October 25, 2014

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.”

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.

Getting Your Government Funded Appliance Rebate

The good news is  that the US Government’s appliance rebate program has finally begun.  The bad news is that you have a bit of footwork to do before you get it.

Under the federal program, the rebates can go to buyers of new central air conditioners, room air conditioners, heat pumps, boilers, furnaces, washers, dishwashers, freezers, refrigerators, and water heaters with the Energy Star seal.  Also, it doesn’t matter how old your clunker appliance is, it needn’t be in working order and, in some states, such as Arizona and Florida, you won’t even need to trade it in.

The tricky part is that each state will run its program differently, deciding which of the possible products it will include in the program, when to start and stop offering rebates, the size of the rebates, and which residents will qualify. In Minnesota, for instance, only washers, dishwashers, freezers and refrigerators are covered. The refrigerator rebate is worth up to $100 in Nebraska, but no more than $50 in Georgia. The Alaskan program is limited to residents receiving disability payments from the state or federal government. In Kansas and Oregon, rebates are restricted to low-income people. States have until February 2012 to allocate their rebate money, but the programs will likely expire long before then. Some will last only a week.

Eight states (Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Kansas, New Jersey, Oregon, Vermont and Wisconsin) have launched their appliance programs, at least for some products, to capitalize on President’s Weekend appliance sales. The rest are likely to rev up by May, many around Earth Day in April. You can find the rules for your state’s program at Energy Star Web site.

More details to be aware of courtesy of CBSNews.com:

Energy Star appliances can cost $50 to $100 more, on average, than ones that don’t. But the appliance should pay for itself over five or six years through savings on your utility bill. In some cases, your savings come faster. Replacing a washer made before 2000 with a new Energy Star model, for example, can save up to $135 a year, according to the Department of Energy.

• Only 55 percent of new major appliances have the Energy Star label. So you might not be able to get the rebate on the product you want to buy.

• You might not actually get cash. Although some states will issue rebate checks, many will instead give out prepaid cards issued by Visa or MasterCard.

• Unlike “Cash for Clunkers,” where dealers handled all the paperwork, in most states you have to deal with the forms to get your rebate. That means mailing in your receipt, along with proof of residency, a rebate form from the retailer or your state energy department web site, and usually proof that your clunker appliance was picked up.

• It’ll take roughly four to six weeks to get the rebate.

Before you shop:

1. Drill down into the details of your state’s plan. Some states have rigorous requirements about which products qualify, beyond the Energy Star stamp. Others are rolling out their programs in two phases.
Minnesota and Texas let consumers reserve rebates online or by calling a toll-free number about two weeks before they buy. Check online to see if your state has rebate funds left. Some state sites provide an up-to-date tally of the amount left in the kitty.

2. Make sure the retailer you plan to visit is participating. Some small dealers are sitting out because they’ve decided the program is too costly. In Georgia, online purchases won’t qualify.

3. Learn the precise rebate amount for the appliance you’ll buy. You may encounter unexpected twists. In New York’s “Great Appliance Swap-Out,” consumers get rebates for buying eligible appliances individually or in a bundle of three, where the rebate may be larger.

4. See if you’ll get a recycling bonus. Some states boost the rebate by $25 to $75 if you recycle your old appliance.

5. Ask about additional deals. There’s a good chance your new appliance is also eligible for a manufacturer’s rebate or store promotion, too. You may also be able to combine a state rebate with the federal one. Call your local utility to see if it is dangling rebates, too. Often, utilities offer $50 off new energy-conserving appliances. The Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency is a good place to do your research.

6. Apply for the rebate as soon as you can. Some retailers have in-store computer kiosks where customers can apply for rebates on the spot. In Georgia and New York, as soon as you’ve bought a qualifying appliance, you can reserve a rebate either online or by calling a toll-free number. Since states will halt their programs when their money runs out, you won’t want to conserve your energy when it comes to applying for rebates.

The Appliance Rebates Have Begun

According to TWICE, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has approved plans and awarded funding to 50 states and territories for rebates on Energy Star-qualified appliances under its State Energy Efficient Appliance Rebate Program (SEEARP).

The appliance equivalent of “cash for clunkers” has been allocated $300 million in stimulus funds, which will provide consumers with rebates of between $50 and $200 on energy-efficient refrigerators, dishwashers, clothes washers, air conditioners and water heaters.

The stimulus effort is expected to boost white-goods sales by as much as 20 percent, industry executives have said.

Unlike the auto industry program, trade-ins are not federally mandated under the “Cash for Appliances” effort, although the DOE is encouraging states to incorporate recycling into their programs in an effort to rid the energy grid of old “clunker” appliances.

But the biggest — and most problematic — difference is the state-level implementation, which has resulted in a nationwide patchwork of rules, stipulations and start dates, and an administrative challenge for manufacturers and national and multiregional chains.

