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How to Buy an Energy-Efficient Home Appliance

You go shopping for a new refrigerator, and you're on a budget. The best buy is the 'fridge with the lowest sales price, right? Not necessarily. If you buy the lowest-priced refrigerator, you may end up spending more than if you buy a more expensive one. The reason? The cost of owning a home appliance has three components: the initial purchase price, the cost of repairs and maintenance, and the cost to operate it.

To figure out how much you'll spend over the lifetime of the appliance, you have to look at all these costs. The appliance with the lowest initial purchase price, or even the one with the best repair record, isn't necessarily the one that costs the least to operate. Here's an example of how an appliance's energy consumption can affect your out-of-pocket costs.

Suppose you're in the market for a new refrigerator-freezer. Different models of refrigerators with the same capacity can vary dramatically in the amount of electricity they use. For one popular size and configuration, for example, the annual electricity consumption varies across models from a low of about 600 kilowatt-hours a year to a high of more than 800 kilowatt-hours a year. Based on national average electricity prices, that means the annual cost to operate this refrigerator can range from about $50 to $70, depending on which model you buy. A $20 difference in annual operating costs might not sound like much, but remember that you will enjoy these savings year after year for the life of the appliance, while you must pay any difference in purchase price only once. As a result, you may actually save money by buying the more expensive, more energy-efficient model.

You can learn about the energy efficiency of an appliance that you're thinking about buying through the yellow-and-black EnergyGuide label it displays. The Federal Trade Commission's Appliance Labeling Rule requires appliance manufacturers to put these labels on:

  • Refrigerators, freezers, dishwashers, clothes washers

  • Water heaters, furnaces, boilers

  • Central air conditioners, room air conditioners, heat pumps

  • Pool heaters

When you shop for one of these appliances in a dealer's showroom, you should find the labels hanging on the inside of an appliance or secured to the outside. The law requires that the labels specify:

  • The capacity of the particular model

  • For refrigerators, freezers, dishwashers, clothes washers and water heaters, the estimated annual energy consumption of the model

  • For air conditioners, heat pumps, furnaces, boilers and pool heaters, the energy efficiency rating

  • The range of estimated annual energy consumption, or energy efficiency ratings, of comparable appliances.

Some appliances also may feature the EnergyStar logo, which means that the appliance is significantly more energy efficient than the average comparable model. For more information on the EnergyStar program, operated by the Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency, visit the EnergyStar website at

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