Buying with the environment in mind will get easier as manufacturers adopt greener practices and offer greener products. But for now, save gas and aggravation by shopping on the Internet. We've included Web sites for the products recommended in this story, or go to www.ecobusinesslinks.com. A number of large cities also have green home centers, such as Amicus, near Washington, D.C.; Natural Built Home, in Minneapolis; and the Green Home Center, in San Francisco.
Problem: The average home annually creates twice the greenhouse emissions of the average car. The biggest culprits? Furnaces and air conditioners, which account for about half of the typical family's energy costs. Other appliances are responsible for another third of utility bills.
Better choices: Energy Star appliances generally use up to 50% less energy than products that meet only federal minimum standards (standards for water heaters are in development). Look for the yellow Energy Star label in stores, or check www.energystar.gov. For example, Energy StarPrated clothes washers and dishwashers use at least 30% less energy than standard models, and they save water, too. For a large-capacity, high-efficiency front-loading washer, check out the Kenmore HE5t (Current Prices) and the Bosch Nexxt 500 Series (Current Prices). In the ultra-efficient-dishwasher category, the Bosch Evolution 800 Series, introduced this summer, greatly exceeds the federal minimum standard for energy efficiency (it uses 60% less), but it's pricey (Current Prices).
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's new WaterSense program has begun certifying high-efficiency toilets that use only 1.3 gallons of water or less per flush. Replace a toilet made between 1980 and 1994 and you could save as much as $90 a year. We recommend the Kohler Cimarron EcoSmart toilet (Current Prices) or the Toto Aquia (Current Prices). Both are dual-flush models that let you choose a lower or higher water flow as needed.
Trade-off: Some appliances cost more up front, but you'll recoup the extra cost in energy savings within five years.
Comments: Deciding what to replace first depends on your region's climate and your lifestyle. For example, if you live in a harsh, northern climate and your natural-gas furnace is 15 years old, you'll see big savings from a new model that achieves at least 90% efficiency, such as the Carrier Infinity 96. Such high-efficiency furnaces typically cost from $1,300 to $1,700, depending on size, or up to $4,000 installed (because of the need to upgrade vents and ductwork). You'll pay $1,000 more than you would for an 80%-efficient model, but you'll save about $32 per $100 of annual fuel costs when you replace, say, a 20-year-old, 65%-efficient model with a 95%-efficient one.
Another easy target is the beer fridge in the basement. Energy Star models, such as the Frigidaire FRT21HS6D ($599), use 40% less energy than conventional ones sold in 2001. Replacing a ten-year-old model with a new, high-efficiency fridge saves an average of $100 annually in energy costs.