Your entertainment system could save you money during your next Netflix binge

It’s cold outside.

It’s dark at 4:30 p.m.

And Netflix created an entire section of cheesy holiday content.

No one will judge you if you opt to put ...

Tagged: energy star, entertainment, holiday specials, saving energy

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Your entertainment system could save you money during your next Netflix binge

No one will judge you if you opt to put on your Christmas pajamas and stay in for a merry motion picture marathon. But before you do, check to see if your entertainment system is costing you unnecessary dollars.

Key Points

  • It’s Christmas special time!
  • Before you claim the couch for a holiday show marathon, check your entertainment system for energy savings.
  • Your streaming device, TV and sound bar all have settings that can help you save energy. 

It’s cold outside.

It’s dark at 4:30 p.m.

And Netflix created an entire section of cheesy holiday content.

No one will judge you if you opt to put on your Christmas pajamas and stay in for a merry motion picture marathon.

But before you do, check to see if your entertainment system is costing you unnecessary dollars.

According to Energy Star, a home equipped with TVs, set-top boxes, a Blu Ray player and a sound system that have earned the Energy Star label can save consumers nearly $140 over the life of the products.

According to Energy Star, there are some simple hacks to save energy on your Netflix bender:

  • Stream smarter. If your home entertainment system has a game console and a digital media player as streaming device options, always use the digital media player because game consoles use considerably more energy for streaming.
  • Adjust the brightness. Brighter TVs use more energy. Automatic Brightness Control automatically adjusts TV brightness relative to room brightness and reduces power consumption.
  • Use your sound bar’s volume leveling technology. Sound bars can ensure commercials are not louder than show soundtracks. This feature is good for late-night watching, as loud sound effects won't wake sleeping family members. In addition, the lower volumes will save energy.
  • Tell your digital media player to sleep sooner. Some Energy Star certified DMPs, if inactive for a period of time, automatically enter a low-power sleep mode. To maximize savings, you can lower the amount of time it takes for an inactive DMP to go to sleep. If your DMP is not capable of entering sleep mode automatically, manually turn your DMP off whenever you can to maximize your energy savings.

Now sit back, relax and enjoy your Netflix binge. "White Christmas" is a good place to start. 


Sarah FolslandSarah is mom to the two cutest little girls in the world. Before choosing to make changing diapers and reading bed time stories her full time gig, she earned a degree in political science from The University of South Dakota, worked in the governor’s office as a policy analyst and dabbled in communications at her local utility. Follow Sarah on Twitter @EnergyMommy.

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Shopping for a smart thermostat just got a lot easier

Energy Star now has specifications for smart thermostats. That means if you’re not sure which smart thermostat to buy, you can now look for the Energy Star label to help you weed ...

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Shopping for a smart thermostat just got a lot easier

Woman uses a smart thermostat

Energy Star wanted to identify household thermostats that do more than just set the temperature. They set out to determine which smart thermostats result in actual energy savings.

Key Points

  • Using a smart thermostat can save you more than 8 percent on your heating and cooling energy.
  • There are now Energy Star ratings for smart thermostats.
  • The ratings are based on how easy they are to actually use and will make shopping much easier.

Energy Star now has specifications for smart thermostats. That means if you’re not sure which smart thermostat to buy, you can now look for the Energy Star label to help you weed through the options.

The average consumer using an Energy Star-certified smart thermostat will save more than 8 percent of their heating and cooling energy — or about $50 annually.

Figuring out which smart thermostats to endorse was a little trickier than with other products. Energy Star wanted to identify household thermostats that do more than just set the temperature. They set out to determine which smart thermostats result in actual energy savings.

To do that, they relied on information from field data instead of the laboratory tests they usually use to determine how efficient a product is. This field data showed how families and individuals used the thermostat’s technology and gave higher marks for things like connectivity, remote access and demand response.

Still not sure which one to get? Here are a few tips from Energy Star itself.

Which programmable thermostat is best for me?

In general, every programmable thermostat comes with four pre-programmed settings and maintains those settings within two degrees. Many qualified models also come with additional features, such as:

  • Digital, backlit displays
  • Touch pad screen programming
  • Voice and/or phone programming
  • Hold/vacation features
  • Indicators that tell you when it’s time to change air filters
  • Indicators that signal malfunctioning of heating/cooling systems
  • Adaptive recovery/smart recovery features, e.g. control features that sense the amount of time it will take to reach the next set-point temperature and reach desired temperatures by the set time

How do you choose the right one?

To decide which model is best for you, think about your schedule and how often you are away from home for regular periods of time — work, school, other activities — and then decide which of the three different models best fits your schedule: the 7-day, 5+2-day, or the 5-1-1-day.

7-day models are best if your daily schedule tends to change, say, if children are at home earlier on some days. They give you the most flexibility and lets you set different programs for different days — usually with four possible temperature periods per day.

5+2-day models use the same schedule every weekday and another for weekends.

5-1-1 models are best if you tend to keep one schedule Monday through Friday and another schedule on Saturdays and Sundays.

And here’s a video to break it down, no reading required:


Sarah FolslandSarah is mom to the two cutest little girls in the world. Before choosing to make changing diapers and reading bed time stories her full time gig, she earned a degree in political science from The University of South Dakota, worked in the governor’s office as a policy analyst and dabbled in communications at her local utility. Follow Sarah on Twitter @EnergyMommy.

