The furnace (or boiler),
water heater and refrigerator
are the biggest
energy hogs in most homes. It
may be hard to believe, but
replacing your older but still
functioning equipment and
appliances with new Energy
Star–qualified models can really
save you big bucks. In some cases, it
can cut your energy bills in half.
That's because each of these items
has two price tags: the initial cost
of the equipment and the cost of
operating that equipment over
its 10- to 20-year lifetime.
This article will help you
decide when it makes economic
sense to replace these
big-ticket energy guzzlers
with new energy-efficient
models. And we'll also give
you a list of things to look
for that can save you hundreds
or even thousands of
dollars when you do start
Don't forget about rebates and recycling
Federal, state and local rebate programs are often available that pay you back for purchasing energy-efficient appliances and equipment as well as for recycling your old equipment. Consult appliance dealers or look online for a list of available rebates.
#1 Energy guzzler—your refrigerator
Your refrigerator consumes a whopping 13.7
percent of household energy. Refrigerator
efficiency has really improved in the past few
years, so if you haven't gotten a new fridge
recently, replacing yours probably makes sense.
If you have an older second fridge in your
garage or basement, you'll save big
by replacing it with a newer, more
efficient model (or, of course, by
getting rid of it!).
Will I save by replacing my
- If it's 8 years old or older, yes. A 2009 model will save 40
percent in energy use over refrigerators manufactured as
recently as 2001. It may seem crazy to get rid of a perfectly
good 8-year-old fridge, but it's a smart financial
move in most cases.
- If it's 5 years old or less, maybe. Doing a bit
of research at energystar.gov can really pay
off. Under “Products, ” choose “appliances, ”
then “refrigerators, ” and under
“For Consumers” use the “Refrigerator
Retirement Savings Calculator”
to see when it makes sense for you
to purchase a new fridge. If your
refrigerator needs repairs that cost
more than half the price of a new
refrigerator, it makes sense to buy a new
one—even if yours is only 5 years old.
Refrigerator shopping tips
A new, efficient fridge will cost you anywhere from under $1000 to several thousand dollars depending on the size, style
and features you choose.
- Buy an Energy Star–qualified
model. Savings are shown on the labels, and may almost equal the cost of the appliance over the 15-year average life of the
- Buy a 16- to 20-cu.-ft. model with
a top or bottom freezer, which are
the most energy-efficient sizes and
styles. If you can't live without
something larger or a side-by-side
model, find the most efficient model
- Buy a model without an
automatic icemaker (or
don't hook it up) or a
use by 14 to 20
- Before you
buy, get updated
information online. The
label on a
tell you where it
falls on a scale of
efficiency compared with similar
models, but it won't tell you whether
it's the most efficient model available.
#2 Energy guzzler— your heating system
In a cold climate, two-thirds of your energy budget is spent on heat. Cutting
your heating energy use is the single most effective way to cut your utility
bills. Replacing your furnace or boiler is expensive, but it may be the smartest
tax-free investment you can make. The information here applies to propane, oil
and natural gas systems.
Will I save by replacing
my furnace or boiler?
- If it's 15 years old or older, yes.
Furnace and boiler efficiency is measured
by annual fuel utilization efficiency
(AFUE). Older systems have a
55 to 65 percent AFUE, whereas the
least efficient systems today are at least
80 percent efficient.
- If it's 5 years old or less, no.
Replacing your furnace or boiler makes
sense only if your system needs serious
repair, you're switching fuel types or
adding air conditioning.
- If it's 5 to 15 years old, maybe.
You'll need to do some research. Find
out how efficient your
current unit is with an online search or by consulting the manufacturer. Then go to
energystar.gov or the furnace dealer and compare the annual
operating costs of your current
equipment with those of an Energy
Star–qualified unit, which uses 6 to 15
percent less energy than a new standard
model. You can use the
product lists to compare specific Energy Star–rated
equipment by efficiency ratings,
brand names and model numbers.
To see whether replacing your current
heating equipment makes sense,
the final step is to do a simple return on investment (ROI)
calculation (see below).
It may sound like a lot of work, but
an hour of your time could save you
thousands of dollars.
heating makes sense:
If you live in a cold climate where
temperatures remain in subzero territory
for a sustained period each
winter, it makes sense to spring for
a high-efficiency “condensing” furnace
or boiler with an AFUE of 90
percent or higher. This will add
substantially to the initial price of
a furnace or
boiler, but over the life span of that
equipment (actually the payback
period is within three to seven
years), you'll recoup those costs
and more through lower utility
bills. Also, rebates and tax credits are available that will cover much of the
initial cost difference.
