10 Tips for Saving Energy in the Kitchen

10 Tips for Saving Energy in the Kitchen

Maintaining your large kitchen appliances is part of a smart home energy efficiency plan.

Spending less money on utility bills doesn’t mean you need to rush out and purchase a whole new suite of Energy Star appliances. With occasional light maintenance and good habits, you can greatly improve the energy efficiency of your large kitchen appliances — up to about $120 annually — without sacrificing convenience.


Energy-efficiency experts tell us to focus our efforts on the biggest energy hogs in the house, and that definitely includes the fridge. Because it cycles on and off all day, every day, the refrigerator consumes more electricity than nearly every appliance in the home save for the HVAC systems. The average refrigerator costs about $90 per year to operate, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. The good news is that a few simple adjustments can trim roughly $38-$45 off those utility bills.

1. Adjust the thermostat. By setting the thermostat colder than it needs to be, you might increase your fridge’s energy consumption by as much as 25% on average. Adjust the refrigerator so that it stays in the 37-40 degrees F range. For the freezer, shoot for between 0-5 degrees F. You could save up to $22 per year. If your model doesn’t display the current temps, invest in two appliance thermometers (one for the fridge, one for the freezer). They cost roughly $3-$20 apiece at online retailers.

2. Clean the coils. As dust accumulates on the condenser coils on the rear or bottom of the fridge, it restricts cool-air flow and forces the unit to work harder and longer than necessary. Every six months, vacuum away the dust that accumulates on the mechanism. Also, check to see that there is at least a 3-inch clearance at the rear of the fridge for proper ventilation. This routine maintenance can trim up to 5% off the unit’s operating cost, says energy savings expert Michael Bluejay, saving you about $4.50 a year.

3. Use an ice tray. Automatic ice makers are a nice convenience, to be sure, but it turns out the mechanisms are energy hogs. An automatic ice maker can increase a refrigerator’s energy consumption by 14% to 20%, according to Energy Star. By switching off the ice maker and using trays, you can save about $12 to $18 off your annual electricity bill. Most units require little more than a lift of the sensor arm to switch them off. To reclaim the space remove the entire unit, a simple DIY job on many models.

4. Unplug the “beer fridge.” Many homes have an extra fridge that runs year round even though it’s used sparingly. Worse, these fridges tend to be older, more inefficient models. By consolidating the contents to the main fridge and unplugging the additional unit, you eliminate the entire operating cost of a fridge. The second-best solution is to make sure the extra fridge remains three-quarters full at all times. The mass helps maintain steady internal temps and lets the fridge recover more quickly after the door is opened and closed, according to the California Energy Commission.

Ovens and ranges

“Green” cooking all comes down to proper time and space management. By using gas and electric stoves more effectively, you can painlessly save a few dollars a year.

5. Cut the power early. As anybody who’s ever bumped a burner on an electric stove can attest, those heating elements stay hot long after they’ve been switched off. Put that residual heat to work by shutting off the burner several minutes before the end of the cook time. The same technique can be applied to the oven. The savings can add up to a couple bucks every month.

6. Match the burner to pan. When a small pan is placed on a big burner you can practically see the money disappearing into thin air. By matching the burner to the pan, electricity won’t be squandered heating the kitchen rather than the food. The reverse is true, too. A small burner will take considerably longer to heat a large pan than would an appropriately sized burner. For gas stoves, don’t let the flames lick the sides of the pot. Follow these tips and watch the utility bills shrink by a few dollars a month.

7. Do away with preheating. You can save about $2 a month by not preheating your oven (20 cents per hour to operate electric oven; eliminate 20 30-minute preheats a month). Many cooks agree that the practice is wholly unnecessary for all but a few recipes, namely baking breads and cakes. This approach may add a few minutes to the overall cooking time, but it eliminates all that wait time on the front end.


As with washing machines, most of a dishwasher’s energy needs go to heating the water. Still, says Lane Burt, an energy policy analyst with The Natural Resources Defense Council, a 10-year-old dishwasher can be made nearly as efficient as a newer model simply by knowing when and how to run it. Follow a few simple tips, and you can reduce your annual utility costs by roughly $35-$54.

8. Manage the load. Most dishwashers use the same amount of water and energy whether they’re run full or half-full. You can cut your operating costs by one-third or one-half by running the machine only when it’s full. It costs about $54 to run a pre-2000 model dishwasher per year, based on government data. Proper load management can save up to $27 each year.