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Forget having to shop for light bulbs yourself; there’s a personal shopper for that

Online personal shoppers are gaining popularity.

Most of my friends have tried at least one Stitch Fix delivery, where you tell a website details about your life, style ...

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Forget having to shop for light bulbs yourself; there’s a personal shopper for that

Personal shopper buying bulbs

Energy Star has a personal shopper questionnaire that will help you determine the perfect bulb for your room. It lays out options for shape, color and brightness and gives you everything you need to get the perfect bulb for the job.

Key Points

  • Energy Star’s Choose a Light guide is a personal shopper for your lighting needs.
  • It will help you figure out the perfect bulb for your room.
  • The guide walks you through options for shape, color and brightness. 

Online personal shoppers are gaining popularity.

Most of my friends have tried at least one Stitch Fix delivery, where you tell a website details about your life, style and budget and a designer sends you a box of clothes. You get to avoid hauling kids around the store and being “that lady” in the dressing room answering her 4-year-old’s questions about the color of her undergarments.

It also introduced me to the concept of yoga dress pants. Because apparently when you answer “yes” to “are you a mom?” on a fashion questionnaire, they assume that anything with a zipper is not going to work for you.

The personal shopper trend can now also help you save energy on your lighting.

Energy Star has a personal shopper questionnaire that will help you determine the perfect bulb for your room. It lays out options for shape, color and brightness and gives you everything you need to get the perfect bulb for the job.

Start your own journal to personal light-bulb shopping here.

Still not convinced that you need a personal light shopper?

Consider that Energy Star bulbs can offer the same brightness while using 90 percent less energy and lasting 15 times longer.

So treat yourself to some energy savings and personal shopping.

And yes, in case you’re wondering, yoga dress pants will change your life. 


Sarah FolslandSarah is mom to the two cutest little girls in the world. Before choosing to make changing diapers and reading bed time stories her full time gig, she earned a degree in political science from The University of South Dakota, worked in the governor’s office as a policy analyst and dabbled in communications at her local utility. Follow Sarah on Twitter @EnergyMommy.

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Maybe Santa should check this list twice

He’s making his list and checking it twice.

And he may find that some of the products on Energy Star’s list are more naughty than nice.

Consumer Reports recently ...

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Maybe Santa should check this list twice

Is that fridge as energy efficient as it says it is?

Consumer Reports recently tested some of the products with the Energy Star label and found that many used much more energy than they claimed.

Key Points

  • Consumer Reports found that some Energy Star products use more energy than they claim.
  • There is no third-party verification for the Energy Star program.
  • The Department of Energy is working on a solution, but make sure to do your homework before buying. 

He’s making his list and checking it twice.

And he may find that some of the products on Energy Star’s list are more naughty than nice.

Consumer Reports recently tested some of the products with the Energy Star label and found that many used much more energy than they claimed.

Particularly, the magazine’s researchers found two refrigerators that used 50 percent more energy than the manufacturer stated.

Celia Kuperszmid-Lehrman, deputy home editor for Consumer Reports, told NPR that part of the problem is that the Energy Star program is self-reporting. That’s good for getting products through the system in a timely manner but also allows for discrepancies. The Department of Energy is working on a solution and plans to start using third-party verification soon.

So what should you do if you’re in the market for a new appliance?

Kuperszmid-Lehrman says it’s still good to use the Energy Star label as a general guideline, but be an informed consumer.

“I think it's a good relative rating," she told NPR. "But there are instances like I've mentioned with refrigerators, with freezers, that the numbers are not quite what they seem to be."

In general, newer models of things like refrigerators and furnaces will likely use less energy than a much older model due to new technology and design improvements, but it’s always good to do your homework to make sure you’re buying something that can also help you save some money on your energy bill.

Energy Star is one tool in the energy saving toolbox, but you can also consult resources like Consumer Reports or talk with your local utility.

In the meantime, I have an extra Elf on the Shelf that may just need to find its way to some manufacturers. And he will surely tell Santa all about any energy consumption discrepancies. 


Sarah FolslandSarah is mom to the two cutest little girls in the world. Before choosing to make changing diapers and reading bed time stories her full time gig, she earned a degree in political science from The University of South Dakota, worked in the governor’s office as a policy analyst and dabbled in communications at her local utility. Follow Sarah on Twitter @EnergyMommy.

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How to buy a new fridge (and not lose your mind)

Shopping is fun. Until it’s not. When you first decide to make a big purchase, like a new refrigerator, it’s exciting to think about choosing the perfect appliance. Stainless ...

Tagged: energy star, Energy Efficiency, refrigerators

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How to buy a new fridge (and not lose your mind)

rows of fridges

But then the reality hits that sorting through all the models can actually be a little stressful. Thankfully, Energy Star breaks it all down so the decision-making process is a little easier.

Key Points

  • New refrigerators have so many options, it can be difficult to choose which model to buy.
  • Many conveniences, like ice makers, require additional energy use.
  • Use Energy Star’s guide to help you decide what’s best for your home. 

