Despite a year marked by greenbashing and greenwashing, this 41st Earth Day includes some good reasons to celebrate. An array of eco-friendlier washing machines, water heaters, lightbulbs, paints and stains, lawn mowers, string trimmers, flooring, and other cleaner, more efficient products have climbed to the top in our most recent tests.
Washing machines. New Energy Star standards that require washers to use 11 percent less energy and 20 percent less water took effect in January. The Whirlpool Duet WFW94HEX[W] front-loading washer, $1,000, and Whirlpool Vantage WTW7990X[G] high-efficiency top-loading washer, $2,000, cleaned impressively and efficiently in our tests. You’ll find other efficient machines for less in our Ratings, which are available to subscribers.
Hybrid heat pump water heaters. Heating water can account for up to a quarter of a home’s energy bills. Hybrid heat pump water heaters we tested saved up to 59 percent over the cost of heating water with a conventional electric water heater. We also found that solar and tankless water heaters can save energy, but typically cost far more and have longer payback times.
Lightbulbs. CFLs are providing better-quality light and work in many more types of lighting fixtures. And LED lights—some of which could last up to 17 years—are finally dropping in price. Feit’s EcoBulb Plus 60W Replacement CFLs ($8 for a pack of 3) performed well in our tests, even when turned on and off frequently. Still others in our Ratings did even better for less.
Low-phosphorus dishwasher detergents. Seventeen states now ban products with phosphorus, which causes harmful plant and algae blooms in waterways. Although reformulated low- and no-phosphate detergents weren’t top performers in Consumer Reports’ earlier tests, they’ve improved. But the same brand can yield very different results: Two versions of Finish performed very well, but another proved far less impressive in our tests.
Paints and stains. All but two of our Recommended interior and exterior paints boast low VOCs, which contribute to ozone and smog formation and are linked to respiratory illnesses and memory impairment. One interior pick is the $26-per-gallon Kilz Casual Colors Satin, though our Ratings include an even better paint that skips the usual primer coat and is as close as your Home Depot.
Among exterior paints, Glidden Spred Satin, $27 per gallon, was edged out by just one other paint that costs even less. But for stains, only solid finishes combined low VOC levels with durability in our tests.
Electric lawn mowers. Our tests found two push and one self-propelled electric model—all from Black & Decker—whose performance makes them worthy of some gas mowers. But we’d pass on another green alternative, the propane-powered Lehr LM139SP, $350.
Lawn tractors. All riding mowers have better emissions controls this year to comply with Environmental Protection Agency rules—and our tests found capable lawn tractors for as little as $1000. New walk-behind mowers don’t need to meet the latest EPA rules until next year, although Honda claims its engines already do.
String trimmers. Some eco-friendlier electrics now match some gas-powered models, including the Stihl FSE 60, $110. But you’ll find comparable electrics for roughly half the price in our Ratings.
Flooring. Easily renewable bamboo is a top performer in our tests that’s also a renewable resource: Bamboo can be harvested in four years as opposed to decades for hardwood flooring. Linoleum, made of linseed and bark that is harvested without killing the tree is another choice, though performance has been spotty.
Countertops. Our past tests have included one paper-composite whose manufacturer claimed it was made from environmentally sustainable resources, but it was much less durable than other materials. Our current tests of countertops include bamboo and recycled glass—look for those results in our July issue, to be posted online and available at newsstands in early June.
More green products: Visit our updated GreenerChoices.org website to see more buying advice on eco-friendly products. And below you'll see details on how kids can can enter the EPA's “Be an Energy Star” video challenge by documenting the energy-efficient actions they are taking.