By Paula Felps
Today, buying appliances isn’t just about the latest style, it’s also about long-term savings. As energy costs continue to rise, smart shoppers are looking for key items that will save money, while still making a statement within their home. That means savvy consumers are learning to look at more than the purchase price to see if new appliances are truly right for their budget.
“Businesses do that all the time, but consumers have a harder time getting past the product’s first cost,” says Noah Horowitz, a senior scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “They should think about the purchase cost plus the total electricity costs over the life of the product. In many cases, the lowest cost product is no bargain, as it may cost several hundred dollars more to operate over its lifetime.”
Smarter appliance shopping
Finding the right appliance is a lot like online dating — it’s okay to be attracted to good looks, but research to find out if it’s really right for you before making a long-term decision. To start that process, the NRDC suggests:
- Look at the label. “Consumers should look for models that have the Energy Star label on them,” Horowitz says. “[They] will save consumers a lot of money over the life of the product and protect our planet as well.”
- Remember that size matters. That means getting the right size appliance for your needs. Water heaters, refrigerators, or air conditioners that are bigger than what you need are simply a waste of money and energy.
- Go with gas. Whenever possible, choose products that run on natural gas, which is more efficient and cost-effective than electricity. Dryers, stoves, and water heaters are some of the appliances you could consider replacing with natural gas models.
Of course, all appliances have certain features that can provide an immediate tip-off that they’ll save money. For example, refrigerators with freezers on top use up to 15 percent less energy than their side-by-side counterparts.
And the secret to buying an efficient water heater has less to do with the size of the tank than it does with the first hour rating, or FHR, on the label. This tells you how much water the heater can deliver at peak times. (You can use an online calculator to determine just how much water your household uses and what FHR would best suit your needs.)
When buying a dishwasher, look for models with a “light wash” or “energy-saving” wash cycle, and for clothes washers, make sure you get one with adjustable water levels, which allows you to use less water for small loads.
Since appliances last for years, Horowitz points out that making the right purchasing decision today is something you’ll probably come to appreciate even more as time goes by. (Want more tips on how to save energy? Consider a programmable thermostat.)
“The cost of electricity and natural gas will only go up over time,” he says, “so this makes your more efficient model an even better investment.”