The Cooler Kitchen

Better Appliances and Smarter Tips

Ever since humans discovered fire, our food preparation has involved consuming natural resources and releasing global warming gases by burning wood or fossil fuels. And now electricity prices are climbing. Luckily, there are some simple products and practices that will help keep and cook food more efficiently, without overheating the planet and our home economies.

If you can change only one kitchen appliance, choose the refrigerator. "It’s on all the time, and its efficiency has improved the most of any appliance," says Katie Ackerly, coauthor of The American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE) Consumer Guide to Home Energy Savings.

The Fridge Factor

It’s the biggest appliance and, not surprisingly, the biggest energy guzzler in most kit-chens, responsible for one fifth of the average household’s total energy consumption, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). EPA awards its Energy Star label to various electric appliances, including fridges that use at least 15 percent less energy than permitted by current federal standards. A new Energy Star-approved fridge uses 40 percent less electricity than a conventional model from 2001.

While Energy Star should be everyone’s benchmark, you can do better. ACEEE recommends looking for fridges that use 20 to 30 percent less energy than those with comparable specs. "You should also sort by annual kilowatt hours (kWh/year)," Ackerly says. After all, percentages aside, the lower the kWh/year the higher your savings, which you can estimate using a national average of 10 cents/kWh.

A companion appliance label, the Energy Guide, rates a model’s efficiency against all others on the market, placing it on a continuum from least to most energy use. ACEEE recommends fridges with the freezer set on the top or bottom, rather than side-by-side; the latter drains 10 to 30 percent more energy because of the freezer’s greater surface area.

Energy-Saving Fridge Tips

" Keep thermostat at 36-38°F.
" Check that seals are tight:
Closed door should hold a dollar bill in place.
" Keep freezer full: Cool hot foods before placing in fridge.
" Make sure air circulates freely around fridge: Keep top free of clutter and coils free of dust.

Awash in Dishes

Along with using at least 41 percent less energy than the federal minimum standard, Energy Star dishwashers generally use one-third less water—and a good thing, too, as these machines run through about 300 million gallons a day in the U.S. An Energy Star model uses about four gallons per cycle (gpc), on average, compared with 8 to 10 gpc for a machine that’s at least 10 years old. Because they use less hot water, Energy Star dishwashers will save up to $90 over their lifetime, according to the EPA.

You can conserve up to 1,200 gallons a year, according to the Dishwasher Product Report at The Green Guide (, which lists gpc data for selected models. To obtain a specific model’s gpc, a figure not listed by Energy Star or Energy Guide, call manufacturers or your electric and water utilities, which may offer rebates for very efficient models. Also ask manufacturers which cycle on the machine will use the least gpc.

Dishwasher Efficiency Tips

Scrape, don’t pre-rinse dishes before loading. Wash only full loads. Use the no-heat, air-dry feature if there is one.
Turn down your water heater thermostat to 120 degrees Fahrenheit.

At the Kitchen Sink

Use a faucet aerator; the EPA’s WaterSense label currently covers only toilets and bathroom faucets, but you can find a kitchen aerator that holds flow to the same standard of 1.5 gallons per minute (gpm) or less, saving 50 to 75 percent over the federal standard of 2/5 gpm.

Get Cooking

Alas, there are no Energy Star or Energy Guide labels for stove ranges and ovens. When it comes to cooking with less energy, "A microwave oven is your most efficient option by far," says Ackerly, "since it will use only one-third of the energy of a conventional oven." She cites a test in which the same meatloaf recipe was prepared in different appliances. The microwave was most efficient, followed by the gas oven, convection oven, toaster oven, electric oven and, finally, crockpot.

Choosing a New Cooking Appliance

Gas stoves are more efficient than electric ones. One exception: Electric induction cooktops, which use magnetic energy to produce heat, can save up to 40 percent more energy than a conventional gas or electric range, according to The Green Guide. However, these are very pricey, running upwards of $2,000, according to Consumers Reports.

Choose gas models with electric ignitions rather than pilot lights, which waste gas. Convection ovens will cut energy use by about 20 percent over conventional ovens, ACEEE says.

Energy-Saving Cooking Tips

Use sturdy, flat-bottomed cookware matched to the burner size and high-conductivity materials that cook more quickly: copper-bottom stovetop pans, glass or ceramic oven pans. Reduce cooking time: Defrost foods in the refrigerator and avoid preheating.

The point of all this? Having—and enjoying—a warm hearth that won’t contribute to global warming. And the money you"ll save over time with energy-efficient appliances can offset other kitchen costs, from certified sustainable wood cabinets to organic heirloom foods.

MINDY PENNYBACKER, editor of, is based in New York City.


" Amana KBS19KT with bottom freezer, uses 448kWh/year, 20 percent less than the federal standard, (800)843-0304,
" Frigidaire GLHT214 top fridge, uses 432 kWh/yr, 28 percent less, (877)808-4195,
" Sun Frost, the Porsche of Energy Star fridges, with RF16 top freezer, uses only 254 kWh/yr, 36 percent less energy. Introduced in 2003, 707-822-9095,


" Bosch SHE45CO2UC, 315 kWh/yr, EF .83, 48 percent more efficient than federal standard, about four to 13 gpc. This 2006 model was rated a "Smart Splurge" by Consumer Reports. Even better, the 2007 Bosch SHE33MO2UC uses only 259 kWh/yr and is a whopping 80 percent more efficient than standard. (800)944-2904,
" Kenmore 1378K603, 317 kWh/yr, EF .66, 48 percent more efficient than standard, about four to six gpc. A 2006 model, the 13742, was rated best overall by Consumer Reports. (800)349-4358,
" Miele Slimline Series G818, EF .72, 301 kWh/year, 57 percent m

ore efficient than standard. (800)843-7231,