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How to Maximize Your Appliances’ Energy Efficiency This Spring

The arrival of spring means more than just the end of winter. It’s also the season to focus on cleaning up around the house and preparing for the warm months ahead. Home appliances should be part of that focus, and now is the time to look at how smart technology and spring cleaning can come together to save money and energy while improving home comfort and safety at the same time.

For starters, encourage your customers to look for the Energy Star designation to ensure they’re getting appliances that meet the current standards for energy use. The U.S. Department of Energy says Energy Star washing machines use 25% less electricity and 40% less water, and the same kind of performance or even better can be expected from dryers, dishwashers, refrigerators, and freezers.

There are two price tags for an appliance. The first is what you pay for it upfront. The second is what it costs to operate it, primarily the energy it uses. Point your customers to the yellow EnergyGuide label attached to most new appliances. That provides a comparison point between similar models. Sharing such timely information is a great way to make this a season of energy savings, as is reminding your customers that regular maintenance — including thorough, regular cleaning — extends the life of their appliances as well. The Energy Department says that appliances represent about a fifth of a typical household’s energy consumption. Timely maintenance can help keep that to a minimum. That also helps keep a home safe from obvious hazards like fire and flood and more subtle threats like problems with food spoiled by insufficient freezing and cooling.

Below are some ideas to share with your customers about how they can make the most of what they already have in the house, and to help them decide when it’s time to move on to the next best thing in home appliances.

First, a word about smart appliances: Technology advances have brought what not so long ago would have been unimagined functionality to the kitchen and laundry room. There are refrigerators that can take inventory and place orders. Dishwashers that can be turned on and off with a smartphone app from across the globe. Ovens that can detect a food’s starting temperature and then adjust to ensure a perfect outcome. And that’s not to mention how manufacturers are regularly pushing the bar higher on efficient use of energy itself. But all these appliances, regardless of how high tech or low, can benefit from maintenance and upkeep. Efficiency also means helping to extend the life of the appliance, not just saving money on the power bill.

Now, back to the basics:

  • Refrigerator/Freezer
    Empty the fridge for a good cleaning, and while the load is lightened, move it so you can get to the condenser coils and give them a good vacuuming. Defrost the freezer, too, if the ice is half an inch thick or more. And, when moving the appliance back into place, ensure there is at least an inch of clearance on all sides. If they look worn at all, replace the door gaskets, too, to ensure a tight seal.
    Defrosting the freezer is also a good spring cleaning practice. Of course, EnergyStar appliances are self-defrosting, so this would only generally apply to older models. The recommended settings for efficiency are 36 to 38 degrees for the fridge and 0 to 5 degrees for the freezer.
  • Dishwasher
    Now’s a good time to check the seals around the dishwasher opening to ensure heat doesn’t escape and drying occurs efficiently. Year-round, there are some effective ways to use the home dishwasher most efficiently. Top of the list: do only full loads and use the air dry setting.
  • Stove
    Beyond keeping it clean, here’s some insider knowledge to share: Match the pot to the burner. Up to 40% of the heat you’re paying to create is wasted by using, for example, a 6-inch pot on an 8-inch burner.
  • Microwave
    Keeping the inside of the microwave clean is not only sanitary and a welcome indicator of home cleanliness, it’s more energy-efficient. Crumbs inside the appliance absorb the microwaves sent their way, so getting rid of them will ensure all that energy goes only to the food that’s intended to be cooked.
  • Washer/Dryer
    Spring is a great time to look around outside. One thing you’re likely to notice is that it’s time to clean the lint from the outside vent. That goes for inside, too, in the appliance itself. Lint impacts a dryer’s efficiency and in a worst-case scenario, can be a fire hazard. Also, it’s a good practice to clean washer and dryer hoses, heating elements, and dryer ducts at least once a year. No time like the present, so make it part of the spring cleaning routine.
  • Extending Appliance Life, Safely
    Operating appliances efficiently saves energy and money, not only in monthly bills but by extending the life of appliances. It’s worth the effort financially and it helps save the planet, too. But it’s also important to keep safety in mind, for both the home occupants and the structure. Blown washer hoses can flood a house. That happens all the time and it can be a very expensive repair. A malfunctioning oven can be a fire hazard. A failing fridge can cause hazardous food spoilage. Competent do-it-yourselfers can fix many appliance issues themselves, but it’s best to call in the experts when it comes to electrical and gas issues.
  • Knowing When It’s Time
    • Refrigerators typically are ready for replacement after about 15 years, and a sure sign that the time has come is when it doesn’t operate as quietly as it used to, and doesn’t chill as well. If it can’t hold temperatures below 45 degrees, it’s time to go. Finding out is not difficult. Just put a thermometer in it for about five minutes.
    • Dishwashers can be expected to last about 10 years. It’s pretty clear their time has come when the dishes just don’t come clean and the appliance runs loud. The same goes for washing machines, which, along with dryers, have typical lifespans of up to about 12 years.
    • As for the stove, burners failing is a sign of things to come. Igniter failure also is an issue for older gas stoves, and problems with the bake element and control board also are indicators that a new stove might be in order.

Repairs are expensive. Maintenance isn’t. Spring cleaning can help keep those major home appliances operating efficiently and effectively for years to come.

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