Buying wise: Appliances for today and tomorrow

Consider initial cost, operating cost and energy efficiency when shopping for appliances, and increase energy savings through proper maintenance and conservative use of appliances.

Home appliances, such as a hot water tank, furnace and refrigerator, use more energy than other home appliances. The hot water tank because it is in a constant ready state; the furnace because it is on most of the time during cold weather; the refrigerator because it has to be on all day, every day so food does not spoil. However, people can limit the energy costs of these appliances by carefully purchasing new appliances, performing proper maintenance and using appliances mindfully.

The Federal Trade Commission in “How to Buy an Energy-Efficient Home Appliance” recommends that purchase decisions be based on energy efficiency, operating cost and initial cost. Compare brands and models using the yellow-and-black EnergyGuide labels. Consider purchasing only ENERGY STAR appliances because their energy efficiency is always higher than the required appliance standard. Look for energy rebates from the government, manufacturer or utility company to reduce the cost.

Good consumers should look at other aspects of the purchase as well. Compare prices and availability between stores. Look at the expected life of the appliance, repair history and warranty. Select the size that is needed now and in the near future. Do not overbuy, especially with a furnace because it is expensive to have unused capacity. What will fit into the space you have? What will it cost to install? What will it cost to haul away the old appliance?

Once an appliance is selected, extend its expected life and control on-going energy costs by using some simple tips from Montana State University’s “Energy Management for Home:”

Hot water tank

  • Lower water temperature to 120 degrees and save 6 to 10 percent on hot water heating costs. Many manufacturers pre-set hot water tanks to 140 degrees when a medium temperature works well. Lower the temperature even further when away for a weekend or longer.
  • Insulate the hot water tank with a fiberglass insulation wrap or jacket if it is in a cold location. Reduce heat loss and save between 4 to 9 percent. Follow installation instructions and do not cover exhaust vents, air intakes or thermostat access panels.
  • Drain the hot water tank once a year to reduce mineral build-up and lengthen the life of the appliance. Dust and clean the outside of the tank. Keep away flammable items.


  • Keep the thermostat at 68 degrees Fahrenheit during the day and at 60 degrees Fahrenheit when away or sleeping. Save one percent for every lowered degree. Use a programmable thermostat.
  • Replace furnace filters once a month during the heating season.
  • Schedule a yearly tune-up with a HVAC contractor. Dust and clean the outside of the furnace. Keep away flammable items.


  • Keep the refrigerator at 36 to 38 degrees Fahrenheit and the freezer at 0 to 5 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Keep the door closed as much as possible. Minimize freezer ice build-up.
  • Vacuum coils in back and underneath the refrigerator.

Home energy use depends on the tools one has to work with – in this case, appliances such as hot water tanks, furnaces and refrigerators – and on how one uses them. The energy efficiency of appliances is important as is maintaining and using the appliances in ways that conserve energy and extend their utility.

Did you find this article useful?