What is an Energy Star rating on Appliances?
Shopping for major appliances can be nerve-wracking, particularly when you consider that most household appliances, from refrigerators to dishwashers and garbage disposals, should keep humming for the next 10 to 20 years. In 1992, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) took one part of the worry away. That’s when the governmental group launched Energy Star, a program that singles out appliances that use fewer environmental resources and cost you less to operate. Today, you can spot an Energy Star label on more than just appliances. Office products, building materials, lighting and electronics all carry the logo.
Energy Star appliances are about 20% more energy efficient than ones without the rating. That makes a difference. According to the EPA, in 2009, Energy Star alliances helped Americans save nearly $17 billion on their utility bills. What’s more, using less electricity, which comes from processing coal and natural gas—and contributes to greenhouse gases, prevented a significant amount of those environmental hazards from entering the atmosphere—the equivalent of taking 30 million cars off the road. Energy Star labels aren’t difficult to read. Most have a rating that shows how many kilowatt-hours (kWhs) per year the appliance is expected to use. When shopping for a new appliance, look for the lowest number, which means fewer kWhs and more energy efficiency. As a bonus, some Energy Star appliances, such as hot water heaters and heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems, qualify for a federal tax credit, which puts even more money in your pocket.
How a product earns an Energy Star label
Keep in mind, that Energy Star labels assess energy efficiency, not every aspect of performance. An ice maker on a non-Energy Star refrigerator, for example, could work better than one with the government seal. But what you can be assured from an Energy Star appliance is that it has met or exceeded some strict standards of efficiency set up by the EPA and the U.S. Department of Energy.
At the bare minimum, an Energy Star appliance must provide significant energy savings and be as high-performing as other appliances of its kind. If the Energy Star appliance has a higher sticker price than unlabeled models, it has to prove that you will recoup your investment through savings on your utility bill. And all Energy Star appliances have to prove, via testing, that they actually are energy efficient.
In addition, every type of appliance has individual benchmarks it must meet. For instance, Energy Star dishwashers can use no more than 5.8 gallons of water per cycle, while refrigerators must be 15% more energy efficient than federal standards. One appliance you won’t see an Energy Star label on is clothes dryers. Currently, all dryers in the U.S. use just about the same amount of energy so there’s no need to compare models.
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