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TESS VIGELAND: So, what are you doing to help the environment these days?
In our household, we’ve changed several incandescent bulbs to compact fluorecent.
What we keep forgetting to do is unplug all of our electronic stuff when we’re not using it. Our bad.
Well this week, both the House and Senate considered bills to force all of us to save more energy. And not just with our cars. Marketplace’s John Dimsdale reports it may not be long before the government’s reach extends to your kitchen.
JOHN DIMSDALE: To find out about the promise of home energy efficiency, I invited the president of the Alliance to Save Energy, Kateri Callahan, over to grade my appliances.
Ms. Callahan told me houses are big culprits when it comes to greenhouse gas pollution.
KATERI CALLAHAN: Um, the average home emits more CO2 than the car in the driveway.
Half of a home’s energy use is for heating and cooling. Adding insulation and sealing up cracks can save 20 percent on those bills.
My furnace and air conditioner are both relatively new. But in the kitchen, it was a mess.
DIMSDALE: I have, obviously, an old refrigerator. Is there something I can do to keep it more efficient longer?
CALLAHAN: I’d say replace it. Haha! I, you know, honestly I think that’s best.
Not to mention my aging dishwasher.
CALLAHAN: If you were to replace this and put in an energy-efficient and a water-efficient dishwasher, you might be able to save about $120 a year.
And I’ve got machines that are slowly sucking electricity all the time.
CALLAHAN: We call it vampire power or parasitic power. And often, you have equipment – DVDs, TVs, VCRs – that actually over course of the year, use more energy in the off mode than they do in the on mode.
Callahan’s organization is working with the government to make appliances more energy-efficient.
But Ben Lieberman, at the Heritage Foundation, says mandates can hurt the little guy.
BEN LIEBERMAN: They benefit consumers only if the energy savings outweighs the costs. And the costs can take the form of the higher purchase price. Also reduced product performance, features, reliability, longevity. In other words, the ulta-efficient, federally-mandated appliance may save you on energy, but it doesn’t work as well or last as long.
Better to let free market supply and demand forces drive manufacturers to build better appliances, he says.
And Consumer Reports’s latest tests of new clothes washers finds the most efficient models aren’t necessarily the best at cleaning clothes.
Celia Kuperszmid-Lehrman is the deputy home editor of Consumer Reports.
CELIA KUPERSZMID-LEHRMAN: One of the techologies, your sort of standard washing machine that opens on the top and has a post in the middle, those are center-post agitators, is having the most trouble using less water and getting clothes clean.
She recommends looking for a front-loading washing machine, but warns the good ones can cost a thousand dollars.
Energy efficiency advocates, like Lowell Ungar at the Alliance to Save Energy, are happy about all the attention their issue is getting.
LOWELL UNGAR: I think there’s really a perfect storm on energy issues right now. People are looking to solutions to our energy problems, and more and more people are recognizing that energy efficiency is the quickest, cheapest and cleanest way of addressing all of these issues.
In Congress, the House is close to approving a spending bill that would more than double the funding for setting and enforcing home appliance standards next year.
In Washington, I’m John Dimsdale for Marketplace Money.
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