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Cheap May Not Be Cheap

When it comes to energy efficiency, think about the long run

by Susan Gilbert, Contributing Columnist

The pressure of inflation these days is making us all wonder whether we should just buy things that are good enough, rather than looking for higher quality.

Major energy-use appliances may be an important exception to that intuitively appealing bias. When a water heater goes out, why not just buy the cheapest replacement? After all, nobody sees it, so who cares?

There may be very little difference between the cheapest and the most efficient water heater or air conditioner, but these devices use much more than their purchase prices in energy.

In fact, because most of them last more than 10 years, consider their operating cost in your buying decision. Take the savings estimates for each of your alternatives and look for the differences. Multiply these by 10 to estimate the full value of increased efficiency.


For example, say the least-efficient air conditioner costs $500 to cool your home for a typical summer and the best unit available would drop those costs to $400. You could justify paying $1,000 more for the more efficient air unit because it delivers 10 years of saving $100 each year.

Almost all major appliances now have yellow tags on them estimating these costs. In fact, they often show the savings available with higher-efficiency alternatives.

Another way to estimate savings is with the online energy analysis tools available in your local cooperative’s Energy Resource Center. Below left is an example that helps members compute the likely cost savings of having a higher-efficiency heat pump.


Higher efficiencies also help reduce the carbon dioxide emissions associated with the operation of these devices. And they tend to be better built, so they may last a little longer.

Another advantage is if you are thinking about selling your home, high-efficiency appliances will help you sell more quickly and at a higher price.

While we are at it, we hope you all have installed light-emitting diode lights to replace your incandescent and have noticed that they save money and last longer, even in comparison to the curly compact fluorescent lamps.

Susan Gilbert is CEO of Apogee Interactive Inc., which works with many Virginia and Maryland electric cooperatives on energy analysis and member satisfaction.