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Eco-Justice Team - March 2023

A recent piece in the Washington Post Climate section offers food for thought for all of us. The column, written by their “Climate Coach,” was entitled, “We Still Use Appliances Like It's 1970. There’s a Better Way.” He points out that 40 years ago, 5-10% of a household’s energy bill went to lighting. With the widespread use of LEDs, it is no longer even among the top ten. Some of his recommendations, however, will cause some thought and discussion, so I included some of the dissenting comments from readers. See what you think!

Replace old appliances

In response to the energy crisis of the 1970s, states began to impose energy standards on home appliances. Congress joined the cause, and the EPA created the Energy Star certification program. Manufacturers were resistant at first, but became enthusiastic when these appliances proved popular with consumers. Eventually, consumers were, on average, able to shave $500 off a household’s annual energy bill. Heating and cooling now use over half of the energy in a home, while another 20% goes to appliances that heat and pump water, such as water heaters. A modern energy efficient refrigerator uses the same amount of energy that used to power a 60 watt incandescent light bulb.

The author is speaking of energy savings, but does not speak of the difference in types of energy, such as gas, propane, oil, or electricity. Nor, for that matter, the cost involved in switching from one to another, or the impact of where your electricity comes from. Readers pointed out that he is also ignoring the energy and climate costs of manufacturing and transporting new appliances.

Set your refrigerator thermostat and forget it.

Apparently many people set their refrigerators at too cold a temperature. The best temperature to ward off spoiling or frostbite is between 37-40 degrees. He also promotes replacing old ones. If you are running an old refrigerator in a basement or garage, you are spending more on energy than you’d save by upgrading. The comments above apply here, as well.

Get a smart thermostat.

This only applies if you neglect to raise and lower it on your own. One exception, however, involves homes heated by heat pumps. They work best when set to a constant temperature, and should be left alone.

Stop washing clothes in hot water.

Newer models clean with far less energy and water use, and both the washers and detergents now work well in cold water. Personally, however, I wonder about machines located on an outside basement wall in the winter, given just how cold the water can be. I use a “cool” setting.

Don’t pre-rinse your dishes. Run your dishwasher.

The idea here is that modern dishwashers use very little water and energy, significantly less than hand washing, and still clean very well. Hmmm. As someone who has scraped dried egg yolk, peanut butter, yogurt and various other items from dishes, I wonder if pre-rinsing might use less water than “after cleaning.”

So there you have it! Food for thought!


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