Welcome to Green Boot Camp

Welcome to Green Boot Camp blog, a 52-week program to help you become a greener you in 2008. This is the companion blog to The Lean Green Family (formerly Suddenly Frugal).

Friday, January 18, 2008

Week Five--More About Appliances

Hopefully, my post earlier this week gave you some good ideas on how to make small changes in how you use your washer and dryer--changes that should save you money and save the earth a bit. Today, we're moving into the kitchen to talk about the refrigerator and the dishwasher.

Let me just say that in a perfect world, I would replace my refrigerator tomorrow. That's because refrigerators use more energy than any other appliance in the house, and older fridges (like many older appliances) simply don't run as efficiently as newer ones.

Case in point: our main refrigerator, which came with the house and was made in 1979, costs $117.98 a year in electricity to run. OK, so that works out to a little less than $10 a month, which doesn't seem so bad. However, we also have an overflow refrigerator, which was made in 1999 and has a decent Energy Star Rating. We brought this fridge with us from our old house. How much does it cost in electricity to run each year? $39 or a little more than $3 a month.

Sure, I'd like to save $80 a year in energy costs, but a new, similarly sized refrigerator would cost close to $1,000. I'm not sure I can justify that expenditure right now, and perhaps you can't either. Of course, there is the thinking that a refrigerator lasts for 20 years and therefore you should think about the operating costs over 20 years versus just the purchase price today. So that means that if I could replace my old fridge with a newer, energy-efficient fridge like my overflow one, I would spend close to $800 a year to run it versus more than $2,000 a year to run the current one for 20 years. Wow, suddenly $1,000 for a new fridge doesn't sound so expensive!

Anyway, assuming that you're not going to run out and buy a new fridge today, what can you do to green your refrigerator habits? For starters, remember what your mother said, and never leave the refrigerator door open unnecessarily. Every time you open the door, 30 percent of the cold air inside escapes, meaning the refrigerator has to work even harder to cool everything down again. Also, if at all possible keep your refrigerator and freezer well stocked at all times. The more items inside, the more efficient it is for the unit to keep everything inside cold. Finally, when was the last time you cleaned out the coils in the back? Dirty coils make a refrigerator run harder, thus using more electricity. At least twice a year, vacuum the dust off the coils.

With regards to your dishwasher, keep in mind that an automatic dishwasher will always end up using less water to clean a full load than if you washed those dirty dishes by hand. So please don't feel guilty about running your dishwasher each night. Where you can find some savings, though, is in the drying cycle. That is, don't use it.

When the dishwasher is done with its final rinse cycle and clicks over to the drying cycle, turn it off. Open the door, gently shake each rack to get the extra water off the dishes, then pull the racks out to full extension and leave them this way to dry. Not only will you save energy and electricity by not using the drying cycle, but in the dry winter months, you'll have added some much needed (and free) moisture to your atmosphere.

Let me know if there are any other appliances in your home where you'd like ideas on how to green your habits.


Anonymous said...

I work in a residential treatment facility for children with emotional and behavioral problems. We are required by law to sterilize the dishes, since we do not know the exact medical history of our clients. What does the sterilizing - the washing with hot water or the drying cycle? I would love to eliminate the drying cycle altogether to save the program money, but if the dishes won't be sterilized, then unfortunately we cannot make any changes.

Just curious on what stage temperatures reach a high enough degree to kill viruses and bacteria.

Barb J. said...

We usually leave the dishwasher open and the dry cycle off. We used to leave it open all the way, but the dogs would come stick their noses in the clean dishes to investigate. Now I prop the door partially open with a chair so the dogs can't get in there. lol

Michael T said...

I live in a 10-story apartment building. One of my brothers lives on the 5th floor and I'm on the 10th. I like to visit him, and I take the stairs unless I'm feeling particularly lazy or am bringing him some dinner.

The stairs have automatic lights that go on for each landing, and there are two landings per floor. I assume they still use less energy than the elevator, but I don't really know. Should I take the stairs to conserve the energy used on the elevator, or do those 10 motion-sensor lights make that much of a difference?

I hope you don't have to work too hard to try and answer this one, but I don't even know where to start on finding out for myself...

Leah Ingram said...

Sorry it took me awhile to get back to you, QZO, about the issue of sterilizing dishes. I had to do some research.

You may be disappointed to learn that most dishwashers do not sterilize dishes, even if you leave them in the heated drying cycle. They simply do not get hot enough inside to reach true sterilization. Instead, the sanitize them. You can read more about that here:


Hope that helps.


Leah Ingram said...


You would do best to continue using the stairs not only to save energy but because it's better for your own health, assuming you have no pre-existing health conditions that would make it dangerous to take the stairs on a regular basis. If you do, talk to your doctor. Otherwise, motion-sensor lights use WAY LESS energy than the elevator.


MamaNavy Brat said...

What about Chest freezers? I bought one of the most energy efficient in 2002 but is there any way to make them more efficient other than keeping it full?