Shopping is fun. Until it’s not. When you first decide to make a big purchase, like a new refrigerator, it’s exciting to think about choosing the perfect appliance. Stainless steel, side-by-side doors, ice maker, so many options!

But then the reality hits that sorting through all the models can actually be a little stressful. Thankfully, Energy breaks it all down so the decision-making process is a little easier. For instance, did you know that an Energy Star certified top freezer refrigerator costs about $45 a year to run, a side-by-side costs about $77, and a bottom freezer costs about $70? True story.

Here are a few other things to consider while choosing a new fridge, courtesy of Energy Star.

Look for the Energy Star

Energy Star is the simple choice for saving energy, saving money and helping to protect the environment. After heating, cooling and hot water, the refrigerator is probably the next largest energy user in your home. Thanks to recent improvements in insulation and compressors, today's refrigerators use much less energy than older models. In fact, a 15-year-old refrigerator uses twice as much energy as a new Energy Star-certified model. You could save as much as $260 during the next five years and reduce your carbon footprint by 7,900 pounds by replacing that old refrigerator.

Consider a refrigerator with a top-mounted freezer

Refrigerators are sold in many configurations including top freezer, bottom freezer and side-by-side. Your new refrigerator doesn’t have to be the same configuration you had before, so long as you account for proper sizing as discussed below. A top-freezer refrigerator that has earned the Energy Star uses less energy than a 60-watt light bulb. Top freezer models tend to use the least energy of all refrigerator configurations and are affordably priced.

Purchase an appropriately sized refrigerator

Generally, the larger the refrigerator, the greater the energy consumption. The most energy-efficient models are typically 16-20 cubic feet. When you replace an old refrigerator with a new one, do not keep the old refrigerator for extra cold storage. If your refrigeration needs absolutely cannot be met by a single refrigerator, make sure that the second refrigerator or freezer is an energy-efficient model that is no bigger than what you need. Be certain to recycle your existing second refrigerator.

Consider the features that are most important to you

Think about whether you’ll want an icemaker, through-the-door ice or hot water so that you only pay for what you use — both in the initial purchase price and over the lifetime of the product. For example, through-the-door ice adds about 84 kWh of energy — or $10 per year — to your utility bill. Peruse the Energy Star Product Finder to compare features among energy-efficient refrigerator models and optimize your purchase. 

Recycle your old refrigerator

Recycling old refrigerators is another important way to help prevent global warming. Not only does it prevent energy-wasting units from ending up in someone else’s home, but it avoids the release of harmful materials. Keeping all that old refrigerant and foam from getting into the environment could prevent an extra 10,000 pounds of greenhouse gas emissions. Learn how to Flip Your Fridge and save.

Take advantage of utility rebates

Visit the Energy Star Rebate Finder to check for special offers from your local utility on purchasing a new refrigerator and/or recycling an old one.


Sarah FolslandSarah is mom to the two cutest little girls in the world. Before choosing to make changing diapers and reading bed time stories her full time gig, she earned a degree in political science from The University of South Dakota, worked in the governor’s office as a policy analyst and dabbled in communications at her local utility. Follow Sarah on Twitter @EnergyMommy.

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And the 2015 winners are…

The year is nearly over (Yes, Christmas is next week. Deep breath. Go to your happy place. Continue reading.)

After 12 months comes the big announcement you’ve all been ...

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And the 2015 winners are…

The Most Efficient 2015

Get comfortable because you’re going to want to soak this in.

Key Points

  • Energy Star named its “Most Efficient” 2015 winners.
  • Winners are the best in energy efficiency and technological innovation.
  • Categories include TVs, clothes washers, refrigerators and dishwashers to name a few. 

The year is nearly over (Yes, Christmas is next week. Deep breath. Go to your happy place. Continue reading.)

After 12 months comes the big announcement you’ve all been waiting for: “The Energy Star Most Efficient 2015.” Get comfortable because you’re going to want to soak this in.

As the EPA describes it, the Most Efficient 2015 is a “new distinction that recognizes products that deliver cutting edge energy efficiency along with the latest in technological innovation.” It’s like the Oscars but with no celebrities and more downloadable excel spreadsheets noting annual energy use.

Award categories include clothes washers, refrigerators, televisions and windows, to name a few. And the winners are impressive. Samsung, Sony, LG and Philips all had larger screen TVs make the cut with features including “Wide Color Enhancer Plus,” HD 1080p, surround sound, WiFi, LGD backlighting, and my personal favorite, a “Magic Remote Universal Control.”

Only two dishwashers made the cut, one from Bloomberg and one from Viking. The Viking Range is $1,999. Yeah, you read that right. It claims to “provide spotless dishes with three wash arms and a triple filtration system.” But can it clean the sippy cup with curdled milk I found in the back of my car? I’ll likely never know because did I mention it costs $1,999?

It is a fun list to peruse though, even if you’re not currently in the market for every item on there. See all the 2015 winners here. And let me know if you purchase the Viking dishwasher. I have some challenges for it. 


Sarah FolslandSarah is mom to the two cutest little girls in the entire world. Before choosing to make changing diapers and reading bed time stories her full time gig, she earned an M.A.in Political Science from The University of South Dakota, worked in the Governor’s Office as a policy analyst and dabbled in communications at her local utility. Follow Sarah on Twitter @EnergyMommy.

