its 12th birthday (it’s supposed to live for 13 years).

Full disclosure: I wouldn’t give myself an A in appliance care. But in the future, I vow to keep up on regular maintenance that’ll keep my new dryer running longer than my last one.

Rob Carpenter, owner of a Mr. Handyman franchise in Maryland, shares some insider tips about how to extend the life of home appliances.

Refrigerators That Last

Refrigerators break down when doors don’t close tightly, forcing motors to work overtime to keep food cold. To test your door seal, close the door on a dollar bill: If the bill slips, you’ve got a problem that requires refrigerator maintenance.

Magnetic strips embedded in gaskets around refrigerator doors make doors close snugly, but they routinely wear out and should be replaced or re-magnetized every couple of years. If you’re handy, re-magnetizing is a DIY job — just run a powerful magnet along each side of the gasket, in the same direction, about 50 times.

If messing around with the refrigerator door is beyond your pay grade, call a professional. Pros typically charge around $242 to repair door problems.

Washing Machine Endurance

Loose change banging around your washer drum can cause dents, chipped paint, and rust, so make sure to empty pockets before washing clothes.

Also, maintain your washing machine by regularly cleaning or replacing filters that trap water sediment before it enters your machine. Filters, which look like thimbles, are located in the back where supply hoses attach to the machine. Remove hoses and either poke out debris with a tip of a flathead screwdriver, then remove and wash the filter, or replace it.

Dryers That Keep on Drying

In addition to regularly cleaning out your dryer’s lint trap and exhaust hose, inspect the exterior vent — hot air must escape your house unimpeded.

Make sure the hinged exterior vent pops open when the dryer runs. If it doesn’t, open the cover and scrape out lint with the end of a hanger or dryer vent brush ($13). If your vent is louvered, clean slats with an old toothbrush.

When my dryer recently lost its heat, we called a repair guy who discovered a family of sparrows living in the vent. He sucked the birds out (poor birdies), and then we covered the vent opening with a wire mesh.

Dishwasher Extenders

Here are ways to keep your dishwasher stress-free and long-lasting:

Prime your dishwasher by running the hot water in your sink before you begin the cycle. This will clean your dishes with hot water from the very start of the cycle.
Once a week, run your dishwasher empty except for a cup of vinegar, which will keep it shining and smelling fresh.
Clean out food traps regularly.
Wipe clean the seals around dishwasher doors.