Green Appliances: Energy efficiency makes a difference

Green appliances? There are no true green appliances. The idea that an appliances can be green or environmentally friendly is something of an oxymoron in my opinion. Appliances use electricity by definition. Using electricity is linked to the consumption of non-renewable resources and fossil fuels which is linked to the production of carbon dioxide or “greenhouse gas emissions”. So there are no true green appliances.

But what’s the alternative? Some (like the couple in A Year without Toilet Paper) have very admirably tried living a no ecological impact lifestyle. It’s a huge lifestyle change and even they haven’t been able to go without light bulbs and a stove. Most of us aren’t quite ready for that extreme just yet. So we turn to technology to produce appliances that allow us to maintain our lifestyles but with less of an impact on the planet. Long live green appliances (and toilet paper).

So what’s makes a green appliance, well, green?

  • energy efficiency
  • water efficiency
  • recyclable components

The subject of green appliances is huge so I’ll only be covering energy efficiency in this article.

Energy Star – the universal symbol for energy efficient appliances

The Energy Star Logo - universal symbol for energy efficient appliances

When buying a new appliance, look for the Energy Star label. The Energy Star program was introduced in 1992 by the US Environmental Protection Agency, as a way to promote energy efficient, environmentally friendly products and practices. Appliances that earn the Energy Star label have to meet and exceed stringent standards for energy efficiency.

Over time, the program has paid off in huge savings – both to consumers and to the environment.

In 2006, Americans saved $14 billion in utility bills while preventing greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to 25 million cars by participating in Energy Star program. Put another way, if just one in 10 homes used an Energy Star appliance the environmental impact would be the same as planting 1.7 million new acres of trees (source: US Energy Star stats). Buying energy efficient appliances can and does make a huge difference to the environment.

Here is some info on the energy savings associated with the different types of Energy Star appliances.

Washing Machines

An Energy Star qualified washing machine uses 50% less energy than a standard washing machine. They also typically use less water and extract more water during the spin cycle to cut drying time and save wear and tear on your clothes.


Buying an Energy Star rated dehumidifier will save 10-20% in energy costs over non-rated model.


An Energy Star qualified dishwasher uses at least 41% less energy than the minimum standard. Like washing machines, they typically also use less water and less hot water in particular.

Refrigerators & Freezers

Energy Star rated refrigerators use 15% less energy than current standards and 40% less energy than similar models made in 2001. Freezers use 10-20% less energy, depending on design. The energy savings come from improved compressor technology, better insulation, and better thermostat control.

Room Air Conditioners

Energy Star rated air conditioners use at least 10% less energy than conventional models.

What about clothes dryers?

Some appliances don’t qualify for Energy Star like clothes dryers (they’re energy hogs) but you should still choose a more energy efficient model where you can.

Green appliances: the bottom line

Technological advances cost money so chances are green appliances will cost you more … but will save you money in operating costs (energy bills) over the life of the appliance, more than enough to make up for the initial cost.

Even better, you can sometimes get a rebate on your Energy Star purchase. Check out this page for rebates and incentives for Energy Star products available across Canada. Or you can search for special offers and rebates in the USA here.

All while helping to protect the environment. For more info, check out below.

Energy Star in the USA:

Energy Star in Canada:

Does this energy efficient lightbulb make me look fat? Women shun CFLs in droves.

Women don’t like compact florescent (CFL) bulbs. We talk a lot of green – and why shouldn’t we? Studies show women are generally “more receptive to environmental concerns“. But when it comes to buying and using the new energy efficient compact florescent (CFL) bulbs, actions speak louder than words.

A Washington Post-ABC News poll released last week showed that while women are more likely than men to say they are “very willing” to change behavior to help the environment, they are less likely to have CFL bulbs at home. Wal-Mart company research shows a similar “disconnect” between the pro-environmental attitudes of women shoppers and their in-store purchases of CFL bulbs.

The explanation for this green gender gap? Memories of compact florescent light bulbs past.

They were bulky. They were expensive, as much as $25 each. They had an annoying flicker and hum. They cast an icky, cold-white light that made people look pale, wrinkly and old.

Well that’ll do it right there. According to the article, women are “nesters”, concerned about how things look. Men put the CFLs in and women take them out. Maybe it’s about ambiance. But maybe women don’t want to look at pale, wrinkly, old husbands either.