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It’s your day to be a star

I don’t want to brag, but I’m kind of a big deal. I’m a star. An ENERGYstar.

OK, so maybe all you have to do to become an ENERGYstar is print a door hanger, but considering ...

Tagged: energy star, energy efficient

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It’s your day to be a star

Star at night

If you want to take your stardom up a notch, you can make an ENERGYstar pledge.

Key Points

  • ENERGYstar Day is coming up October 27.
  • You can take a pledge to do energy efficient things, like change light bulbs and such.
  • Can I have your autograph? 

I don’t want to brag, but I’m kind of a big deal. I’m a star. An ENERGYstar.

OK, so maybe all you have to do to become an ENERGYstar is print a door hanger, but considering my home office technical difficulties and the fact that I had to hunt down a blank piece of paper from my 3-year-old’s art supplies, I consider that a major accomplishment. Also, don’t get me started on the wrath of a toddler who doesn’t want to share her art supplies. I tried to explain that I needed it to change the world, but that had nothing on her Picasso plans.

If you want to take your stardom up a notch (we’re talking Kardashian levels here), you can make an ENERGYstar pledge. You can resolve to do things like change a few light bulbs or purchase an energy-efficient gas water heater.

ENERGYstar day is coming up Oct. 27. Mark your calendars, and take a pledge now. Then offer your co-workers your autograph. Because you’re star, baby!


Sarah FolslandSarah is mom to the two cutest little girls in the entire world. Before choosing to make changing diapers and reading bed time stories her full time gig, she earned an M.A.in Political Science from The University of South Dakota, worked in the Governor’s Office as a policy analyst and dabbled in communications at her local utility. Follow Sarah on Twitter @EnergyMommy.

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Now here’s something to humble brag about

I’m used to seeing Energy Star labels on things like refrigerators and lightbulbs. But did you know that you can get an Energy Star house? Yep, entire houses can earn that special ...

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Now here’s something to humble brag about

Suburban neighborhood from above

Up your energy efficiency game and get your house Energy Star approved

Key Points

  • There’s such a thing as an ENERGY STAR home.
  • They’re really energy efficient.
  • If you live in an ENERGY STAR home, you should humble brag about it. 

I’m used to seeing Energy Star labels on things like refrigerators and lightbulbs. But did you know that you can get an Energy Star house? Yep, entire houses can earn that special Energy Star label.

No, you don’t have to print a gigantic logo on your siding. Unless you want to. If you achieve that status, you would probably want to humble brag about it (“My laundry has really piled up while I’ve been working on getting my house Energy Star certified.” #myhouseisgreenerthanyours).

According to Gina McCarthy, Administrator for the EPA, Energy Star homes are energy efficient from the ground up, and most go through a rigorous certification process to get the seal of approval. Here’s a glimpse of what Energy Star homes include:

  • A thermal enclosure system with comprehensive air sealing, quality-installed insulation, and high-performance windows to deliver improved comfort and lower utility bills;
  • A high-efficiency heating, ventilating and cooling system that's designed and installed for optimal performance;
  • A comprehensive water management system to protect roofs, walls and foundations from moisture damage; and
  • Energy-efficient lighting and appliances that keep utility bills low while providing better performance and longevity.

Thinking about upping your energy efficiency game and getting your house Energy Star approved? Here are a few resources to help you get started:

Now back to the humble brag. What’s the best one you’ve heard? Or maybe you’re even guilty of yourself. Please share them below.  


Sarah FolslandSarah is mom to the two cutest little girls in the entire world. Before choosing to make changing diapers and reading bed time stories her full time gig, she earned an M.A.in Political Science from The University of South Dakota, worked in the Governor’s Office as a policy analyst and dabbled in communications at her local utility. Follow Sarah on Twitter @EnergyMommy.

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Sibling showdown: Using 30 years of rivalry to motivate change

I just got a Fitbit, and I’m addicted. I know that exercise is good for me, but now that I have the chance to help my health ...

Tagged: save energy, competition, EPA, energy star, Fitbit, Campus Conservation Nationals

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Sibling showdown: Using 30 years of rivalry to motivate change

Sarah and her sister

If helping future generations and your pocketbook still isn’t enough to motivate you, maybe you need a little friendly competition to get going.

Key Points

  • Energy reduction competitions are getting popular.
  • They use competition to motivate us to be more energy efficient.
  • Is sibling rivalry weird in your 30s? 

I just got a Fitbit, and I’m addicted. I know that exercise is good for me, but now that I have the chance to help my health and beat my sister in our Fitbit steps competition, I’m even more motivated to sweat (#middlechild, #siblingrivalry).

The same might be true for saving energy.

Sure, being energy efficient can save you money and reduce your footprint on the world, making it a better place for your kids and grandkids to live. But if helping future generations and your pocketbook still isn’t enough to motivate you, maybe you need a little friendly competition to get going.

Energy reduction competitions are gaining popularity. One competition, the Campus Conservation Nationals, just celebrated its fifth year, pitting 125 schools against one another to see which is the best at conserving energy. Other programs in California, Kansas and the EPA’s Energy Star National Building Competition have gained steam using our competitive natures as an energy efficiency motivator.

