Question: The Sunday newspaper ads are showing some absolutely beautiful refrigerators, and while we've had ours almost 15 years and it's still working fine, I sure wish we had one with those great new features. We're trying to come up with reasons why we need to get rid of the one we have now that seems to be working fine and spend $1,000 or more for a new one. What do you think?
Answer: I think it's time.
If you've read my column in the past, you know that something I have written about many times is the huge improvements in appliance energy efficiency in recent years. Today's major home appliances use considerably less energy than did those made even just a few years ago, and the energy savings of a new model will pay back your purchase price during the product's lifetime.
Think about it for a minute. You've been paying for the electricity to power your current refrigerator 24 hours a day for the past 15 years. I've seen estimates that a new refrigerator with an ENERGY STAR rating can save you as much as $15 a month when compared to an older unit like you have.
While my math skills may not be the strongest in the world, it looks to me like this would be a savings of more than $2,700 in the next 15 years, more than enough to pay the full purchase price of the new model you're looking at with all those bells and whistles as well as a whole bunch of cartons of triple chocolate fudge ice cream for the freezer.
Read the EnergyGuide labels on new refrigerators to help compare the expected energy use and clearly see the savings you'll get with different models. Among the suggestions to keep in mind to help you purchase the best refrigerator for your home are:
n Consider a top-freezer model instead of a side-by-side to save up to 25 percent more energy.
n Choose the size for your family needs. A unit that is too big will use more energy as will ones that are not kept fairly full.
n When looking at all the features, don't get some you really don't think you'll be using. The through-the-door dispensers, automatic ice makers and other features can boost the purchase price a few hundred dollars and increase energy use by 15 to 20 percent.
n Finally, please don't think the best thing to do with the old refrigerator is to stick it out in the garage and use it for food you can buy on sale. The savings you'd get from the new one would be pretty quickly wiped out by the high energy use of the old refrigerator. Get rid of it.
Q: We're just renting a house right now but since we pay the monthly utility bills, we'd like to keep them as low as possible. Are there things renters can do to save energy?
A: Sure. Here are some general suggestions for easy things to do without buying new appliances or remodeling a home you don't own. As tenants, you still have control over many things that influence your energy use.
n Change the filters in the heating/air-conditioning system on a regular basis. Air won't flow smoothly through blocked filters, increasing your energy bills while lowering indoor comfort.
n Dust light bulbs on a regular basis since dust and dirt can cut down on the amount of light you're getting from bulbs.
n Set the thermostat in winter no higher than 68 degrees in winter and no lower than 78 in summer. Every degree higher in winter or lower in summer will cost you between 5 and 10 percent more on your utility bills.
n Make sure there are no water leaks, and clean the aerators in the faucets and shower heads every few months.
Finally, do all the right things that I urge homeowners to do. Close drapes tightly during the day in winter and open them at night. Turn off lights, fans and unused appliances when leaving a room. Buy energy-efficient light bulbs for lamps. And when the weather allows it, open the windows for natural ventilation.
Ken Sheinkopf is a communications specialist with the American Solar Energy Society (www.ases.org). Send your energy questions to email@example.com.