I must confess I use CFLs through the home, including the master bedroom (really low wattage) but not in my office. I’ve tried to use them but found the working experience highly unpleasant. Sounds like it’s time to try again. Compact florescent bulbs are better now. Some are supposed to even approximate the cozy warm glow of incandescent lighting. But attitudes take longer to change than technology.

I tried to find the original poll on both the Washington Times and ABC News websites but all I found is that someone at ABC can predict the future; my query for “compact florescent” returned results from the years 2201, 5005 and up. But no poll from April of this year. Shucks to rely on ABC.

Guess we’ll have to take their word for it. Read the source article, Some wives resent energy-saving bulbs from the Washington Times, reprinted on the Nashua Telegraph.

Deconstructing the big green hallucination

Want good, insightful reading on the challenges of the green revolution? Then look no further than Is it all a ‘green hallucination’?, a news report covering noted NY Times & Pulitzer prize winning journalist Thomas Friedman’s presentation at the Aspen Ideas Festival last night.

There have been a lot of global warning naysayers in the news lately but Friedman is not one of them; he believes the threat is real. In fact, there’s another problem at hand.

He isn’t buying the hype that humans are doing anything meaningful to promote global cooling …

There is a saying in the Pentagon that a vision without resources to act on it is a hallucination, Friedman said … “Right now I think we’re in the middle of a big green hallucination.”

Friedman goes on to label the global warming crisis as the greatest threat facing humankind – “We’re talking about changing the weather” and advocates that the word “green” be reinvented; ownership of the word needs to pass from “environmental extremists and granola eaters” into the mainstream.

Fascinating ideas from one of the controversial journalists of our time. Read more …

Defending the Green Gestapo

Carbon Cops - Transforming Energy Use

Well at least on TV! This is in response to Robert Tracinski’s recent opinion piece, The Seeds of the Global Warming Police State where he rails against global warming hysteria and environmentalist “eagerness to reach into the smallest details of our private existence and re-arrange our lifestyle to fit the austere requirements of their political ideology”.

He lambastes Australian home improvement TV Show Carbon Cops and other media as examples of green ideology gone too far, criticizes green legislative initiatives, and concludes as follows:

Australia’s “carbon cops” may be fictional, but they are the harbinger of a real attempt to use the power of the state to strip us of the accoutrements of prosperity: our light bulbs, our cars, our televisions, our freshly laundered towels.

Um, it’s just a TV show :-) . But let’s hear him out …

In a bizarre inversion of the typical American home improvement show, the experts in this show descend on the hapless homeowners to measure their “carbon footprint,” the amount of fossil fuels involved in the manufacture and use of every item in their house. The “carbon cops” are shown rummaging through a family’s smallest household items, searching for global warming contraband–and then scolding them for “polluting” the atmosphere with carbon dioxide.

Each week they don their orange monogrammed shirts to cordon off the toxic home of an Australian family. They arrive with energy-auditing gadgetry, sobering statistics, and lips and eyebrows curled in withering admonishment. They rate these people, shame them, then challenge them to do better.

What bizarre inversion? Making homeowners feel bad for their tacky taste, DIY incompetence or just plain ignorance in exchange for a free remodel and 22 minutes of fame is a standard formula, totally acceptable as “entertainment” in the Home Improvement TV industry. Reality TV is a faustian bargain at best and we all know there’s no such thing as a free lunch.

Green television in particular has suffered from being boring and has failed to catch on, in spite of the weighty issues at hand.

In a medium that thrives on explosive hits, the merely smouldering issue of global warming is proving about as gripping as watching trees grow … This year we’ve already seen two well-intentioned environmental awareness shows come and go …
- smh article

Perhaps the Carbon Cops are trying to stir things up, be controversial for commercial crossover appeal? Hence the dayglo suits and police tape. It’s a gimmick. And going for some emotional shock value by making the family “feel bad about how they live, only in a smiling pleasant way” seems to be part of it, rightly or wrongly. “Blame, embarrassment and middleclass guilt are the key ingredients”.

As Tracinski points out, the “victims” (I prefer homeowners) are willing participants. As the sign up form explains:

Each household involved will have their home’s structure, appliances, vehicles and habits assessed for energy efficiency. You will then be supported and inspired to make physical and habitual changes.

