Power-saving appliances: a new standard

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The latest models of home appliances are vastly more efficient than those that went to market 10 years ago. And many consumers hoping to shave their bills are beginning to upgrade.

New air conditioners, clothes washers, and refrigerators generally use less energy to perform the same job. Such devices carry the Energy Star label (right), a voluntary federal standard.

The difference in price between standard and Energy Star models vary by product. The most-efficient refrigerators, for example, can cost as little as $20 more than less-efficient models, according to the Northeast Energy Efficiency Partnerships (NEEP), a consortium of New England utilities.

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Energy Star clothes washers are pricier. They often cost about $200 more than a standard model. Maytag, for example, retails its high-efficiency Atlantis washer at $820 - $150 more than its mid-level unit.

But Energy Star savings are significant. NEEP estimates Energy Star clothes washers use between 35 to 50 percent less water and 50 percent less energy compared to most models.

Glenn Reed, NEEP's director of residential programs, says switching over to an Energy Star refrigerator might be the best upgrade a consumer with old appliances could make. He estimates the newer devices save between $30 to $60 a year.

But he emphasizes that lower monthly bills hinge on household habits. "The question of savings depends on lifestyle," says Mr. Reed. "If you are a family, you'll save more from upgrading to a more efficient washer than if you're single."

Ed Dooley agrees. A spokesman for the Air Conditioning and Refrigeration Institute, Mr. Dooley says paying an additional $400 for the newest air conditioning system may not pay off for some.

"In Boston or New York, you wouldn't get the same cost savings that you would in Houston or Miami," says Dooley.

Embracing efficiency has its perks, however. Thirty percent of households that buy an energy-efficient appliance are eligible for rebates (usually about $50) from their utility companies, according to the Energy Department.

And reducing energy usage also helps lower carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere.

Prices of appliances with the Energy Star label have dropped as more manufacturers embrace the idea, says Reed. But he recommends consumers not delay upgrading. "Two or three years of lost savings are a compelling reason to buy the unit now," he says.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor

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