smart spending

Do energy-efficient appliances add up?

"Energy Star is not about tossing out what is working. We tell people that if your appliance is 15 years or older you should think about it. But you should also think about how much you use it," says Vargas.

She says dishwasher, washing machine and dryer usage can vary significantly depending on the habits and number of people in the household. The more an appliance is used, the larger its impact in overall household energy consumption. Energy rates can also vary significantly by region. For some consumers, the difference between the least and most energy-efficient appliance is minimal.

For example, the GE - 3.2 Cu. Ft. 6-Cycle Super Capacity Washer (Model: WVSR1060GWW) -- not Energy-Star qualified -- retails for $334 and uses 421 kilowatt hours per year (kWh/year) of electricity to operate.

Compare that with the high efficiency-rated, Energy-Star approved LG 2101H, which retails for approximately $849 and uses a scant 127 kWh/year.

With an average price per kWh of 11.5 cents, the GE model would cost $48.42 to operate while the LG high efficiency model would cost $14.61 per year to operate.

While the more efficient model saves almost 70 percent on energy, it would take more than 15 years to recover the $515 price difference with the $33.81 annual energy savings.

Lane Burt, manager of building energy policy with the Natural Resource Defense Council, says his organization doesn't always recommend looking at the payback period. Burt says it's best to simply go for the most efficient appliances one can afford that are in line with the qualities that they are looking for. He says that in many cases, more efficient Energy Star-rated appliances cost roughly the same as some less efficient, nonrated models.

"There isn't always a big price relationship. There is never a substitute for an educated consumer and learning more about what you're purchasing is always the best thing you can do," says Burt.

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