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Are Energy Efficient Appliances Worth The Cost?

saving money with energy efficient appliances


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?

CFL light bulbs don't last as long as advertised

I’m still looking for that 9 year bulb.


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?





About Kim Parr

Kim Parr is a private practice optometrist, freelance writer, and personal financial blogger. You can follow her journey to 20/20 financial vision at Eyes on the Dollar.


  1. I think they can be, but that’s also depending on the fact they’ll actually last as long as they’re claimed to last. I’m not a fan of the new light bulbs and have found they don’t last as long as they say they do. Our issue has been finding ones that are the exact same type of light. If you end up having to mix them in a room it can take a bit of getting used to.

    • That drives me nuts too! You’ll get two bulbs that are both supposed to be daylight or soft white or whatever and one will be yellow and one will be white. I don’t need more things like that to frustrate me.

  2. Yeah it’s kind of tough to say, and I would have thought by now ALL appliances they sell are energy efficient. I would admit that that “label” would probably attract me to buy an appliance. But I wonder if it’s like certain food labels that claim to be healthy and can say that because they don’t have trans fat, but have tons of sugar or something. Like the claim isn’t really all true. But again, I have no idea. It’s one issue a renter doesn’t think too much about.

    • I guess the label can say whatever it wants, but I suspect it’s kind of like mpg on cars. You have to drive it just right under the right conditions to get max efficiency.

  3. My sister in law got one of those fancy front loading washing machines that was supposed to use less water. However, she said that to get clothes clean she had to run them through the cycle twice, which of course doubled the amount of water (and electricity) used. No savings there.

    • I will never have a front loader again. The one we had got mold in the door and we replaced some sort of liner. Then a year later, it was the same all over again, so we replaced it with a top loader. It didn’t last that long, but at least there was no mold!

  4. The house we bought last year has a high efficiency furnace and I can tell the difference. Our heat bills are not high- even when it is super cold. The high efficiency light bulbs seem to contribute to our lower bills too!

    • I can tell the difference in our office building from replacing an ancient furnace with a HE one. I don’t pay that bill anymore, but just the way the heat is much more even and it doesn’t kick on and off all the time is a huge improvement.

  5. I think you have to pick your battles on this one. In other words, some energy-saving purchases will turn out to be a good idea and others won’t. (Duh!)

    We’ve basically gone on faith regarding light bulbs and, over time, have eliminated all incandescent light bulbs in our house. (It’s pretty compelling when the package tells you that the 15-watt “pig-tail” bulb in it will put out the same illumination as a 60-watt incandescent, will last 8000 hours and save $40 in electricity.)

    But as far as appliances go, I’m still a price/bargain shopper. When I buy an appliance for a lower price, I can “see” the money I save right away. I prefer that.

    • If I were doing it again. I’d look for scratch and dent sales. My sister got a really nice fridge for cheap because it had a scratch that you really couldn’t even see when it was in it’s cabinet area.

  6. I think it can be, unfortunately, a bit hit or miss on whether the energy efficient appliances are worth the higher cost. Sadly, as Brian’s post showed, appliances really aren’t made to last for years. The companies can’t stay in business if we only need to be a fridge every 20 years, so I am always a bit suspicious with their claims of 10-20 years of durability. At the same time, like you, I do want to help conserve energy and such too. We recently bought a home and plan on gutting the kitchen, so I’m sure I’ll be weighing my options shortly on what type of appliances I should get.

  7. Some light fixtures just don’t pair well with CFL bulbs. We have them in all our floor and table lamps and we’ve had the same bulbs for years. I tried putting one in my bedroom overhead light that has a dimmer switch and it made all kinds of racket even when turned off, so I had to switch back.

    • From my understanding CFL’s do not work on dimmer switches, and I’ve learned today they don’t work well in moist areas either. I wonder if it says that in small print on the box somewhere?

  8. We replaced an old dishwasher and washer and dryer two years ago with energy efficient models and we actually saw a $30 a month saving in water and electric over the previous month right away. I agree with you, though, that they don’t make appliances well anymore and if we have to replace these in the next year or two then we will not be ahead.