9. Activate energy-saving features. A dishwasher’s heated dry cycle can add 15% to 50% to the appliance’s operating cost. Most machines allow the feature to be switched off (or not turned on), which can save $8-$27 per year, assuming an operating cost of $54 annually. If your dishwasher doesn’t have that flexibility, simply turn the appliance off after the final rinse and open the door.

10.  Use the machine. Many homeowners believe they can save water and energy by hand washing dishes. The truth is that a dishwasher requires less than one-third the water it would take to do those same dishes in the sink. By running the machine (when full), you can cut down the operating time of the hot water heater, your home’s largest energy hog. Not only will you save a buck per month, you won’t have to do the dishes.

By: Douglas Trattner © Copyright 2014 NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®


Listing and Selling Your Green Home

Listing and Selling Your Green Home

Choose a green real estate agent

Hire a real estate agent who knows as much about green homes as you do. About 5,000 REALTORS® nationwide have earned the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS® Green Designation by taking classes in green building, sustainable business practices, and green home marketing. A private company offers the EcoBroker designation.

Questions to ask a REALTOR® who specializes in green homes:

  • Have you had special training in selling green homes?
  • Do you serve buyers seeking green houses and do you have a list of buyers actively seeking green homes?
  • How many green home sales have you completed in the past year?
  • How do you market a green home differently than a regular home?

Ask whether your MLS is green

About 30 to 40 of the 900 home MLSs nationwide (databases where agents list properties for sale) have special fields in which your agent can identify your home’s green features. Agents for potential buyers can search a green MLS to look for a green home or green features like solar panels or an energy-efficient furnace.

Over time, as the home MLS data grow, the results will help appraisers easily find comparable sales of green homes, which they can then use to more accurately value a green home like yours.

On the web, large sites that use home MLS data offer some green home search capacity. At www.Realtor.com, you can search broadly for energy-efficient homes, but not for specific features like solar panels. At Trulia.com you can use keyword search terms like “solar” or “green,” but in addition to pulling homes with green features, that search will also bring back listings by real estate agents named Green and homes on streets with the word “solar” in the name.

Curious if your area has a green MLS? Among other places, you’ll find them in:

  • Albuquerque
  • Austin, San Antonio, and Houston, Texas
  • Charleston, S.C.
  • Memphis and middle Tennessee
  • Portland, Ore.
  • Santa Barbara and southern California
  • Traverse City, Mich.
  • Triangle region of North Carolina
  • Tucson and Phoenix, Ariz.

List your home’s green features

You can trumpet your home’s greenness in two ways in the typical green MLS.

Your real estate agent can note if your home or its features have been officially certified or designated green. Then, agents for homebuyers interested in green homes can search for local designations as well as national designations and certifications like:

  • Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED)
  • Energy Star
  • Enterprise Green Communities
  • The Environmental Protection Agency’s airPLUS Guidelines and Water Sense programs
  • Home Energy Rating System (HERS Index)
  • Living Building Challenge
  • National Green Building Standard

The other way to highlight your house’s green features is to specify them in the home MLS’ searchable fields. For example, if you have solar panels, water-saving devices, or geothermal heating, your agent can check those fields. Real estate agents helping buyers interested in a green home can also use the search function to find green homes with specific features.

In some green MLSs, your agent can highlight the brand and model of energy-efficient appliances and building materials. The result is a movement toward a more standardized and accurate way for buyers to find the type of home they want and for you to highlight your home’s green upgrades.

Use the home MLS comments section

What if your local home MLS isn’t green? Your agent can market your home’s green features in the home MLS by listing them in the additional remarks space. Work with your agent so she knows which features you’d like to highlight, which feature she recommends highlighting, and how those features contribute to your home’s energy efficiency and eco-friendliness.

Can you get more money for a green home?

Data show your green home could sell faster and at a higher price than a similar house without green features. In 2009, certified green houses in Atlanta sold 31 days faster than traditional homes, according to the Earth Advantage Institute, a Portland, Ore., nonprofit that certifies green homes. Certified green houses in Seattle built from 2000 to 2008 sold for 8% to 9% more per square foot than traditional homes, according to local sales statistics.

