In Candice Adler's Linwood home, appliances like the dishwasher and the refrigerator are covered by cabinetry to blend in with the rest of the kitchen she renovated two years ago.

Even though everything looks consistent, the new appliances meant some big changes in the amount of energy and water used to keep her dishes clean and her food fresh.

"When I was putting my kitchen together, I was definitely thinking about ways to keep it green," Adler said. It's only a couple of years later, but Adler said she doesn't think she's in the minority anymore when it comes to an awareness of green kitchen appliances.

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Since people will spend a good amount of their time each day in the kitchen, it's also one of the perfect places to start making changes to help the environment. From appliances to the meals themselves, there are many ways to turn the kitchen into the most eco-friendly room in the house.

Switching over to energy efficient appliances is one of the most effective ways to save energy and save a lot of money over time. And there's no better appliance to start with than the centerpiece of any kitchen: the fridge.

"You're biggest abuser of energy is the refrigerator," said Scot Sacks, owner of Art Handler's Appliance Center in Pleasantville. "For every two minutes that the refrigerator stays open, it takes 25 minutes to recoup that cold."

A fridge is the only appliance in the house that needs to be kept plugged in 24 hours a day. A refrigerator built before 1993 can add more than $100 in annual energy bills.

Newer Energy Star models of refrigerators use about half the energy of older models, thus cutting on energy costs.

But replacing the appliance doesn't completely solve the problem. Sacks said that people need to find the right balance between too full and not full enough when it comes to their fridge.

"You want to keep the fridge at least half full," Sacks said.

Sacks said that if the refrigerator is too full, it's using a lot of energy to keep everything cold. However, if it's emptied before a vacation, the fridge keeps cycling to keep the temperature consistent. With less objects to absorb the cold temperatures, the coils need to work harder to pump in more energy to keep the rest of the fridge cold.

If you leave for vacation, Sacks recommended filling a gallon jug with water to fill the void in the fridge.

Dishwashers, on the other hand, should only be used when they're completely full. It keeps the device from running as often and it maximizes the amount of clean kitchenware you can get with one helping of detergent.

Adler wouldn't have it any other way. As she empties out her dishwasher, it's chock full of glasses and plates.

"I always fill it to the top," Adler said.

Sacks said a lot of people end up wasting water and energy if they try hand washing their dishes before sticking them in the washer.

"If you put dirty dishes right into the dishwasher, it works much more efficiently," Sacks said. The detergent is looking to eliminate food particles, and when there aren't any particles to find, the detergent can end up etching the dishes and glasses in the process.

Not every kitchen appliance comes in an Energy Star variety, but that doesn't mean there aren't energy saving opportunities that exist. For example, there are no Energy Star microwaves, but you can unplug them when they're not in use.

While appliances are such an important part of the kitchen, making a few changes to maintaining diets and buying food can end up reducing carbon footprints in the long run.

For example, a trip to the grocery store or the produce market may only take a couple of miles. But the average piece of food travels 1,500 miles before getting to the supermarket in the first place.

"We're not only losing a lot of nutrients, but also a lot of freshness and a lot of petroleum just to get that food to our dinner table," said Sara Snow, green lifestyle expert and the author of the book "Fresh Living."

Local produce markets are an easy solution to finding local foods, but in supermarkets, a law from the USDA requires that foods be clearly labeled with their country of origin. The closer to home, the less gasoline was used to haul it to the store.

There are certain foods that are almost always grown close to home. Varieties of apples, corn and watermelon are grown throughout the country, and they can often be included in other meals.

"I don't think people realize how many things you can do with corn," said Laura McIntosh, host and creator of the television series "Bringing It Home." Apples and corn in particular can be used in pies, muffins, and salads.

The food itself is important, but there are opportunities to become green while preparing the food as well.

Water is such an important part of washing food and preparing ingredients. But while everyone is waiting for the water to get hot or the food to get clean, there's the potential to save that water for later use.

"Put that water in a pot or a watering can," Snow said. "Use it to water plants, or even save it for later and use it to make pasta."

There are also certain foods like tomatoes and vegetables that aren't meant for the refrigerators. Tropical fruits like pineapples and even tomatoes are meant to be stored at room temperatures.

"Most people don't think of tomatoes as a tropical fruit," McIntosh said. "But keeping them out of the fridge is one of the best things you can do, and they taste better."

E-mail Ben Leach:

On the Web:

For a complete list of appliances that are Energy Star certified, visit the federal government's Web site at:

To learn more about making the kitchen and other rooms in the house more eco-friendly, check out Sara Snow's book "Fresh Living: The Essential Room-by-Room Guide to a Greener, Healthier Family and Home," or visit her Web site at:

For more green kitchen tips and recipes, check out Laura McIntosh's "Bringing It Home" Web site at:

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