November 23, 2014

Energy Star Credibility

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy recently outlined a new two-step process to strengthen the credibility of the Energy Star brand.

Step 1: Testing. More aggressive product testing will be required in the future in order to be Energy Star-certified.

DOE began tests at third-party test labs on six of the most common appliances categories:
• freezers
• refrigerator-freezers
• clothes washers
• dishwashers
• water heaters
• room air-conditioners.
DOE noted that these appliances account for at least 25% of a typical homeowner’s energy bill. It will test about 200 basic models in the coming months.

The agencies are also developing a new system to require all products seeking the Energy Star label to be tested in approved labs and require ongoing verification testing.

Step 2 Enforcement.

The agencies have taken action against 35 companies in the last 4 months to enforce compliance with Energy Star as well as with DOE’s minimum appliance efficiency standards. A news release details some of the enforcement actions taken in 2009-2010, including:

• July 2009: Subpoenas issued to AeroSys Inc. to obtain air-conditioner and heat pump documentation.
• Sept. 2009: AeroSys required to provide product samples for DOE testing to verify models met U.S. federal minimum energy efficiency standards.
• Dec. 2009: DOE and EPA took steps to remove Energy Star labels from 20 LG refrigerator-freezer models that had been shown, via testing by multiple independent labs, to consume more energy than allowed by Energy Star criteria.
• Jan. 2010: DOE signed a Consent Decree with Haier regarding actions to address four Haier freezer models, including two Energy Star models, that were consuming more energy than reported.
• March 2010: EPA terminated its Energy Star relationship with US Inc./US Refrigeration based on a history of logo misuse, unresponsiveness, and failure to comply with program guidelines.

Other actions addressed problems with lightbulb and showerhead manufacturers.

The agencies noted that Energy Star violations receive much media attention but account for a small percentage of total products in the program. A recent independent review found 98% compliance.

EnergyStar Ratings – Can They be Trusted?

According to retailers, the Federal Appliance Rebate Program has increased appliance purchases nationwide.  The rebate is for energy efficient appliances which is great – only you might not be getting what that EnergyStar  label promises.

A recent report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) suggests that some Energy Star products aren’t all they’re cracked up to be.

Responding to a request for investigation from Sen. Susan Collins (R., Maine), the GAO submitted 20 fictitious products between June 2009 and March 2010 for certification by Energy Star, a joint program of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Energy (DOE). Fifteen of the fakes–including a phony “room-air cleaner” that was little more than a space heater with a feather duster taped to it–received an Energy Star label.

Parade Magazine reports that in response, federal officials announced plans to strengthen the program. From now on, each application will be reviewed individually by an EPA staff member (as opposed to the automated approval process previously in place). By the end of the year, companies that want Energy Star certification for their products will be required to submit lab results from an independent testing agency rather than conduct their own evaluations.

Meanwhile, consumer advocates say we can still have faith in our Energy Star appliances: Most Energy Star brands on the market are about 10% more energy-efficient than their counterparts.

Sen. Collins applauds the reforms, calling them long overdue. “Energy Star wasn’t just slipping a bit,” she says. “It was in danger of falling off the quality cliff–putting taxpayers at risk of getting ripped off. Now that the EPA and DOE are moving to put more stringent oversight in place, I believe consumers will be better served and the integrity of the program will be restored.”

Just How Much Energy is That Appliance Using?

My computer stays on through the week, only getting shut off on the weekend.  My answering machine and TV stay plugged in, their little red lights glowing in the night.  I do turn off the treadmill between uses and the DVD player too.

My energy habits are probably similar to many Americans.  If you’re wondering how much energy you’re wasting, or conversely, saving by turning appliances off, check out this energy calculator from GE:

This is a really cool tool that calculates  how much power each appliance consumes in watts or kilowatthours.  Alternatively, you can see how much each appliance costs to use in dollars, and how much it consumes in equivalent gallons of gas.

Some appliances are marked with a blue star indicating that an  EnergyStar model is available or click on the green star to see how much energy (and money) you’ll save with a new appliance.

Approved Energy Efficient Appliance Rebate Programs

If you are wondering which Department of Energy (DOE) rebates are available in your state, just check out this interactive map.  There is also a simple table listing the individual states along with the total rebate dollars available, websites and phone numbers.

