by A. Richard Miller
visits since 011022; last updated 011022.

Our story:

Jill and I are environmentally considerate. We long since upgraded our home with water-conserving toilets and shower heads, removed the garbage-disposal unit from our kitchen sink, and swapped in common energy-saving features such as a more efficient oil-forced-hot-air furnace and some fluorescent lighting.

But that was many years ago. This year's electrical equipment is better, and so are some of the deals. We've just taken a giant catch-up step, and it has already paid off. Perhaps you can do the same.

It started in July 2001, when Jill noticed that our maybe-fifteen-year-old refrigerator, although still running reliably, was very power-hungry compared with the new models. She expected we could save $75 per year by replacing it; a new one, at $500-600, would quickly justify its cost. We looked at a few models, and nearly bought one. But then I remembered reading about big savings in California, land of the rolling black-out. To reduce demand, the California government and electrical utilities offer major rebates for upgrading to more efficient appliances. Here in Massachusetts the pinch is less severe, but I thought it was worth asking NStar, our friendly purveyor of watts.

It took more than a call. It took three hours of phone calls, but I found the right people and they turned out to have the right answers (many of which may apply to you). We were entitled to a free home energy audit, and its results probably would qualify us for various free improvements and for a major rebate on the purchase of certain appliances -- including that new refrigerator, if we first got the approval! The next day, our mailbox held booklets and a CD disc full of good ideas.

Within two weeks a fellow visited to give our home a free home energy survey. He was nice, informative, and took a lot of measurements and notes. A few hours later, we had some new energy-saving light bulbs and lots of information. He determined that our old refrigerator did qualify for the energy-efficient refrigerator rebate, and we received rebate paperwork for completion at the time of sale. We also scheduled a return visit, for which he promised to bring better water-heater insulation and more light bulbs including special, warm-colored fluorescent types to solve problems: swing-arm desk lamps that sagged under the weight of his first heavy fluorescent ballasts, three-way floor lamps, and a dining-room ceiling fixture on a dimmer switch.

The refrigerator rebate deal was even better than we'd hoped. If the refrigerator qualified as sufficiently energy-efficient (over half the new models do) and we had the salesman complete our paperwork upon closing the deal, we were entitled to a whopping 75% rebate, up to a maximum of $482 for the style of refrigerator we'd chosen -- a top-freezer unit with a combined capacity of about 20-22 cubic feet. We applied that big rebate to a big energy saver, a super-efficient Kenmore model, built by Whirlpool. It's a Kenmore 61282 (21.6 CF top freezer, 457 KWHrs./Year). It listed for $850, and is equivalent (except for some trim details) to the Whirlpool GR2SHKXK at $940. It has a very good engineering and repair record, and also is extremely quiet. We ordered it from our local Sears store; they didn't have it in stock, but delivered in about two weeks. Better yet, it was featured in that week's sale: we got a $100 discount, rebate of the $40 delivery charge, and one year during which we pay nothing and can pay off without any interest charges. We prepaid $25 to have our old refrigerator removed and properly recycled. That particular sale is over, but they do recur; if you aren't in a hurry, probably you can get lucky too. We recognized our right deal, and grabbed it.

On the follow-up visit, our energy man brought a partner and a lot of light bulbs. Only one light didn't take to the new, energy-saving bulbs, one out front, on an infrared motion detector. Fair enough. We also got a better thermal wrapping on our old electric hot-water heater. We discussed other options, but they didn't seem cost-efficient at this time.

It certainly paid to ask! Initially, we planned to buy a good refrigerator for $550 or so. Then I searched out the NStar program -- and its $482 incentive for the refrigerator. That sent us back to the drawing board, and we did much better. Even if you can't wait for a best-deal sale week, the energy efficiency difference will be the most significant difference over the life of the refrigerator. This 457 KW-Hrs./Year one will be saving us over $120/year in electric bills -- more later, in all liklihood, as electrical cost continues to rise -- compared to our old, still-good refrigerator which only lacked the newer engineering. For our old 18-CF size, Kenmore now offers a 417 KW-Hrs./Year equivalent model -- but that's where we decided to extend.

NStar's reimbursements cover more than just refrigerators. But they didn't cover our hot-water heater, our next likely candidate for an upgrade. That would have qualified in 2000. Perhaps it will again in the near future.

NStar's story:

At NStar, which is our Natick electricity (and gas) provider, the latest energy-conservation incentive program has reduced the minimum qualifying home from 12,000 to 8,000 KW-Hrs/Year. (Your latest electric bill should summarize this, or they can search it for you; Jill and I qualified, although we don't have electric heating and we don't think we waste a lot of electricity here.) On your request, they will provide a free Home Energy Survey, to see what improvements are recommended. (Mid-summer, it took just under two weeks to schedule ours.)

You can get $30 of immediate help plus the energy audit, under the Home Energy Survey. Plus, you'll qualify for big rebates if you recycle certain wasteful old appliances for efficient new ones. This Residential High Use Program is not very picky, offering a choice of most new refrigerators with over $450 of rebate available, up to 75% of its cost, provided it's approved before the purchase and provided you remove the old refrigerator from use via scrapping by any approved store or service - Sears or BestBuy, for examples. It's a great deal, and the same offer or similar ones apply to some other energy-wasteful appliances, big ones to light bulbs.

If NStar is your eastern-Massachusetts electric utility, phone and ask for more information about this energy-reduction incentive program and related ones:
Ann Gross (508/238-1194 in Easton, MA)

Home Energy Magazine provides this resource for estimating the efficiency of your old refrigerator (although NStar insisted on measuring our old refrigerator's actual power use for an hour or two of elapsed time):

For the description of the Kenmore 61282 (21.6 CF top freezer, 457 KWHrs./Year) refrigerator that we bought, go to and then click on Appliances, Refrigeration (in the fine print). Then Search for "61282" and choose the result that's a refrigerator (in white). From there, you can find bisque (tan) and black color options, as well.

I think the price at this Sears URL will reflect any weekly-sale discounts - although it probably won't tell you about the other deals such as delivery rebate and delayed-payment credit.

Keep posted regarding ENERGY-STAR Rebate Offers (from NStar and others). The offers vary, and sometimes will be a great match.

The energy story:

What difference does it make, and who cares? The incentives certainly do benefit the homeowner, and boost the community into higher levels of energy saving.

I also like the drop in minimum annual use. Our home easily qualified for this year's 8,000 KW-Hrs./Year, but wouldn't have qualified for last year's 12,000 KW-Hrs./Year. In effect, we were being punished for our earlier energy-saving steps.

But perhaps most telling of all, these incentive programs pay off big-time when the crunch is on. Here's an example near to us. Worcester, Massachusetts was slated for another large, expensive and polluting power plant. Instead, this program placed so many new refrigerators in Worcester's south-east neighborhoods, and so reduced the local demand for electricity, that the need for that power plant was averted.