July 23, 2014

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

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.

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.

More Consumers Choosing Energy Efficiency

The cost of running a household has always been the biggest part of most family budgets. As utility costs have risen, that cost keeps going up too. One way to decrease monthly utility bills is to use less water and energy on daily household tasks. More and more consumers are replacing their old, top-loading washers wih high efficiency (HE) front-loading models.  LGworld.com  reports:

While consumers have warmed to energy efficiency only gradually, the trend is increasingly evident with household appliances. Overall U.S. sales by appliance manufacturers fell to $23.4 billion last year and continue to slump as fewer homes are built in a tight economy, but energy-efficient models account for a growing share.

In a reflection of increased consumer demand as well as manufacturers’ innovations, 55 percent of the major appliances shipped to stores and distributors in the first half of 2008 carried the government’s Energy Star rating for high energy efficiency — up from just under 50 percent a year earlier, according to the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers.

Manufacturers don’t break out sales of Energy Star appliances separately, but they total in the billions. Sales of washing machines alone accounted for $3.6 billion in 2007, and much of that was in front-loading washers.

Demand for front-loaders at Abt Electronics, a major retailer in Glenview, Ill., is up about 60 percent this year, according to general manager Marc Cook.

“People come in and their first question is, ‘Should I switch to a front-loader?”’ Cook said. “They like the technology, and when you sweeten it by saying they’ll be using less water and energy, then it closes the deal in their mind.”

Front-loaders and advanced top-loaders typically use only one-third the water of a conventional top-loader, using sophisticated wash systems to flip or spin clothes through a reduced amount of water while also dramatically decreasing the amount of hot water used.

In addition, enhanced motors spin clothes two to three times faster during the spin cycle to extract more water, reducing moisture in clothes and resulting in less time and energy in the dryer.

Look for the label

What energy-conscious buyers need to know most is to look for the yellow Energy Star label, which means a product is among approximately the top 25 percent of all product models in energy efficiency.

Energy Star is a 16-year-old joint program of the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Energy designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through energy efficiency. It provides labels for qualifying products in more than 50 categories — from televisions to light bulbs to furnaces to clothes washers.

The label guarantees three things, according to program spokeswoman Maria Vargas: That the product is more energy-efficient than a conventional product — delivering the same or better performance using less energy; that it’s a cost-effective purchase that will pay for itself in five years or less; and that there’s no sacrifice in performance.

Shoppers should also check products’ EnergyGuide labels required by the Federal Trade Commission. The labels provide an estimate of the product’s energy consumption and show comparisons with similar models.

An Energy Star-qualified clothes washer uses 15 to 25 gallons of water per load compared with 30 to 35 gallons by a standard machine, saving more than 7,000 gallons of water a year. Combined with lower electricity costs, the government says the machine can save the user $550 in operating costs over its lifetime compared to a regular clothes washer.

Costs to consider

That can be welcome relief from increasingly burdensome household energy costs.

The average U.S. household will spend about $2,350 this year on energy costs, up from $2,100 in 2007, according to the Alliance to Save Energy, an energy information clearinghouse in Washington, D.C. Roughly a quarter of that is from appliances.

Of course, the added efficiency comes at a cost. Front-loaders can run $400 to $500 more than regular washers, with good-quality machines running $1,000 or more.

That’s not only due to the increased energy and water efficiency but also other innovations such as remote monitoring, use of steam for wrinkle reduction, reduced noise and vibration and bigger washing capacity.

“People want larger capacity, but they also want energy efficiency,” said Paul Dougherty, manager of a Grand Appliance chain store in Zion, Ill. “Two years ago they weren’t asking about that too often.”

How to Pick an Energy Efficient Appliance

If you are confused by the different claims of energy efficiency by appliance manufacturers, JamesDulley of the Detroit Free Press has some helpful advice.

Depending upon the type of product and the fuel it uses, efficiency ratings can mean different things. Also, some manufacturers and/or salespeople play fast and loose with the accuracy of efficiency claims.

A basic definition of efficiency for any energy-consuming product is the amount of usable energy (heat, light, sound, etc.) output divided by the energy input. The energy input is usually an electric plug in the wall or a gas or propane line coming into your house. Electricity input is usually measured as wattage and gas or propane input as Btuh (Btu per hour).

Most plug-in electric heating devices and heaters, from the cheapest to the heavily advertised ones for $400, are nearly 100% efficient. All of the electricity consumed ends up as heat inside your house. The actual differences in operating costs depend upon how you use one and if the design is the proper one for your needs.

Always read efficiency claims thoroughly when comparing products. For example, some lower-quality gas space heaters may claim a very high 90% combustion efficiency. Combustion efficiency refers to how efficient the gas burns, not how efficiently the heat is transferred into your house. Its actual heating efficiency may be only 70%.

For electrical appliances, such as window air conditioners, you can calculate the efficiency by dividing the Btuh cooling output by the electric wattage shown on the nameplate.

For other major appliances, such as washers and refrigerators, rely on the yellow energy label. Your usage habits often have more impact on the overall efficiency than the appliance design itself.

For central heating and cooling equipment, the manufacturer’s efficiency ratings should be accurate.

They are AFUE (annual fuel utilization efficiency for furnaces), SEER (seasonal energy efficiency ratio for air conditioners) and HSPF (heating seasonal performance factor for heat pumps).

Home Appliance Efficiency to Improve Under New Energy Bill

Here’s some news from appliancemagazine.com  about saving energy and how the appliance industry is working to make some changes.

In late December, President Bush signed into law the “Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007,” a comprehensive energy bill that includes several historic provisions supported by the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers (AHAM) to dramatically improve energy efficiency and maintain federal preemption for home appliances in the United States.

The enacted legislation codifies an agreement between industry and energy and water advocacy organizations to establish the strictest federal energy efficiency standards to date for residential clothes washers and dishwashers and for the first time ever, will also include national water limit requirements for these products. The law also sets energy standards for dehumidifiers and requires the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to consider revisions of current refrigerator energy efficiency standards.

The new energy and water standards will result in a savings of up to 3.3 Quads of energy and nearly 11 million acre feet of water over 30 years, equivalent of more than 2 1/2 years of domestic water use in the United States. The set of standards will save consumers up to $14.7 billion in utility payments.

AHAM was also instrumental in crafting language included in the law that establishes a product specific approach to defining and regulating standby power in major home appliances focusing on overall appliance energy consumption. “AHAM is pleased with the enactment of this comprehensive energy bill” said AHAM president Joseph M. McGuire. “The law demonstrates once again that home appliances are in the forefront of energy efficiency and provide real solutions for consumers wishing to do their part to save energy and protect the environment. Legislation still pending in Congress, when enacted, will supplement these appliance standards with tax credits to manufacturers to produce “super efficient” products making upgrading home appliances the most cost effective step a consumer can take to save energy.”