The Sloboda family needed a new refrigerator so Brian volunteered to do the shopping. After all, he’s a national expert on electric appliances. He came home frustrated. There were just too many choices, even for the guy whose job title is Program and Product Line Manager for Energy Utilization, Delivery, and Energy Efficiency at the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association.
“The number one problem for homeowners is trying to determine which of the options actually present value,” says Brian. For example, when you’re on vacation you can use your smartphone to check whether you’ve left the oven on or the garage door open.
Sounds Nice, But Is It Worth It?
“There’s a slow cooker app,” he says. “Does that have value to you? It might if you use a slow cooker a lot.”
“There are infinite possibilities,” says Brian. “They sound nice when you first hear about them, but you have to remember you are paying more for those features.”
Web-connected appliances could also offer online diagnostics. There might not be strong everyday reasons for a washing machine to be hooked into cyberspace, but if it broke, the manufacturer could log in to figure out what’s wrong. That could help decide the best way to repair or replace the equipment. But is it worth the extra cost?
“It’s a good feature,” says Brian, “but one you’re only going to use when the appliance breaks.”
If you’re longing for lower-tech help in decision-making, look to the yellow and black U.S. Department of Energy’s EnergyGuide label on each appliance. “It’s one of the single greatest pieces of information that you can find when you buy an appliance,” says Brian.
He says the most useful info is the big dollar figure right in the middle of the label, showing what it will cost to use that appliance for a year. Brian cautions that the number doesn’t tell you exactly what you will pay because it doesn’t use your local utility’s kilowatt hour rate. But it’s a perfect way to compare appliances because every appliance’s label is based on the same national average electric rate.
“You can stand in that aisle looking at all the washing machines, and you can scan the entire row and narrow your options down from a dozen,” says Sloboda, “to the three or four that use the least amount of money.”
Find more information from the Federal Trade Commission about using the EnergyGuide label when shopping for appliances.
Take Charge of Your Appliances Use these sources for more assistance in choosing appliances:
- The Energy Star logo on the EnergyGuide logo in the lower right corner tells you the appliance will use less energy than one without the logo. In the upper right corner of the guide find the manufacturer and model number, which you can use for more detailed comparisons with other models.
- Pay attention to the age of your major appliances. In addition to dramatic energy efficiency advances over the past several years, motors start degrading in refrigerators and in heating and air conditioning systems. Brian suggests upgrading air conditioners and heat pumps older than 10 years, and refrigerators older than eight years.
- The Department of Energy offers a handy way to check whether it’s time to replace your refrigerator: Visit the EnergyStar.gov website and in the search box type “flip your fridge calculator.” You’ll find a link to a page where you can enter your type of refrigerator and its age to calculate how much you’d save buying a new one.
What the Future Holds All these options mean more decisions for consumers. But help is on the way.
Electric co-ops are working with two national laboratories to study the most useful ways to connect appliances with the internet, and with the utilities that provide the electricity. Brian says that over the next two years the study will report on how consumers can more easily make decisions on how to use appliances, and even how to enhance cybersecurity for the growing number of internet-connected devices in the home.
Brian says the aim of the study is “to understand what the value of internet-connected devices is to the consumer. Then the manufacturers can start to build products that the consumer wants.”
The study will also look for futuristic-sounding ways that co-op members can sign up for optional utility programs to help homeowners decide how they want to use electricity. “The appliances would be networked together and they would talk to one another,” says Brian. “In a very advanced scenario, the home could actually reconfigure the way appliances are being used depending on occupancy of the home at the moment, and the weather conditions.”
That setup could even let homeowners decide if they are a person who wants to save as much energy and money as possible, or if they would rather the house be warmer or cooler. “They won’t have to figure out if they want to set the thermostat back,” says Brian “The homeowner would tell the system whether they wanted to maximize comfort, or maximize savings, then the home would communicate to the utility. That way it won’t be the utility controlling the system, it won’t be the appliance manufacturer, but it will be the occupant of the house who is making the decisions.”