So there you go – “supported and inspired” to change. But if you sign up for a show with the word “cops” in the name, don’t expect it to be “Carbon Crossing Guards”.

The goal of the show is to get behavioral change out of the participants and viewers. To educate and enlighten … but also to trigger a real change in the choices we make day to day. But for people to be motivated to change, they need to feel uncomfortable about where they are now (cognitive dissonance theory). And integrate new information, a better way of doing things, as a way to resolve that conflict. We may not like it emotionally, but Carbon Cops is doing exactly what they said they would do.

A couple of things “inconvenient truths” Tracinski failed mention. First of all, not everyone felt ashamed. Mom was mortified but dad was quoted as saying “the global warming scare is all bollocks anyway“. Secondly, Tracinski chose to ignore the show’s stated goal in the article he referenced: to show people “how easy it is for them to reduce their carbon emissions without having a huge impact on their lifestyle“. Probably because these facts undermine his assertions about the insidious nature of the environmentalist agenda.

Although green awareness has grown immensely over the last few years, legislation of some kind seems to be an inevitable course of action, if the global warming danger is as real as publicized. Behavioral change on a large scale is difficult to bring about. And as behavioral researchers note:

“you might be able to avoid the need to convince your target audience to change its behaviour altogether if you can create structural changes that bring about the same result”. Kline Weinreich illustrates this view with the idea that passing a law that requires all residential pools to have childproof safety fences would be more effective at combating drowning than attempting to change the pool behaviour of parents and their children.

The question then goes back to whether the environmental threat is real and how effectively legislation can reasonably combat that threat. Pardon my cynicism but the “liberty and prosperity” in jeopardy argument just doesn’t wash. Tracinski needs to get off his soapbox and “get real”. The liberal influencers are as affluent as the conservative ones and for all their talk about the issues (Al Gore & Global Warming, Bill Clinton and his sod roofs), have yet to give up their affluent lifestyles. It just ain’t gonna happen. The influencers can say what they want, but the decision-makers report back to the voters and middle America isn’t ready to support any kind of “Global Warming Police State”, now or in the near future.

Yes we will probably see legislation aimed at broad based reductions in carbon consumption. But on an individual level, we won’t see a lot of intrusion, just more of what we are seeing now. More green tax credits and incentives. And more “energy saving behavior” on the part of consumers because it just makes financial common sense, not because environmental activists say so.

By the way, Carbon Cops had a decent rating in its first week. So the Green Police must be doing something right – they got people to tune in instead of tuning out. Now they’ve just got to get people to want to change.

The Metal Roof – an energy efficient alternative to traditional asphalt roofing

Metal roofs absorb 34% less heat than traditional asphalt shingles, according to a 1985 Florida Solar Energy Center study. This can translate into significant energy savings.

Most metal roofs reflect away more of the sun’s heat than do asphalt shingle roofs. This keeps the roofing materials cooler so less heat is radiated down through the ceilings to the living area. Also, the underside of the metal surface has lower emissivity than shingles, so even less heat radiates down to the ceiling below.

The final energy advantage is the metal is relatively thin and has a contour stamped into it to simulate other styles of shingles. This contour creates an air gap between most of the roofing and the roof sheathing below it. With a sloped roof, outdoor air naturally circulates up under the metal roof to keep it cooler.

A metal roof may cost more initially but pays back in the long run even without the tax credit ( Metal roofs qualify for a $500 energy tax credit – use IRS form 5695).

Other benefits of a metal roof:

  • long life / durability
  • low maintenance
  • fire retardant
  • green benefit: can contain recycled material
  • green benefit: can be installed over existing an existing roof, eliminating the need for your existing roof to go to a landfill

For more info read:

What if a green household product isn’t so green after all?

Interesting post on the Consumer Reports Home & Yard blog about “eco-friendly” products that don’t live up to their claims.

Consumer Reports Senior Editor Doug Podolsky discovered that Seventh Generation Automatic Dishwashing Gel … is not “biodegradable,” a claim that appears on the front label of the 45-ounce container. The gel contains a petroleum-based ingredient that’s listed on the bottle as a “non-toxic acrylic polymer.” The presence of this polymer means that the gel is not biodegradable, as the company defines the term.