The California Institute for Energy and the Environment recently published a report on the effectiveness of these energy reduction competitions. The study found that competitions resulted in an average energy reduction of about 5 percent. Not bad.

The tricky part is determining if the competitions lead to lasting change. Do people still turn the A/C off at night and open windows even after the competition ends? There isn’t any concrete evidence that the competitions lead to new long term habits, but anecdotal data collected by the study suggests that it does.

Do competitions — for exercise, energy efficiency, or otherwise — motivate you?

Oh, and for the record, I’m totally beating my sister in Fitbit steps.  


Sarah FolslandSarah is mom to the two cutest little girls in the entire world. Before choosing to make changing diapers and reading bed time stories her full time gig, she earned an M.A.in Political Science from The University of South Dakota, worked in the Governor’s Office as a policy analyst and dabbled in communications at her local utility. Follow Sarah on Twitter @EnergyMommy.

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Where does your city rank?

When Estately analyzed Google search histories, they found that people ...

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Where does your city rank?

Jazzercise leg stretch

When I saw that the EPA released its 25 Most Efficient Cities list, I felt hopeful that maybe a city in my state made the list.

Key Points

  • Nebraskans like to jazzercise.
  • The EPA just released its 25 Most Efficient Cities list this year.
  • Washington, D.C. took the top spot. 

When Estately analyzed Google search histories, they found that people in Nebraska google the word “Jazzercize” more than the people of any other state. South Dakotans like to search for “Nickelback” and Coloradans searched a lot for “Paleo Diet.”

So when I saw that the EPA released its 25 Most Efficient Cities list this year, I felt hopeful that maybe a city in my state, or at least one of our neighbors, made the list. I wanted us to have something to identify with other than a 90’s Canadian rock band.

We didn’t do too badly.

My Midwest neighbors got a little recognition, with Denver ranking number nine in the big-city category. In the mid-size city category, Des Moines landed at number seven and Fort Collins, Colorado reached number nine. For small cities, Sioux City came it number three. And, since Sioux City is technically part of South Dakota, Nebraska and Iowa, I’m claiming it as a big win.

Washington, D.C. nabbed the top spot for big cities this year, dethroning six year winner Los Angeles.

Here is the full list.

The EPA determines the winners based on the number of Energy Star Buildings the city has. The main focus is on commercial buildings since they consume a majority of a city’s energy. According to the EPA’s press release, Energy Star Buildings use 35 percent less energy and are responsible for 35 percent fewer emissions than typical buildings.

And now, back to getting my Jazzercize on to “How You Remind Me” while eating beef jerky. 

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Bet you didn’t know these products have ENERGY STAR ratings

When I think about ENERGY STAR ratings, products like dishwashers, refrigerators ...

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Bet you didn’t know these products have ENERGY STAR ratings

Covered red box

There are lots of things we use every day that are ENERGY STAR certified.

Key Points

  • ENERGY STAR certifies a wide variety of products.
  • Products must meet energy efficiency requirements to get the ENERGY STAR seal of approval.
  • To qualify for ENERGY STAR certification, the energy efficiency savings must justify the increased up front cost of the product. 

When I think about ENERGY STAR ratings, products like dishwashers, refrigerators and hot water heaters come to mind. But there are lots of other things we use every day that are ENERGY STAR certified. Here are a few that might surprise you:

  • Ceiling fans: ENERGY STAR rated ceiling fans are 60% more efficient than conventional fan/light units, which can save you more than $15 per year on utility bills.
  • Telephones: ENERGY STAR certified cordless phones, answering machines and combination units perform much more efficiently and use about half the energy of standard units by incorporating improved energy performance features such as switch-mode power supplies and "smart" chargers.
  • Cable boxes: ENERGY STAR certified set-top boxes are, on average, 40 percent more efficient than conventional models. In fact, if all set-top boxes in the U.S. met ENERGY STAR requirements, consumer energy cost savings would grow to about $1 billion each year, reducing greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to those from about 2 million cars.

It’s not easy for products to get an ENERGY STAR rating. Here are the EPA’s guiding principles that determine if of product gets the seal of approval:

  • Product categories must contribute significant energy savings nationwide.
  • Qualified products must deliver the features and performance demanded by consumers, in addition to increased energy efficiency.
  • If the qualified product costs more than a conventional, less-efficient counterpart, purchasers will recover their investment in increased energy efficiency through utility bill savings, within a reasonable period of time.
  • Energy efficiency can be achieved through broadly available, non-proprietary technologies offered by more than one manufacturer.
  • Product energy consumption and performance can be measured and verified with testing.
  • Labeling would effectively differentiate products and be visible for purchasers.

Go to energystar.gov for more information about how efficient use of products can help you save energy and money.  


Sarah FolslandSarah is mom to the two cutest little girls in the entire world. Before choosing to make changing diapers and reading bed time stories her full time gig, she earned an M.A.in Political Science from The University of South Dakota, worked in the Governor’s Office as a policy analyst and dabbled in communications at her local utility. Follow Sarah on Twitter @EnergyMommy.

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Simple morning hacks to help you save energy all day

A good morning can set a great tone for the entire day.

Benjamin Franklin started every morning with a simple routine: “Rise, wash, and address Powerful Goodness. Contrive ...

