September 2, 2014

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.

Should You Buy a New Refrigerator?

You can find good information about appliances in large and small news outlets. I recently found a clear, simple explanation in the Cape Cod Times of why it could be worthwhile to replace a refrigerator even if it seems to be running perfectly.

Thanks to updates to federal energy appliance standards, all of today’s major home appliances do use much less energy. If you’ve got a product you use often like a refrigerator, washing machine or other major home appliance that is 10 to 15 years old or more, you’ll probably offset the purchase price of a new one by saving enough money on its energy use in the coming years.

I know it might not seem to make a lot of sense, especially in today’s economy, to replace a major appliance that seems to be working well just because it’s old. But this could cut monthly utility bills substantially.

Just like the purchase price of a new car is actually what you pay the dealer to buy it, pay the mechanic over time to maintain it, and pay the gas station over time to fuel it, appliances also need to be viewed as having the same types of actual costs.

A new refrigerator, for example, that carries the government’s ENERGY STAR designation showing that it greatly exceeds current minimum standards will probably save $1,000 or more over its lifetime compared to an older model.

The yellow EnergyGuide labels that come with major appliances show the estimated annual energy consumption of the model and other information regarding its energy efficiency. They also show where the appliance fits into the range of energy consumption of comparable products.

Most new appliances probably will last for many years, and energy-efficient models will continue to pay you back with lower energy costs over their lifetimes.

Check out the ENERGY STAR Web site that gives information on special offers, sales tax exemptions or credits, rebates and other discounts on energy-efficient products in your area at http://www.energystar.gov/index.cfm?fuseaction rebate.rebate—locator.

You also ought to look around your home to see how many products you’ve got plugged into electrical outlets. About 20 percent of the average family’s utility bill goes toward powering these home appliances. It’ll help you appreciate the importance of buying efficient products.

One shopping tip that can help save money is to buy only the features you need. If you figure a certain-sized refrigerator is best for your family, don’t be tempted to get a bigger one. Will you use the through-the-door water dispenser or the ice maker? If so, they can be great features. If not, they add not only to the purchase price but to the unit’s energy use as well.

The bottom line is simple. When buying an appliance for your home, keep in mind that the cost of the energy to operate it over its lifetime will very likely be more than you’re paying for it. Purchasing an energy-efficient model makes a lot of sense.

Cool Off With a Room Air Conditioner -and Save Money

The hot, humid weather of summer is about to meet Americans’ continuing desire to cut costs this cooling season. Room air conditioners are a practical way to cool down when temperatures heat up, especially if you want to save money by only cooling the rooms you use the most.

New room air conditioners are significantly more energy efficient and now offer a variety of features, including varying fan speeds, remote controls, timers and different types of filters. The average room air conditioner manufactured in 2008 also uses 23 percent less energy than units made in 1990. ENERGY STAR units can save you even more.

Before going to the store to purchase a new unit, consumers should visit www.cooloff.org to search through a list of models that are AHAM-certified. The Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers tests and certifies room air conditioners in an independent lab to verify that the product performs according to the manufacturers’ claims.

To get the maximum benefit from a room air conditioner, consider two important factors — cooling capacity and efficiency. Many people size air conditioners incorrectly, purchasing an air conditioner with more cooling capacity than needed.

More is not necessarily better. A unit with too much capacity may cool a room so quickly that it won’t run long enough to lower humidity. This results in a cold, clammy feeling caused by chilly, humid air. More importantly, you will be wasting energy and lots of money.

Cooloff.org also offers a cooling calculator for consumers to determine the proper cooling capacity for their room. The Web site will also take you through a series of questions before recommending models that fit your needs.

Once you know what size unit you need, consider its operating efficiency. The higher the energy efficiency ratio, or EER, the more efficient the model. When shopping, you’ll also want to look for the “AHAM-certified” seal. Models certified through AHAM’s program have been tested and their performance verified by an independent laboratory, assuring consumers that the product will perform according to the manufacturer’s product claims for BTU’s per hour, amps and efficiency.

Once you have the perfect air conditioner for your home size, you’ll want to keep it running smoothly. Here are some maintenance tips from the AHAM:

* Turn off the unit and open doors and windows during cooler periods.
* Use the unit fan and portable fans to draw in cooler outside air and increase circulation.
* Use a higher (warmer) thermostat setting during peak periods or when the area is unoccupied. A 75 to 80 degree setting will cut power consumption by 15 percent.
* Don’t let heat build up all day and then try to cool areas quickly by turning the controls to maximum settings.
* Draw the shade or window blinds to reduce solar and outdoor heat.
* Regularly change or clean filters and check air flow for blockage or frost on evaporator coil.

Time to Replace That Old Refrigerator

Is your refrigerator more than ten years old? If so, replacing it can save you some serious money. The problem is can it save you enough to warrant shelling out the money for a new unit? A new refrigerator isn’t cheap, but an older one accounts for anywhere from 5-8 percent of your household energy.

The nonprofit advocacy group Alliance to Save Energy estimates that if the older refrigerators were replaced, Americans would save $866 million a year in utility costs. In general, a new efficient refrigerator uses about half the energy of its 10-year-old cousin, federal statistics show.

If you plan now, you might be prepared when the new federal stimulus bill funneling $300 million into rebates for energy-efficient appliances, is enacted. But be ready to act because with 112 million households in the country, that $300 million won’t go far.

How to know when to buy? Uncle Sam’s efficiency program, Energy Star, has a refrigerator calculator on its Web site: www.energystar .gov. All refrigerators manufactured in the United States must meet minimum efficiency standards, but Energy Star-certified models are at least 20 percent more efficient.

If you’re thinking of buying a new refrigerator, here are some tips from EnergyStar:

• Start with the calculator at www.energystar.gov.

• When shopping, factor in the appliance’s yellow “EnergyGuide” label listing the energy use and approximate annual operating cost.

• Go smaller. Larger models cost more to operate, and a full refrigerator is more efficient than a half-empty one.

• Models with top freezers are the most efficient, using 10 percent to 25 percent less energy than side-by-side models.

• Consider doing without the ice-maker and dispenser. These increase energy use by 14 percent to 20 percent.

To get the most out of any refrigerator:

• Position it away from heat – an oven or dishwasher. Leave room at the back and sides for air circulation.

• Keep the air intake and condenser coils clean.

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.

Universal Measurements for Washing Machines

AHAM, the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers, is developing a voluntary, uniform industry test procedure for product manufacturers to determine clothes washer drum volume which is expected to be finalized by the end of 2009.
This new procedure will result in standardized volume measurements that can be applied
across all washers—traditional and high-efficiency top as well as front loaders—and can be
used by the consumer to compare washer volume. It is possible that, if appropriate, AHAM will request government adoption of this measuring test procedure.

Manufacturers already follow the U.S. Department of Energy drum volume measurement procedures to calculate energy and water consumption. This is the same procedure used for ENERGY STAR and for calculating the data found on the FTC EnergyGuide label.

The Department of Energy drum volume procedure provides an accurate measurement for the purpose of calculating energy and water consumption. Because of the advancements in clothes washer technology and energy and water efficiency, the DOE method may not provide the most meaningful representation of useful volume to the consumer when making a purchase decision among various product choices.

As a result, manufacturers have employed different rating systems to provide meaningful purchase evaluation information to the consumer. With consumers continuing to demand the best performing products that are energy and water efficient, AHAM members desire a simpler uniform test method to determine washer volume which can be easily communicated to the consumer.

This AHAM effort of developing a uniform procedure is on a fast track and will be completed by the end of 2009.

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.