More from HouseLogic

Professional energy audits

What you should know about appraisals

Other web resources

REGREEN residential remodeling guidelines

More on tax credits for energy efficiency

G.M. Filisko is an attorney and award-winning writer who just added energy-efficient windows to her Chicago condo. A regular contributor to many national publications including Bankrate.com, REALTOR® Magazine, and the American Bar Association Journal, she specializes in real estate, business, personal finance, and leg


By: G. M. Filisko © Copyright 2014 NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®

How to Buy a Washer

How to Buy a Washer

Published: August 28, 2009

If you’re looking for clean clothes at a budget price, conventional top-loading washers are impossible to beat. Confidently purchase a new washing machine that makes sense for your particular budget and level of green-mindedness.

Thanks to tougher federal guidelines, clothes washers have never been more energy efficient. Simply replacing a more than 10-year-old washer with a new Energy Star-approved model will save about $135 per year off water and utility bills, says Energy Star. Similarly, buying an Energy Star-qualified model rather than a non-qualified model will save you an average of $50 a year on your utility bills. Over the life of your new washer, you’ll save enough money to pay for the matching dryer. But not all washers are created equal. To capitalize on those improved efficiency ratings, you’ll have to bypass the least expensive machines, which lack Energy Star approval, in favor of higher efficiency top- and front-load models.

Cost range: $300-$1,000 and up

Likely additional costs: Delivery, installation, haul away

Average life span: 12-14 years

Type: The modern clothes washer comes in three basic types: conventional top-loading, high-efficiency top-loading, and front-loaders, which are all categorized as highly efficient. Not surprisingly, each category is blessed with its own set of positive and negative attributes. Choosing one over another often comes down to your budget, convenience, and appetite for energy efficiency.

Conventional top loaders

If you’re looking for clean clothes at a budget price, conventional top-loading washers are impossible to beat. With models starting under $300, it’s easy to see why these types remain the most popular. Price isn’t the only thing these appliances have going for them. They get clothes reliably clean and do so in about half the time of high-efficiency top- and front-load models.

Energy efficiency: Because the bulk of a washing machine’s energy consumption goes to fuel the home’s hot water heater, any reduction in water usage is a good thing. Sadly, these top loaders are the thirstiest in the bunch, gulping down about 40 gallons a cycle, roughly double that of high-efficiency types. Yearly operating costs (energy and water) for these models are about $41 if you use an electric water heater; $22 with gas heaters, according to EnergyGuide labels.

If you plan on using the appliance for at least five years, it likely pays to upgrade to an Energy Star-approved washer. You’ll save about $50 per year on utility bills compared with a new non-Energy Star model, according to Energy Star, or roughly $650 over the life of the machine.

Performance: Because conventional top-loaders use a large central agitator to clean clothes, these machines generally have smaller capacities. And while they get clothes reliably clean, they are tougher on fabric, shortening the life of items more so than other machines.

Reliability: These machines have more moving parts than the other configurations. What they lack is sophisticated electronics and controls. The upshot: You may experience more repairs, but those repairs are generally easier, cheaper, and quicker to remedy.

High-efficiency top loaders

These washers combine the increased water and energy efficiency of a front-loader with the convenience of a top-loader. You can expect to pay considerably more for these types over conventional top-loaders, however, with most models in the $700 to $900 range.

Energy efficiency: Because these machines don’t fill with water like conventional top-loaders, they use about half the water and, thus, energy. Consumers can expect to see average yearly operating costs in the $20-$30 range for electric water heaters and about $17 for gas. The latter figure nearly approaches the efficiency of a front-loader. Also, thanks to super-fast spin cycles, clothes don’t take as long to dry in the dryer.

Performance: Because they lack a large central agitator, these machines boast some of the roomiest capacities of all washers. That design also makes them gentler on clothing, eliminating much of the twisting and tugging that occurs in conventional washers. But depending on the make and model, that design can also decrease clothes-cleaning ability.

Reliability: Early adopters often suffer for the rest of us, and that may be true for some who invest in these machines. As the newest entry into the washer category, high-efficiency top loaders may experience more repair issues than more established machines. When they do, it’s often owing to the high-tech electronics that control them.

Front loaders

Front-loading washers continue to enjoy increased market share thanks to an earned reputation for high performance, efficiency, and style. Their unique design allows them to be fully integrated into a laundry room, fitting snugly under countertops and into cabinetry. In return, you’ll have to spend north of $750 for reliable brands.

