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Sylvia's home has a new roof, storm windows, and good insulation, so Michelle Madden, CEO of GreenYour.com, says her first eco-investment should be updating her 30- to 50-year-old appliances with Energy Star–qualified models. She'll benefit from the new federal stimulus program that allocates money to reimburse consumers for energy-saving appliances. The refunds vary by product but will likely run from $50 to $250.

Refrigerator: Annual energy savings of about $176 would mean Silvia will recoup the $630 purchase price in three and a half years. Assuming she keeps the appliance for ten years, she'll save $1,760 on her electric bills. And that's without the government rebate.

Dishwasher: With energy savings of about $35 a year, it would pay for itself in seven years. Washing a full load of dishes by hand can use ten times as much water as washing them in a new Energy Star–compliant dishwasher (some models use as little as 3 gallons for a full cycle). To be most efficient, run the dishwasher only when it's full, and don't use the dry cycle. The newest machines use about 1 kilowatt-hour per load—30 to 80 percent less than older machines.

Air Conditioner: With savings of about $30 a year, the machine would pay for itself in seven years and produce $300 in energy savings over ten years. (Double these numbers if she buys two.)

Washing Machine: A new front-loading model will cost about $16 a year to operate, and annual savings will be about $100 a year (new models use about half the water of older machines).
  • Michelle encourages Silvia to use the cold-water setting; up to 90 percent of the energy spent washing clothes comes from heating the water.
  • She also recommends natural laundry soap, now available at Walgreens and Target. The key difference between conventional and eco-friendly laundry detergents is that the latter do not contain phosphates, they have low toxicity (they don't contain chlorine bleach, phenols, optical brighteners, or other toxic ingredients), and they're easily biodegradable.
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