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Energy Efficiency Standards Debunked

Energy Efficiency Standards Debunked

Do you like saving money, and saving a bit of the planet while you’re at it?

Energy efficient appliances and devices are the way to reduce your bills and have a smaller carbon footprint from this point going forward.

However, you shouldn’t just trust anything that has a yellow tag hanging off it at the store. There are some bits of information you need to know if you want to actually get an energy efficient appliance without being taken for a ride.

We’re going to go over some of the myths behind energy efficiency, and talk about why energy efficiency is important, and shouldn’t be taken lightly.

Some brands and stores like to dress up energy efficiency to make it feel like a gimmick, but we’re here to right those wrongs. Let’s talk about it.


What is Energy Efficiency?

ECO button on washing refrigerator

Energy efficiency refers to the rate at which an electrical device utilizes power, or energy.

Different amounts of energy are used to power different things, and depending on the size, power, or utility of an electronic device, it may use up different levels of energy efficiency compared to others.

When we talk about energy efficiency, it is always in the way of finding a lower threshold of average power consumption to achieve the same effect. Many appliances come out with more energy efficient models after their initial model, such as refrigerators.

You still get the same reliability and cooling power, but by making a smaller carbon footprint, and enjoying a lower energy bill at the end of the month.

Achieving energy efficiency is all about doing as much as you can with as little power as possible. Energy efficiency isn’t 100% up to the device or appliance in question, though: it comes down to how you’re going to use it.

If you needed to store four weeks worth of insulin in a refrigerator, that might take up a maximum space of two cubic feet, depending on the packaging.

If you only ever have four weeks worth of insulin, and this is a designated medication fridge, then you don’t need anything with more than two times the maximum expected storage space.

That means that a four cubic foot fridge would supply plenty of space for cold air to touch everything (otherwise, it would take too long to cool items inside), with some extra space in case you need to store something else or an additional, unexpected supply.

That’s being intelligent and keeping space to a minimum: you wouldn’t have a 10 cubic foot apartment-sized fridge if you weren’t planning to use all that space.

What Appliances Are Energy Efficient?

energy efficient appliances

Nowadays, many appliances are energy efficient.

Through engineering, we’ve found many different methods of more efficient cooling, how to make compressors and other components smaller without sacrificing durability and quality, and plenty of other smaller innovations that have changed our manufacturing methods.

Among all appliances you can expect in your home, washing machines, dishwashers, and refrigerators tend to be the most energy efficient, as well as tankless water heaters. You can make plenty of core upgrades throughout your home to more energy efficient appliances, but there’s a cold hard truth.

Not everything that is labeled as “energy efficient” is accurate. We’ll go over the EnergyGuide tabs on appliances in a minute, but suffice to say, you have to have your own working knowledge of what energy efficiency is before you go in blindly and just pick an appliance.

We review refrigerators, beverage coolers, micro fridges and things of the sort on this site, but energy efficiency ratings apply to all appliances.

Having an energy efficient appliance isn’t just about having less power—it’s about achieving more with less, so that the products are actually desirable to consumers.

If I wanted to get a light bulb for my 60W spot, and I got a 60W bulb, it’s going to run 60 watts of power. 60W bulbs are pretty bright, so I can see what I’m doing.

However, those are incandescent bulbs we’re talking about. If you get an LED bulb – which is a more efficient way to transmit light – you can get the same brightness from that 60W, but with a 12W power draw, effectively saving 80% on energy costs without having to sacrifice visibility.

Now take that mentality and apply it to more complex appliances. Whether it’s shorter cooling lines that require less energy to operate, or washing machines that utilize less water, you have to know all the details. Wattage use matters, but it’s not the only thing you need to pay attention to.

What Are Those Yellow EnergyGuide Tabs on Appliances?

Energyguide label on water heater

These tell you what you can expect to spend on operating costs for the appliance in question.

