Consumer Reports Offers Energy Saving Tips for Americans

Sep 06, 2011, 06:00 ET from Consumers Union

Also an Alternative Energy Update and Appliance Efficiencies – What Works, and What to Think Twice About

YONKERS, N.Y., Sept. 6, 2011 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Discussions about federal regulations on Energy Star ratings and energy efficient products continue and homeowners need to keep a pulse on the changes. The latest issue of Consumer Reports looks to help shoppers make the best decisions for their needs and possibly save some cash. Consumer Reports recent tests revealed some of the best appliances, electronics, and heating and cooling equipment are also among the most efficient. There are a number of home-energy retrofits, that if done right, can quickly pay for themselves. But not all efficiency promises pan out.

"You don't have to sacrifice performance, comfort, or convenience to save energy and money, providing you know what to look for," said Celia Kuperszmid-Lehrman, deputy home editor at Consumer Reports. " Our tests have found many models of efficiency among a variety of appliances, but shoppers should beware that there are also products whose energy-saving claims are mostly hype."

The full energy package, including ratings of light bulbs, testing-based information on alternative energy options as well as additional tips on saving energy, can be found in the October issue of Consumer Reports and online at

What's New, What Work's and What to Think Twice About

Powering electronic devices can cost almost as much as powering your kitchen appliances. Electronics and appliances account for 30 cents of every dollar someone spends on electricity. Appliances have become more efficient, but increased use of electronics has offset those gains, according to the Energy Information Administration. To help save energy and money, be sure to set computers to hibernate when they aren't in use; ask the cable company about replacing the current set-top box with one that meets Energy Star's 3.0 specifications, effective Sept. 1, 2011. Also inquire about whole-house DVRs, which can eliminate the need for an energy intense recording device on each TV. Get rid of the early-model plasma TVs that could cost well over $200 a year to operate. There are now large screens that cost $70 or less per year to run, including the 55-inch LCD Samsung UN55D65000, $1,900 with a fine picture, and an annual energy cost of $29.

More efficient appliances perform better than older ones, and the Energy Star program has improved. Starting this year, before a product can display an Energy Star logo, it must be tested for compliance by an accredited third-party lab. Front-loading washers use less energy  and  water  than  most top-loaders and extract more water in their spin cycle. Dishwashers with soil sensors adjust the use of hot water depending on how dirty the dishes are, saving energy and water. But watch out for many manufacturers introducing smart appliance lines in 2012. They will cost more, but smart technologies won't save money unless the home has a smart meter, an interface between the meter and the smart appliances and the utility companies implement time-of-use pricing, all of which are rare at this time.

There are more alternative energy options available to homeowners. Check out Consumer Reports first-ever report on a home wind turbine designed for residential use in the latest issue. Geothermal systems, which use the relatively constant temperature of the earth to heat and cool homes, are an emerging alternative to fossil-fuel-powered systems. A home energy audit can identify low-tech, high-yield energy retrofits. Expect to pay between $300 and $800 for a complete audit by a trained pro. The Department of Energy's website,, has advice for conducting an audit yourself. But think twice about using a space heater to lower winter heating bills, unless you turn the heat down in the rest of the house. Also, there's little proof that cleaning ducts actually improve efficiencies, and shoddy work can damage the ducts. Only consider this if there is visible mold or vermin, or debris is coming out of supply registers. Before replacing the primary heating or cooling equipment in your home, consider having the duct distribution system sealed and insulated as the savings will be far greater than realized by simply switching to a more efficient furnace or central air conditioner.

Energy management is improving with the use of a "smart grid," that adds digital sensors, wireless communications, and other intelligence technologies to the nation's century-old electrical grid. The new grid could pave the way for wide-spread time-of-use pricing, which should help to make the demand for electricity more uniform over the 24 hour day, thus foregoing the need for more electric power plants while handling a greater overall load.  Depending on the actual time-based pricing, some consumers may be able to reduce their energy costs. One thing you can do now is buy a programmable thermostat, which can lower annual energy costs by as much as 10 percent. The Lux Smart Temp Touch Screen TX9000TS, $80 was one of the easiest to use during testing, and it kept temperatures constant. Think twice about switching utility suppliers to save money. Several states and the District of Columbia have restructured markets to allow consumers to choose their electricity and gas suppliers.

Smarter building practices, developed for new construction, are being used to make existing homes more energy efficient. Keeping heated and cooled air from leaking out of your home from ceilings, walls, and windows could lower annual energy costs by $500. Start by checking if your attic needs additional insulation, then seal and insulate leaky ductwork, and lastly, eliminate air leaks with a combination of caulk, foam board, expandable sealant, and weather stripping. Don't replace windows just for the sake of saving energy. Consumer Reports tests found that it could take up to 20 years to recoup that investment.

Alternative Energy Update: So Far, New Wind Turbine Delivers Little

Generous federal and local rebates and credits have helped put wind power on a growing list of options that use the forces of nature to trim an electricity bill. Wind turbines are supposed to save by powering homes and sending or selling any unused energy they create to a utility so that a credit can be provided back to the owner. But Consumer Reports early tests of one wind turbine suggests that one could save far less than the manufacturer claims, and wait decades for the investment to pay for itself.

At about $11,000 installed, the Honeywell WT6500 Wind Turbine being tested at Consumer Reports' Yonkers headquarters costs less than many wind systems, even before rebates. It's warranted for five years and can be ordered through  True  Value  stores,  from  dealers  and  online,  and  at  some  Ace Hardware stores. It's one of the few that can mount on a roof. WindTronics, which makes the system, says it can deliver 18 to 23 percent of an average home's annual electricity needs, depending on wind speed. That should mean the Consumer Reports system pays for itself in about six years, given the energy it should create in the designated area, the 30 percent federal tax credit for small turbines, and the thousands in state rebates.

But so far, Consumer Reports has only seen a fraction of the total power that WindTronics says should be measured based on the area, even after several visits from a company-authorized installer. At that rate, the Honeywell wouldn't pay its way over its expected life of 20 years. Consumer Reports will be updating their data during the next year and will report on further developments as the testing continues. For more information on early highlights and additional alternative-energy options, visit or the October issue of Consumer Reports.


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SOURCE Consumers Union