From Green Right Now Reports

Saving energy is becoming a priority in America, foisted upon us by the ugly realities of finite fossil fuels and $4 gasoline.

Whirlpool's energy-saving Duet washer and dryer.

But even as awareness about the oil, gas and coal that power our cars and homes has grown, energy conservation efforts in other areas of modern life have been touch and go. For decades, household appliances grew larger and more complex, consuming more energy. Washers and dryers, dishwashers and refrigerators got faster, hotter and colder. Dials expanded to include new functions like subzero freezing and heated drying.

Then, manufacturers began to realize they should reverse course on energy consumption. They created economy cycles, cold water wash instructions and other conservation options, short of taking their clothes dryers off the market so you could hang a laundry line.

Those efforts will now have a new benchmark with the release of the Department of Energy’s new standards for clothes washers and dishwashers. Under the new rules, clothes washers will use up to 35 percent less energy than was required before, and dishwashers will use 14 percent less energy and 23 percent less water.

The result: More efficient households that can expect to save on electricity and utility bills.

And the water savings may be the most important aspect of all, considering that several states are expected to face regional water shortages of some duration by 2013.

“Consumers and the environment both come up big winners with these new national standards,” said Steven Nadel, Executive Director of the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE).  “These common-sense standards will save loads of energy, water and money.”

The new standards were crafted by a collaboration of energy experts and consumer groups working with industry officials.

The rate of return on most of the new models meeting the more stringent standards should be about two years (at which point the energy savings will have offset higher upfront costs), according to the Alliance to Save Energy.

Over the next 30 years, the overall savings to American consumers is projected to be more than $31 billion, according to ASE.

Already, many products that meet the new standards are doing well on the market today, suggesting that consumers will embrace new energy- and water-saving dishwashers, washers and dryers.

“These efficiency improvements for clothes washers and dishwashers will save consumers money and provide consumers with more efficient options that are still affordable and high-performing,” said Shannon Baker-Branstetter, a spokeswoman for the Consumers Union, the advocacy wing of Consumer Reports.

Appliances standards have been raised three times previously, since President Ronald Reagan signed the first efficiency standards into law in 1987.

So despite all those bells and whistles, today’s washers use 65 percent less energy, on average, than they did in the 1980s.

As for water savings, the Natural Resources Defense Council Senior Policy Analyst Ed Osann says households will save as much as 10,000 gallons of water annually with the new standards.

“That’s good news for consumers, our environment and our economy – and especially for anybody with a house full of kids,” Osann said.