This, of course, comes down to what you actually pay for your electricity. No EnergyGuide tag is going to be 100% accurate for your needs: they’re just a general guideline to go off of.

Oftentimes, if you go into a store looking for an appliance, salesmen will utilize the EnergyGuide tag like it’s a commision-for-free card. They point, talk about kwh, and try to lock in a sale.

You should always go into any appliance purchase with an understanding of what energy efficiency means for that specific product.

Does this dishwasher cost less to heat up for the drying cycle? Does this air conditioner unit have smart sensors to shut off when the room cools down?

EnergyGuide tabs are useful, but they’re not a ride-or-die thing. If you read all the fine print on these tags, you’ll find that it states “Your cost will depend on your utility rates and use.” EnergyGuide isn’t trying to bamboozle you at all, it’s just the way that these tags are used to push products.

EnergyGuide tags will tell you the average estimated annual operating cost, and how many kwh you can expect to use over the course of an entire year.

This part is helpful, because if you go into this purchase process already knowing how much your utility company charges per kwh, you can quickly determine your annual costs.

For example, if a window fan runs on 644 kwh per year, and you’re paying the national average of $0.10 per kwh, that’s $64.60 for the entire year. Bring a calculator with you when you make an appliance purchase.

Why is Energy Efficiency Important in the First Place?

It can mostly be broken down into two main reasons: saving money, and lowering your carbon footprint.

There is also an economic aspect where energy-efficient appliances are expected to last for a lot longer than outdated appliances, which helps you in the long run.

  • Utility Bills: Less energy consumption means you’re paying less in your bills. If you and your neighbors all use energy efficient appliances, you could end up lowering your charge per kwh. When an energy company has to produce less energy for one specific area, it can affect your bills in more ways than one. If you use energy efficient light bulbs, dishwashers and refrigerators, you could save hundreds of dollars per year without noticing any dip in your quality of life.
  • Carbon Footprint: If you’re using less energy, you become less of the problem with pollution and energy consumption. Have you ever gotten those leaflets in the mail that tell you what you spend on electricity versus your neighbors? While there’s no way to verify if the electric company is giving you accurate information, it’s nice to know that you’re using less energy than a high percentage of your neighbors.

There are other benefits of energy efficient appliances, such as earning more on your investment, increasing your property value (if you leave the appliances, of course), and protecting yourself against potential spikes in electricity prices over the next decade or so.

Your utility company may also provide you with percentages off of your bill if you use energy efficient appliances, and have a six-month average of low energy bills.

You basically save money because you chose to save money; many utility providers across the United States have programs along these lines.

How do Refrigerators Save Energy?

refrigerator labeled with a plus

Refrigerators can save energy through design (smaller parts require less power), optimization (shorter times to achieve a temperature), insulation, and more.

There are numerous elements that go into different refrigeration designs. The goal is to chill the air in your fridge with as little power as possible, and maintain that cold air for as long as you can without kicking on the compressor again.

For mini fridges and beverage coolers, you can find compressor-free systems called thermoelectric cooling systems.

These can run on the same amount of watts as a standard mini fridge, but require less time to cool down, therefore saving you energy.

It’s not just up to refrigerators to save energy, though: it’s also up to the user. These are some takeaway tips for you to get started with saving the energy that your fridge uses.

Set Your Temp

Your fridge temperature doesn’t have to be on the coldest setting. Consider investing in a food-grade thermometer (runs you about $30 or so), and actually temp your food every couple of hours to ensure everything is in the safe zone of 32°F to 40°F, and you’ll be good to go.

Once you find that sweet spot, keep your fridge setting there. There’s no reason to have your milk at 33°F. Get it to around 38°F so you’re still protected if there’s a couple of degrees that fluctuate. This will cause the compressor to kick on less often, and save energy.

Location, Location, Location

Your fridge shouldn’t be next to a heat source. It shouldn’t be in a hot garage, either (some people keep deep freezers in their unfinished garage and it’s a nightmare on the freezer’s life cycle).

