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Consumer Reports

Planet- and budget-friendly products that really work

Do you avoid green products because of high prices and poor performance?
Recent tests conducted by ShopSmart, the shopping magazine from the publisher of Consumer Reports, show significant improvements in green products, in some cases making them more efficient and cost-effective than conventional ones.
“Green products have come a long way in the last few years,” said Lisa Lee Freeman, editor in chief of ShopSmart. “If you haven’t yet made the switch to greener appliances, paints, toilets and cleaners, you might be surprised at how well many of them work, and in some cases, how much energy and money they can save you.”
Shopsmart’s test findings include the following.
Green winners: Consumers would be wise to spend their money on these items:
— Green Update: Today’s Energy Star-qualified compact fluorescent light bulbs or CFLs don’t flicker or give off the harsh light that earlier bulbs did. And even though they often cost more up front, swapping CFLs for regular bulbs can save you in the long run. They can last up to 12 times as long and use about 75 percent less energy.
— Trade-offs? CFLs contain small amounts of toxic mercury, so they should be recycled after use. Also, with some bulbs you might see a slight delay before they reach full brightness.
— Save: At least $56 over the life of each bulb.
— Green Update: Low-VOC paints beat conventional ones in ShopSmart tests. In the past, these paints had durability problems and didn’t cover darker colors well with one coat.
— Trade-offs? “No-VOC” paints can still contain some VOC, and they aren’t necessarily odor-free. Tints mixed into base paints usually add those chemicals.
— Save: Now the best ones are half the price of some high-end brands.
Washing Machines
— Green Update: In ShopSmart tests, front-loaders have consistently been more efficient and better performers than top-loaders. They’ve also dropped in price, with many models now costing less than $1,000. Although some top-loaders are catching up to front-loaders in water and energy efficiency, top-loaders don’t usually clean as well.
— Trade-offs? Some front-loaders may vibrate and transmit all that shaking to the floor they sit on, so they’re usually best suited for basements or other rooms with concrete floors. Also, you’ll still have to pay a premium for some front-loading models.
— Save: As much as $100 in energy costs per year (compared with the least efficient top-loader tested).
Green maybes: The trade-offs are higher so consumers will have to weigh the options
Toilet paper
— Green update: Recycled toilet paper brands broke down easily in ShopSmart’s disintegration tests — that’s good news if your home’s plumbing system is sensitive.
— Trade-offs? Brands tested haven’t proven as soft or durable as conventional toilet paper.
— Save: There are eco-friendly brands that are cheaper but they may not be worth the trade-offs.
— Green Update: All new efficient fridges use about half the energy of those made 15 years ago. If you want to buy the greenest model, tests found that top- and bottom-freezer styles without ice or water dispensers are consistently the most efficient. Side-by-sides are getting better but the big built-in luxury models use up to twice as much electricity as others.
— Trade-offs? Your choices are limited if you go green because the most efficient models aren’t big, fancy built-ins, trendy French-door models or side-by-side styles.
— Save: About $78 in operating costs per year for top-freezer models; about $72 per year for bottom freezer models (compared with the least efficient side-by-side model tested).
Laundry Detergent
— Green update: ShopSmart found a couple that are worth trying, especially for your less grungy loads.
— Trade-offs? None of the tested eco-friendly laundry detergents earned scores higher than conventional detergents.
— Save: The green products’ prices are competitive but they won’t get your dirtiest laundry as clean.

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