First let me state clearly I am not a hater of things that are energy efficient. Think back to the last thing you purchased that was touted as being energy efficient that you have been extremely happy with its performance, longevity and upfront costs. Hold that answer.
I like the new CFL (Compact Fluorescent Lights) bulbs for their energy savings and low heat output, even though they do not last long enough to make up the monetary difference in what I used to pay for incandescent bulbs. Yes, they do last longer BUT only about 3 times as long in my experience. The cost difference is usually about 6-10 times as much depending on the quantity I purchase through the deals I can find. Since this is a relatively minor purchase I do not mind making the financial sacrifice to receive the benefits. ALTHOUGH disposing of the dead CFL’s can be a hazard as they contain Mercury (WHAT'S TRUE: CFLs contain mercury, a potentially dangerous substance that escapes from broken CFLs into the immediate surroundings, and therefore the breakage of a CFL bulb should be handled by carefully removing the broken bulb and its contents from a home. http://www.snopes.com/medical/toxins/cfl.asp) https://www.epa.gov/cfl/cleaning-broken-cfl
The last new car I purchased was going to be a hybrid. I test drove a number of them, read their reviews and decided on the 6 cylinder Toyota Highlander. I compared their MPG ratings contrasted to their straight gas counterparts. To make sure I wasn’t doing anything crazy in compiling the data, I engaged one of my brilliant son in laws (MBA, financial wizard) to run the numbers with me. We turned them over every which way you could. Based on the average miles I drove per year, the cost of gas per gallon and the MPG per vehicle we determined it would take no less than eight years to recoup the upfront sticker price difference. I could not justify the initial spend, especially when I gave any consideration to the unknown costs related to battery maintenance and upkeep. Sure I want to protect the environment BUT I also want to protect my pocket book!
Now let me talk about my area of expertise, appliances. 30 years ago you could expect a major household appliance to last you 15 – 20 years or more. Kitchen Aid dishwashers, Maytag and Whirlpool washing machines, GE and Frigidaire electric ranges, Whirlpool, GE and Sub Zero refrigerators , and Chambers gas ranges to mention a few were incredible exceptions and may last 30+ years. You may still have one of these products running in your house today! HOWEVER, with the introduction of Energy Star, Energy Efficiency Ratings and Energy standards and all things energy related the average life of appliances has steadily declined. Some would even say life expectancies have plummeted. 30 years ago it was unheard of for an appliance to die and need to be replaced in 2 or 3 years. Unheard of!!! It simply didn’t happen. And if by some fluke, one in a thousand happened to fail after such a short life the manufacturer would usually replace it. FOR FREE! With today’s appliances you should be delighted if you could get to double digits in life expectancy. When I first entered into this industry in the mid 70’s I only worked on products that were 15 years old and older. Appliances just didn’t break until they hit the mid-teens in age. And MANY were much older. In fact it was common to work on appliances that were 30 years old and older. Today’s appliances are not designed to last, certainly not as long as in days gone by.
Now let’s look at the facts: 30 years ago you could buy a standard top load washing machine for $500, it lasted about 20 years, used about 40 gallons of water per load, cycles lasted 30 – 40 minutes from beginning to end, you could chose cold, warm and hot to your own liking, the amount of water used per wash cycle was selected by you, and everything was electro-mechanical. Life was simple and predictable. Today a typical washing machine is $600, it lasts about 8 years, uses about 24 gallons of water per load, cycles last 60 – 90 minutes (see load sensor below), once you choose cold, warm or hot the machine translates and decides for you that it really means 70, 93, and 105 degrees F respectively, the load sensor determines how much water should be used per load and exactly how long the washer should operate, and everything is electronic. There are tons of options to choose from (very few folks ever deviate from their 2-3 regular cycle selections and NEVER use all the options). $600 x 2.5 (20 years divided by 8) = $1500 - $500 cost from 30 years ago = $1000 additional costs to you. 40 – 24 = 16 gallons extra used per load. Add the energy cost to heat that water multiplied by the average numbers of loads done in the course of a year multiplied by 20 years and you end up with your cost savings. Subtract the $1000 in upfront costs and you have your net savings. It probably comes to about $35 - $50 per year. However … there is not a day that goes by when customers don’t complain to me, our service technicians and sales staff about various aspects of their energy efficient appliances that they despise! They don’t want all the features and options. They don’t like the fact they can’t get the wash water as hot as they would like, they positively hate the fact that it takes as long as it does to complete a cycle, and they despise all the electronics.. A common request is to identify for them a machine that is old fashioned, simple to use and without all the bells and whistles. They don’t like the modern, high efficiency machines and don’t care about any energy savings they might derive from energy efficiency. Even young people who have no experience with old fashioned appliances are frustrated with the electronics and their short life expectancy.
The last issue I will raise is the absolute drain on our natural resources in having to produce 2.5 new washers compared to only one just 30 short years ago. Of course there is a huge amount of energy consumption (2.5 times as much) used during the manufacturing process, which I don’t know how to calculate but acknowledge as a very real and high expense.
In summary, for the small savings a person realizes in real dollars to achieve energy efficiency in home appliances, my conclusion is that for most people is not worth it based on this evidence and direct testimony from the average consumer.