A modern home has a lot of electric appliances. The appliance choices you make in your home can help to reduce the demand for electricity. Colonial Solar House has some appliances that have been around for many years and some new ones chosen specifically for their high quality and energy efficiency. Here I discuss only the recently purchased appliances. The older appliances will be replaced with high-efficiency appliances when they are retired.
An ordinary incandescent lightbulb is perhaps the most inefficient appliance imaginable. Only about 15% of the electric energy consumed ends up as visible light; the rest ends up as heat. This increases the need for cooling in the summer and amounts to resistive heating in the winter (which is much less efficient than geothermal heating, as discussed in the Geothermal section). Fluorescent lightbulbs, including compact fluorescent lightbulbs (CFL), are about four times as efficient and are now so inexpensive that you are burning money if you are still using incandescent lightbulbs. What I like even better are LED bulbs, which are over 80% efficient. They cost more, but the prices are reasonable, and they last 25,000 hours. They come on at full brightness, and some are even dimmable.
In some other parts of the world you can buy a heat pump clothes dryer that is far more efficient than an ordinary electric clothes dryer (see the discussion of the heat pump water heater above). These are not yet available on the US market, but there is hope that they will be in the next few years. Equinox House has one, but that was procured by special arrangement.
What does it cost?
Lighting: You would be making the right financial choice to unscrew every incandescent lightbulb in your house and throw it away, even if you just bought it. Also toss out any bulbs you have in storage. Fluorescent lights use so much less electricity, and are so inexpensive, that you will start saving money almost immediately. But if you are really clever, you will skip ahead to the latest technology, the LED. These use even less electricity than fluorescent lights, and Ameren is selling them at such a great price that you will be saving even more money, especially given that these bulbs have lifetimes of 25,000 hours. The 60-watt-equivalent LED bulb yields an annual return of a whopping 68% if it is used for 3 hours per day. What are you waiting for?
Heat Pump Water Heater: Judging by current prices, a heat pump water heater costs about $600 more than an ordinary electric water heater of similar quality and capacity. That seems like a lot until you realize that it will save you about $300 per year in electricity. That amounts to a tax-free annual return of 50%.
The comparison with a natural-gas water heater is not as favorable. The heat pump water heater costs about $400 more, and because natural gas is currently relatively inexpensive, the yearly operating cost is about the same. Keep an eye out for discounts; I got my heat pump water heater for $200 less than its list price.
A heat pump water heater makes good sense together with a geothermal system, as described in the Geothermal section. It is eligible for the Ameren rebate since a geothermal system is always installed with an electric water heater. If you go all the way and terminate your natural gas service, as I have done, you save an additional $250 annually in customer charges.
Refrigerator: An energy-efficient refrigerator does not generally cost more to purchase than a less efficient model. As mentioned above, keep an eye out for discounts: I got mine online for much less than its list price.
Clothes dryer: We generally hang dry our clothes, which is free. Your clothes will last longer, which is a savings. In the winter, hang drying helps humidify the house. In the summer, we hang dry outdoors. If you live in a neighborhood that forbids outdoor clothes drying, you can use a dehumidifier to hang dry your clothes indoors in the summer. This is about as efficient as a heat pump clothes dryer.
We will have to wait for heat pump clothes dryers to hit the US market.