  9. I think it’s a tough comparison since all the high end appliances are likely to be Energy Star, and the low-end ones are not. But there are usually a lot of features on the high-end ones that have nothing to do with energy efficiency but that drive the price significantly higher. So the comparison isn’t really apples-to-apples since it’s hard to tell how much you’re paying for energy efficiency and how much you’re paying for fridge shelves that adjust or a built-in ice maker or water dispenser or french doors or counter-depth… None of which are features on the low-end not particularly energy efficient models.

  10. I would buy energy star appliances if they’d be cheaper over the long run. When we moved in to this house all the lights were CFLs so we thought the house would be energy friendly. But our bills were the same, even without using the AC. We found that changing our habits was the key to dropping our usage and our bills.

    • I agree. Lowering and raising the thermostat accordingly for summer or winter saves much more than replacing light bulbs or buying an energy star washer.

  11. It’s a really interesting topic. I think sometimes, if you get the right rebates, it makes financial sense to get the energy-saving appliances. I do think that there are simple ways to conserve that people should focus on first. Like you said, turn down the thermostat. Anyone can do that, however energy efficient or inefficient their house is. I think recycling is a big one, too, as I feel most people don’t recycle all the time.

    • I think recycling varies depending on location. In the South, at least where my parents are, almost no one does. In Colorado, it seems like everyone does. I think if it’s any sort of inconvenience, people just toss it in the trash. Most of us are pretty lazy, you and me excluded from that group!

  12. Ha what a coincidence I was telling my wife yesterday that they say these CFL bulbs last for a decade or so but we had one go out after about 2 years. Guess I’m not alone! I feel the appliance market is a lot better now because almost everything is energy star, and even the appliances that aren’t (like our garage freezer) still don’t use much electricity.

    That being said, we did move into a new house 2 years ago and my electric bill is much lower than my peers who have older houses. Hopefully as time goes on things become more and more efficient that we won’t have to worry about super high bills anymore. But I still turn the thermostat down when my wife isn’t looking.

    • I should have mentioned windows and insulation. Older homes are terrible for leaks and being poorly insulated. That is project #1 with our latest rental property. The windows are terrible and the gas bills are incredibly high. We are passing those on to the tenants, but will still get better windows in to help with climate control.

  13. This is something I’ve been pondering lately too, are “green” choices actually worth it financially? Lots of times the answer is no. Thanks for sharing!

    • Money wise, it is often no. I love the idea of conserving energy, but often, you don’t need a specific type of appliance to do that. Adjusting your behaviors is probably the better way to go.

  14. I’ve actually thought about that quite a bit, but never had the opportunity to sit down and do the numbers. Based on what I’ve read here, no, they’re not worth the money. This article comes just in time too because we’re looking for a new washer and dryer! Thanks!

    • I would pick a middle of the road one without some of the fancy sensors, although those are getting harder and harder to find. I remember seeing one washer that was guaranteed to wash 20 pairs of jeans at once. I don’t believe we collectively own 20 pairs of jeans, and if we did, what are the odds we would need to wash them all at once? Cool, but not necessary for our situation.

  15. I do hear you on CFL’s not being worth it. FWIW, the CFLs I bought from Costco lasted me. Also, sometimes CFLs don’t work well in high-heat areas or moist areas since CFL bulbs do have some extra electric wire in them, so that can explain why they don’t last in the bathroom.

    Also, fun fact I learned in environmental science, CFLs aren’t really efficient if they’re turned on and off quickly, so in that instance, like in a closet where a light is on briefly, something other than a CFL is best.

    LED bulbs are definitely coming down in price so keep an eye out. Sometimes, a place not known for selling light bulbs, like a grocery store, can have a crazy good deal on LED bulbs. I just got a $15 one marked down to $5 (and it’s dimmable) at my local Giant.

    My brother swears by 1,000 Lightbulbs (https://www.1000bulbs.com/) I don’t work for the company so this isn’t product placement but we both are people who need a lot of light in our apartments so I take his word on the quality (I’m still using the ones I got at Costco thus far so I can’t speak for them).

    Lastly– I agree with you on the appliances bit except for refrigerators and dishwashers. Electric usage is not reduced much in a newer dishwasher, for instance, but water usage, which is not calculated in the Energy Star (I believe) is reduced in newer units as opposed to a 20 year-old one. However, I agree you don’t need to get the top-of-the-line version. Also, refrigerators are much more efficient now than they were 10-15 years ago so those are definitely worth updating. You don’t have to go for the $2,000 version, but a newer $700 unit is much better than that old cream with wood trim refrigerator that’s sitting one’s kitchen.