DOE has approved the appliance rebate programs for the states and territories linked or listed on this page as of April 27, 2010. This list and map will be updated as additional program details are available.  This DOE site is the only official DOE-sponsored Web site – beware of other unofficial sites.

Appliance Rebates are Here – But Not for Long

The federal appliance rebates are finally here, but if you want yours, you’d better act fast.

According to the Wall Street Journal,  in Florida  the $17.6 million allocated for the program lasted a day and half, as more than 72,000 claims were filed. In Illinois, the second half of its $12.4 million, made available on Friday, April 16th disappeared in 11 hours.

Nationwide, $300 million in rebate money has been allocated by the federal government to 56 states and territories to encourage residents to buy furnaces, clothes washers, refrigerators and other appliances with the government’s Energy Star label. Typically, rebates run about $75 for a clothes washer and several hundred dollars for home heating and cooling systems.

But in an experience reminiscent of last year’s popular “cash for clunkers” program, which paid consumers to trade in gas-guzzling automobiles, interest in the appliance programs has been so been intense that the state programs are often running dry in a matter of days.

For example, Melissa Woodall, a single mother of three in Miami, said she began scanning appliance ads a few weeks ago for a new stove. She noticed an article about the rebates and decided to replace her old, leaky dishwasher and refrigerator.

The day before qualified purchases were allowed, she visited Sears to pick out the appliances. On Friday, she arrived to the store at 6:30 a.m. and found 49 customers in line. Fortunately, the store had given her a printout the night before. All she had to do was pay and arrange delivery, which still took an hour and a half in the crowded store.

And the ordeal was not over, Ms. Woodall said — she still had to get the rebate itself. At 11 a.m., when online signups began, she and her sister went to the state’s rebate site. “The Web site was flooded. It kept crashing,” she said. It took her an hour and 15 minutes to get registered for the rebate.

It was worth it, Ms. Woodall said. She paid about $1,500 for the dishwasher and fridge and will be getting about $500 back.

Each state has structured its own program, sometimes excluding certain appliances like air-conditioners or requiring proof that old appliances were recycled before paying out the cash. The amount of money available varies widely, from more than $35 million in California, where the program was scheduled to start on Thursday in connection with Earth Day, to $100,000 in American Samoa.

The federal government created the appliance rebate program as part of the 2009 stimulus legislation, and retailers say it has increased sales.

The high interest is understandable. The rebate programs come on top of existing discounts on Energy Star appliances, recycling and take-back rebates for old units, and specials provided by individual retailers. In some cases, consumers may qualify for federal or state tax credits, too.

You Can Use Less Laundry Detergent

Over the next few weeks, Procter & Gamble plans to introduce easier-to-read plastic measuring caps for its liquid detergent brands, including Tide, Gain, Era and Cheer. The new caps will have more-defined measurement lines inside and bigger numbers that are staggered, not stacked, says Dawn French, P&G’s head of laundry research and development for North America.

Why?  Because, according to the Wall Street Journal, Americans use too much detergent per load.  They have come to think that more soap equals cleaner clothes, which is not the case – rather it causes build-up and dingy colors.  Additionally,  more consumers are buying high-efficiency washers which need even less of today’s concentrated detergents.

Packaging, in most cases, hasn’t helped. The molded lines and numbers inside detergent caps are hard to read, especially in a dimly lit laundry room. And even though concentrated detergents have been on the market since at least 2007, many caps still hold more than is needed for an average load.

Method Products Inc. this month launched an ad blitz for a new detergent with a pump dispenser, designed to help curb overdosing. Method found that 53% of people don’t use the recommended amount of detergent per washload, preferring instead to guess or, worse, to simply fill the cap up to the top—a practice that wastes more than half the loads a detergent bottle could wash, Method executives say.

Through much of Europe, detergent premeasured in tablets and sachets has been popular for years. But in the U.S., pre-dosed products have been largely unsuccessful. Consumers usually pick up their laundry habits during adolescence from their mothers, and changing them is hard, says Bob Deutsch, founder of Brain Sells, a marketing consulting firm.

American consumers, it seems, also want more control. Many people have their own laundry “recipe,” and each one believes her unique method leads to superior results, industry executives say. P&G, the world’s leading detergent maker, calls such involved laundry doers “master chemists.”

