Today in Energy

June 19, 2017

Dishwashers are among the least-used appliances in American homes

graph of presence and use of major appliances in U.S. homes, as explained in the article text
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, 2015 Residential Energy Consumption Survey

Compared with other major home appliances such as clothes washers, dryers, and cooking equipment, dishwashers are both less pervasive and less likely to be used when available. Of the 80 million households that have a dishwasher, 16 million (almost 20%) did not use their dishwasher in 2015, based on data from EIA’s Residential Energy Consumption Survey (RECS). On the whole, a little more than half (54%) of all U.S. households both have a dishwasher and use it at least once a week.

graph of U.S. households with unused dishwashers, as explained in the article text
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, 2015 Residential Energy Consumption Survey

Since its first cycle in 1978, RECS has captured a wide range of home energy and appliance characteristics. Updates to the 2015 RECS questionnaire allowed EIA to collect information on the frequency of use of appliances, including major appliances that were not being used at all. This information can be compared across demographic characteristics, revealing information that compares use or nonuse across regions, housing types, household sizes, and household income levels. For example, lower income households are more likely to have older, unused dishwashers.

graph of ENERGY STAR market penetration of selected appliances, as explained in the article text
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, based on ENERGY STAR shipment data

Analysis from the U.S. Department of Energy and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s ENERGY STAR program suggests that dishwashers save water and energy compared with washing by hand. New dishwashers are consistently among the products with the highest rates of ENERGY STAR qualification: 84% of models shipped to retailers in 2015 met the ENERGY STAR criteria.

graph of U.S. households with a second refrigerator, as explained in the article text
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, 2015 Residential Energy Consumption Survey

Secondary refrigerators are likely another example of underused appliances in American homes. Since the first RECS in 1978, results have shown that virtually all homes in the United States have a refrigerator. In recent years, the share of homes with more than one refrigerator has grown rapidly. Since 1997, the percentage of households with a second refrigerator has doubled to 30% of all homes.

Second refrigerators, often located in a garage or basement, tend to be older and less efficient than primary refrigerators. Refrigerators built before 1990 likely consume at least 1,000 kilowatthours per year—more than double the annual consumption of similarly sized new refrigerators and roughly 10% of average household electricity consumption. To reduce the prevalence of older, less efficient second refrigerators, many electric utilities and states run efficiency programs that offer financial incentives to remove and recycle second refrigerators.

graph of age distribution of primary and secondary refrigerators, as explained in the article text
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration, 2015 Residential Energy Consumption Survey

Human behavior and its effects on energy use in buildings is among the many topics that will be discussed at the 2017 EIA Energy Conference. The panel will be moderated by Erin Boedecker, leader of EIA’s Buildings Energy Consumption and Efficiency Analysis team. Panelists include

  • Karen Ehrhardt-Martinez, Navigant
  • Kurt Roth, Fraunhofer Center for Sustainable Energy Systems
  • Marina Sofos, U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy

The 2017 EIA Energy Conference will be held June 26 and 27 in Washington, DC. Registration is open through midday on June 22.

More information about the appliances and energy-consuming equipment in American homes is available through EIA’s Residential Energy Consumption Survey.

Principal contributor: Bill McNary