Energy efficiency: There’s no question these appliances use the least water and energy. Many boast annual operating costs as low as $14 with electric water heaters and $11 with gas, making them three times as cheap to run as non-Energy Star top-loaders. And like high efficiency top-loaders, these models employ high-speed spin cycles that significantly shorten dry times.

Performance: Most front-load washers clean clothes better and do so more gently than any other type of machine. Their agitator-less configuration means bulky items are a snap to load. But it can’t all be good, right? To eke out that efficiency, front-loaders require the longest wash cycles. It can take more than an hour to wash a load in one of these machines versus about half that in a conventional one. (Still, because they use less water and therefore less energy to heat the water, they’re particularly efficient.)

Reliability: Like high-efficiency top loaders, front loaders almost always employ sophisticated electronics and push-button control panels. These can be difficult and costly to repair when they fail. The major difference, however, is that these machines have been around long enough to work out most of the kinks.

Additional features

All but the least expensive washers on the market offer multiple cycles that allow you to tailor the wash to the type of clothes and/or level of grime. For those sensitive to detergent and bleach, it may be worthwhile to upgrade to a model that offers an “extra rinse” feature. Found on many moderately priced machines, the process does a better job removing cleaning agents.

Some features, like steam cleaning, may or may not be worth the money. Although reviews show that the deep-cleaning booster does a great job removing stains, the convenience can add hundreds to the price of a washer.

One of the biggest complaints regarding front-load washers is the bending required. For some homeowners, the inconvenience is enough to warrant the purchase of a pedestal that not only raises the machine, but also provides additional storage. These accessories can add $200 or more to the price.

Designer colors have finally reached the laundry room, transforming drab white units into vibrantly hued machines. But be forewarned that those arresting red, blue, and metallic silver finishes will add hundreds to the tab.

Expected maintenance/repairs: Frequently check washing machine hoses for leaks and cracks. They may need to be replaced every few years. Always make sure the washer is perfectly level, adjusting whenever it isn’t. Owing to their particular design, front-loaders require more maintenance than other washer types. They all possess watertight door seals that can trap unwanted moisture and lead to unpleasant odors. Leaving the door open between loads and routine wipe-downs may be necessary. Washers with porcelain tubs rather than plastic or stainless steel can chip and corrode. Motors and drives can fail. Electronics and circuitry can go on the fritz.

Where and when to shop: It’s best to shop at a retail appliance store where the staff understands the product. A conscientious salesperson will guide you to a model that doesn’t exceed your needs and thus saves money. Also opt for a store that offers delivery, installation, and haul away—you may be able to negotiate the transport and install into the cost of the appliance.

Because appliances don’t adhere to a model year like automobiles, there’s no “best time” to buy. Always keep a look out for sales, specials, and tax rebates (especially for energy-efficient models). And use sites like BizRate, PriceGrabber, Shopping.com, and Shopzilla.com to compare prices.

Finally, some appraisers say new appliances are money well spent. In his market, Mike Neimeier, a residential appraiser in Cleveland, Ohio, says a homeowner is likely to recoup between 75%-90% of the cost of new appliances when reselling the home within a couple of years.

By: Douglas Trattner © Copyright 2014 NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®

How To Prepare Your Home for Holiday Guests

How To Prepare Your Home for Holiday Guests

By: Lisa Kaplan Gordon

Published: November 14, 2011

Is your home ready for holiday visits from friends and family? Here’s how to prepare for the invasion.

I’m lucky and have a guest suite always ready for holiday guests. But even with a dedicated space, preparing my home for the annual onslaught of friends and family takes time and forethought.

Some preparations for holiday guests take only a few minutes; some take a lot longer. My advice: Start preparing your home for the holidays now.


The day before guests arrive is no time to pull apart junk drawers and clean out linen closets. Declutter guest rooms and public areas — foyer, kitchen, living room, den, and dining room. Remove anything unnecessary from countertops, coffee tables, and ottomans; if it’s out of sight, keep it out of mind, for now.

If you run short of time, bag up the clutter and store it in car trunks, basements, and out-of-the-way closets. Sort and arrange after your guests depart.


