When we built our house almost 11 years ago, it was really fun to pick out all new appliances. We chose higher end, energy efficient models thinking we’d be kind to the environment and save all kinds of money on utility bills. Plus, stainless steel is really pretty and modern looking! Our refrigerator, stove, dishwasher, and microwave/hood priced in at around $5000 back in 2004. We also spent about $1600 on a new washer/dryer set that was supposed to be the greatest thing since sliced bread. So 11 years later, were the energy efficient appliances worth the cost?
How Much Would Cheap Appliances Have Cost Back Then?
I honestly can’t say for sure how much cheap appliances cost in 2004. We were not in a saving money mindset back then, but I would ball park the cost at around $2000. We could have also bought a basic washer dryer set for around $500-$600.
How Much Have We Saved on Energy Costs?
That’s a really hard thing to speculate since we’ve never seen an electric bill with non-energy efficient appliances, but according to the calculator at energystar.gov, our appliances save an average of $85 per year on water, gas, and electricity. Wow. that’s over $900 since we’ve lived here!
But wait, we spent $4000 more to buy these fancy gadgets……. We need our appliances to last for over 40 years to break even! Will I even be able to eat anything besides creamed corn in 40 years?
How Long Do Energy Star Appliances Last?
Here’s the thing. If energy star appliances did last for 30-40 years, it would be a no brainer to invest in better technology to save money and help the environment. Brian posted a nice chart about average life expectancy of household products recently, but as you probably guessed, nothing bought in the last two decades lasts for 40 years. The one exception is doorbells, so feel confident to splurge on a really good door bell if you like.
In fact, we’ve already had to replace two washers because expensive parts that cost more than the worth of the machine have blown out. We’ve had two repairs on our fridge that set us back another $300. A three year old could hand wash the dishes better than our dishwasher is doing at the moment. I’ve been studying how to take apart the fancy garbage disposal part for cleaning, and I’m giving it a try this week. If it doesn’t help, we’ll be replacing that this year as well.
What About Rebates?
With energy efficient appliances, there are often rebates available through your state or local electric and gas companies. We recently got an $80 electricity bill credit for our new washer, but even adding that to the yearly energy savings still leaves us way in the hole on appliance costs.
How About Those Energy Efficient Light Bulbs?
Old fashioned incandescent light bulbs that many of us grew up with are being phased out in the US and many other countries. Production of 100w bulbs stopped in 2012, and 2014 was the last year for 60w and 40w bulbs. While you can still purchase halogen bulbs, which resemble incandescents in energy use and cost, we switched most of our lights to compact fluorescents (CFL’s) a few years ago.
I do think they have helped somewhat with our energy costs, but at $2-$8 each, they are much more expensive than old school light bulbs. The saving grace was supposed to be their long life span, up to 10,000 hours of use. On most CFL packages, the manufactures claims the bulbs will last 7-10 years, which would be well worth the cost.
Are CFL’s Duds?
In reality, I’ve found that CFL’s, at least the ones we’ve purchased, don’t last anywhere near that length of time. In fact, I’ve replaced three out of four bulbs in our bathroom light fixture over the last few months, and those were less than a year old. I’ve bought cheap ones from WalMart and nicer ones from the hardware store, but it doesn’t seem to make much difference in how long they last.
The other crappy thing about CFL’s is that I have to take the burnt out bulbs to the electric company for recycling. You aren’t supposed to throw them in the trash due to mercury content. I wonder how many people do just toss them? I’ve certainly considered it but am still wearing the white hat on this issue.
I guess we could try the newer and supposedly better LED light bulbs, but they are even more expensive. Until I get some feedback that they do last almost forever, I am not jumping on that bandwagon just yet.
It Isn’t Easy Being Green
I don’t consider myself an especially liberal or conservative person. I support issues for both sides and change my mind a lot, but I do believe in helping the environment by using renewable energy or energy efficient products when I can. I am not one to eschew all plastic products or buy all organic, but I do recycle and want to be as efficient in my energy use as humanly possible. Water in Colorado is scarce, so anything I can do to conserve is a bonus.
That being said, I do think companies market to people like me, those who want to help the environment but aren’t sure if spending more is a good idea or not. Some of the adds are very convincing and make me feel like an Exxon executive for not buying the energy star products.
When you look solely at the numbers, there is no way that buying high end, energy star appliances comes out ahead. I’m sure there were less expensive energy efficient models than the ones we chose, but if you’re struggling with a budget, don’t fall into the trap of buying for the sake of energy cost savings. Do it because you want to help the environment and can afford to.
Better Ways To Conserve
The biggest energy savings I’ve seen over the past few years has not come from any new appliance or light bulb. Simply turning down the thermostat in the winter and not using our air conditioning unless it was really hot has saved about $20 per month. We also unplug our TV’s and computers overnight and wash most of our clothes in cold water on the light soil cycle. These are steps anyone can take without having to spend an extra dime.
Will I Buy Cheap Next Time?
With the short lifespan of most of our energy efficient appliances, I am tempted to buy the cheapest model the next time something has to be replaced. Will I actually give up my nice stainless steel kitchen when the time comes? I guess we’ll have to wait and see.
Do you feel energy star appliances are worth the extra cost? Have you had any luck with CFL or LED light bulbs?