For example, several states are limiting their programs to low-income or rural applicants, while others are restricting their rebates to heating and cooling appliances. And many states, such as California and Ohio, require recycling of “clunker” appliances, and others like Florida and Illinois will provide an additional rebate for consumers who dispose of their old appliances in a responsible manner.

To help consumers navigate the maze of varying requirements, dealers are bringing sales associates up to speed on their respective state’s plans, and both retailers and vendors have created dedicated Web sites, such as Sears.com/energystar, that provide program details, tracking tools and links to DOE’s informational site, www.energysavers.gov/rebates.

Specifically, Sears’ sales associates and Web site will:

  • send email notifications to registered customers when state programs go “live”;

  • offer details on the individual state rebate programs, including when and how much will be available, and any guidelines that may apply; and

  • assist consumers with the responsible removal and disposal of their old appliances, as needed.

Similarly, Bosch, the premium majap manufacturer, has created a Bosch Rebate Resource Center site at www.boschappliancerebates.com.

The Energy Department is expected to approve SEEARP plans submitted by all 56 U.S. states and territories, with the first major marketing campaign likely to launch by Presidents Day weekend.

Consumers will be able to receive existent Energy Star rebates in addition to the Cash for Appliance subsidies.

States receiving the most majap stimulus funding include California ($35.3 million), New York ($18.7 million) and Florida ($17.6 million).

Cash For Clunkers – Appliance Clunkers

Here’s some good news if you’ve got an old household appliance you’ve been wanting to replace. The government’s $300 million dollar incentive plan will help you pay for it. The plan is meant to help the appliance industry by giving a boost to slow appliance sales nationwide, but the relatively small amount of cash will not make a big impact on major appliance appliance dealers such as Whirlpool, GE, and Electrolux. There are also some potentially confusing details to be worked out:

The Wall Street Journal says unlike the clunkers plan, the program allows each state to pick qualifying models and tailor rebate amounts. Ohio might decide one washing machine qualifies for a $100 rebate, while California picks another for $125.

Manufacturers and retailers said they are reluctant to ramp up production or order new stocks until it is clear what models qualify. The Department of Energy, which designed the program, wants states to focus on just 10 categories of appliances carrying the federal Energy Star seal of approval for efficiency.

But other details are still uncertain. States could ask to include up to 46 other types of products, ranging from light bulbs to computers. While rebates are expected to range between $50 and $200, qualifying models and precise rebate amounts won’t be provided until late this year or early next.

Some of the nation’s biggest appliance makers are lobbying to make the plan rules uniform nationwide. They said the unknowns and the varying rules by state will make the program harder to explain to shoppers, in turn making it tougher to win sales.

The program “will provide consumers a unique opportunity to save money on energy-efficient appliances,” said Dave McCalpin, chief marketing officer for GE Appliances. He said Fairfield, Conn.-based GE is working with state governments to adopt rebate programs that rely on Energy Star ratings.

Some states are considering standards that exceed Energy Star requirements, a move GE opposes. “We believe it is very important that rebate programs are consistent across the country,” Mr. McCalpin said.

The stricter proposals underscore criticisms that the Energy Star program is not tough enough in raising energy efficiency. The Environmental Protection Agency is looking at revising the program’s standards. If it does so after the states set their rules, the rebates could end up subsidizing some appliances that are not as energy efficient as they could be.

Comsumer Rebate Program for Appliances

The US stimulus bill recently signed into law by US President Barack Obama includes a $300 million provision to fund the Energy Efficient Appliance Rebate Program.

This program will be administered through the 50 US states and will  provide financial incentive to encourage consumer spending and target it to energy savings through consumer rebates for the purchase of Energy Star appliances.

The Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers (AHAM) and the Retail Industry Leaders Association (RILA) urge the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to quickly disburse funding to state energy offices for the Energy Efficient Appliance Rebate Programs so that consumer rebates will be available for the summer months to purchase ENERGY STAR appliances.
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009  will stimulate demand for home appliances, provide consumers with tremendous savings on the initial purchase cost and long-term utility costs of appliances, and will also provide an important environmental benefit by way of a significant decrease in energy consumption.
“Once the states receive funding from DOE for their rebate programs, consumers can begin to benefit
from an immediate savings on the purchase cost of an ENERGY STAR appliance and on utility bills,” said
Joseph McGuire, AHAM President. “AHAM urges the Department of Energy to quickly provide this
stimulus funding to the states so they can get the money into the hands of consumers.”
In a joint letter, AHAM and RILA requested that DOE distribute the funds to state energy offices quickly
and simply and allow existing and new state programs the flexibility to establish programs that meet
regional needs. The associations provided DOE with broad guidelines for releasing the stimulus funds.
AHAM and RILA also believe the benefit should include consumers with non-working appliances and
consumers who are upgrading to energy efficient products before their current appliances cease to
function.