    • Thanks for the suggestion on the light bulbs. That does make sense that our kitchen and bathroom fixtures seem to be the most problematic. I’ve never looked for light bulbs at the grocery, but I will take a trip down that aisle from time to time.

  16. I think we should do our part to help make the environment a nice place to live, both for us and future generations. The very best way to accomplish that ideal though is to avoid consuming a product in the first place. No amount of recycling can eliminate the waste compared to not consuming it at all… Relates back to other folks’ opinions of how our actions will bring far superior results than just changing out the appliances and light bulbs.

    • Absolutely. I do think using less energy and water by our habits is much more productive and positive than buying a million energy star products.

  17. I’m so sad about lightbulbs. Just give me a plain ol’ lightbulb. CFL’s seem to give me a headache, I don’t like the idea of mercury (what if one breaks), so I guess I’ll be trying LED when the time comes.
    Interesting thoughts on cheaper appliances. It’s true it’s easier and less expensive to replace these days then to repair. Maybe I should have kept those yellow and avocado appliances that came with our duplex years ago. I bet ya they would still work and actually be kind of cool at this point;0)

    • No lie, my Mom had a yellow fridge that worked for over 30 years. She finally got rid of it because it didn’t match anything. It’s probably in someone’s garage to this day. I am always nervous about breaking a CFL bulb as well. I do wonder how many people just toss them in the trash.

  18. I believe so Kim. One consideration is that I get the right size. I assure the product I am buying suits my needs. Oversized air conditioners, water heaters and refrigerators waste energy and money; in many cases they also don’t perform as well. And I also think long term. Many of the most energy-efficient appliances cost more initially, but they’ll save you money in the long run.

  19. Having an energy star label doesn’t mean it’s the most efficient device out there. You still have to do your home work when selecting your devices and appliances if you want efficiency and durability.

    I base my purchase decisions on the most efficient model with the features and specs I need at the price I think is reasonable. Buying the most expensive fridge will not get you the most efficient one. Buying the most efficient fridge with the best reliability (as per consumer and warranty feedback) will save you money from day one.

    With respect to reliability of new appliances that’s all gone down the toilet. Gone are the days you can buy a dishwasher and expect 20 years with no headaches. Expect to have to replace it every 7 years. Welcome to consumerism society where it’s cheaper to throw away a $700 dishwasher than to get a guy to fix it for $300 to replace a part that costs the manufacturer under $5.

    Bottom line is don’t buy the first model year of anything and avoid manufacturers with a bad reputation and poor service. Vote with you wallet and stop buying crap.

  20. Regarding CFLs: there seems to be a lot of variation with some of them. While I did have to replace a couple after about one year, I’ve had some that lasted close to 10 years. For instance, I moved in my house in fall 2005, and some of the CFLs that I put after moving are still going, nearly 10 years later. I have an outdoor lamp in a parking garage that’s on 24 hours a day, and it lasted well over two years. The one thing I noticed is that you must buy the lamps that state they’re good to turn on till -20°C or -5°F. Those that are only good till -15°C don’t seem to last as long

  21. I was really confused as to why I wasn’t able the 40w bulbs in the stores anymore. I guess they made everything compatible with the new bulbs now. In the end it is better off for me because they last a lot longer than the old bulbs.

  22. For me it is not advisable to buy a cheap appliances because you still need to take into considerations the quality of the appliances you’re buying.

  23. Well, I am half-hearted regarding this matter. I’ve had a fair share of appliances that claim they’re energy efficient, some does the job, but some are just simply fraud so I can’t really tell. I guess it is a matter of trusting the brand you are already used to.

  24. We just got a new energy efficient water heater. I’m pretty excited to see what our utility bill looks like over the next few months. I’ve also used CFL bulbs and had great luck with them – I wonder if perhaps you got a bad pack of light bulbs? We got 5 packages and all of them are still doing great, a year later!

  25. I’m all for saving energy, but do your calculations carefully. Energy efficiency in some appliances are well and good, however, from personal experience should not apply to clothes washers.

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