General Electric Co.’s top-of-the-line Profile frontload washer offers to take on all dosing decisions itself. The SmartDispense feature, adding $600 to the cost of the machine, holds up to six months’ worth of detergent and allocates the right amount for each load, taking the detergent concentration level and the amount of clothes into account.

Proper dosing is the biggest laundry concern among callers to Seventh Generation Inc.’s help line, says Sue Holden, head of the consumer-insights team at the Burlington, Vt., household-product maker. Two years ago, the company started making its detergent bottle cap with translucent plastic partly to make it easier to read. “We’re trying to train people to do something that doesn’t come naturally,” says Ms. Holden. “Growing up, a lot of us just poured it in.”

Seventh Generation’s co-founder, Jeffrey Hollender, wonders why more people haven’t stumbled upon laundry’s big, dirty secret: “You don’t even need soap to wash most loads,” he says.  The agitation of washing machines often does the job on its own.

Avoiding the 10 Most Common Laundry Problems – From the Thor Appliance Company

1. Detergent Overuse

As highlighted in a recent Wall Street Journal article, Americans continue to overuse laundry detergent. Detergent overuse not only shortens of the life of clothing, it can damage or even ruin a perfectly fine washing machine.

High levels of detergent can get trapped in fabric, making clothing appear dingy and faded. Inside your laundry machine, detergent residue gums up the inner workings of your washer, including the door gasket and drain system. In a washer dryer combo, suds from too much soap can accumulate in the condensing chamber, causing longer dry times.

The reason for detergent overuse is twofold. High efficiency washers of today use significantly less water (and therefore need less detergent) than the top loaders of an earlier era. While Americans are still getting used to new frontload machines, they continue to measure detergent based on top load washers. Making matters worse, modern detergents are much more concentrated, which means that a little goes a long way.

Today, accurately measuring out laundry detergent is more important than ever. Be sure to read the detergent box to determine the correct amount of soap for your load size and water temperature.

2. Overloading

Even with the expanded capacity of modern washers and dryers, overloading continues to be a common problem. Unlike old tub-style topload washers which use an agitator to stir clothing clean, new frontload machines clean by tumbling laundry. In order for frontload washers to work properly, there must be room for the laundry to tumble. These washers should be loaded to about 3/4 of full capacity to allow the clothing to fall away from the drum during the wash cycle. An overfilled washer will result in poor cleaning results and wrinkled laundry.

3. Forgetting to Empty the Lint Filter

Forgetting to empty the lint screen not only creates longer dry times, it can be a potential fire hazard. When emptied after each cycle, lint filters eliminate the collection of gooey lint in vent line ducting. However, screens that are not cleaned regularly can cause potentially hazardous lint accumulation within the dryer housing.

A perfect kindling for a fire, lint that comes in contact with a dryer’s heating element has the potential to ignite. While newer dryers are designed to be less susceptible to fires, no dry system is completely immune from years of lint built up.

Take the time to empty the lint screen after each cycle and be sure to inspect old dryers for lint accumulation behind the filter and where the vent line exits the back of the machine.

4. Forgetting to Remove Packing Bolts

Frontload washers use packing bolts to secure the machine’s suspension system during transportation. If the packing bolts are not removed before the washer is operated, the suspension system will not function and the machine will jump and vibrate. Be sure to refer to your user manual for directions on how to remove packing bolts. Also, remember to replace packing bolts if your washer is moved to a new location.

5. Not Using Fabric Softener

When most of us think of fabric softener, we think of soft fluffy towels or that snuggly little teddy bear. And while fabric softener can make your towels fluffy and your sweater softer, it also plays an important role in frontload washer operation.

As mentioned earlier, frontload washers tumble clothing during the wash cycle. In addition, they extract water by spinning laundry between rinses. The high speed spin of a frontload washer can cause clothing to stick to the side of the drum, keeping them from tumbling freely during the rinse cycle. A small dose of fabric softener will help laundry fall away from the drum and ensure that clothing is rinsed properly.

If you are averse to using a scented fabric softener, there are many mild and unscented softeners on the market today.

