You don't think natural resources saved by your major appliances is a big deal?
Just ask homeowners in the power and water-starved West and Northeast. They'll tell you every little bit counts when it comes to a kilowatt saved and a gallon of water conserved. And if doing the environment a favor isn't enough, there are financial rewards: a new generation of washers, dryers and refrigerators can lop as much as 50 percent off your energy use -- and that doesn't include generous rebates utilities in hardest-hit states bestow on purchasers of high-efficiency appliances.
According to Lowe's Home Improvement Warehouse, an appliance retailer, manufacturers have answered government mandates to reduce energy and water consumption.
"Buyers want pizzazz plus efficiency," says Bruce Ballard, vice president of appliance merchandising for Lowe's. "Washers, dryers, refrigerators -- they're all better than they were 10 years ago. There's no question the new breed of major appliances are friendlier to the environment."
The Environmental Protection Agency formed a government-industry Energy Star partnership in 1992 to identify hundreds of household products -- including appliances -- that significantly reduce energy use. One of the coalition partners, Whirlpool, wasted little time in producing models to earn the Energy Star label.
"There is much more buyer awareness of energy conservation, particularly in states where power and water are issues," says Laura Hall of Whirlpool. "People didn't know much about appliances, but they do now."
Hall says even subtle manufacturing changes add up to savings. Injected foam replaces sheet insulation to fill every inch of refrigerator walls and doors. Compressors cool more efficiently, and ice makers are situated for optimal effect. Yellow Energy Guide stickers on new appliances help shoppers compare yearly costs between models.
And consumers are rewarded in their pocketbooks. Utilities in states including California, New York, New Jersey, Virginia and Pennsylvania offer rebates to consumers that amount to up to 25 percent of the retail price of Energy Star rated appliances. Maryland waives sales tax on Energy Star products. The EPA estimates more than 630 million Energy Star products have been purchased to date. The total energy savings: $5 billion.
But efficiencies don't signal a move away from what attracts consumers in the first place -- styling and convenience. Contoured doors, filtered water, stainless steel exteriors and even brighter interiors for aging Baby Boomers are recent innovations.
U.S. customers now see appliances with a European influence. Europeans overcame space and resource limitations with appliances designed to do more with less. Front-loading clothes washers use less water, and higher spin rates wring most of it out.
The result: shorter drying times. Ballard says sales of front-loading washers are about to skyrocket in the U.S. because people say they wash clothes better.
Hall says consumers want stylish appliances that have an earth-friendly green effect. "If you can get the same performance and use less water and electricity, why wouldn't you want to do that?"
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