Save $600 a Year with These Energy-Efficient Appliances

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Energy prices may be plunging, but that's no excuse to take your eye off the utility bill. A few winter storms and a sweltering summer can easily push "amount owed" into outrageous territory. Sure, you can unplug electronics when not in use or install smart power strips and save some dough. A few strategic purchases, though, can shave more than $600 a year off your electric bill. turned to Enervee to determine the potential savings from energy-efficient appliances. The site compares the energy efficiency of individual products and estimates the energy cost for each -- we plugged in the average national rate -- and then factors in the purchase price (including rebates, when applicable) to arrive at the true total cost.

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If you're looking for an efficient refrigerator with a relatively low price tag, set your sights on a top-freezer model. According to Enervee, these units generally cost 40 percent less and use 15 percent less energy than other types of cold storage (e.g., bottom freezer, French door). Indeed, an efficient 21.1-cubic-foot top-freezer refrigerator can save you $26 a year compared with a 17.5-cubic-foot French-door model.

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Even if you don't leave your TV on all day, the costs add up, especially if it's a large-screen model. Enervee asserts that a 65-inch Vizio M-Series TV uses about $46 worth of electricity each year, assuming three hours of daily usage. Under the same circumstances, a more efficient 65-inch Vizio E-Series TV would add only $5 a year to your electric bill. The E-Series TV costs $100 more than the M-Series but makes up the difference in energy savings within two and a half years.

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You may question the sanity of someone who spends $10 on a single light bulb, but once you do the math, you'll see that the investment makes sense. LED light bulbs last 15 times longer than incandescents and can save as much as $6 a year per bulb. With average usage, a $10 10-watt LED bulb pays for itself within 18 months, and the savings over its average 22.8-year lifespan runs to about $136. Imagine what that would mean if you changed every bulb in your home.

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Front-load washing machines use as little as 61 percent of the energy consumed by top-load models, Enervee states, saving owners about $15 a year in electricity costs, plus savings that accrue from using and heating less water. Front-load machines generally cost an extra 10 to 20 percent, but the savings on energy and water more than cover that difference within a few years.

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A necessity during parts of the year, air conditioners seem to suck up dollars as they blast out cool air. The difference in operating costs between an efficient and inefficient model can be astonishing. Based on the Enervee data, a portable Whynter model with 13,000 BTUs of cooling power costs $150 more than a DeLonghi unit with 12,500 BTUs of cooling power but quickly recoups that premium through energy savings that average $290 a year.

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If you maintain an extra freezer in the garage or basement, you may wonder how much it's costing you and whether buying a more efficient model makes sense. The answer is probably "yes," especially because data from Enervee show that energy-efficient models sometimes cost less upfront than the wasteful alternatives. For example, a 5.1-cubic-foot Igloo freezer costs about $180 and uses about $26 of energy a year while a 5.1-cubic-foot Kenmore unit costs $250 and uses about $33 worth of energy a year.

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High-efficiency dryers sometimes cost about the same as less efficient models (in part because rebates for efficient models can reach $200), but they use about 60 percent less energy, according to Enervee. Over the average 14-year lifespan of a dryer, that's a savings of about $2,070. Pocketing $170 a year in energy savings is a good incentive to do your homework before buying a new dryer.

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When it comes to investing in energy-efficient consumer durables, electric cars stand at the head of the line for hefty upfront cost. But in terms of operating costs, electric cars are a frugal driver's best friend. The outlay for recharging the battery is far lower than the cost of gassing up the tank, even with the recent drop in prices, and regular maintenance costs also are much cheaper (e.g., there's no oil to change). Savings vary depending on individual circumstances, so take a look at the U.S. Department of Energy's vehicle cost calculator to compare your current vehicle against an electric or hybrid model.

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Just as government programs encourage the purchase of electric vehicles and solar panels, there are programs that reward purchases of energy-efficient appliances. The savings from lower energy bills mount quickly, and a rebate from the utility company that's worth $50 to $200 toward a new appliance is too good to pass up.