Off Old Farm Road in Chilmark at the end of a dirt road sits the new house of Dardanella and Sean Slavin and their two small children. Over the past year this house has become a home for the young family but it has also become a laboratory. Here, and in 32 other houses across the Island, General Electric and the Vineyard Energy Project have been testing out the next generation of so-called smart appliances and gauging the response of customers whose energy demands have been tempered by the energy load capacity of utilities.

On Wednesday, with a full stock of splattered dishes in her dishwasher Mrs. Slavin hit a button on her machine, ostensibly starting the wash cycle. But the machine was silent.

“You know that it’s going to start when the energy price goes down,” she said. “Which is fine most of the time, because at the end of the night when you start the dishwasher, who cares when it runs during the middle of the night?”

In 2009 as part of the stimulus package the Vineyard Energy project won a $767,000 grant to partially fund a pilot project on the Island to explore an appliance-based “demand response” approach to energy management. When utilities are at their peak load, as indicated by the price of energy, the appliances reduce their usage. When energy is cheap, the appliances indulge. The concept of the smart grid is of special import on the Vineyard, where efforts to build offshore wind turbines, if successful, would provide an intermittent power source.

Last year the prototype appliances began to make their way into Vineyard homes and the Slavins were the Island’s first test subjects. For the most part, Vineyard Energy Project director and project manager Ted Bayne said, the pilot program has been a success.

“GE’s very happy with the way things have gone,” he said. “They’re rolling out more pilots using this same approach and they just came back from the consumer electronics show where they featured testimonials from the Vineyard.”

So far 33 houses, most of them affordable, have been fitted with new appliances along with monitoring software known as the home energy manager.

“Under here, that little box with the green light, that’s the nucleus,” Mrs. Slavin said pointing under her computer desk to a white cube plugged into her wall. “That’s what talks to the computer and to each of the appliances.”

On her computer screen was a summary of the day’s energy usage that could be displayed in terms of kilowatt hours or dollars.

“It makes you so aware of the energy that you’re using, which is awesome,” she said.

As the pilot has proven though, it isn’t always comfortable operating on the leading edge of research and development.

Even when they are not in use the Slavin appliances are engaged in a constant conversation both with each other and with the outside world of ever-fluctuating energy markets. Sometimes that conversation doesn’t go well. On Dec. 15 and 16 the price signal from ISO New England, an independent regional transmission organization, hit code red, the home energy manager’s highest price tier.

“Apparently someone was having trouble buying power because the wholesale price just went through the roof,” said Mr. Bayne. In those circumstances the appliances are programmed to run at a reduced rate that the users are not able to override.

“It’s creating a lot of issues,” he said. While the next generation hot water heater is programmed to buy and store energy at off-peak hours the price has hit code red frequently enough to be a problem. “People will call in to me and say, ‘I just had a cold shower.’ ”

Peak load also frequently overlaps with dinnertime — between 5 and 7 p.m. — and Mr. Bayne can recall occasions where he has had to unplug stovetops from communicating with energy markets at the request of participants.

But to him the hiccups are precisely the purpose of the pilot project.

“After all, this is a smart grid grant that is a [research and development] project,” he said. “Are we supposed to think this should work out of the box, or should we in fact be learning things? And we are learning. We’re learning about what smart appliances are and what they’re not. We’ve been able to give GE some really good feedback about things that they didn’t do that they should have done.”

Although there are bugs to work out with how the appliances manage peak load situations, on their own the machines, which participants were able to buy at a steep discount, represent the next generation of energy efficiency. On top of GE’s discounted price for the appliances the department of energy agreed to foot half the list price. As a result the Slavins were able to buy a refrigerator that retails for $3,000 for only a few hundred dollars. It was an opportunity so appealing that Mrs. Slavin passed along word to her mother, who is also enrolled in the project and benefitting from a slate of state-of-the-art new appliances.

On Wednesday Mrs. Slavin was eager to show off a new washer that spins so fast that her clothes rarely need drying in her new dryer — a dryer that communicates with the washer by cable to determine how much time is required for drying each load.

Still, the technology has hurdles to overcome.

A year ago in a criticism of the stimulus bill Sen. John McCain ridiculed the Vineyard Energy Power grant as a “big brother” approach to energy efficiency. Although Mr. Bayne dismissed Mr. McCain’s comments as fear-mongering, he concedes that at least in this still-early stage of research and development it’s a concern that GE has to take seriously.

“The woman whose range I detached, that’s how she described it,” he said. “Because she was experiencing discomfort, she experienced it as the aliens have taken over my appliances, so I had to agree with her. It was a big learning experience. In order for this stuff to work it’s got to be a lot more sophisticated.”