Furnace and boiler shopping tips
Here are some things to keep in
Mind before you buy a furnace or boiler:
- Make sure your contractor sizes
the furnace or boiler by doing an
a heat loss analysis. Contractors often oversize
equipment “just to make sure,”
which means you're paying more in
usage costs as well as for the unit
- Buy a unit that's at least 83 percent
efficient. Higher efficiency models
like these will have vent dampers
or an induced draft fan to prevent
heated air from escaping up the
chimney when the system is off.
- Choose a furnace with a variable-speed
fan motor, which will save you
a substantial amount each year in electricity
- Add insulation, seal air leaks,
and replace your leaky windows
and doors. These
energy upgrades might
allow you to buy a less
system and together
can cut your fuel
bills in half.
To see how much money you'll save
each year with more efficient
equipment, calculate your return on
investment (ROI) using this formula:
ROI = first-year savings divided by
the installed cost
(Find your first-year savings
Remember, as fuel prices increase,
so do your savings.
What about electric heat?
Even minimum-efficiency electric
heating systems (and water
heaters) are already 90 to 100
percent efficient, so upgrading
to a new system probably won't
save you much if you have an
electric furnace or boiler, or electric
baseboard units. The best
way to save on electric heat is to
make sure your home is properly
insulated and sealed. Using off-peak
electricity is another great way
to save. Contact your power
supplier to see if that's an
option in your area. If so, you
could cut heating costs by 40
percent or more by installing a
backup heating system.
If you use electricity to heat your
home and you live in a mild climate,
consider an energy-efficient heat
pump, which provides three times
more heat than the equivalent
amount of energy it consumes in
electricity. During the heating season,
the pump extracts heat from
the outside air (air-source heat
pump) or the ground (ground-source
heat pump) and delivers it
to the house. During the summer,
the pump reverses the flow of
refrigerant and functions like a conventional
air conditioner. An efficient
heat pump can trim your electricity
costs by 30 to 40 percent.
Consider replacing your heat pump
if it's 10 or more years old. New heat
pumps use a fraction of the energy
used by older models.
Also, have your installer check the refrigerant
levels in your heat pump. Studies
show that up to 75 percent of installed
cooling equipment may have incorrect
refrigerant levels, which reduces energy
efficiency and increases the chance
that your heat pump components will
For readers in cold climates, a “dualfuel”
heat pump might be an option.
Go to energystar.gov for more
information on heat pumps.
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#3 Energy guzzler: your water heater
Your natural gas or propane water heater uses
about 17 percent of the energy in your home and
is notoriously inefficient. Even a brand-new, mid-priced
conventional tank-style water heater is only 57
to 59 percent efficient because it loses heat through
the flue and through the walls of the storage tank.
Older water heaters are even worse, wasting more
than half the heat. So upgrading your old gas or
propane water heater to a high-efficiency model can
save big bucks. Electric water heaters are also serious
energy guzzlers, but as with electric heat systems,
upgrading to a newer electric model probably won't
cut your utility bills by much.
Will I save by replacing my
gas or propane water heater?
—If it's 10 years old or older, yes. Gas models manufactured
before 1998 typically operate at less than 50 percent
—If it's 5 years old or less, no. Replacement only makes
sense if your system needs serious repair.
—If it's between 5 and 10 years old, maybe. Water heaters
last an average of 10 to 15 years. If yours is getting older,
it's worth replacing it now before it fails. Check online for the efficiency ratings
of different makes and models, and use the ROI calculation
to see if replacement makes sense.
Water heater shopping tips
A new tank-style water heater may
cost up to several thousand dollars (installed) depending on
the model and installation requirements
(a power-vented unit that
exhausts gases directly outside
is more expensive).
When you're shopping for a tank-style
- Buy an Energy Star–qualified
unit with at least 63 to 67 percent
- If you have an electric water
heater, call your electric utility and
check into off-peak electricity rates.
(You may need a second or larger
water heater to take advantage of
off-peak rates.) Buy a high-efficiency
electric model with an insulation
rating of R-22 or better.
- Buy the right size for your home.
A water heater that is either too big
or too small will be less energy
- Examine the efficiency
rating (EF) carefully.
Similar water heaters
can vary dramatically
but with very little
price difference. For
example, a 64 EF
model might cost
only $75 more than a
53 EF model.
- Look for models
with longer warranties
(10 to 12 years),
which typically mean
better insulation and heat transfer,
and larger heating elements.