The Green Appliance Guide: How to Create a More Efficient Kitchen

Many of us dread the day our fridge or stove conks out for good. Or face with trepidation the idea of choosing new appliances while renovating or building out a new kitchen. The thought of shopping (and paying!) for new kitchen appliances can feel overwhelming. But it’s also a great opportunity to upgrade to more energy-efficient models—ones that use fewer resources and fit in with an eco-conscious lifestyle.

Energy-Efficient Appliances

Before you even head to the appliance showroom, check out the Energy Star Ratings at www.EnergyStar.gov. Energy Star is a joint EPA/Department of Energy Program. In 2006, not only did consumers save $14 billion on utility bills using Energy Star appliances, they also saved the amount of energy equal to the gas emissions from 25 million cars.

The Energy Star site allows you to search by type of appliance. Just plug in what you’re looking for, and it spits out a list of energy-efficient appliances, organized by brand and model.

If you’re building a new home, you obviously need new appliances. But if your old appliances are still working, it’s harder to know when to upgrade. Don’t bother trying to refurbish old appliances; just replace them one by one as your budget allows, says Debra Lynn Dadd, author of Home Safe Home: Creating a Healthy Home Environment by Reducing Exposure to Toxic Household Products. However, make sure that you recycle your old appliances when you do replace them. Call secondhand appliance stores in town to see if they’re interested in taking them. Avoid putting appliances out to the trash—especially refrigerators. Call your city or county and see if they have a dropoff program for old fridges, where the Freon is drained out safely and the materials are scrapped.

Kitchen Smarts

Buying new appliances isn’t the only way to become more energy-efficient. How you use the appliances—and how you use your kitchen in general—is also really important. Here are six energy efficiency tips:

1) Always use the right-size burner; don’t waste heat by using a burner that’s too big. Putting a 6" pan on an 8" burner will waste more than 40 percent of the heat.

2) Using glass or ceramic dishes in the oven allows you to turn the temperature down by 25 degrees—and the food cooks just as fast. And, tempting as it is, don’t keep opening the oven door to peek; you lose a significant amount of heat every time you do this. Instead, take peek by using the light, if your oven has one. It doesn’t affect cooking time—just don’t leave it on the whole time.

3) Don’t pre-wash dishes. “You waste so much water by pre-washing dishes before you put them in a dishwasher—especially with today’s models,” says Dan Chiras, author of The Natural House. He prefers to wash dishes by hand with only two gallons for soapy water and two gallons for rinse water. “Then we use the water to water our plants,” he says.

4) Unplug when you can. “We [Americans] spend $4 billion a year feeding our phantom electricity load,” Chiras says. Anything that’s plugged in draws power, even when not in use—especially appliances like mixers, toasters and microwaves, but also things like cell phone and iPod chargers. When Chiras first moved to his home, he had 135 watts per day in phantom load. He saved $110 per year just by unplugging. “It’s small, but it adds up,” he says.

5) When cooking small- to medium-sized meals, use your microwave, toaster oven or slow cooker.

6) Keep the inside surface of your microwave oven clean, to allow for more efficient cooking. Also, you can often cook foods right in their serving dishes, thus saving time and reducing the amount of hot water needed for dishwashing.

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