Back in 2000, I wrote my first book Conscious Style Home about the renovation of my parents' Pennsylvania home using environmentally-friendly materials and techniques. It was one of the first eco-design books published, and looking back today, it shows.
One of the projects I showcased was resurfacing a giant SubZero refrigerator using coats and coats of chalkboard paint. The outcome was cool; you could write grocery lists and messages right onto the fridge. But the eco-reasoning was outright stupid; I figured it was better to rescue an old refrigerator (this was more than 10 years old) than to replace it with a new one.
Now I know better. A refrigerator that is 10 years old is likely to be using twice as much energy as the first day you plugged it in. And since a refrigerator is on 24/7, that can be a real energy hog in the home. And don't get me started on SubZeros: they are like the Hummers of refrigeration.
When I began renovating my house, I was glad to hear how easy it would be to recycle all the old appliances at the scrap metal yard. There's incredible value in scrap metal, so the process of having it picked up and recycled was painless. It felt reassuring knowing the 1970's kitchen relics would be torn apart, melted and made into new metal products.
With empty slots where appliances once stood, I headed to my local Lowe's Home Improvement store to shop for the most energy-efficient, good-looking appliances I could find. It all ended up being just one brand: Bosch.
Here are tips on choosing appliances when replacing antiquated ones in your own home:
DISHWASHER: Believe it or not, running a full dishwasher is much more energy and water efficient than doing it by hand. Lazy environmentalism! Washing dishes by hand can use up to 50 percent more water than a water-efficient, Energy Star rated dishwasher. New models of dishwashers today--- like the Bosch model---use only 4 gallons of water and up to 41% less energy. The best eco-solution is to fill up a dishwasher and run it when it's full. I'll skip the drying cycle and just them air-dry after the final rinse cycle. You can take one eco-step further by using an environmentally-friendly dishwashing detergent, too.
REFRIGERATOR: One important thing to remember when recycling an old refrigerator is to have an experienced recycler do it. Old refrigerators are full of Freon gas - the chemical used to create cold - that needs to be properly removed before the refrigerator can be scrapped for recycling. If it's not properly disposed of, Freon can escape and contribute to the erosion of the ozone layer.
When shopping for a refrigerator, it's key to look for the Energy Star symbol on different makes and models. It can be as simple as walking up and down the aisle at Lowe's and choosing the style and size of refrigerators you want, and then narrowing it down based on what is Energy Star rated and what's not. The yellow label will tell you exactly how many kilowatts it uses per year; the lower the amount, the better the efficiency. I was glad to see my fridge is so efficient, that it recorded below the averages. Energy Star rated models are 40% more efficient, which will save you money in the long-run.
WASHER AND DRYER: Without a doubt, the best washing machine is a front loading washing machine. Not only is the most efficient in energy and water usage---saving about 5000 gallons of water per year---but it also does a better job in getting clothes clean. In top loading machines, clothing is constantly agitated in dirty water. The greenest thing to do is to wash clothing in cold water and use a high-efficiency, super-concentrated detergent like Method's HE brand, where you only need a little bit to do a whole load of laundry. Smaller bottles means less plastic, which means less weight, which equals to less fuel to ship the bottles to stores. My Bosch model even features a sensor which detects how dirty the clothes really are, regulating how much is truly needed to get the load clean.
A dryer is a bit more controversial: dark green environmentalists insist on abandoning them altogether in favor of line-drying. But busy families, insist on needing them. The compromise is to air-dry heavier items like towels and jeans, and to use the dryer for items that dry more quickly. A clean lint trap and exhaust also helps keep the dryer running more efficiently. Many drying machines have sensors that also detect when clothing is dry, to avoid overdrying. And a tip: save lint for the summer BBQ; it's a great firestarter.
STOVE: Foodies will also for gas cooktops, but I think real greenies should go for electric ranges. One of the major conversions I did to the house was switching the heating and cooling to an all-electric system that runs 100% on wind power. Now my cooktop can run on renewable energy.
And unlike many ranges that have drip pans that need to be scrubbed clean periodically, flat top electric ranges can easily be wiped down with a microfiber towel and all-purpose cleaner (I like the ones from Method at methodhome.com). The millions of microscopic fibers literally grip onto every spill--along with bacteria--to keep it looking clean and new in seconds.