Tagged: morning, Energy Efficiency, EPA-certified, energy star

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Simple morning hacks to help you save energy all day

Good morning written in toast

Adding these simple steps to your morning routine will help you save energy before you’ve even left the house.

Key Points

  • You can save energy before you even leave the house in the morning.
  • Take a shower instead of a bath and set a programmable thermostat.
  • Use a drip machine to make your coffee, and skip your dishwasher’s dry heat cycle.

A good morning can set a great tone for the entire day.

Benjamin Franklin started every morning with a simple routine: “Rise, wash, and address Powerful Goodness. Contrive day’s business, and take the resolution of the day: prosecute and present study, and breakfast.” 

Here’s how Steve Jobs describes his morning routine:

“For the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: ‘If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?’ And whenever the answer has been no for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.”

My morning routine is pretty similar to Benjamin’s. I just add a few things to his template, like getting dressed one-handed while holding a baby, letting a toddler pick out my shoes (which sometimes even match), playing three rounds of hide-and-seek and doing the limbo to the Wiggles while we make toast. It does include a lot of “addressing Powerful Goodness.” 

However you start your day, adding these simple steps to your morning routine will help you save energy before you’ve even left the house.

  • Skip the bath, take a smart shower — In general, showers use less water than baths, and that means your hot water heater isn’t sucking up as much energy. There are several variables — size of bath, how long your shower is (I’m talking to you, 20-minute-shower-husband), and what kind of showerhead you have. But overall the Alliance for Water Efficiency found that a shower is the way to go. But make sure you’re making that shower efficient. About 20 percent of every shower is wasted when we turn on the nozzle, then leave to wait until the water gets hot. Your hot water heater accounts for about 17 percent of your home’s total electric use, so minimizing the time unused hot water is pouring down your drain can add up to big savings in a hurry. Make sure your shower head is EPA-certified to save on average 370 kilowatt-hours of electricity a year — enough to power a home for about 13 days. 
  • Program your thermostat — According to EnergyStar, using a programmable thermostat can save you about $180 every year in energy costs. This option is ideal for people who are away from home during set periods of time throughout the week.
  • Brew an efficient cup — Drip machines use less energy than single serve pod machines. To maximize your energy savings, unplug your machine after you pour your cup, or at a minimum, turn off the burner. Use a thermos-type cup to keep your brew warm instead of reheating it halfway through your sipping.
  • Let the dishes dry while you’re out — Run the dishwasher before you leave and skip the high-heat dry cycle at the end. The dishes can dry while you’re at work. As a bonus, you can cross your fingers that your spouse will put them away if he or she beats you home that evening.


Sarah FolslandSarah is mom to the two cutest little girls in the entire world. Before choosing to make changing diapers and reading bed time stories her full time gig, she earned an M.A.in Political Science from The University of South Dakota, worked in the Governor’s Office as a policy analyst and dabbled in communications at her local utility. Follow Sarah on Twitter @EnergyMommy.

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Drip, pod or espresso: Which cup of Joe is most energy efficient?

My good friend Hillary recently gave up coffee. And she’s still alive.

This baffles me. I cannot imagine a world without coffee. When I get my 2-year-old out of bed in ...

Tagged: coffee, Energy, espresso, energy star

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Drip, pod or espresso: Which cup of Joe is most energy efficient?

cup of coffee

It takes a lot of energy to brew all of the coffee consumed in households, workplaces, hotels and coffee shops nationwide.

Key Points

  • Americans drink lots of coffee.
  • It takes energy to make coffee.
  • Drip machines are the most energy efficient way to brew a cup. 

My good friend Hillary recently gave up coffee. And she’s still alive.

This baffles me. I cannot imagine a world without coffee. When I get my 2-year-old out of bed in the morning, she asks, “Can I help you make coffee?” Yes, I have a problem. 

But I’m in good company. According to a report by Energy Star, in 2010, Americans spent $1.122 million on coffee makers.  That’s just the machines. It doesn’t include the cups you purchased at the coffee shop or the coffee beans to make it at home.

Our addiction is so widespread that our culture is set up to accommodate it. The Energy Star report estimates that there are 4.25 million coffee makers in U.S. hotel guestrooms. Your office likely has a machine. Even my church has caffeine ready for me before I head into Sunday service (and my faith has greatly increased since they started offering this option).

Coffee makers don’t account for a huge chunk of your home’s energy consumption – only about a half a percent. But, when you multiply the energy it takes to brew a cup by all of the coffee consumed in households, workplaces, hotels and coffee shops nationwide, there’s a lot of energy that goes toward America’s caffeine boost each day. 

Here’s a breakdown of how much power it takes to brew a cup by method, according to Energy Star:

 

Product Type

Input Power Rating

Automatic Drip Filter  Small Capacity (4/5 cup) 550-900 W
Automatic Drip Filter  Full Size (10/12 cup) 750-1200 W
Single-Serve Coffee Maker  Capsule 900-1500 W 
Espresso Machine  Pump & Fully Automatic 1000-1500 W
Espresso Machine  Steam  600-800 W 

 

 

The report notes that it’s difficult to compare the power rating of machines because consumers use them so differently. Most of the energy savings for each method of brewing can be achieved by good energy efficiency practices.

