What's the MPG of Your Fridge?
Saving money on energy costs and/or reducing a household's environmental footprint are important to many consumers. We identified several ways to achieve these ends.
The first is with Enervee, a website that rank orders the energy use of appliances and electrical devices. An Enervee Score differs from the well-known Energy Star certification, which signals a given model meets established criteria, by indicating the energy efficiency of a machine relative to the competition. The score incorporates a variety of data supplied by manufacturers, government agencies, and third-party test companies and ranges from 1 to 100; it changes when new products are brought to market, so a score of 95 for a refrigerator may drop to 93 when a more efficient model is released.
Launched three summers ago by Matthias Kurwig and Don Epperson, Enervee aims to help consumers make more informed energy-saving decisions when shopping for appliances, TVs, computers, and the like. Kurwig noted in an interview with Cheapism that many consumers know the miles per gallon (MPG) rating for a vehicle they might want to buy but rarely consider energy- and cost-related performance when purchasing other energy-consuming products, a habit that may reflect a lack of information.
Enervee tries to fill that hole with the Enervee Score and by calculating yearly and long-term operating costs for the appliance or device in question. (Consumers input their usage habits, zip code, and energy rate -- or choose one from a list.) As the company's website points out, the running cost of a refrigerator might be $40 or $235 a year depending where you live, but it's also likely to change for a different model with a different Enervee Score. Considering the running cost (or "MPG") of appliances is one way to reduce utility bills and save on energy.
Televisions provide another opportunity for a money-saving/energy-trimming calculation. Yearly operating costs for some LED TVs might be as low as $40 compared with an older tube TV that costs $100 or more. And while the upfront investment to upgrade to an LED TV might be a turnoff, lower operating costs should net an equivalent dollar savings over a few years.
Kurwig cautioned that hidden costs argue against buying the lowest-priced model in any product category. His research has found that regardless of brand, products at the bottom of the price ladder are often made with inferior electrical components that can lead to excessive energy usage. "Even a half-step up can be cheaper in the long run," he said.
The Enervee website lists and recommends recently released products but maintains a database with thousands of others so consumers can find the Enervee Score for the machines they own. Kurwig urged consumers to check the scores of washing machines and dryers because these appliances are energy hogs; the site suggests more energy efficient models if they're available. Enervee also displays prices at several retailers and will soon add incentives (such as rebates and free recycling for old units) available from retailers and government agencies.
But not everyone who wants to cut down on energy costs is prepared to replace fully functioning appliances or electronic devices. So we asked Suzanne Jones, vice-president of the Association of Energy Services Professionals, for alternatives. She suggested using a Modlet or a power strip such as TrickleStar.
Modlets are Wi-Fi-equipped devices that fit over regular outlets and monitor energy usage for devices that consume "standby power" (energy used when a device, like a cable box or motion sensor, is inactive). Over time a Modlet recommends and can implement an energy-reducing/money-saving schedule for turning such devices on and off. By eliminating standby power, the company claims a Modlet can shave 10 percent from energy bills, effectively paying off the cost of the device ($60, including shipping) in a year or less.
TrickleStar (starting at $30) is a power strip designed to prevent vampire drain (a.k.a., standby power), a condition the U.S. Department of Energy estimates costs a household more than $100 a year. Any power strip with an on/off switch can vanquish vampire drain, but TrickleStar strips stand out because each includes always-on as well as on/off sockets. This setup is ideal for a bedroom or den, say, where the clock must always be running but the TV and computer can be switched off to avoid wasting energy and money.