Samsung's Flex Duo Oven using a Smart Divider to cut wasted cooking space. The divider also allows you to cook two things simultaneously at different temperatures.
During the 2012 International Consumer Electronics Show, Samsung unveiled an LCD refrigerator featuring Wi-Fi with a grocery "app."
Rebates and standards transform kitchens and laundry rooms, but are consumers really saving energy?
DOES YOUR REFRIGERATOR HAVE WI-FI or a door with a view? Select dishwashers self-dispense detergent and clean based on the number of dishes. And you might be surprised to hear some ovens double as refrigerators. Leave dinner in the oven in the morning, then send a text message for the oven to switch from cooling to cooking mode.
“When it comes to appliances in the kitchen, things are getting smarter,” says Kevin Dexter, senior vice president of home appliance sales and marketing, at Samsung Electronics America. “We’re listening closely to consumers and adding improvements that busy moms want.”
During the 2012 International Consumer Electronics Show, Samsung unveiled several appliance twists, including an LCD refrigerator featuring Wi-Fi with a grocery app and a Flex Duo Oven using a Smart Divider to cut wasted cooking space.
Samsung isn’t alone. Other manufacturers are also looking for twists to make appliances smarter and keep consumers happy.
“At GE Appliances, we’re rapidly expanding our Energy Star offerings because it’s what consumers demand, and it’s the right thing to do,” says Rod Barry, director of efficiency and environmental relations. He claims a kitchen equipped with GE’s ecomagination appliances reduces electricity use by 20 percent compared to standard models.
But with so many cooks in the kitchen, not all innovations make energy sense. Appliances use 13 percent of a home’s energy—a hefty chunk. Electric co-ops are evaluating emerging technologies to find the recipe for innovative appliance success.
Setting the standard
Manufacturers are constantly enhancing appliances to comply with consumer requests and to meet ever-evolving federal efficiency standards. These standards, first enacted in 1987, drive efficiency innovations and are credited with saving more than $300 billion in electric bills over the past quarter-century, according to the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy.
Current standards set the bar for furnaces, air conditioners, water heaters, refrigerators and freezers, washers, dryers, motors, lamps and other products. In 2011, a U.S. Senate committee considered tightening appliance standards even more, but the bill has not moved forward for a vote.
Most manufacturers also strive to meet a higher bar of excellence—the Energy Star certification. Launched by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 1992, Energy Star is a voluntary, international standard for rating energy-efficient consumer products. Not only do qualifying appliances carrying the Energy Star logo meet federal standards, they exceed it. Energy Star-rated appliances use 10 percent to 50 percent less energy and water than standard models.
After an influx of appliance rebate funds—almost $300 million—from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, many consumers bought efficient appliances in 2010 and 2011. Although rebates were also offered for HVAC systems and water heaters, kitchen and laundry workhorses were the clear favorites, garnering 88 percent of all redeemed rebates. About 586,000 consumers added refrigerators, 551,000 added clothes washers, and 297,600 dishwashers were updated.
Several GE dishwashers feature SmartDispense technology. Homeowners can fill the appliance with up to 47 fluid ounces of detergent, and the dishwasher releases it as needed.
The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) estimates this influx of efficient appliances will save $48 million in energy costs annually. But these savings are only realized when consumers follow the adage, “Out with the old, in with the new.” Unfortunately, a national electric cooperative survey shows that isn’t always the case.
“A lot of folks buy these great new Energy Star refrigerators, then put the old ‘energy hog’ model in the basement as a soda fridge for the kids,” says Brian Sloboda, a program manager for the Cooperative Research Network (CRN), a division of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association. “As a result, a lot of potential savings are lost. Sure, it’s convenient to have the extra space, but
these folks are paying significantly more just to have cold drinks handy.”
CRN partnered with E-Source, a Colorado-based efficiency group, to conduct a national survey of appliances. The study found 19 percent of American homes plug in two refrigerators, and 40 percent of households run a stand-alone freezer, adding expensive cold storage to electric bills.
Older models drain energy dollars. A refrigerator from the 1970s costs $200 more to operate every year than a current model; a 1980s fridge isn’t much better, wasting $100 in energy dollars annually.
Shop for savings
Why waste energy by searching for something in the fridge with the door open? GE's Monogram refrigerator features a glass door, allowing you to see where the item you want is located.
Consumers should look beyond bells and whistles and research appliances to guarantee energy savings, according to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The agency enforces mandatory EnergyGuide labels to help consumers compare brands and shop effectively.
“Most of the differences are on the inside—in the motors, compressors, pumps, valves, gaskets and seals, or in electronic sensors that make appliances ‘smarter,’ ” warns the FTC. “Even if two models look the same from the outside, less-obvious inside features can mean a big difference in monthly utility bills.”
EnergyGuide labels offer energy use and efficiency results from independent laboratory tests; the labels are required for refrigerators, freezers, dishwashers, clothes washers, televisions, water heaters and select HVAC systems.
To learn more about the impact efficient appliances can have on electric bills, visit TogetherWeSave.com.