Here are ways to make your cup of Joe as energy efficient as possible:

  • Unplug — Your coffee maker is using energy even when it’s not brewing. Unplug it after your morning cup.
  • Use a thermos — The most energy is lost when we let heat escape during the brewing and sipping process. Using a thermos-type cup will help capture that heat and reduce wasted energy.
  • Turn off the burner — If you’re using a drip machine, turn off the burner after you’re done drinking. It’s common for the burner to remain on even when everyone in the household has had their caffeine fix. Make sure to turn it off to avoid energy waste and a hard-to-clean pot with burnt coffee at the bottom.
  • Bonus tip — If you use single serve pods to brew your coffee, consider using the reusable pods you put your own grounds in to reduce waste.

Finally, check this out for a good coffee chuckle. It might explain why Hillary gave up coffee.   


Sarah FolslandSarah is mom to the two cutest little girls in the entire world. Before choosing to make changing diapers and reading bed time stories her full time gig, she earned an M.A.in Political Science from The University of South Dakota, worked in the Governor’s Office as a policy analyst and dabbled in communications at her local utility. Follow Sarah on Twitter @EnergyMommy.

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The crazy new invention that will completely change your life

Breaking news. You can now purchase an Energy-Star-approved clothes dryer.

Wait, ...

Tagged: energy star, clothes dryer, Natural Gas, laundry

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The crazy new invention that will completely change your life

Mystery box

I thought Energy-Star rated all major appliances, but until recently they hadn’t found clothes dryers worthy of their seal of approval.

Key Points

  • Energy Star recently put its seal of approval on clothes dryers.
  • The approved ones use 20 percent less energy than conventional models.
  • Use settings like sensor drying and low heat to save even more energy. 

Breaking news. You can now purchase an Energy-Star-approved clothes dryer.

Wait, doesn’t that already exist? 

Surprising, right? I thought Energy-Star rated all major appliances, but until recently they hadn’t found clothes dryers worthy of their seal of approval.

Thanks to new features like moisture sensors that can turn the dryer off when your clothes are dry, the certified dryers use 20 percent less energy than conventional models. Considering that the average family in the U.S. does 300 loads of laundry a year, those savings can really add up. In my house, we do what must be at least 300 loads a week, so we’re sure to save a lot.

If you want to save even more, here are some tips from Energy Star:

  • Sensor Drying. Use sensor drying, not timed drying. Energy Star dryer models incorporate advanced moisture sensors to help you reduce your dryer’s energy use. This feature ensures that your dryer will automatically shut off when clothes are dry.
  • Low heat setting. Longer drying cycles on a low heat setting use less energy. When you purchase an Energy-Star-certified clothes dryer, look in the informational materials shipped with the product for which cycle was tested for certification and how the dryer’s other cycles or settings may use more or less energy.
  • Consider natural gas. Eighty percent of dryers in the U.S. are electric. If you have the option, consider using a natural gas dryer to save money and reduce your environmental impact.
  • Savings by the pair. An Energy-Star-certified washer/dryer pair will save even more energy and money while doing your laundry. Clothes washers that have earned the Energy Star logo incorporate advanced technology and functionality to get significantly more water out of your clothes in its final spin cycle than a conventional model. This makes it easier for clothing to dry in an Energy-Star-certified dryer using less heat. Less heat means energy savings and reduced wear and tear on your clothes caused by over-drying.

Bonus tip: Make sure to clean your lint filter after each use. The National Fire Protection Association says that the leading cause of washer and dryer fires is a failure to clean them. Plus, it takes longer for your appliance to dry clothes with a full filter, a big waste of energy. I personally love to clean our lint filter. Seeing a solid piece of pink lint laced with glitter makes me smile. #housefullofgirls


Sarah FolslandSarah is mom to the two cutest little girls in the entire world. Before choosing to make changing diapers and reading bed time stories her full time gig, she earned an M.A.in Political Science from The University of South Dakota, worked in the Governor’s Office as a policy analyst, and dabbled in communications at her local utility. Follow Sarah on Twitter @EnergyMommy.

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Which is more energy efficient – washing dishes by hand or using a dishwasher?

After your Thanksgiving feast this week, will you wash your dishes by hand or in a dishwasher? This is a bit of a debate in my family. My mom always washes by hand – even when ...

Tagged: dish washer, energy star

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Which is more energy efficient – washing dishes by hand or using a dishwasher?

Dirty Dishes

If you’re feeding family, chances are you have enough dishes to use a standard capacity model. Fewer loads – even if they’re in a bigger washer – means lower energy costs.

Key Points

  • Dishwashers use less hot water than washing dishes by hand.
  • Use an EnergyStar-rated dishwasher.
  • Use the booster heater on your dishwasher, and turn down the temp on your water heater. 

After your Thanksgiving feast this week, will you wash your dishes by hand or in a dishwasher? This is a bit of a debate in my family. My mom always washes by hand – even when there’s a perfectly good dishwasher available. I throw everything in the dishwasher and usually don’t even take the time to rinse them first.

To settle the debate once and for all, let’s examine whose approach is more efficient in terms of which uses less water to get the job done. Less hot water means your water heater won’t have to work so hard. That’s good for the environment and good for your energy bill.