Seventh Generation Automatic Dishwashing Gel ... Not so ecofriendly after all

The article offers a little insight into how this happens, and how companies respond.

Read When ‘green’ claims reveal a gray area on

Visit (by Consumer Reports) for more information on environmental labeling of household products.

How to have a green bathroom

Did you know

… going green in the bathroom might be easier than you think. You already may be doing things that you didn’t realize were considered green. To help you along your way, here are some things you might do or products you might use if you’re planning to be more eco-friendly when you renovate your bathroom.

Great tips to be found in the following article – covers cabinets, flooring, paint, fixtures, accessories, cleaners, lighting, tiles, toilets and more.

Read How green is your bathroom?

Got questions about compact flourescent bulbs?

Or second thoughts? Or reservations? Then check out this Consumer Reports blog entry Q&A: Are there any drawbacks to compact fluorescent bulbs?. It offers a concise review of the pros and cons of the compact fluorescent (CFL) including mercury content, energy savings, and practical limitations.

The grass is always greener – over Bill Clinton’s head

So Bill Clinton is getting on the green bandwagon – by advocating you sod your roof as a way to help cut greenhouse gas emissions; a sod roof doesn’t get as hot, meaning you don’t have to use as much energy to cool your home.

I’m not going to argue with anyone who advocates “relentless home improvement” and going green in general but when it comes to sodding the rooftops my question is … what’s he been smoking??

I mean it is possible.

We conducted a little research yesterday, and while sod roofs are far more common in places like African villages, we came across a pair of Vermont home builders — Tim Rice and Steve Jacob — who agree with Mr. Clinton that the time is right for a “revival of the old-time sod roof.”

But probable or practical? I think not. Most of us have enough lawn to mow right now, let alone putting more on the roof. Lawnmowers are already the #1 source of home improvement related injuries and now we’re going to take them to the rooftops as well?

Letting your rooftop lawn go isn’t an option either, not in this society. A beautiful lawn is one of North America’s great obsessions. It’s a cult! I speak as a person who occasionally drinks the Kool Aid.

What I mean by the lawn as moral issue is its place in human relations and its role in public shaming. In North America today, a lawn is the quickest, surest indicator that the deadliest of the seven deadly sins has attacked from within. As the death of a canary announces the presence of gas in a mine, so a dandelion’s appearance on a lawn indicates that Sloth has taken up residence in paradise and is about to spread evil in every direction. And when a whole lawn comes alive with dandelions–it can happen overnight, as many know to our sorrow–then that property instantly becomes an affront to the street and to the middle-class world of which the street is a part. Pretty as they might look to some, dandelions demonstrate a weakness of the soul. They announce that the owner of the house refuses to respect the neighbourhood’s right to peace, order, good government, and the absence of airborne dandelion seeds.
- Robert Fulford, The Lawn: North America’s magnificent obsession

Are we going to put the dandelions where lawn obsessives can’t reach them? It isn’t going to happen; some people just won’t be able to “leave them be”.

Other concerns I’ve seen noted: how sod roofs will fare in hurricane conditions, the water weight after a week of rain, and the need for more government regulation around such an undertaking. All legitimate concerns.

Bill Clinton is a smart guy. But to sell green to the masses, he needs to pitch simple, elegant solutions. Energy efficient windows. Yeah! Wind turbines. Yeah! Metal roofs that offer the same benefits? Yeah! A dandelion haven on our rooftops? No thank you Mr. Clinton.

But if you’re curious as to how it could be done, you can read more at

You can have a “weedless” organic garden

Very interesting “alternative” gardening article at Mother Earth News.

… Well, my gardens may not be 100 percent weed-free, but they are 100 percent free of weed problems.

I’ve achieved this happy state in four ways: 1) never tilling or otherwise disturbing the soil, so dormant weed seeds stay asleep, away from light and air; 2) designating permanent areas for walking and for planting to avoid compaction and the need for tillage; 3) maintaining a thin mulch of weed-free organic material to snuff out any weed seeds that blow in or are dropped into the garden by birds; 4) using drip irrigation whenever watering is called for to avoid promoting weed growth in paths and between widely spaced plants. Those are the basics of keeping my garden free of weed problems.

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