August 1, 2014

Do You Like Your Front Loading Washer?

It might not have been the most stylish, but for decades the top-loading laundry machine was the most affordable and dependable. Now it’s ruined—and Americans have politics to thank.

The above is quote from a Wall Street Journal Opinion piece by Sam Kazman. He goes on to say:

In 1996, top-loaders were pretty much the only type of washer around, and they were uniformly high quality. When Consumer Reports tested 18 models, 13 were “excellent” and five were “very good.” By 2007, though, not one was excellent and seven out of 21 were “fair” or “poor.” This month came the death knell: Consumer Reports simply dismissed all conventional top-loaders as “often mediocre or worse.”

How’s that for progress?

The culprit is the federal government’s obsession with energy efficiency. Efficiency standards for washing machines aren’t as well-known as those for light bulbs, which will effectively prohibit 100-watt incandescent bulbs next year. Nor are they the butt of jokes as low-flow toilets are. But in their quiet destruction of a highly affordable, perfectly satisfactory appliance, washer standards demonstrate the harmfulness of the ever-growing body of efficiency mandates.

The federal government first issued energy standards for washers in the early 1990s. When the Department of Energy ratcheted them up a decade later, it was the beginning of the end for top-loaders. Their costlier and harder-to-use rivals—front-loading washing machines—were poised to dominate.

Front-loaders meet federal standards more easily than top-loaders. Because they don’t fully immerse their laundry loads, they use less hot water and therefore less energy.

When the Department of Energy began raising the standard, it promised that “consumers will have the same range of clothes washers as they have today,” and cleaning ability wouldn’t be changed. That’s not how it turned out.

In 2007, after the more stringent rules had kicked in, Consumer Reports noted that some top-loaders were leaving its test swatches “nearly as dirty as they were before washing.” “For the first time in years,” CR said, “we can’t call any washer a Best Buy.” Contrast that with the magazine’s 1996 report that, “given warm enough water and a good detergent, any washing machine will get clothes clean.” Those were the good old days.

In 2007, only one conventional top-loader was rated “very good.” Front-loaders did better, as did a new type of high-efficiency top-loader that lacks a central agitator. But even though these newer types of washers cost about twice as much as conventional top-loaders, overall they didn’t clean as well as the 1996 models.

The situation got so bad that the Competitive Enterprise Institute started a YouTube protest campaign, “Send Your Underwear to the Undersecretary.” With the click of a mouse, you could email your choice of virtual bloomers, boxers or Underoos to the Department of Energy. Several hundred Americans did so, but it wasn’t enough to stop Congress from mandating even stronger standards a few months later.

Now Congress is at it once again. On March 10, the Senate Energy Committee held hearings on a bill to make efficiency standards even more stringent. The bill claims to implement “national consensus appliance agreements,” but those in this consensus are the usual suspects: politicians pushing feel-good generalities, bureaucrats seeking expanded powers, environmentalists with little regard for American pocketbooks, and industries that stand to profit from a de facto ban on low-priced appliances. And there are green tax goodies for manufacturing high-efficiency models—the kind that already give so many tax credits to Whirlpool, for example, that the company will avoid paying taxes on its $619 million profit in 2010.

If you have switched from a top loading to a front loading washer and have a definite opinion about which is better – and why – please add your comment below. Let your voice be heard – are the socks you’re standing in clean enough?

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).

Truth in Appliance Energy Labeling

Those yellow energy guide labels we all rely on to pick energy efficient appliances, have come under scrutiny from the US Department of Energy (DOE). As we wrote about in November, manufacturers covet the EnergyStar label and use the yellow sticker to entice buyers.

Those labels may not be as accurate as you think. A review of previous filings for the labels found instances of missing or incorrect information.

The DOE addressed the problem this month by giving manufacturers 30 days to provide accurate information on their products’ energy use. Also, it promised to take a tougher stance to enforce energy-efficiency standards.

The agency said makers of such products as refrigerators, dishwashers and air conditioners have until Jan. 8 to provide the information, which is primarily used to certify that the appliances meet minimum energy-efficiency standards

Will That New Appliance Really Save Energy?

If you are shopping for a new, energy efficient appliance, and thought all you needed to do to was look for the yellow EnergyStar tag, think again.

The Department of Energy has released new findings that show a handful of appliances may not be as energy efficient as advertised because of problems with the “energy star” labeling program.

That little yellow sticker you see on some new appliances is supposed to guarantee an appliance is in the top 25% of energy efficiency, but an internal audit, just released, shows that the Department of Energy has not been properly tracking how the star has been used.

Initially manufacturers would self-report whether their products met the energy star guidelines, but with the new revelations, that’s changing.

Industry watchdogs are quick to point out, despite a few problems, the energy star program is not a washout.

“It’s not like we found rampant cheating and mis-representation in our testing,” said Celia Kuperszmid Leharman of Consumer Reports. “I think that for now that the stickers are pretty reliable, and they’re good comparative things from one product to the next.”

Before you purchase a new appliance, check out the Department of Energy’s consumer’s webpage for news on energy efficient appliances.

Appliance Energy Standards Might get Stricter

According to the New York Times, The Department of Energy (DOE) is reevaluating its standards for energy efficient appliances and is considering raising the standards for qualification as an energy-efficient appliance.

“I am going to be looking at those because I have become more convinced that they are not as aggressive as they could be,” Energy Secretary Steven Chu said at a conference held by the Alliance to Save Energy. “So we will look at making them more aggressive.”

According to the nonprofit Appliance Standards Awareness Project, DOE’s deadlines call for final rules this month for ranges and ovens and commercial clothes washers, with final standards for multiple types of lamps due in June.

