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Appliances: What are the costs to operate?

Every appliance has two price tags – a purchase price and the operating cost. Smart shoppers will check out the operating costs over the life of the appliance. Even if two models look the same from the outside, the features on the inside can make a difference in your monthly utility bills.

When you shop for a new appliance, learn about its energy efficiency through the yellow and black EnergyGuide label on the appliance. Look for the Energy Star label. Energy Star appliances have been identified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Dept. of Energy as being the most energy-efficient products in their classes.

If you're trying to decide whether to invest in a more energy-efficient appliance or you'd like to determine your current electricity loads, you may want to estimate appliance energy consumption.

Here are some typical wattages of common household appliances:

Clock radio = 10
Hairdryer = 1200-1875
Coffee maker = 900-1200
Clothes washer = 350-500
Clothes dryer = 1800 -5000
Dishwasher = 1200-2400 (using the drying feature greatly increases energy consumption)
      19" = 65-110
      36" = 133
      53"- 61" projection = 170
Refrigerator = 725
      Ceiling = 65-175
      Window = 55-250
Vacuum cleaner = 1000-1440
Water heater (40 gallon) = 4500-5500

Increase energy efficiency in your home

  1. Put your refrigerator in a location that is not in direct sunlight or near a heat source, like the oven or dishwasher.
  2. Clean the condenser coils on the back of the refrigerator at least once a year and check to make sure the door seals.
  3. Defrost as needed. Buildup of ice on the coils makes the compressor run longer, wasting energy.
  4. The costliest refrigerator is the one you don't really need but run anyway – the one in the garage or basement. Retire it from service.
  5. Use your microwave oven. Most energy produced in a microwave goes directly to heating the food, which takes less energy than heating an entire oven for a small food item.
  6. Run your dishwasher only when it's full.
  7. Let your dishes air dry.
  8. Select a dishwasher that has its own heating element that allows you to lower water temperature and save energy.
  9. Scrape don’t rinse off large food pieces and bones. Soaking or prewashing is only recommended in case of burned-on or dried-on food.
  10. Wash your clothes in cold water whenever possible.
  11. Wash and dry full loads.
  12. Clean the filter in the clothes dryer every load to improve air circulation.
  13. Buy a dryer with an automatic moisture sensor. This control shuts the dryer off as soon as your clothes are dry so that energy isn't wasted by timed cycles that may run too long. You can recognize dryers with moisture sensors by the dryness control that adjusts from "more dry" to "less dry."
  14. Use the cool-down cycle to allow the clothes to finish drying with the residual heat in the dryer.
  15. Turn your computer off when it's not in use. Contrary to popular belief, turning a computer on and off frequently is not harmful. In fact letting the unit cool down is beneficial to the durability of the components.

Estimate appliance energy consumption
You can use this formula to estimate an appliance's energy use:
Wattage x Hours Used Per Day divided by 1,000 =
Daily Kilowatt-house (kWh) consumption
Note: 1 kilowatt (kW) = 1,000 Watts

Multiply this by the number of days you use the appliance during the year for the annual consumption. You can then calculate the annual cost to run an appliance by multiplying the kWh per year by your local utility's rate per kWh consumed.

You can usually find the wattage of most appliances stamped on the bottom or back of the appliance or on its nameplate. The wattage listed is the maximum power drawn by the appliance.

Many appliances continue to draw a small amount of power when they are switched off. These "phantom loads" occur in most appliances that use electricity, such as VCRs, televisions, stereos, computers and kitchen appliances. Most phantom loads will increase the appliances energy consumption a few watt-hours.

Phantom Loads
Many devices in your home consume electricity even when they appear to be off. These phantom energy wasters include instant-on TVs, microwave clocks, VCR displays, telephones, and computer peripherals (such as monitors, printers, scanners, etc.) Phantom, or standby, loads add up to a huge waste of electricity in the U.S. that costs consumers more than a billion dollars per year.

One way you can eliminate phantom loads is by plugging those appliances into a plug strip that is equipped with its own power switch. Switch the power strip on and off when you need to use the appliance.


U.S. Dept. of Energy, Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy

Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers

Rocky Mountain Institute

John Krigger, Saturn Resource Management. Author of numerous energy efficiency books including Surviving the Seasons and Residential Energy: Cost Savings and Comfort for Existing Buildings

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