Appliances are pieces of equipment like fridges, stoves, and HVAC systems that are often powered by electricity or natural gas. The residential, commercial, and public sectors are heavy energy consumers, since they use many appliances.

In 2019, the residential, commercial, and public sectors accounted for 48% of worldwide final electricity consumption. The same year, building “plug-in” appliances – which exclude heating, cooling, cooking, and lighting – were responsible for 15% of final electricity demand worldwide.

HVAC impacts are significant but have already been covered in another section. As such, this section will focus on other types of appliances.

Energy and Water Grids

Everything that can heat, cool, light, or move needs energy. Households typically receive that energy from local natural gas or electricity grids. While burning gas releases considerable amounts of CO2, electricity isn’t always better. 63% of the world’s electricity was sourced from coal, natural gas, or oil in 2019.

Appliances that use water have energy requirements as well. Through the use of energy-consuming pumps, pressurization allows water to travel great distances in underground pipes. Treatment plants also increase water’s life-cycle impacts. For example, drinking water and wastewater treatment plants often account for 30-40% of total energy use by many municipal governments in the US.

Electrical Appliances

While electrical appliances certainly use more electricity when turned on, most still draw “standby power” when turned off. In 1998, 0.6% of total OECD CO2 emissions were caused by standby power losses from the OECD’s residential sector. That’s roughly the same amount of CO2 emissions coming from 24 million European-type cars the same year.

Efforts have been made since to regulate standby power, with moderate success. For the past 20 years, governments around the world have implemented regulations to limit the standby power to 0.5-1 W [Watt] per appliance. Unfortunately, that’s not being respected by many manufacturers, as their products continue to draw much more standby power than admissible.


Dryers have recently made their way into the vast majority of households in some developed countries. In these areas, dryers are often marketed as the washing machine’s essential counterpart. However, dryers aren’t essential appliances. Air-drying clothes is still a common and reliable practice in many areas of the world, especially where individuals can’t afford expensive dryers and associated energy costs.


Lighting accounts for 15% of electricity consumption and 5% of GHG emissions worldwide. In developed countries that have access to electricity, there are a couple of ways to reduce lighting energy consumption. It’s much harder for underdeveloped regions of the world that still rely on fossil fuels for lighting.

Policies that aim to phase out inefficient lightbulbs can reduce electricity consumption in developed countries. For example, switching from incandescent to LED bulbs can lower electricity use by 75-80%.


While LEDs can be slightly more expensive than incandescent bulbs up front, switching to low-energy lighting can lower electricity bills. For reference, it’s estimated that LEDs could save the US population an estimated $26 billion USD per year, while cutting electricity consumption for lighting nearly in half.

Additionally, lighting electricity consumption can be reduced through better practices. For large scales, that can mean implementing automatic lighting systems that cut energy consumption in large buildings considerably. For individuals, that can mean using natural lighting as much as possible and avoiding waste.


Appliances like fridges, freezers, and air-conditioners contain chemical refrigerants that allow efficient cooling. Unfortunately, many refrigerants [e.g. HFCs] are extremely potent GHGs, with greenhousiness levels up to 14,800 times higher than CO2. Appliance leakage and weak disposal systems threaten to release these refrigerants into the atmosphere.

Improving refrigerant management has been outlined by some scientific groups as one of the most effective emissions-reduction measures available. On top of phasing out HFCs from manufacturing, governments can develop policies that improve waste management systems to make sure that the HFCs currently contained in appliances don’t contribute to further global warming.

Water Heaters

Water heating accounts for roughly 16% of residential energy consumption in select IEA developed countries, on average.

To improve efficiency, building operators and homeowners can set the lowest recommended temperature on their water heaters. Doing so would result in less heat loss between the hot water tank and the surrounding air – and thus less energy would be required to continuously heat the water. Unfortunately, lowering it too much isn’t an option as it risks growing bacteria.

Improving insulation around hot water tanks and pipes is another good option. And of course, reducing hot water consumption can lower energy consumption too.

Interestingly, water heaters help other appliances appear quite eco-friendly. That’s the case for new dishwashers, for example, as they seem to require only as much power as hair dryers. When water heating needs are considered however, dishwasher energy use increases considerably. Hand-washing isn’t always a better option though, since new dishwashers are capable of using just 10-20 liters of hot water per load.

The same goes for hot showers and baths. Relatively small bathtubs need around 120 L of hot water per use. That’s the equivalent of a 20-minute shower for low-flow shower heads [at around 6 liters per minute]. For higher flow rates, that’s closer to a 13-minute shower [at around 10 liters per minute].


Governments can pass numerous policies that would effectively reduce appliance energy use and associated impacts. Companies can also contribute by producing high-quality items that use less energy and last longer. As for individuals, avoiding waste and lowering consumption are easy ways to minimize personal impacts.