September 30, 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.

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.”

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.

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.

Consumers are Letting it be Known – They Want Green Electronics

If you’ve been searching for a greener television, help might soon be at hand.  The consumer electronics industry is listening to research from a September 2008 study:

Going Green: An Examination of the Green Trend and What it Means to Consumers and the CE (consumer electronics) Industry. This study  finds that 89 percent of households want their next television to be more energy efficient.

“Consumers are now beginning to associate terms like recycling and energy efficiency with consumer electronics products,” said Tim Herbert, the Consumer Electronic Association’s  senior director of market research. According to the study, price and features continue to be the primary purchase drivers for CE products, but green attributes will increasingly be a factor. In fact, 53 percent of consumers say they would be willing to pay some type of premium for televisions with green attributes.

Effectively communicating the green attributes of CE products continues to be an obstacle for manufacturers in particular. Though the study indicates high consumer awareness of logos like EPA’s ENERGY STAR®, the absence of a single indicator for other “green” attributes leads to consumer confusion. The study finds consumers desire an easy way to determine if a product meets environmental standards, such as logos and descriptions printed on the product packaging.

“With 74 percent of consumers saying that companies should do more to protect the environment, it’s critical that CE manufacturers and retailers clearly communicate with customers regarding the environmentally-friendly products and programs offered by the industry,” notes Parker Brugge, CEA’s vice president of environmental affairs and industry sustainability.

If the manufacturers are listening, we should soon be able to walk into our local electronics store and easily identify a hi-definition, flat screen, surround sound, environmentally friendly television right away.  But- will it be on sale?

LG to Compensate Customers of French Door Refrigerator

Earlier this month we wrote here about LG’s french door refrigerators losing their EnergyStar rating.  Now, in agreement with the United States Department of Energy (DOE), LG will also compensate owners, modify unsold inventory and remove five current models from the Energy Star program.

LG Electronics has offered to make in-home modifications on French door refrigerator models that were improperly certified as Energy Star compliant.

Under terms of an agreement with the United States Department of Energy (DOE), LG will also compensate owners, modify unsold inventory and remove five current models from the Energy Star program.

Affected models include 10 LG-branded SKUs and 12 Kenmore-branded Trio units designed and manufactured by LG and sold by Sears.

Current LG models include the LFX23961, LFX25971, LFX21971, LMX25981 and LMX21981, all with in-the-door ice and water dispensers.

Five discontinued models include the LFX25950, LFX25960, LFX21960, LFX25980 and LFX21980.

The affected Kenmore units have in-the-door ice and water dispensers and model numbers beginning with 795.

Under terms of its agreement with DOE, LG will offer to modify consumers’ refrigerators at the company’s own expense. The modification, which involves replacing the ice maker’s circuit board and reprogramming the fridge, will make the units more energy efficient but not Energy Star compliant.

LG will also provide consumers with a one-time cash payment covering the difference between the energy rating listed on the original EnergyGuide label and the restated energy rating, plus annual payments for future incremental energy usage for the expected useful life of the appliance, up to 14 years.

LG said it will attempt to contact all previous purchasers of the affected units, and has established a special hotline — (888) 848-1266 — and Web site (www.lgrefrigeratoroffer.com).

The company is also modifying all unsold inventory, changing all labeling and marketing material to reflect the new energy ratings, and will introduce redesigned, Energy Star-rated ice-and-water dispensing French door refrigerators early next year.

EnergyStar Standards for Dishwashers get Tougher

We have a question on our forums here at appliance.net asking readers to post about their favorite appliance.  Surprisingly, no one mentioned their dishwasher.  Dishwashers save not only time, but energy and water as well. The Department of Energy (DOE) has not rated dishwashers for their water usage until now.  Currently, the EnergyStar rating is based on energy usage.  The change could save American families more than $25 million in energy and water bills in the first 6 months the criteria are in effect.

The criteria will go into effect in two phases. The first set of criteria will apply on August 11, 2009, and the second will apply on July 1, 2011. DOE estimates that by 2012, the new guidelines will save Americans 671 billion Btu and 1.13 billion gallons of water per year. With the new water saving requirement, consumers using ENERGY STAR dishwashers will save more than a gallon of water with each dishwashing cycle. Manufacturers are also eligible to receive tax credits for the production of dishwashers that meet the new ENERGY STAR dishwasher criteria under the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008.

In the first phase, ENERGY STAR qualified dishwashers will be required to be at least 48% more efficient than federal energy efficiency standards require, saving the nation over 71 million kWh of energy and more than 500 million gallons of water per year. Stricter federal energy efficiency standards take effect January 1, 2010. In the second phase, ENERGY STAR qualified dishwashers must be at least 13.5% more efficient than the 2010 federal energy efficiency standards, saving the Nation over 95 million kWh of energy and more than 830 million gallons of water per year. The ENERGY STAR criteria for dishwashers were last modified on January 1, 2007.