There are also a host of proposed standards due later this year, for products such as water heaters and pool heaters.

Chu stressed the key role that energy efficiency in appliances and buildings should play in curbing greenhouse gas emissions. He also emphasized the need to ensure that consumers see efficient appliances and home materials as choices that will ultimately save them money.

Chu also suggested a change in the Energy Star labeling program run jointly by U.S. EPA and DOE.

Floating the idea of a “superstar” category of perhaps the top 5 to 10 percent best performers, Chu said this would allow manufacturers to claim that their products would ultimately save consumers the most money despite higher up-front costs.

LG French Door Refrigerator No Longer EnergyStar Rated

From PRNewswire: In coordination with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), LG Electronics USA Inc. has revised the energy ratings on five current refrigerator models.

Refrigerator testing rules used by DOE have been in place since 1979. In light of different applications of these rules in the appliance industry to today’s advanced products, LG has proactively worked with the DOE concerning the test standards.
Based on guidance from the DOE about its interpretation of the testing rules, the energy rating has been changed for five current LG “French Door” models with ice and water dispensers in the door: LFX23961, LFX25971, LFX21971, LMX25981 and LMX21981. For these models, LG is voluntarily suspending its participation in the Energy Star program. Five discontinued LG models also are affected: LFX25950, LFX25960, LFX21960, LFX25980 and LFX21980.
LG Electronics USA’s agreement with the DOE includes a comprehensive program for consumers — an energy-saving modification to previously-purchased refrigerators and cash payments to consumers for incremental energy costs. A similar program will be implemented for comparable Kenmore-brand “TRIO” models designed and manufactured by LG Electronics. This only affects Kenmore French Door models with ice and water dispensing through the door having model numbers starting with 795.
For consumers who have already purchased these models, LG is offering a three-part program:
    1.  LG is offering to modify consumers' refrigerators to make them more
        energy efficient.  LG is making arrangements to visit consumers' homes
        to modify their refrigerator.  This will lower the energy consumption
        over the life of the product and is free of charge.

    2.  Consumers will receive a cash payment for past energy usage.  LG is
        providing a one-time cash payment to cover the difference between the
        new measured energy rating and the amount listed on the original
        EnergyGuide label at the time the product was purchased.

    3.  Consumers will receive cash payments for future energy usage. LG will
        provide a cash payment each year over the expected useful life of the
        product.  These payments will cover the difference between the new
        measured energy rating of the refrigerator with the energy-saving
        modification and the energy usage listed on the EnergyGuide label.
In cooperation with its retailers, LG will attempt to contact all previous purchasers of the affected units to arrange the in-home modification and the payments. Consumers who purchased the affected models can also register to participate in the program and get more information by mail or by calling a special hotline (1-888-848-1266) or online at http://www.LGrefrigeratoroffer.com.
LG Electronics is a long-time partner in the voluntary Energy Star program, and the vast majority of LG appliance products continue with their Energy Star ratings. The company plans to introduce redesigned, Energy Star-rated ice-and-water-dispensing French Door refrigerators in early 2009. In the meantime, steps have been taken to ensure that labeling and marketing materials will reflect the new energy consumption information for the affected models.

Energy Star Might Not be Such a Star

Most consumers who are shopping for a new, energy efficient appliance know to look for the Blue EnergyStar label.  The Energy Star label alerts shoppers to supposedly very energy efficient appliances.  Many appliances also have a yellow energy guide label.  That label tells shoppers specifically how much energy they can save by buying that particular appliance. 

Buying an efficient appliance really can help save money by saving energy.  Over the past five years, the nation has saved over $61 billion according to the Web site EnergyStar.gov.  That translates to a reduction of greenhouse gases equal to taking half the country’s vehicles off the roads for one year.

There’s a problem though, according to Business Week, consumer and environmental groups say it’s often too easy for companies to win the right to display the star. According to descriptions from the Department of Energy (DOE), which manages the Energy Star appliance program, the coveted logo should ideally appear on dishwashers, refrigerators, and other appliances that score in the top 25% for energy efficiency in their categories. But in 2007 some 60% of all dishwasher models on the market qualified, the DOE says. The year before, 92% of them hit the mark. “If the DOE gives Energy Star to everyone, eventually it’s worthless,” says David B. Goldstein, a director at the Natural Resources Defense Council.

NO INDEPENDENT AUDITS

This past summer the nonprofit Consumers Union complained that some companies were gaming the system. Its testing labs discovered that two refrigerators—one from Samsung and one from LG Electronics—displayed the logos but only measured up if their icemakers were switched off. When the icemakers were on, the machines exceeded the power consumption stated on their Energy Star labels by 65% and by more than 100%, respectively. “Consumers don’t buy a fridge with this sort or feature to leave it off,” says Steven Saltzman, a deputy editor at Consumer Reports. It turned out that when the refrigerator rule was revised in 2001 and 2004, the icemaking feature was rare for this type of model, and there was no requirement to turn it on during the tests. Spokespeople from both LG and Samsung say the companies are in full compliance with DOE standards.

Critics also gripe that there is no independent auditor for appliance testing. The DOE can spot-check products, but it mainly relies on companies to test rivals’ wares and to complain if something looks fishy. Such complaints are rare—and it’s not just consumers who suffer. Federal and state governments require the Energy Star for billions of dollars of purchases each year. Last month, Texas offered a statewide sales-tax-free day for Energy Star goods. If the mark loses credibility, that could weaken official efforts to improve efficiency.

Until this issue is resolved, read those yellow labels carefully, the fact that an appliance carries the Energy Star label no longer seems to mean that it meets the highest standards of efficiency.