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REA Dear Jim: I am trying to live my life as efficiently as possible to save money and the environment. There seem to be so many different efficiency ratings. How can I evaluate which appliances are most efficient?:Bob M.

Dear Bob: Using the most efficient appliances and products in your home can significantly cut your utility bills. It will also reduce air pollution, environmental damage from exploration and transportation of fuels and stretch our finite fossil fuel supplies for your children's future needs.

For many products in your home, particularly smaller ones which use electricity, it takes the quick use of a calculator to determine which are most efficient. Luckily, the government and manufacturer associations have made it easier to compare efficiencies of the highest-energy-usage items.

Heating and cooling a home are the greatest contributors to high monthly utility bills. All furnaces, heat pumps and air conditioners will have one of the follow efficiency ratings. A higher number indicates higher efficiency. Keep in mind, more efficient models usually cost more initially, so have the contractor do a payback analysis for your home.

HSPF (heating seasonal performance factor):this is a heating efficiency rating that compares the seasonal electricity usage of heat pumps.

SEER (seasonal energy efficiency ratio):this is a cooling efficiency rating that compares the seasonal electricity usage of heat pumps or central air conditioners.

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EER (energy efficiency ratio):this is the cooling efficiency rating that compares the electricity usage for window and portable air conditioners. It is a less accurate comparison because it does not take into account the start-up inefficiencies and seasonal changes as a SEER rating does.

AFE (annual fuel utilization efficiency):this is the heating efficiency rating that compares the fuel usage of natural gas, propane and oil furnaces.

Heating water is another major energy consumer in most homes. Water heater efficiency can be compared by its EF (energy factor). It also has a yellow energy usage label on the tank showing estimated annual operating costs. Also use the yellow energy label to compare refrigerator/freezer and clothes washer efficiency.

Visit the Association of Appliance and Equipment Association web site (www.gamanet.org) to find efficiency ratings of these heating appliances (includes electric water heaters). Similar efficiency ratings on heat pumps and central air conditioners can be found at www.ari.org.

Lighting is another significant electricity consumer. Generally, compact fluorescent bulbs are going to be much more efficient than standard incandescent bulbs. Even though they are more expensive to purchase initially, their long life and efficiency make them a good buy.

Various wattage bulbs, particularly with incandescents, have different efficiencies. To compare them, read the packaging for the amount of light output in lumens. Take your calculator and divide this by the bulb wattage. This indicates how much light you get for the amount of electricity used.

Energy Star (www.enerystar.gov) is another excellent source when selecting energy efficient home products. Products that meet their high efficiency standards are listed in many categories.

Send inquiries to James Dulley, Rochester Post-Bulletin, 6906 Royalgreen Dr., Cincinnati, OH 45244 or visit www.dulley.com.

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Dear Jim: I just bought a new refrigerator/freezer and I plan to put the old one in my unheated garage. I was told the cold temperature in the garage can cause problems for it. Should I put it out there?:Alice C.

Dear Alice: Refrigerator/freezers are not designed to operate in very cold areas, such as an unheated garage. Without a compressor crankcase heater, as a heat pump has, the oil can get too cold.

Also, many old models have just one temperature control in the refrigerator portion. In a cold garage, the refrigerator portion will stay cold, but the compressor won't run long enough to keep the freezer adequately cold.

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