6. Mixing Fabrics and Colors

As life gets more hectic, we’re all more apt to cut corners when it comes to laundry. This often results in tossing every color and fabric type in the washer and selecting a warm water wash. Mixing colors and fabrics can not only discolor clothing (e.g. the pink sock that used to be white), it can break down delicate fabrics.

Be sure to read the washing instructions on each garment and take a few extra minutes to sort laundry into white, colors and delicates. Not only will your clothes last longer, you won’t have to be seen with that embarrassing pink sock.

7. Shrinkage

In a push for record breaking dry times, many appliance manufactures have turbo charged dry cycles with scorching heat and too often poor results. Excessive heat can ruin delicate clothing and significantly shrink cotton fabric. Hang drying garments in the spring and summer is a good way to save energy and avoid cotton shrinkage – and a quick five minute fluff in the dryer will release any wrinkles that may have developed while hang drying. In the cooler months, selecting a more moderate dry cycle will extend the life of clothing and keep shrinkage to a minimum.

8. Out of Balance Loads

Unless you live adjacent to a pile driving project, the sound of an out of balance washer is hard to mistake. While most modern washers have an automatic shut-off trigger that eliminates damage to the machine, the few seconds of earth shattering pounding is not something that can (or should) be ignored.

While reshuffling clothing will usually do the trick, larger blankets and bedding can be hard to balance, particularly if they’re too bulky to fit comfortably in your washing machine. The best way to avoid out of balance loads is to use an extra large washer at your neighborhood laundromat or have those bulky items professionally laundered.

9. Pens and Other Pocket Hazards

Long hailed as a nerdy fashion accessory, the pocket protector just might be the best defense against this next laundry mistake. That’s because one unsuspecting ballpoint pen left is a pocket can ruin an entire load of clothing.

If a single ink stain is tough to remove, image dozens on ink streaks scattered over an entire load of shirts and pants. The best way to avoid this disaster (other than the pocket protector idea) is to take the extra time to check each pocket for pens, gum, rocks or any other unfriendly item that may cause harm to your clothing or washer and dryer.

10. Leaky Hoses

A leaky or bursting washer hose can cause major water damage in a matter of minutes. Like any material, the rubber used in laundry hoses breaks down after years of use, particularly under high pressure. Thankfully there are a number of products on the market that can eliminate leaks before they become disasters.

There are many aftermarket multi-layered hoses that offer additional flood protection. One word of caution about aftermarket hoses; many European washing machines have custom hoses with a metric sized connection for the washer and a standard sized connection for the water input. In this case, you may need to stick with the stock hoses or search for a more customized hose option that blends metric and standard sizing.

Whirlpool Wins $1.78 Million From LG in Patent Case

According to Businessweek.com, Whirlpool Corp., the world’s largest appliance maker, won $1.78 million in patent- infringement damages from Korea’s LG Electronics Inc. in a continuing dispute over refrigerator technology.

After a seven-day trial in federal court in Wilmington, Delaware, the jury of five women and three men also decided that Whirlpool didn’t infringe an LG icemaker patent. “We’re gratified that the jury found that our patent is both valid and infringed,” Scott F. Partridge, one of Whirlpool’s lawyers, said in an interview after the verdict.

LG, of Seoul, sued Benton Harbor, Michigan-based Whirlpool in 2008 alleging infringement of a U.S. patent for an ice dispenser. Whirlpool countersued, claiming LG infringed patents for in-door ice-access and warp-proof refrigerator liners. LG said in a statement it would seek a judicial review of the verdict.

During two days of deliberations, jurors repeatedly examined a row of LG and Whirlpool double-door refrigerators with icemakers lined up in the courtroom, comparing claims of the patents and how the equipment works.

LG had asked the jury to award it more than $1 million in royalties, and Whirlpool originally asked for a minimum of $22.1 million in its suit.

The case was complicated by a U.S. International Trade Commission ruling in Washington last month that LG didn’t violate a Whirlpool patent for ice storage and may still import refrigerators.

In its statement, LG said the jury “was not permitted to hear any evidence concerning the ITC investigation.”

LG is the No. 3 appliance maker behind Whirlpool and Sweden’s Electrolux AB. LG reported more than $7 billion in home appliance sales last year and is aiming to become the world’s largest maker of refrigerators and washing machines by 2012.

LG agreed to modify the design of the ice maker in some of its refrigerators to resolve part of the ITC dispute.