Light the way: Even though you can navigate your home blindfolded, your guests can’t. Make sure outside lights are working so they don’t trip on the way to your door. Put motion-activated night lights in hallways, bathrooms, and bedrooms to ensure safe passage after the sun sets.

Child proofing: Ask parents to bring hardware that keeps their small ones safe, such as baby gates and cabinet locks. Transfer toxic cleaners and medicines from base to wall cabinets. Hide matches and lighters.

Fire prevention: If you didn’t freshen smoke detector batteries when you switched the clocks to Daylight Savings Time, change them now. After your guests arrive, run a quick fire drill: Make sure they can locate exits and fire extinguishers, and that they know how to open windows and doors.

Entryway upgrades

Your home’s foyer is the first place guests see, so make a good first impression.

  • Upgrade exterior entry doors or give old doors a new coat of paint. Polish and tighten door hardware, and oil hinges to prevent squeaks.
  • Remove scratches from hardwood floors, stairs, and wood railings. Place a small rug or welcome mat at the entrance to protect floors from mud and snow.
  • Clear out shoes, umbrellas, and other clutter.
  • Add extra hooks to walls so guests can hang coats and hats.
  • Add a storage bench where guests can remove boots and shoes.

Kitchen prep

Your kitchen is command central during the holidays, so make sure it’s ready for guests and extra helpers.

  • To increase storage, install a pot rack to clear cooking items off countertops and ranges.
  • Move your coffee station into a family room so guests don’t crowd the kitchen when you’re trying to fix meals.
  • If you like to visit while you’re cooking, place extra stools and chairs around the perimeter of your kitchen so guests can set a spell.

Sleeping arrangements

If you’ve got a guest room, replace the ceiling fixture with a ceiling fan and light combo, which helps guests customize their room temperature without fiddling with the thermostat for the entire house.

To carve sleeping space out of public areas, buy a folding screen or rolling bookcase, which will provide privacy for sleepers. Fold or roll it away in the morning.

Bathroom storage

Bring toilet paper, towels, and toiletries out of hiding, and place them on open shelves so guests can find them easily.

If you don’t have enough wall space for shelves, place these items in open baskets around the bathroom.

Also, outfit each tub with a bath mat (to avoid falls) and each toilet with a plunger (to avoid embarrassment).



Grilling Safely

Grilling Safely

By: Deirdre Sullivan

Published: June 29, 2012

Nothing spoils an outdoor barbecue more than burning the house down. Here are 6 tips to stay safe when grilling this summer, plus videos of cookout calamities.

Don’t think you’re at risk? Over the last five years, fire departments have responded to an average of 8,200 house fires per year involving grills, hibachis, and barbecues. Most of these fires took place during June and July, the peak grilling months.

Tip 1: Barbecue only outside

Firing it up in your home, trailer, tent, or any partially enclosed area is dangerous. If the carbon monoxide doesn’t kill you, your neighbors might, especially if you set off your building’s sprinkler system by grilling on your covered balcony.

Tip 2: Grills heat up to 650 degrees or higher

Always place your grill or hibachi on a non-flammable surface. For additional protection, place a heat-resistant pad or splatter mat beneath the cooker. And FYI, plastic has an average melting point of 150 degrees.

Tip 3: Protect your home and family

According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, you should barbecue at least 10 feet away from your house or any structure. Children and pets should stay at least 3 feet away from the grilling area.

Tip 4: Lighter fluid can be dangerous

Before starting a fire, soak coals with an accelerant made for charcoal. Never use lighter fluid on hot briquettes. Doing so causes the fluid to vaporize and become explosive. The result could be a charbroiled yard and home.

Tip 5: Proper grilling attire

Take a cue from this grill master: Don’t wear loose or baggy clothing while flipping burgers. This includes aprons, especially when your back is turned.

Tip 6: Utensils are not toys

Of course you want to keep your guests entertained at your next barbecue, but remember, playing with sharp utensils can be dangerous. You could poke an eye out or skewer a feathered friend.

Bonus tip: We ran across one more prickly grilling situation. Who thought a brush could ruin a barbecue? Hints from Heloise says there’s a new danger hidden away in your grill: bristles from wire cleaning brushes. If accidentally consumed, they could cause abdominal pain and more. Make sure that after you clean your grill with a wire brush, rinse the grill and wipe it with a paper towel to make sure no pesky wires are left.