Your fridge should never be directly next to your oven, or a space heater, or anything that’s going to mess with how you cool it.

Avoid Fan Blocks

If you accidentally place your food containers where it blocks the fan, then the air isn’t going to circulate through your refrigerator the way it’s supposed to. It’s not going to reach the thermostat, and it won’t register, so your compressor will just keep working overtime.

You should keep all food containers and fridge items at least six inches away from the fans. Your fan usually sits near the top of your fridge, so if you can, avoid using the top shelf near it just to be cautious.

Don’t Put Hot Food in the Fridge

When you place hot food in the refrigerator, it produces moisture (which is a food safety issue), and heats up the air in your fridge. Just like with the fan blockage tip, you’re making your compressor work overtime when it really doesn’t have to.

Bring food down to room temp before you place it in the fridge. It’s not only a good idea for your energy efficiency, but it’s also a food safety risk.

Work Quickly

Visualize what you want from the fridge, grab it fast, and close the door fast. The air temperature is what the thermostat is reading, and when you let all of that cold air out, it’s going to force your compressor to kick on.

If you know you want a drink, open the fridge quickly, grab the drink, shut the door. If the compressor does kick on, at least you did all you could to ensure it won’t have to run for very long.

Check Your Gasket

A dirty gasket can be a problem if debris is breaking the seal. A broken gasket can be an even worse issue, since it could just let cold air leak out and raise the temperature of your refrigerator.

Your gasket can pop out of the grooves. Remove it, inspect it, and if it’s good, put it back. If you need to replace it, it’s not going to take all that much effort.

Mini Fridges vs. Regular Ones in Terms of Energy Efficiency

energy efficiency of mini fridge and regular fridge

Mini fridges are always going to be less expensive to run, and more energy efficient.

We can look at it in two different ways: energy efficiency for your utility bill, and energy efficiency to reduce your carbon footprint. Let’s take a second to look at the differences.

Utility Bill Differences

Your utility bill is charged in kilowatt hours, or kwh. You’ll see this every month when your bill comes in. These basically equate to how many kilowatts (1,000 watt increments) were used.

The average price per kwh in the United States is $0.10, which doesn’t sound like a lot, but it adds up quickly.

If you have a mini fridge running on 80 watts, then you would use about 1,920 watts, or 1.92 kwh per day. That averages out to about $0.20 per day.

A full-sized residential refrigerator commonly runs on 200 watts, and can run as high as 250. A 200 watt fridge runs about 4,800 watts per day, or 4.8 kwh. That’s roughly 2.4x the amount of what it would cost to run a mini fridge.

An average mini fridge would run $6.00 per month, or $72.00 per year, while a residential refrigerator would run at about $14.40 per month, or $172.80 per year to run. Again, these are just averages, and depend on your utility rates and actual usage.

This is why we broke down the yellow EnergyGuide labels earlier, so you can understand exactly what you’re getting into. These are somewhat accurate measurements, but by no means perfect.

This would be a good time to look at your last six energy bills, whether it’s on paper or digitally, and see what your utility company has been charging you per kwh.

Carbon Footprint Differences

carbon footprint

Reasonably, you can expect to have 1.5x less of an impact on the environment if you’re using a mini fridge in place of a residential refrigerator. Lower energy consumption means you’re spending less, but it also means you’re using less.

The unfortunate side of this is that you need to have a collective effort to actually force electrical companies to slow down production.

You never know what’s going to happen, so if you’re working to lower your energy usage, many people need to do the same thing for it to make a huge impact. That being said, you should still opt for a smaller carbon footprint to be part of the solution.

Keeping Utility Bills Low

If you pay attention to your energy efficiency ratings, and you make sure that your largest, longest-running appliances (like refrigerators) are your most energy efficient appliances, then you’ll be able to shave hundreds of dollars off your annual energy bills.

Less money going to the power company means more in your pocket. That’s something everybody can get behind.

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