According to energy.gov, the dishwasher is the way to go. But you have to do it right to reap the efficiency benefits. First, make sure you run full loads. Second, don’t be fooled by compact capacity dishwashers. Their EnergyGuide Label may give them a better energy efficiency rating, but since they hold fewer dishes, you may have to run more loads. If you’re feeding family, chances are you have enough dishes to use a standard capacity model. Fewer loads – even if they’re in a bigger washer – means lower energy costs.

Energy.gov also recommends using a dishwasher with a booster heater. The booster heats the water used to wash the dishes to 140 degrees. The energy savings comes from being able to turn down the water temperature on your main water heater, letting the dishwasher heat it up to that high temperature.

Finally, if your dishes aren’t covered in grease and dried cranberry sauce, considering using one of your machine’s shorter cycles. They use less water and can reduce your energy cost even more.

So there you have it.  Of course, if my mom offers to wash my dishes, I’ll let her do it. Even if it is by hand.  

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How much is that extra fridge costing us?

I have a confession. We have an extra fridge in the garage.  We bought a fancy new fridge for our kitchen a couple years ago, and as I congratulated myself for getting an energy-efficient ...

Tagged: energy star

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How much is that extra fridge costing us?

If you do decide to use an extra fridge, try to get one that is efficient.

Key Points

  • That extra fridge in the garage costs us on our electric bills.
  • Find out just how much with this ENERGY STAR calculator.
  • If you decide to use an extra fridge, try to find one that’s efficient.

I have a confession. We have an extra fridge in the garage.  We bought a fancy new fridge for our kitchen a couple years ago, and as I congratulated myself for getting an energy-efficient appliance, I moved the old one to the garage. Yeah, I’m smart like that.

But, I have to admit, it’s nice to have the extra space for beverages or make-ahead food on holidays. As a former utility employee, I know this isn’t the best move for energy efficiency. In fact, my local utility would even pay me cash to come pick it up.

So when a reader commented that she would like to know how much her extra fridge costs, I jumped at the chance to get the facts.

The Energy Star website has a great calculator. They said I could save $380 in five years if I said goodbye to our extra fridge. To get a second opinion, I filled out the free online home energy audit my utility offers. According to that report, I could save $64 a year without the fridge. That’s $320 in five years, pretty close to what the Energy Star guys said. I guess I have to believe it then.

There are a few other things to consider. If the garage isn’t cooled, the fridge will have to work extra hard to maintain the inside temperature. The same rules that apply to energy efficiency in your kitchen apply to your garage. Newer, smaller models will use less energy. Side-by-sides use more energy than top and bottom models. And Energy Star rated models are your best bet for saving on electric costs.

Bottom line? If you do decide to use an extra fridge, try to get one that is efficient. Check your local utility’s rebate programs to see if they offer any incentives to purchase efficient models.

If you have an extra fridge, do you think it’s worth the extra expense on your electric bill? 

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How to pitch home makeover expenses to your spouse

Have you seen Fixer Upper on HGTV? I’m obsessed with it. I love Joanna’s style. I wish she would come decorate my house, then stay and be my best friend forever. Our kids would ...

Tagged: energy star, windows

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How to pitch home makeover expenses to your spouse

According to the folks over at Energy Star, we could save $352 a year if we replace our single pane windows with Energy Star ones.

Key Points

  • I want cute new cottage windows.
  • Here’s how I pitched the expense to my husband.
  • I hereby agree to no longer cyber stalk Joanna Gaines, star of HGTV’s Fixer Upper (lawyers are no fun). 

Have you seen Fixer Upper on HGTV? I’m obsessed with it. I love Joanna’s style. I wish she would come decorate my house, then stay and be my best friend forever. Our kids would laugh and play while Joanna and I went to flea markets to find new one-of-a-kind pieces for our homes. Then we’d sip coffee and laugh for hours while shopping for new boots and infinity scarves.

But before the Gaines issue a restraining order, I better get to the point of how this fits into keeping energy affordable. While watching Fixer Upper the other night, I fell in love with one home’s adorable cottage windows. My 1970’s era windows that crank open and closed are fine, but having cottage window panes (and if I really dared to dream, indoor shutters) would be oh-so-cute. But try explaining this to my accountant husband.

Me: I love those windows! I want them!

Husband: We have windows.

Me. But Joanna is my best friend, and she would want me to have them!

Husband: Justify the expense, and we’ll talk.

So here goes.

According to the folks over at Energy Star, we could save $352 a year if we replace our single pane windows with Energy Star ones.

After consulting several retailer websites, it looks like the average cost for window replacement is around $350 on the low side, including materials and labor. That sounded pretty good, until I realized we have eight windows I’d want replaced. I’m no mathematician, but I don’t think eight years to recover the costs is going to fly with the husband. Plus, he’d probably start to talk to me about the time value of money, and I can’t be bothered with that when I need cute new cottage windows. Now.

So I did the online home energy audit on my utility’s website. And guess what? The results said that considering when our house was built and the square footage of our glass space, we could actually save up to $732 a year if we replaced our windows.

Now we’re talking. I’ll let you know how my sales pitch goes.

Have you recently made any upgrades to your house to save money on your energy bills? Do you have any other tips for how I can justify the upfront costs of new windows? Tell me in the comments below. 

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