Tuesday Tips: Buying Eco-Friendly Appliances

Would you buy a house just because it was green? I'm not talking color here but energy efficiency. A Realtor recently told me I should replace all my old appliances for eco-friendly ones, making my home, which I plan to sell in the next few months, more attractive to people interested in a green home. So as I consider this potential investment I talked to Celia Kuperszmid Lehrman, deputy home editor of Consumer Reports. Here are her tips for those of us who may be shelling out money for eco-friendly appliances:

Tip #1: Before replacing old appliances with the latest eco-friendly ones, consider the age of your current machines and when the latest energy efficiency standards were released for certain appliances. "The older it is, the more likely it is a candidate for replacing," says Lehrman. Energy standards for dishwashers and washing machines were last updated in 2007 and refrigerators were updated more recently. You can also check with Energy Star, a joint program of the Environmental Protection Agency and Energy Department, to find out if your appliances are in line with the most recent energy efficient standards. The site also has a calculator to figure out if it's time to replace your refrigerator, one of the biggest energy suckers in the house.

Tip #2: Another way to figure out if you need to replace appliances is to find out their environmental footprint, which is how much impact they have on the environment based on the amount of energy and water they consume. Consumer Reports' GreenerChoices.org Web site, as well as Low Impact Living have calculators to figure your home's environmental footprint.

Tip #3: While you're chucking old appliances, think about changing old toilets and shower heads. Any toilet made before the early 1990s is using a ton of water to flush. Toilets these days are using a mere 1.6 gallons of water to do the job. (I recently bought a new toilet and had it installed for $200.) Older showerheads can be repleaced with low-flow showerheads, which use 50-70 percent less water.

Tip #4: Replacing old appliances with eco-friendly ones is great, as long as you're not adding to landfills. Call nonprofit groups like Salvation Army or Habitat for Humanity to find out if they'll take your old appliances. And some retailers will recycle your old appliances, particularly refrigerators.

Tip #5: You can think of going green as having an impact on your pocketbook and an impact on the environment. So just because the impact on your utility bill is small doesn't mean the impact on the entire electrical grid isn't significant. "Even a small change makes a very large change when you're thinking about millions of units across the country," Lehrman says.

Tip #6: Find out when stores get new models of appliances and consider buying last year's model to get a better deal. Just make sure the older model is in line with the latest energy efficiency standards. Remember that Energy Star has a model look-up tool.

Tip #7: Shop around. Lehrman says there's little variation in prices, so it pays to look for sales. Be willing to haggle, especially if you're buying more than one appliance, and consider going to independent appliance stores. "Traditionally we found that with the independent stores, the pricing may not be as good, but people are generally more satisfied with the experience," says Lehrman. Costco has been known to have good prices on appliances, she adds. Just go there knowing what model you want. The selection is limited, making it not a great place to just shop around.

Tip #8: Don't expect prices on eco-friendly appliances to go down any time soon. The prices of materials used to make appliances, such as stainless steel, have gone up, along with shipping fees. So prices will likely stay put.

Tip #9: If you have to replace one old appliance at a time, consider ditching the refrigerator first. It's on 24-7 and soaks up the most energy. Then figure out which appliances are the oldest and get rid of the dinosaurs first.

Tip #10: Before plunking down your credit card, check the retailer's and manufacturer's Web sites for deals and rebates. Just make sure you don't mention that you have a coupon or rebate when you're haggling. The retailer may be less willing to go down in price if they know you already have a discount.

So are you replacing old appliances for ones that are eco-friendly? Where are you finding the best deals? Post a comment below.

By Tania Anderson |  May 20, 2008; 3:00 AM ET Tuesday Tips
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don't just chuck old appliances, have them recycled at electronic trash collection points

Posted by: jef | May 20, 2008 7:00 AM

I'm not sure I agree with donating older appliances. The appliance will still create the same carbon footprint, just now someone else is paying the electric bill for it. Recycle the appliance, take it to a scarp yard, something. We take ours to the landfill *gasp* but they have a scrap section there where its crushed then used as scrap metal.

Posted by: Anonymous | May 20, 2008 9:06 AM

Here's No Impact Man's thought-provoking follow-up post, which includes links to what other eco Web sites have to say about the topic:

Posted by: tia | May 20, 2008 9:22 AM

Before you think about the big stuff (e.g. refrigerators, etc.), consider replacing your thermostat with a programmable digital thermostat. I gave one to my dad for Christmas saying reminding him when he was a little baffled at the gift that he always says "just save me money" when asked what he wants for Christmas. Now he calls me every month to tell me how much he saved from the previous year's electric bill (he is averaging about 20-25%).

Posted by: SEF | May 20, 2008 9:55 AM

It is all about making choices, slecting green businesses will encourage others to go green. Selecting a restaurant or a store that takes steps to go green will have a greater overall impact. See a list of green restaurants at http://www.greenlineindex.com/welcome.php?page_id=1&searchtext=&searchzip=&pcat=23&scat=82

Posted by: Subha | May 20, 2008 2:30 PM

the cost and reliability of green/high efficiency washing machines (most are frontloaders with iffy reliability & were on average 400-500 more $$) made it an easy choice for me. I just use cold water for washing and also choose the lower water levels to make up for it. I just couldn't justify spending upwards of $800 on a washing machine that requires me to use special detergent.

Posted by: arlington, va | May 21, 2008 9:15 AM

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