April 22 marks the 43rd anniversary of Earth Day, when millions of Americans turn green or at the very least think about the environment. At Consumer Reports, green--in the form of fuel economy, energy efficiency, recycling, and many other areas--is part of what we do every day. Below you'll find some Earth Day information for appliances and electronics equipment.
Efficient compact refrigerators. The Magic Chef MCBR445W mini-fridge uses more energy than the Samsung RF323TEDBSR French-door bottom-freezer, despite being one-seventh the size. The annual energy cost for the Magic Chef is $81 compared to $73 for the Samsung. A better option for a compact refrigerator is the Frigidaire FFPH44M4LM, which costs about $27 a year to run, our tests show. Stricter federal energy standards, to go into effect in September 2014, should improve the efficiency of all compact refrigerators.
Washing machine energy and water use. For our tests of washing machines, we measure how much energy and water it takes to wash an eight-pound load of laundry. The Kenmore 21252 top-loader was mediocre at energy efficiency and poor at water efficiency. Despite those scores, it scored a Very Good at washing and capacity was an Excellent. But Kenmore makes another machine that was excellent in both energy and water efficiency, the Kenmore 28002, and matched its brandmate in washing performance and capacity in our tests.
Old equipment. Don't just trash your gear if it's still in decent shape. Instead, sell them on Craigslist, eBay, or Amazon, or trade them in at retail stores such as Best Buy, Target, or RadioShack. Or give them away to a charity such as Goodwill or via Freecycle.org. Your last resort is to recycle them. Read "How to Recycle Old Electronics Devices" and check the EPA website for tips.
Unplugging to save power. Many devices in your home consume electricity even when they're not in use. All that "vampire power" can add up to 10 percent of your electricity bill. Unplugging or powering down devices such as a set-top box ($25 per year in savings) and video-game console ($75) will save you some real money, especially if they're older models without auto-shutdown modes.
More ways to use less electricity. Mother Nature will welcome your using less electricity, as will your bank account (your utility bill will shrink). Our printer Ratings include a power-savings score that indicates which printers are most effective in this mode. Among the best in this regard are the HP Photosmart 7520, Canon Pixma MG3220, and Samsung SCX-3405FW (the latter two are CR Best Buys, too). Others don't fare so well, including the Epson Workforce 845 and Epson Workforce WF-7510--each was rated only fair for power saving.
For your smart phone, a few easy moves will help conserve battery life. Seek strong signals and don't bury the phone in a desk; it uses more power trying to access a weak signal. Turn off Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and other wireless access when you're out of range. Reduce screen brightness. And cut the number of times you allow updates of news, e-mail, and other network feeds.
By the way, the move toward unremovable or difficult to remove batteries seems decidedly nongreen. Products so configured become essentially disposable once their original battery wears down.
Efficient televisions. LCD displays that use LED backlighting stand out for power conservation. Even the biggest screens use energy sparingly. For instance, the 60-inch Samsung UN60ES6100 would add an estimated $23 a year to your utility bill--that's just one-third as much as other same-size models that use different display technology. And among 55-inch models, the LED-backlit Panasonic Viera TC-L55WT50 has an estimated annual energy cost of $16, compared to $62 for other sets of this size. Our TV Ratings include the energy cost per year for every set we test.
Greener PCs. Some computers meet the new Energy Star standard for efficient power use; look for the Energy Star label. You probably won't notice much difference in your computer's operation, but you might in your electric bill. Another standard is EPEAT, which offers guidelines on environmental attributes for a computer's full life cycle. Check the list of EPEAT-compliant PCs and other devices.
More planet-friendly content and tips:
Here's another bright idea for Earth Day: Switch to energy-saving lightbulbs
Green cars don't have to have gray personalities. Check out our 13 favorite green cars.