Improving the Energy Efficiency of Home Appliances

Close up of electrical outlet (AU/NZ standard) with on/off switches
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Our special feature on greener choices around the home kicked off with a guest post on improving the energy efficiency of an existing home with small changes and targeted renovations/enhancements. This week, we’re taking a closer look at the energy efficiency of home appliances and equipment. 

Replacements and Upgrades

Using more efficient appliances or upgrading electronics to a better energy-rating is an “easy” way to reduce consumption without changing habits. It’s also expensive! In some cases, the upgrade may be worthwhile.  In other cases, you might be better off looking for near-term efficiency gains on older existing appliances while saving for future incremental upgrades when the time/budget is right. Using existing equipment smarter to lower your household energy consumption is a great place to start.

Cleaner Appliances are Greener Appliances

Clean appliances will run more efficiently. That’s a no/low cost adjustment that you can make today. Cleaning air inlets (aka fur magnets!) and ensuring adequate ventilation gaps will help things run efficiently. Don’t forget the out-of-sight-out-of-mind jobs.

Remember that just because an appliance is for cleaning doesn’t mean it keeps itself clean…sadly! All of those traps, filters, seals, etc benefit from regular cleaning, as unpleasant a task as that can sometimes be. It will also help your existing appliances operate better, smell better, and last longer.

Energy Efficiency in the Home Laundry

In your laundry, try to take advantage of economy/eco modes, if your appliances have them. If you can customise the default settings, set it to your most efficient cycle so that you need to opt up when needed by exception instead of always remembering to opt down.

If you can’t adjust the default for your washing machine, get cheeky if your family is “forgetful” about cold washing and shut off the hot water at the wall. As a bonus, it will help to reduce the risk of accidental shrinking. Run full loads where feasible.  If operating on similar settings, you’ll use less energy and water.  That means you’ll generate less household wastewater, too.

Clothes dryers are power hungry and can be hard on your clothing. Line or rack drying is a win-win for your energy consumption and your wardrobe when possible. I’ll share some tips in a future post for how we are managing (sometimes with difficulty) to do all of our household laundry without a tumble dryer here in rainy New Zealand. There are pros and cons, but it’s totally worth it in my opinion.

Energy Efficiency in the Home Kitchen

Dish Washing and Dishwashers

In the kitchen, use the same eco-setting and full load principles with your dishwasher, if you use one. You can’t argue the convenience factor, but they’re also pretty green if you check out the pros/cons of dishwashers vs. handwashing from a green perspective

Refrigerators and Freezers

Set your refrigerator and freezer to appropriate temperatures. Setting appliances too cold can substantially increase your power consumption and you can accidently freeze refrigerated items in cold pockets. Double bummer. Check your temperatures, adjust if needed, make sure ventilation gaps are clear, and make sure your seals are all in good condition. If your appliance isn’t automatically frost-free, keeping it routinely defrosted will help to keep it chilling efficiently. 

Keep them well-organised to reduce thermal losses through open doors (and reduce food waste from forgotten items). Freezers operate most efficiently when at their fullest, however, full yet organised is better. That way, you can quickly access what you need and without letting out the chill while rummaging.  Fridges also benefit from organisation, but need a little more room for air circulation. Not all storage spaces are equal so place food into suitable zones.

Ovens, Stoves, and More

Capacity applies when cooking as well, from pairing the right pot/pan to stove top element size or choosing a specialised appliance for frequent tasks. If you frequently bake small oven meals, consider using a toaster oven instead of your full-sized oven.  A typical toaster oven uses one-third to one-half the energy of a full size oven and you can fit much more in than you might think.  This appliance gets a heavy workout at our place! We bought a convection toaster oven when renovating (no working kitchen for a LONG time) and it quickly became a favourite for smaller jobs.  It heats up much faster, performs very well, and is way easier to clean – excellent. 

On the flip side, prepping food in bulk is a great way to reduce your use of packaged commercial convenience foods or (depending on what you prep) eat healthier. You can save money on ingredients with bulk buys and use energy more efficiency with bulk cooking. Win win! Depending on your schedule and power options, you can take advantage of cool weather for your bulk baking and reap the benefits of a little extra ambient warmth, too.

If you frequently dehydrate foods in your oven (e.g. lower temperature over long times, often with the door ajar and/or fan operating), consider whether a dehydrator might be a worthwhile addition to your appliances. I never expected to use mine so much, but I use it for flowers, herbs, food, but I love it best of all for making healthy homemade dog treats. Check out our partner blog Dalmatian DIY for homemade dog treat recipes and more.

Hidden Powder Consumption

Of course, where feasible, using what you need only when you need it is always a way to cut consumption.  Electronics can be sneaky about consumption, so switching off at the wall (I love that individual outlet switches are the norm here!) or using a switched power-board is an easy win against power vampires. Where powering off isn’t feasible (or not manufacturer recommended), try to use standby and sleep options were available to save power when not in use. 

A Fresh Footnote

Since this post was first shared on the blog, smart options have changed significantly for controlling home appliances and much more. We’ve moved yet again though, so haven’t incorporated any of these at the old villa we were renovating when this post was written. Our new home was a fresh build, and one of the biggest changes is having solar panels. That’s meant learning to change our habits to make more efficient use of generated power. We’ve also added some nifty smart gadgets to help us be more power efficient. Stay tuned for future posts!

Green in Real Life blog space bar small left flower

Our current feature topic is greener choices around the home. This month’s posts explore home energy efficiency, with a focus on doable changes for real life improvements in your existing home and budget. Check out the full mini-series:

Improving the Energy Efficiency of Home Appliances

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