Before you go shopping for new appliances, remember that it pays to do your homework first. An inexpensive refrigerator that doesn't use energy efficiently won't seem like such a bargain when you get your electric bill.
Understand the efficiency ratings
Almost all home appliances, including refrigerators, dishwashers and laundry units, display a prominent yellow-and-black EnergyGuide. This label developed by the Federal Trade Commission can help you figure out how the appliance will affect your utility bills.
The largest number on the guide states the estimated annual operating cost of the appliance. Some equipment, such as ovens or clothes dryers, may have two large numbers - one for electric, one for natural gas.
One of the most helpful features of the EnergyGuide is a sliding scale that compares the appliance you're looking at to other models and brands. When you're comparing appliances, be sure to compare between models of similar size and capacity.
You can also look for the ENERGY STAR logo. This certification identifies appliances as being among the most energy-efficient products in their classes. They usually exceed minimum federal energy-use standards by a significant amount.
Take advantage of utility rebates and incentives
Before you make a decision on your new appliances, be sure to investigate rebates and other incentives from your utility companies. Most electric and gas providers offer cash-back rebates or low-interest financing for customers who purchase energy-smart equipment. In many cases, the incentive amount can cover the added cost of upgrading to high-efficiency products.
If you’re an Alliant Energy utility customer in Iowa, you can take advantage of money-saving incentives on your new appliances. Wisconsin customers: Visit Focus on Energy for the latest cash-rewards programs. If you're not an Alliant Energy customer, check with your electric or natural gas provider.
Ask yourself the right questions
You'll find it much easier to compare models if you know exactly what you want before you enter the store. Ask yourself these questions:
You might be tempted by the popular new "commercial-grade" or "restaurant-style" stoves and refrigerators - but keep in mind that these products are huge energy-users, and often require costly electrical, structural or ventilation upgrades.