GREEN BUILDING 101: Appliances, Electronics, and Responsible Energy Use

by , 06/06/14

Here at Green Building 101, we’ve looked at many ways that you can design, build, and renovate your home with more attention to your health and the environment. Now that you’ve been thoroughly educated, we’re going to dig into the nitty gritty details about items that nearly all of us have in our homes, but rarely think about with regard to energy usage and green living. Get ready for glamour—today we’re talking about plug loads.

Ah, plug loads! Very exciting, you say… but what are they?! Let’s simplify. We’re talking about anything and everything that gets plugged in to an electrical outlet: major appliances, task lights, consumer electronics, home office products and a variety of miscellaneous tools and devices. Without even adding lighting, these electronics are responsible for nearly 50 percent of an average home’s electricity bill. Lighting commonly adds another 15-20 percent, space heating and cooling, cooking, and water heating make up the rest, and also comprise your natural gas bill. Let’s investigate the primary energy suckers.

Pay Up Front for Quality Appliances

Some call these “white goods”, but they come in all colors, and buying the right models can save you a lot in energy costs over time. Refrigerators, freezers, dishwashers, clothes washers and dryers, and stoves will cost you plenty to purchase and even more to operate, but manufacturers are bringing more efficient models to the market all the time, so choose wisely.

The easiest way to identify the most energy-efficient products is to look for the ENERGY STAR label. EPA continues to improve their product specifications to ensure that industry is staying aggressive with energy efficiency. Among major appliances, refrigerators, freezers, dishwashers and clothes washers are all labeled. Also look for “Energy Guide” tags, which show a model’s expected annual energy use and how that ranks against peer models.

ENERGY STAR-qualified washing machines will save both energy and water, but remember to use cold water as often as possible and only wash full loads of laundry. Clothes dryers are not labeled by ENERGY STAR because most models use about the same amount of electricity, but consider choosing a dryer with a moisture sensor so that it will shut off automatically when your clothes are dry.

Room air conditioners fly off the shelves in summer months: remember to choose the correct size and opt for a high SEER rating.

Related: Xeros Washing Machine Uses Polymer Beads Instead of Water

Next, Let’s Count Up Those TVs and Computers

Consumer electronics and home office products continue to dominate our homes as we try to satisfy our entertainment and networking interests. The Consumer Electronics Association estimates that the average home has more than 25 consumer electronics products, and many of these devices are left on 24 hours a day. We have evolved into an always-on, always-connected society, and CE products highlight this fascination. Remember that many devices continue to draw power even when they are “off.” ENERGY STAR has addressed this by requiring qualified products to use minimal energy while in stand-by mode. So look for the ENERGY STAR on televisions, DVD players, audio components, and telephony products.

Speaking of being connected, more of us work from home these days, and having a full cache of networked home office products—computer, monitor, printer, fax, scanner, Internet router—is not uncommon. Be sure to look for the ENERGY STAR and also remember to check the power management settings on your computer. Screen savers were okay for your Apple IIe, but we don’t need them anymore—they prevent the computer and monitor from going into a low-power sleep mode.

Products such as TVs and computers are attracting attention for their active power use as well. Large screen plasma TVs, for instance, use much more energy in active mode than older, smaller analog models. Screen size and display technology (CRT, plasma, LCD), and resolution (HD) are all key factors, so be sure to compare before you buy.

Related: Samsung Unveils Solar-Power, Zero-Energy Transparent TV

Tools, Toys, and Toasters

Our drive for connectivity also means smartphones and iPads, and that’s just the beginning of our many digital toys. These products use chargers called external power adapters, but the problem is that most of us leave these adapters plugged in even when we’re carrying our phones around town, and these little black boxes suck bits of energy all day and night. Some of these devices are being made to operate more efficiently and ENERGY STAR now labels the best.

There are also toys that we leave at home: better keep your XBox and Play Station in check—they use a lot of energy, too.

Lastly, be aware of all the small appliances and electric devices around your home, like humidifiers and dehumidifiers, toasters, coffee makers, microwaves, fans, hot tubs, pool heaters, air cleaners, battery chargers, and rechargeable tools, to name a few. Each of them might only use a small amount of electricity, but it all adds up. Unplug devices when possible and use power bars to make disconnecting easier.

Stay tuned as we wind down the Green Building 101 series next week!

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  1. Green Mortgage July 24, 2009 at 7:49 pm

    In 2009 & 2010, you can also get a tax credit back on energy star appliance purchases up to 30% or $1500. You can also get a tax credit for 30% of the the total cost of solar and wind power systems with no cap. This can help offset the costs of these improvements.

  2. Dali Tran September 15, 2006 at 1:35 pm

    Needs to replace our old gas range, and hood. Any recommendation…. brand, model ? Thanks!

  3. FlatGreg September 13, 2006 at 2:58 pm

    Minor point – screen savers don’t necessarily prevent your monitor from going into low power mode. You can set your computer up to display a screen saver say after 5 minutes, and go low power after 10.

  4. Gary Reysa August 31, 2006 at 1:36 pm

    Hi — great article!!
    We found that our 2 PC’s and related routers, printers, … used 271 watts when turned on. By plugging everything into power strips to completely turn all PC equipment off at night, and setting the PC’s for hibrinate (not standby) after 10 minutes idle during the day, that we save 1624 KWH and 3250 lbs of CO2 per year — not to mention saving $160 per year on electricity — just of PCs and related computing equipment.
    We did a total of 16 conservation projects that saved 19300 KWH per year in electricity and space heating energy, and 7.5 tons of green house gas. All for not a lot of money, not much time and no pain at all. This package of changes is returning 40% of the initial cost in the first year, and this will increase each year as fuel prices go up. Conservation is a win-win deal — reduce greenhouse gases and save a lot of money — details here:


  5. Rob Poitas August 30, 2006 at 5:52 pm

    Great article. You are dead on regarding the appliances. Top loaders are the worse and they use up way more water than a front loader. Also, most major appliance sellers also list the savings you would get from different types of washers, dryers, fridges, etc..
    Another small tip is if you have a small garage door (mine is just a single car garage) I open and close it manually if I am taking out the garbage or just doing something in the garage where I don’t need to close it from the outside.

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