December 22, 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.

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.

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.

Shopping for Energy Efficient Appliances

Here’s a great line I just read at bhrealestate.com

Every appliance has two prices: the sticker price, and the one you pay to run the appliance year-round.

When purchasing a new appliance, buyers might be tempted to buy the unit with the lowest sale price while ignoring the long term costs of running it.

Choosing a highly energy efficient appliance can save more money than the additional purchase difference and if used long enough, add to your savings. According to Energy Star, the organization the certifies the efficiency of appliances, in 2007, Americans bought enough ENERGY STAR appliances to limit emissions equivalent to green house gases from 27 million cars — all the while saving $16 billion on their utility bills, or roughly one-third their annual utility cost.

Look for machines that have earned the ENERGY STAR label, meaning they have met strict energy-efficiency guidelines. It’s also important to check the bright yellow EnergyGuide labels on appliances to see consumption rates for that model expressed in annual kilowatt hours and the approximate annual cost of running the appliance.

The article also offered some helpful shopping tips:

Refrigerators – Next to your furnace and water heater, your refrigerator uses the most energy in your home, so make sure a new fridge suits your needs. If it’s too large, you’ll waste energy cooling phantom food; too small may simply be inconvenient. Models with freezers on the top or bottom are more efficient than those with freezers on the side.

Stoves – Cooking habits should determine which is best for you. While the design and price of today’s gas and electric stoves are similar, gas stoves require less energy for stovetop cooking. If you do a lot of baking or oven use, however, the electric stove is a better option.

Clothes Washers – According to the EPA, Horizontal-axis washers (front loaders) use 50 percent less energy, less water and less soap. This translates into savings on average of about $95 a year for the average household

Clothes Dryers – ENERGY STAR does not label dryers since most consume the same amount of energy. Do, however, try to buy one with a moisture sensor that will automatically shut off the dryer when your clothes are dry, rather than completing the cycle.

Air Conditioners – Ensure correct size for your room and go for energy efficiency. If it’s cooling a sunny room, consider increasing capacity by 10 percent.

Natural gas and oil systems
– Look for the Federal Trade Commission EnergyGuide label with an Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency (AFUE) rating. This measures the seasonal annual efficiency (ENERGY STAR furnaces have a 90 AFUE rating or above).

The added initial cost of energy efficient appliances may seem high, but the savings show up over time and they are gentler on the environment.