Common household appliances, especially older ones, can be significant energy wasters, and therefore greenhouse gas producers. These daily-use conveniences may be adding unnecessarily to your carbon footprint. Great strides have been made in the energy efficiency of household appliances due to new technologies, materials and operating control features. In most instances, replacing common household appliances will reduce your energy consumption and costs, as well as your carbon footprint. According to the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, household appliances such as clothes washers and dryers, dishwashers, electric stoves and particularly refrigerators can account for 15 to 20 percent of home energy usage second only to home heating and air conditioning energy demands. Refrigerators are commonly the least energy efficient home appliance due to their constant use and longevity. Kitchen refrigerators generally have a fifteen-year lifecycle. Most refrigerators over 10 years old are energy guzzlers.
Every time you buy a home appliance or service your heating and air conditioning systems, you're making a decision that affects the environment. You are probably already aware that global climate change and our energy security problems are associated with energy production and use. But you may not realize just how big a difference each of us can make by taking energy use into account in our household purchasing and maintenance decisions. For an average household with two cars, energy used in the house accounts for half of that household's total energy expenditures, and total carbon footprint.
In fact, choosing energy-efficient appliances is one way you can immediately reduce your contribution to global climate change. Carbon dioxide (CO2) is the primary gas contributing to global warming and virtually all energy-using equipment results in CO2 emissions, either directly or indirectly. Most of your electricity is likely to come from burning coal or natural gas at an electric utility power plant. By replacing a 15-year-old refrigerator with a new, energy-efficient model, you will also reduce your home's CO2 contribution by about one ton per year while saving about $80 in reduced electric bills.
Care must also be taken in the replacement of large home appliances because of the pollutants that may result from the improper disposal of the used appliances. Household appliances, like all consumer goods, require energy and resources in their creation, operation, and disposal. Environmental consequences after disposal may include the introduction of greenhouse gases, heavy metals and toxic chemicals into the environment. Refrigerators, air conditioners, electronics, and fluorescent lighting products pose particular risks to the environment; however, consumers should minimize the impact of all disposed goods by recycling as much of the durable materials as possible (metals, plastics, glass) and by making themselves aware of, and recovering any, harmful substances involved. This reduces the impact of landfill waste as well as further mining of increasingly scarce resources.
Cooling equipment, such as refrigerators, freezers, dehumidifiers and room air conditioners contain refrigerants and insulating foams that release ozone-depleting substances and greenhouse gases with final disposal in a landfill. Older appliances may also contain toxic PCBs or mercury. Newer products (made within the past 10 years) do not contain these toxic materials, and now use refrigerants and foam insulations that are less harmful to the ozone layer. Federal law requires the removal and proper disposal of refrigerants and toxics from these products. Most municipalities will pick up your old refrigerator, freezer or air conditioner with the bulk trash pick-up (you must call the city to arrange a pick-up). By law, the city must dispose of refrigerants, PCBs and mercury properly.
Also your electric power utility may even pay you to get rid of inefficient appliances. These programs usually involve an incentive on the order of $35 for the collection of old units, either in the form of cash or a rebate towards an ENERGY STAR replacement. A third party contractor that works with the utility will either come to you and pick up the appliance, or hold a turn-in event where you drop it of. Existing programs predominantly target old refrigerators; a few programs also offer a rebate for room air conditioners. Certified contractors ensure that the old units are disposed of properly.