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Cutting Kitchen Kilowatts

We are planning to remodel our kitchen and want to make it convenient and energy efficient. What are design, product, and usage tips?—Marjorie H.

In most homes, the kitchen consumes the most energy after the utility room. Water use is also substantial. Creating an efficient kitchen does not require sacrifice and can actually make it more convenient.

The four primary components to an efficient kitchen are design, appliance selection, appliance usage, and efficiency habits. If you are not going to completely remodel, you can still use the concepts to manage energy.

Start with the relative location of major workstations, using the concept of a “kitchen triangle.” The goal is to have no more than eight feet between the center of any two of the range, refrigerator, and sink.

These work areas should be in a fairly even triangle for the most convenience. Increased convenience results in less time in the kitchen, less lighting, less water down the drain, and more efficient cooking. Consider traffic patterns so you are not dodging children. Fifteen inches of work space around appliances is usually adequate.

Refrigerator/freezers require adequate airflow through the condenser coils to operate efficiently. Often the refrigerator is tucked tightly against a wall or under cabinets. This saves floor space, but it is best to locate it with more clearance to accommodate airflow. Avoid locating the refrigerator in direct sun.

The range can be located almost anywhere. If you use natural ventilation from windows during summer, avoid locating the range near a window. A breeze can carry heat from the electric elements.

Locate cabinets on outside walls for an additional buffer from a cold wall. Insulated window shades also save energy and improve comfort.

Select energy-efficient major appliances: refrigerator, dishwasher, and range. The refrigerator is the most important because it operates 24 hours each day. Refrigerators have an energy label showing the amount of electricity they use.

Although a side-by-side refrigerator may be convenient, it is the least efficient because of the extra door gasket length. Models with the freezer on the bottom are the most efficient, with top-freezer models not far behind. Smaller is better, so give some thought to how many cubic feet your family actually needs.

The dishwasher can be a significant energy consumer. Select a model with its own preheater so you can set the main water heater tank thermostat lower. Designs with two small internal pumps instead of one large reversing pump generally consume less water.

There are no energy labels on ranges to guide your decision. There are some differences in the cooktop element technologies that affect how fast they heat a pot of water and the precision of temperature control. Induction elements provide the most precise temperature control on an electric range. Select an oven with the convection option, which circulates air to reduce roasting and baking times.

Use appliances efficiently. Check temperatures in the refrigerator and freezer. They should be about 40 degrees and 0 degrees respectively. If they are colder, it wastes electricity. If they are warmer, foods don’t stay fresh. Periodically clean dust off the condenser coils so they transfer heat efficiently. Switch off condensation-reducing door seal heating elements.

Use your dishwasher only for full loads. If it has an automatic sensor to determine the best wash cycle, use it. For just a few dishes, wash them by hand. During winter, leave the hot soapy water in the sink until it cools. Cover pots when boiling water, and use small countertop ovens instead of the range oven whenever possible.

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