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4 Tips for Replacing Appliances With Energy-Efficient Models

Buying appliances that use less power can be a smart thing to do, but figuring out when to swap an existing model for what's often a more expensive version can be tough. The payback for new, energy-saving appliances can vary greatly depending on the age of existing models and your usage habits, as well as the cost of electricity in your area.

The National Resources Defense Council suggests you consider a more efficient model for any appliance that's more than 12 years old. Here are some shopping guidelines to help you do that:

Choose certified appliances. If you remember only one thing when you shop, make it this: Look for the government-backed Energy Star label. This blue and white logo indicates models that have been certified as using less energy.

Go beyond purchase price. Price shouldn't be the only factor you consider. Find the EnergyGuide label -- a yellow and black tag required on most appliances -- and look for the estimated annual cost of operating the appliance. Use both figures to make your decision.

Buy only as big as you need. Bigger isn't necessarily better. Extra-large appliances require more energy, and they run at reduced efficiency when they're not operating at full capacity.

Look for energy-saving features. Some models or features can save you more money. For instance, a top freezer refrigerator will use 10 to 25 percent less energy than a side-by-side or bottom-mount model, and a natural gas-powered water heater will typically cost less to operate than an electric model.

New appliances are not only more efficient, but they've also been proven to perform the same as or better than older appliances, so you won't have to sacrifice performance to gain energy savings.

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